Monday, April 25, 2016

Snakes and ladders – the games continue!

Looking back at what was presented at recent Regional User Group (RUG) meetings here in America it was clear that the commitment to keeping NonStop systems attractive to the next generation of developers is materializing. And it all has to do with HPE’s commitment to open systems and industry standards …

While dancing across the grass this past week with our just-turning-three granddaughter Ella, I was reminded of the fears of youngsters. It was a simple case of not wanting to attract insects and bugs for me, but for her, it was all about the possibility of running across snakes. In a suburban Boulder garden? Not likely, although there was an occasion where good friends from one of my clients joined us for an outside barbecue only to see one of Colorado’s rat snakes slither along the stonework of our home. So perhaps it wasn’t such an unusual concern of Ella’s, after all.

Reading the latest update from the Node.js community I couldn’t help but remember this incident even as my immediate reaction to the article also brought back childhood memories of playing the game Snakes and Ladders where, on the roll of the dice, you could either ascend to higher squares after landing on a ladder or worse, descend to lower squares should you land on a snake.

The April 12, 2016, article New Node.js Foundation Survey Reports New “Full Stack” In Demand Among Enterprise Developers referenced Python, after all, but there was more to this article than a reference to a snake as it was the ladders I visualized that held a lot more importance for members of the NonStop community actively engaged in developing new products, services and features.

“With over 3.5 million users and an annual growth rate of 100 percent, Node.js is emerging as a universal platform used for web applications, IoT, and enterprise,” was the article’s opening sentence. Yes, the “and enterprise” reference might surprise many who continue to think Node.js may just be for simple tasks associated perhaps with mobile phones, the “chat” option, and the like. Having just briefly mentioning Node.js in my previous post, The more things change, the more they stay the same … it is safe to assume I was primed to be receptive to what I was reading. 

Fortunately, the article then adds that, “The Node.js User Survey report features insights on emerging trends happening in this massive community that serves as a leading indicator on trends like microservices architectures, real-time web applications, Internet of Things (IoT). The report paints a detailed picture of the technologies that are being used, in particular, with Node.js in production and language preferences (current and future) for front end, back end and IoT developers.”

But here’s where the reference to snakes and ladders came to the fore and while some readers may think more in terms of swings and roundabouts, either image is hard to ignore. When it comes to the “Other languages, beyond JavaScript, that were popular for all three developer types included PHP, Python and Java,” there are winners and losers. JavaScript is clearly winning, “However, when looking to the future, back end, front end and IoT developers planned to decrease their use of Java, .Net and PHP (PHP averages a 15% decrease) and increase the use of Python and C++.” 

There are those images of snakes once again – not so much rat snakes, of course, but pythons. On a more serious note, the erosion of support for Java continues and you have to begin wondering whether Oracle 0versight of Java has turned away many potential advocates or could it simply be a case of moving forward once something better has come along. For the NonStop community, having the option today to develop applications on the new NonStop X family in languages including JavaScript , Python and C++ is a real boost for NonStop finding greater acceptance among the more forward thinking of our development community.

In the post of March 13, 2016, Pulling at the RUG; NonStop resilience firmly on display around the globe! I promoted upcoming RUG events in Chicago, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio, where HPE’s Keith Moore was scheduled to give updates on IoT and Node.js, including a demo of Node.js running on NonStop X systems in the Advanced Technical Center (ATC). In that post I wrote of how, according to Keith, “Almost all of the demo is using InfraSoft’s new bomBora product and I make a point of saying this.” Keith then shared how, “There are two new tools / features I will highlight: firstly, Node.js (bomBora), which I call out, and then secondly, Redis which is the pub/sub database.”

I have since followed up with Keith to get feedback following these presentations and demos in order to get a better feel for how the message of Node.js was being received. “There is more and more curiosity about JavaScript and the possible future uses of Node.js on NonStop,” Keith told me. “To-date, no customer is jumping on the product but literally every day I hear someone ask me (specifically) about JavaScript on NonStop.”

To which Keith then added, “I think that 2017 is the year where it becomes more of a requirement. This is because we are just now hearing movement toward JSON and RESTful services on NonStop. Those discussions eventually lead to websockets and web apps, which eventually lead to JavaScript.” While the deep port of Node.js to NonStop is available, support is strictly for NonStop X systems as it leverages the underlying Intel x86 architecture. However, this represents a really big opportunity, according to my contacts inside HPE.

With as much usage of NonStop i systems as there are today together with the promotion by HPE of hybrid infrastructures, the more forward thinking members of the NonStop user community might be well served looking at Node.js for deployment on NonStop X systems as they deploy them right alongside existing NonStop i systems.

Hybrids of NonStop X and NonStop i Systems are to be expected in the near term and adding something as modern as Node.js with the boost in productivity it provides, will be something the team at HPE NonStop will be promoting in the lead up to summer. While 2017 may indeed be an accurate forecast for when Node.js on NonStop really takes off in the eyes of the NonStop user community, what is taking place this year are several initiatives within the NonStop vendor community and already a number of them have reached out to me for further information as to where I am anticipating a number of intensive PoCs to begin this summer.

Obviously the developers at InfraSoft are well aware of these vendors’ requirements and continue to complement the services already supported as part of bomBora with a couple more key services. Support for Pathway and IPC will be joined by support for other important NonStop subsystems and I hope to be able to write about it shortly.

Snakes and ladders; swings and roundabouts, even what goes up must come down. Everyone is familiar with such expressions and it takes very little to conjure up appropriate images. Determining what is most appropriate for your business continues to come with many tradeoffs. However, at a time when there is mounting concern over just how much experience is leaching from the NonStop community as staff reductions, layoffs and even retirements are having a dramatic impact on just how many knowledgeable NonStop people remain in the industry but I am holding out hope for the future. It’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to the next generation appreciating NonStop.

Those students graduating from college and entering IT are firmly grounded in platforms and languages such as JavaScript, Python and C++ and with Node.js on NonStop, these options lessen any apprehension they may have about investing time in NonStop.  An influx of younger generation of developers working with the technologies and platforms familiar to them, on hardware on which they have been educated, represents a huge step up for all involved in NonStop.

This is a message we all need to actively communicate to everyone we come in contact within the businesses where we work. There will always be missteps even as we dodge the snakes and look for the ladders, however, isn’t it good to know NonStop possesses the critical ladders that can keep us ascending to new heights and for that, the thanks has to be liberally given to all members of the NonStop community – HPE, the vendors and indeed the users willing to roll the dice just one more time. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same …

For a decade and a half, Martin Fink, EVP & CTO, HPE has been a recognized pioneer in bringing the world of open source into the commercial world. For the NonStop community this is well understood even as open source plays an important role in the growing popularity of NonStop systems today.

Fair enough, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. There’s no sense of accusing me of waxing eloquent, but this week I was compelled to dig deep for just the right exclamation. By the way, this reminds me of my father who, when I was a child, called his cars “eloquent” and every Saturday afternoon he would pull them from the garage just so that he could wax eloquent!

Nothing original in this, as I am sure families everywhere in the English speaking world can retell something similar, but what strikes me is not so much the reference to cars, but the reference to waxing and waning as in phases of the moon. The reason waves lap the beach, moving up the sand just a few inches at a time before the once prominent sandy beach is completely covered by water is all connected to the moon.

The same can be said about the seasons – but instead of the moon, it’s all about the sun and the change of seasons. Of course, spring is rather easy to recognize even as it varies region by region, country by country and even hemisphere by hemisphere. The picture I have included at the top of the post is a clear reminder that change is under way - everyone looks forward to springs first blossoms. Year in and year out, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Out of habit I troll through Twitter looking for eye catching statements and this past week, I was intrigued to see HPE tweet the above chart. It was part of a tweet of April 8, 2016, by HPE Servers:
Why #OpenCompute relies on symbiosis between your hardware and software  #HPECompute

Now, in part it promotes the Open Compute Project, but follow the link, and things get very interesting. Under the heading, Infrastructure software: The key to realizing Open Compute benefits guest author, Leo Leung, VP of Corporate Marketing at Scality, states: “The ultimate goal of any organization that embraces scalable computing must be optimization at every layer, with the ability to enhance each layer without creating imbalance elsewhere. For example, increasing efficiency in Open Compute storage hardware requires increased responsibility for availability and durability in the software layer. Only with this symbiosis between hardware and software can administrators and users reap the many rewards of scalable computing: incredible efficiency at scale, always-on stability, and budget and resource alleviation.”

The use of italics and bold font are my own but the point remains the same – there’s not only a symbiotic relationship between hardware and software but increasingly, there’s a symbiotic relationship between scalability and availability. When you see your very first presentation by HPE Servers on the NonStop X family of systems, this symbiosis will strike you immediately, and for good reason. Solve the availability and you will solve scalability. Address scalability and you will find yourself enhancing availability. Then again, looking back at the schematic, what really stands out is that in satisfying the need to scale, you don’t stray too far from the message of open. 

When I interviewed Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, HPE, following his keynote presentation at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (and addressed in subsequent emails), there’s no missing just how committed HPE is to all things open. Just like the waves inching up the beach, the message of open is permeating everything HPE is doing today. Any discussions about open platforms, systems and software always brings the conversation around to standards and to the need for all vendors to remain cognizant of business fundamentals – yes, companies big and small can make a lot of money from participation in the open movement. The infrastructure software above simply illustrates what HPE views as leadership projects and how it is plugging them together to underpin future generations of software that everyone else in the HPE ecosystem will be relying upon.

None of this should be news to the NonStop community. When Martin became the head of the NonStop Enterprise Development organization in the early 2000s he had just published the book The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source. Scattered throughout numerous chapter summaries are some very strong indications of just where Martin’s priorities lay and remember, this book was published in 2002. “There are too many companies, too many groups, and too many individuals for it to go away anytime soon. The momentum is there to guarantee a bright future for a wide assortment of open source applications, and more of these will take a share from their commercial counterparts.”

Much later in the book, Martin reiterates how, “You must still understand your addressable market and customer needs. All of the other elements of building a profitable business are still required. Open source is simply another element that can open opportunities to either build a new business or enhance an existing business.” Martin also highlights, under the heading, Know your Value, that “Open Source has the effect of accelerating the commodity effect of the value you are trying to deliver. Your goal is to continually deliver more and higher value to your customers. This implies that components you deliver lower in the stack are not components for which your customers are willing to pay as much as they were willing to in the past.”

This takes me back to my early experiences at IBM, but in reverse. When it came to pricing systems as intelligence began being distributed, as a rule of thumb you could expect something on your desk to cost $10K, something in your office to cost $100K and something in the data center to cost $1M. And yes, the operating systems and key subsystems were free.  Now we see that the most powerful computer components in our server are being priced for pennies, the OS and key subsystems being priced in the thousands and the solutions – which lie at the top of the stack – is where the value truly lies and these being prices accordingly.

For the NonStop community, we have been on the frontlines witnessing all of this activity firsthand. We have seen the processors embrace open with the migration to the Intel x86 architecture, InfiniBand, SQL, Java and so forth with yet still more to come. Hybrid infrastructure takes openness even further as it is “another element that can open opportunities to either build a new business or enhance an existing business.” Is NonStop waxing even as industry pundits misread the signs, suggesting instead it was waning? Apparently so, even as HPE continues with significant investments in NonStop!

My clients continue to ask me about the future of NonStop and just as importantly, the future of their own businesses tied as they are, just as symbiotically to NonStop as hardware is to software and availability to scalability. Some of my clients are now beginning to consider returning their open platform implementations of products and features back to NonStop – the availability of Java 8 on NonStop is certainly good news for many of them. Other clients are taking a serious look at Node.js (via InfraSoft bomBora) with its support of JavaScript on NonStop even as they eye with more than a little envy just how much functionality is coming to market as a result of the JavaScript open source project.  

Seasons change. Phases of the moon trigger events among them, the incoming tide. However, there’s a sameness, or consistency, being demonstrated even as you look around; the heat of summer is followed by the chill of winter only for summer to return. The mere fact that there are seasons, each different from what came before, is only marks on a timeline that extends into infinity. What’s constant is that we have a breathable atmosphere about which we have been cognizant almost from the time we were born.

For HPE, there are recognizable strategies even as we see trends developing that for a company with such a diverse product portfolio may suggest a waxing and even waning in popularity for some products. Central to all that HPE does today is the pursuit of all that is open and it comes as no surprise. This has been a pursuit of HPE that has roots going back more than a decade and NonStop has been an insider right from the outset. No matter at which level in the stack we  view, whether top or bottom, there’s an open influence but it all comes back to value and where business perceives value and for the NonStop community, it has always been about the solutions. 

Market segments supported by NonStop have waxed and waned over the years but forty plus years on, they may just be marks on the timeline of NonStop that perhaps doesn’t quite extend into infinity but certainly extend a whole lot further than I can see. As Martin observed, and we at NonStop can see too, “The momentum is there to guarantee a bright future!” Yes, he was talking about open source, but we at NonStop see it, too!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Consolidate and diversify – reshaping the vendor vista!

Randy Meyer, the former senior manager overseeing all of NonStop, who is now Mission Critical Systems VP and GM, has been lobbying all and sundry within the NonStop vendor community to become bigger and M&A actions offer one way to achieve this. The news coming from ETI-NET has been hard to miss of late and now, there’s even more changes taking place …

Visitors to the Las Vegas strip, whether it is to attend the HPE Discover conference or a similar event will be hard pressed to miss the condominium complex known as Veer Towers. Leaning away from each other, in a manner that suggests they will fall down, Veer represents an engineering wonder but its quirkiness also adds to the overall carnival-like atmosphere of Las Vegas where anything is possible. Its symbolism isn’t lost on me – a kind of engineered contrarianism, where, should you go left, I will most likely go right! Veering from center is something I frequently do, although less kindly souls might remind me that all too often I stray far from the beaten path.

At the recent ATMIA US Conference in New Orleans I had the opportunity to catch up with ETI-NET CEO, Andy Hall. Working for the start-up Netlink, Inc. in 1986, I was deep into a discussion with Tandem Computers about a likely investment in Netlink and… who should show up at our Raleigh offices but Andy Hall! When I returned to Sydney in 1987 and joined Tandem Computers, Australia, out of nowhere, Andy calls me to tell me he is in Melbourne, at the offices of the Tandem distributer MIS, trying to sell used cars! If there is anyone in the industry that shares my preferences of straying far from the path then it has to be Andy, but unlike me, where my moves were anything other than chess-like, Andy always had a purpose. 

I kept the above photo, taken as the deal between Tandem and Netlink was completed, as it was only recently that I realized flanking the other distinguished gentlemen was Andy and me. Andy, alongside Jerry Held, his boss at the time, and me, alongside Tandem CEO Jimmy Treybig. Like others in the NonStop community, I continue to run across Andy at one user event or another and whether it was a simple wave from afar, or a nod as we passed each other on escalators, we kept in touch. Sitting in the lobby of the New Orleans hotel, draining a glass or two of wine, with many of the ATMIA event participants around us, it was an occasion to catch up, but even then I was unaware of what was to follow.

On becoming a part of HPE’s Mission Critical Systems group a portfolio that included Unix, Linux and Windows together with NonStop, it is Randy Meyer, the former senior manager overseeing all of NonStop, who is now the group’s VP and GM. With a heritage in NonStop Randy made it clear to all and sundry that for NonStop to grow and sustain a real presence in the Mission Critical Systems portfolio the NonStop vendor community needed to consider consolidating around a fewer number of much larger NonStop banner wavers. Perhaps more importantly, these same NonStop banner wavers needed to consider diversification – it would be good to see solutions and middleware capable of spanning systems from NonStop to Linux.

Following recent announcements we can include ETI-NET in this list of up and coming banner wavers. In November, 2015, we all saw the news of ETI-NET purchasing Insider Technologies where, according to a news release of November 4, as published on ETI-NET’s web site, “Joint engineering between the companies is already underway to adapt Insider’s SENTRA and REFLEX technologies with ETI-NET’s open systems archive architecture and to enable high-velocity monitoring of payment transaction execution, fraud identification, social media sentiment and compliance research, as well as maintaining oversight of high-value message traffic delivery.”

I have to admit I had lost track of Insider Technologies and wasn’t up to speed on its products.  It wasn’t so much a case of Insider Technologies being left unnoticed, flying under the radar, as it was a case of me being focused on other vendors. The last time I sat down with Insider Technologies’ management was in the early 2000s when I was still working for ACI. However, irrespective of its place within the NonStop vendor community, simply finding a home in a bigger and better financed organization, such as ETI-NET, isn’t a situation to be ignored. ETI-NET has its work cut out for it but digesting Insider Technologies will be a lot easier for Andy to accomplish than selling a garage full of used cars.

This isn’t the end of news coming from ETI-NET as they have just wrapped up another purchase and indeed, this is going to see them get a lot bigger. On March 22, 2016, came the news that “ETI-NET, the worldwide leading provider of backup systems for industries that never stop, completed today the acquisition of Virtual Tape Systems (VTS) and SPHiNX.” Furthermore and reflecting the scope of the deal, ETI-NET reported that, “The acquisition includes VTS and SPHiNX software, intellectual property, research and development, customer contracts and support agreements.”

Crossroads product portfolio included software apart from VTS and SPHiNX, most notably, the Strongbox product business and this will find a home in a new subsidiary, Strongbox Data Solutions, Inc. (SDSI), set up for the purpose of focusing on storage solutions for unstructured data. SDSI will become a peer of ETI-NET with Andy continuing as CEO of ETI-NET as well as being on the board of SDSI. In a bold move to further diversify, while VTS is well known to HPE and to the NonStop community, SPHiNX adds support for platforms apart from NonStop.

While I will hold back from providing more information on SDSI for a later post, the important news for the NonStop community is that this deal really strengthens ETI-NET’s position in the back-up, data protection, and disaster recovery marketplaces. While it will signal to the NonStop community that ETI-NET now has more than one solution for back-up, in talking to Andy as well as other executives close to the deal, it’s very clear to me that ETI-NET will continue working with VTS customers, providing them with the level of support as well as with the new features and releases that they expect given the nature of the contracts in place.

“There will be no changes in this respect from the customer perspective when it comes to VTS,” Andy reiterated. “We aren’t going to veer from our plan to grow and having said that, there’s not going to be any first or second tier users; they will all be ETI-NET customers. We have simply consolidated our position in the marketplace even as customers will have a choice based on the options we now bring to the table. We know that tape is not dead. We know that even with cloud computing files ultimately have to go somewhere – whether it’s an issue of regulation or simply having at hand files for research purposes, we have cost effective solutions for whatever today’s applications call for from today’s data center managers. It’s also a really good group of people we will now have that too bring added diversity to the skill sets we are assembling and this should be good news not only to customers but to HPE as well.”

Consolidation within the NonStop vendor community is of value for a very simple reason – both NonStop customers and HPE are looking for a select number of much larger vendors in the NonStop marketplace, where the risk of failure, or indeed, simple atrophy as founders retire, is greatly lessened. While NonStop will unlikely ever attract the likes of Microsoft, Google, Oracle or even SAP-HANA, there’s real value for all stakeholders within the NonStop community in the presence of bigger vendors and ETI-NET is clearly demonstrating a desire to be among the biggest. And the M&A activity is far from over, even as Andy works on the finer details of integrating a diverse group of companies into a single consolidated entity.

Pursuing consolidation, while at the same time adding product diversification, will always be challenging for anyone in the NonStop vendor community. However, looking at the imminent impact HPE’s transformation to hybrid infrastructures will likely have on all products in the HPE Mission Critical Systems portfolio, files will have to have backups and data will need to be archived. The NonStop banner wavers will not be ignored and NonStop customers will be better served by vendors with much deeper pockets and those with broad product portfolios. From what I have read these past few weeks and from the discussions I have had, ETI-NET may have just pulled off one of the deals of the year and for that, the folks like HPE’s Randy Meyer must derive satisfaction – the NonStop vendor community is strengthening even as it is getting bigger!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Payments? ATMs? Are we seeing the full story?

Making time to check the flowers may not be a priority for business and yet, as challenging as it was to arrange, financial institutions are facing bigger challenges as they look to better serve a rapidly changing constituency.   

My attendance at the recent ATMIA US Conference in New Orleans wasn’t just a time for networking and for sampling a little of what New Orleans offers but, more importantly, it was a time to hear firsthand what was happening in the world of ATMs, ATM networks and the payments solutions supporting them. For more years than I care to recount, I have been in and around payments solutions and so it would be very easy for me to become a little jaded and yet, with each conference, I run into a presentation that truly proves enlightening. Such was the case when I walked into the presentation A Blueprint for Next-Generation ATM Networks by Peter Kulik, Director, Digital ATM, Citibank.

The ATM network at Citi represents the face of Citi as seen by its customers everywhere on the planet and for much of the planet’s population the Citi brand is projected solely by the branding on show at each of its ATMs. Before diving into the future blueprints for ATM networks, Kulik stated that, for the foreseeable future, Citi would continue to rely on proprietary software for the interface to ATMs. When it comes to talking about visions, Kulik was even more forceful as he admitted visions are as much aspirational as they are goals as “there are technology challenges for which we don’t have answers.”

Over the course of the past forty years, we have seen many changes taking place in the way we interact with ATMs. Not every intention or opportunity panned out as expected but at the very least, financial institutions were prepared to try different things to keep ATMs a viable option when it comes to supporting consumers. When I watched as the first Nixdorf Computers’ ATM arrived in Sydney being uncrated in a warehouse, we were all bemused to see that the option to keep the fascia heated had been included even though it was a feature only required in northern latitudes where winters temperature would have otherwise froze operations. Maybe the challenges of working in the heat of an Australian summer had confused those assembling this ATM back in Paderborn.

For Citi however, challenges were coming fast and often – pulling together a vision therefore included both near term as well as longer term objectives. A Proof of Concept (PoC) has been underway – indeed, from the nature of what was presented there may have been more than one PoC under way with, at a minimum, one focused on the thin client and another on message routing and translation – and questions continued to be raised. The current situation had seen Citi supporting some 64 ATM functions but clearly, not every location around the planet needed them all so simply coming up with a scheme whereby each location had just the functions they needed was the first item to be addressed as this directly impacted the code within the payments solution they ran. However, this was going to be easy when compared to many of the other tasks slated for inclusion in the Citi vision.

However, one interesting aspect of tuning the functions on hand was that in select markets Citi was already offering a number of PIN-less transactions, including PIN-less Credit Card Payments. Obviously, what hacker would want to insert real cash to pay down a consumer’s credit card! So no, PINs weren’t a requirement. Then again, banking laws differ across markets too, such that in other select markets, Citi was supporting personal loans, prepaid mobile phone “top-up” and even charitable donations, all directly from the ATM. In Latin America there was even the option to perform currency conversions directly on the ATM as consumers could opt for accounts in currencies other than their own. All of which was fuel for the Citi vision as their current network architecture didn’t support a global customer experience.

The transformation of the ATM network was being driven, according to Kulik, “as part of a broader digital transformation being pursued by the bank and yes, this includes global customer experience whereby the user can interface with the digital ‘richest’ experience” that Citi can provide. As for the design centers anchoring the blueprint, there were a number of them and it was a key consideration in order for Citi to move beyond simply having a blueprint to where they would have a modern ATM network.

Among these design centers were the obvious – maintain a leading user interface and transaction- while laying the foundation to better support future enhancements. Also, it was imperative that they integrate the design with Citi’s banking technology infrastructure for mobile, online, internet, branches, etc. everywhere in the world. In other words, Citi wanted a single global code base to efficiently accommodate Citi’s diverse country and regulatory requirements and key to this was a future code base architected to support “micro services, enabled and aligned with continuous delivery and deployment.” These micro services would in turn, support backward compatibility, multi-vendor ATM support, be ATM OS agnostic (to allow choice of software stack), and a preference by Citi to rely on thin-clients wherever feasible.

Finally, and news that would be welcomed by any NonStop user, “Citi’s future technology will have a service based architecture that is built on a decoupled, scalable and responsive application that runs in a cloud!” Think of deploying an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) – from any of IBM, Tibco, Oracle, etc. – into which plug the many micro services Citi envisions having. With clarity, surprising for bankers, Citi sees its future as having micro services as “reusable componentized services that are bound to specific business capabilities (and that) allows for release by module thereby reducing dependencies, shortening test cycles and enabling faster deployment.” That’s it – the blueprint for Next Gen ATMs.

Again, coming from NonStop I was both shocked and surprised. Dare I add, a little disappointed – is this the full story? So much of what was covered appeared to me to be routine considerations for the development of any modern solution on NonStop, but then again, we are talking about the most conservative marketplace of all. The business of dealing with our money, where change happens at a glacial pace! And yet, Citi folks while talking about clouds, service architectures, talked very little about off-the-shelf solutions even as they considered commercial, off-the-shelf hardware for both ATMs and the systems that they interface to as being important considerations when it comes to improving the overall TCO of their ATM network.

Furthermore, this blueprint only covered the ATMs that Citi owned and there was a gap in their overall vision when it comes to the many more ATMs that Citi simply doesn’t own and yet needs to support. More startling, with the necessity to migrate from Windows XP to something like Windows 7 or 10, when it comes to security, Citi is happy with what they see included as part of either version of Windows. And again, that’s it – leave it to MS (or perhaps, Android or even Linux both of which are being considered as future ATM OS options)!  No, the blueprint had very little to say about security and that kind of left me cold.

All of which is to say, with what NonStop provides today together with the ecosystem of partners focused on middleware, tools and monitoring, there’s ample evidence of NonStop support of ATMs will continue to grow. Lesser priced NonStop X systems are developing traction among tier 2 and 3 banks and retailers – just check with OmniPayments CEO, Yash, who took delivery of his third NonStop X system recently and has plans now for four more – and the potential for even greater choice among vendor solutions only adds to the longer term viability of NonStop in payments.

My recent travels have taken me through many states and driving conditions have been challenging at times. At the same time I have seen the desert bloom in Death Valley, something not witnessed for more than a decade. The challenges facing the big banks, on the other hand, are a lot bigger than simply stopping to check the flowers. To see a bank the size of Citi reverting to a do-it-yourself approach startles even as it frightens and begs the even bigger question – will they ever get to roll out anything new? Of course, kudos need to go to Citi and to Kulik for giving the attendees such a presentation.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all that Citi will face comes down to just this final point, and one I know many within the NonStop community have seen before and oftentimes cringed when it’s first encountered: Will the acknowledged differences between what is aspirational and what is real destine blueprints such as Citis to become just another footnote in the history of technology introductions within banks?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pulling at the RUG; NonStop resilience firmly on display around the globe!

Spending time at RUG meetings and I have been a fan for more years than I care to count, is what I enjoy doing more than practically anything else. Shouldn’t you be participating? Often times, this is where news on NonStop breaks first!

Shortly we return to the road; destination – the DUST event in Scottsdale. This time I will be presenting on behalf of a client, OmniPayments, and I am really looking forward to the opportunity to meet-and-greet fellow members of the NonStop community. Originally I had planned on driving up to Chicago and across to Columbus to attend MRTUG and OTUG events but supporting my clients always comes first, so perhaps, next time.

Ever since I became involved with the NonStop Regional User Groups (RUGs), back in 2001 and on behalf of the ITUG Board, I have really enjoyed the camaraderie that emanates from RUG events no matter where they are held. I have travelled on a ferry boat between Stockholm and Helsinki for VNUG, the gathering of Viking NonStop Users and I have spent a very enjoyable week on Australia’s Gold Coast with OzTUG! South Africa? Terrific group of very enthusiastic users and I will always remember attending their inaugural meeting at a golf course that kicked off the current SATUG organization.

There have been times however, where I wasn’t all that sure the community would survive and several times I arrived at a venue only to find two or three users present – on one occasion, and I seem to recall it was in London, only one user participated but they were very well entertained, I must admit. At its peak, back in the mid-2000s, there were approximately 35 active RUGs with plans in place to add a handful more groups. In the decades I have been involved with one user community or another, it’s been at the grass roots level where I truly see what’s important for users of a vendors products and services.

User groups are all about community and being among fellow advocates of a technology you yourself are most likely to be very fond of – whether it’s an inherited emotion following decisions taken years, even decades, earlier by others or as a direct result of actions you initiated, seeing your positive opinion reflected in the eyes of others is a sensation like no other in the world of technology. And as Martin Fink, EVP & HPE CTO, so tellingly revealed, across the whole product line of HPE there is no other group that knows the value proposition of its product more than the NonStop community does.

There’s resilience within the NonStop community that is very hard to define and oftentimes, justify. It’s steeped in legends even as it’s alive with favorite anecdotes – the evening trip down a river adjacent to the Emerald Resort outside Johannesburg, South Africa, remains my all-time favorite end-of-day activity and being able to move among HPE executives, product managers and a rich variety of consultants and end users, well it was a magical time. Can someone pass me another Castle beer?

Missing out on MRTUG and OTUG means I will not get to hear the presentation by HPE’s Keith Moore. Keith is on the leading edge when it comes to ensuring the latest technology makes it onto NonStop systems and has been a key contributor in helping other vendors bring frameworks and even languages to NonStop.

His presentation and demo featuring The Internet of Things (IoT) “is the hot topic for next generation of the Internet. NonStop servers are great enablers for collection, analysis, and distribution of this new type of information,” according to the brief description on the agenda for the OTUG event, but I believe Keith will be providing a similar presentation to attendees at MRTUG as well. “Almost all of the demo is using InfraSoft’s new bomBora product and I make a point of saying this,” Keith said.  “There are two new tools / features I will highlight: firstly, Node.js (bomBora), which I call out, and then secondly, Redis which is the pub/sub database.”

Again, the whole point of conducting events like this on a regional basis is to allow attendees to see first-hand what product roadmaps are telling the community and what solutions architects working with applications are telling just about everyone with whom they come into contact. If you really want to know what’s hot across the NonStop community you can expect to hear it first at a RUG event. Oftentimes, it’s a presentation given by a vendor that proves to be the turning point for fledgling products just coming to market and to see the responses from the audience in person, well, there really isn’t any substitute.

Sometimes the product or feature being introduced is a little ahead of any identifiable market need but that too is an outcome of the businesses NonStop serves as they are at the very heart of many of the major financial transaction processing solutions. It’s not every day you expect to see change but even so, it happens! It’s gradual and it’s measured – the element of risk is never far from the scene and for these businesses it’s just not an option to mess things up royally. No, it’s over coffee and the occasional adult beverage that business learns a lot about what’s happening right now as well as what to expect to see very soon.

I have a lot of enthusiasm for Node.js coming to NonStop. Attendees at both MRTUG and OTUG should be sure to catch Keith’s presentation as within the slides there will be further updates on the progress of Node.js on NonStop. I have written about this development many times over the years and gradually, the pieces are coming together and the availability of a viable product is at hand. But more importantly, it’s as if Node.js was designed with NonStop in mind, unlike Java. 

If you missed my early posts, the most important post was that of barely a year ago on November 13, 2014, Modernization – and NonStop is a key part of the landscape! Even as long ago as 2014, “Node.js has been gaining popularity as underlying technology for enterprise applications,” note Neil Coleman and Dave Finnie of InfraSoft Pty Ltd – the company behind the very deep port of the Node.js platform. “Large organizations including Wal-Mart, eBay, PayPal, MasterCard, and LinkedIn have all rolled out Node.js applications.”

More importantly in hindsight, and something that really first attracted me to the work done on the port, “
The Node.js model of event-driven, non-blocking I/O that is particularly suited to I/O bound applications - it may have almost been dictated by the fundamental concepts of writing a high-performance OLTP application running on the NSK operating system.” While current implementations of Node.js, obviously, do not possess the level of fault tolerance and scalability that software running on the HP NonStop Server can offer it’s all about to change with InfraSoft’s bomBora.

In the lead up to these RUG events, I asked Keith Moore about his demo and of the potential scope of the opportunity from having support for JavaScript on NonStop. “To-date, no customer is jumping on the product,” said Keith. “But literally every day I hear someone ask me (specifically) about JavaScript on NonStop. I think that 2017 is the year where it becomes more of a requirement. This is because we are just now hearing movement toward JSON and RESTful services on NonStop. Those discussions eventually lead to websockets and web apps, which eventually lead to JavaScript.” Based on what I am hearing, expect an article in an upcoming Connect magazine with more details on IoT enablement using Nonstop.”

This reference to JavaScript on NonStop is just one example of what’s new on NonStop that every attendee at these upcoming RUG meetings will be hearing about – but there’s a lot more than just JavaScript. Clearly, there will be considerable interest in hearing more about the availability of Yuma and the opportunity to better, and indeed more simply, develop solutions for hybrid environment comprising (most likely) NonStop and Linux. And perhaps, if the right questions are asked we will hear even more about NonStop running in a virtual environment following the demonstrations given at the recent Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.

Hybrids, Virtual Machines, JavaScript – just email this post to your CIO and line of business managers and see what response you get. Where did you hear all about this – well, at the recent RUG event and well, there’s even more coming. Can’t wait for the next NonStop Technical Boot Camp – perhaps management should plan on checking it out for themselves!

Conversations similar to the above are more than likely going to happen as more information on the future of NonStop is revealed. Of course, this isn’t to downplay the importance of this summer’s upcoming HPE Discover event. In case you didn’t recognize the photo atop the post – it’s the lobby of The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas where in just three months’ time, from June 7 – 9, HPE’s big-tent event will be held.

I have always been a big supporter of RUGs and will always find space and time to write about them. Driving across the country to participate in as many as I can is not a chore but a calling of sorts – it’s what I like to do. So, if you see me by the coffee machine then stop me, introduce yourself, and let me know what brought you to the RUG. I am more than happy to spend as much time with you as I can as, after all, it’s our community and let’s not ever lose sight of that! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Covering all points on the compass, NonStop is hard to miss!

Nothing but clear skies ahead even as the highway beckons! At the ATMIA US Conference the panel sessions proved to be an interesting backdrop to challenges still facing financial institutions and yet, financial transactions still pass through NonStop … 

The ATMIA US Conference in New Orleans was the must-to-go place for everyone involved with ATMs. Whether it’s the devices themselves, the parties involved with moving the cash around or those involved in providing payments solutions, this rapidly growing event had it all.

Of course, the conference itself featured an exhibition hall with 85 plus exhibitors and there certainly was a lot to take in. It was also good to see companies with strong ties to NonStop exhibiting and this included companies such as FSS and FIS as well as Visa and Pulse / Discover.

However, for me, the real excitement came with the numerous panel sessions where ATMIA did a very good job of ensuring a representation from all interested parties were included and that often extended beyond simply users and vendors to include analysts, the press and even consultants close to ATMIA itself.

The result was not just a balanced discussion but ensured more than one aspect of the topic was covered. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinions and when it comes to cash, there were as many opinions as there were attendees.

There’s a growing sense that the bad days of winter are behind us and that, as the temperature begins to climb, we will be spending more time outdoors and for me, this also means more time on the road. Rest areas are clear of snow and while it’s a cliché, there’s nothing like driving under clear blue skies! As I noted in the last post, with February drawing to a close, we have driven across nearly twenty states as we have taken in Las Vegas and then Dallas and New Orleans.

This week will be our last in Boulder as this time next week, we hit the highway once again as we head to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend DUST – the Regional User Group that accommodates NonStop users from Tucson and Phoenix and all points in between. It also is a hidden gem, when it comes to fine dining in America.

Time spent on the road means interacting with NonStop on a regular basis. When you stop to pump gas anywhere, use your Visa debit to pay for fast food or coffee, your MasterCard to check into your hotel, your AT&T smartphone to text a message, there’s every chance whatever I am transacting is passing through at least one NonStop system, oftentimes even more than just one system.

To attempt to explain all of that to even the most frequent attendee at events like the ATMIA still draws a blank with many of them and yet, it’s still important that as a NonStop community, we continue to emphasize just how widely used are today’s NonStop systems. But in reality it’s hard to ignore just how strong an influence NonStop commands today in the world of transactions.

A central theme at the ATMIA event had to do with the commercial servers in each ATM – Windows XP no longer will cut it and all networks need to make moves to upgrade with either Windows 7 or Windows 10 being the preferred replacement OS. There are some though considering Android and even Linux, but for the most part, the move will be to a more modern version of Windows.

What makes the discussion lively is the fact that while the bigger banks have moved off of Windows XP and yes, OS/2 and even Windows NT/2000, many of the smaller to medium size deployments are only slowly migrating even though Microsoft support for Windows XP ceased in April 2014, from what I heard.

But the point remains, 21st century ATMs are all commercial server based that are sourced from multiple vendors. The onus now is on the big ATM suppliers to continue to add to their security offerings even as the migration off Windows XP is being dovetailed with the need to support the EMV mandate. Security was clearly a big topic at the ATMIA event but the surprising thing for me to hear was that even though it’s a mandate, not everyone is rushing to embrace EMV!

Quite the contrary, many POS devices haven’t been swapped for new generation terminals supporting chip and pin but rather, where they have been introduced (and mostly by the big box stores like Home Depot and Target), they are chip and mag stripe. ATMs of the major banks seem better setup to handle chip and pin, certainly, but as for the rest, they are pretty much in the same boat as these less protected POSs. Yes, for the most part, we have all received chip-enabled cards but it’s pretty much universally accepted that in America we will be on chip and signature for quite a long time.

Not even equipped with NFC or QR capabilities, these devices aren’t doing anyone a favor but it’s part of the American way – we all move at the same rate as the last business to embrace and if you want to use your smartphone, it’s still a hit and miss proposition. For many attendees at the ATMIA event, even as our eyes rolled to the back of our heads, we all agreed that fortunately, we still had cash and surely, having cash ensured us the highest possible level of security. As Charlie Brown would say, after Lucie pulled the football, Ahhhhhhh!

But ATMs using commercial servers that are essentially PCs takes us back to language surrounding NonStop of late. In posts and commentaries provided elsewhere there’s been extensive coverage of the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. While it has now wrapped up, if you visit the HPE web site and check out the page Showcase, you will see sitting atop the list, of all that is being showcased by HPE, the heading Transform to a Hybrid Infrastructure

Cool, but follow the link and you will find sitting atop that list the heading Virtual NonStop Infrastructure.  In case you missed it, what attendees were being encouraged to do was to "Visit this demo to learn about the future of highly available and massively scalable infrastructure for your core network. This is a live demonstration featuring a potential HPE virtual NonStop environment with x86 COTS hardware."

And here’s where I have seen for the very first time NonStop systems being described as COTS,  Commercial-Off-The-Shelf, hardware and I am wondering whether the new "NonStop as Software" now free from hardware and becoming clearly free from infrastructure will find a home on just about anyone’s COTS hardware.

Probably not, and as best I can tell, this is not on the NonStop roadmap so don’t go making calls to IBM for instance any time soon. NonStop remains firmly a HPE Mission Critical Systems solution. There is still a lot more to NonStop than just a sliver of OS capable of running on the Intel x86 architecture as, remember, it’s the whole stack!

Time spent on the road is always educational and the variety of transactions you initiate are almost endless but every time you perform a transaction, there is every chance your transaction will pass through at least on NonStop system. And no system continues to provide the value proposition that NonStop offers.

Perhaps comparing an ATM with a NonStop system is a stretch but then again, perhaps not – as branch offices begin to fade from the scene and are replaced with far more complex systems (check out Quantum Systems, MonRo, complete with its robotic arm for a glimpse at one perspective of what that future may look like), as NonStop gets even smaller future comparisons may not be quite as off-the-wall as we would like to think.

Trust I will see you all at DUST and travel safe!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Files, logs, and backups … just keep it all rolling!

It was a wild ride into New Orleans but we had to continue driving – there wasn’t any alternative as commitments had been made. How often do we make plans even today without fully exploring back-up options?

I have covered a lot of distance over the past couple of weeks and with February already drawing to a close these trips have included visits to Las Vegas and New Orleans. What we observed and how we handled the travel have been covered in previous posts, but it’s fair to say, both towns share a couple of things in common. They are entertainment capitals certainly, but they are also living on the edge – gambling is in evidence everywhere you turn.

A history steeped in riverboat gamblers is hard to hide in New Orleans even as the crime bosses inventiveness in Las Vegas too seems to still permeate its streets and yet, there’s a constant stream of visitors to both locations who seem focused on doing nothing other than gambling. And with risk come rewards, but only to a select few and even as we forked over a few dollars there was never any real expectation of winning big at the tables.

Recently I have spent a lot of time digesting much of what constitutes The Machine. While the implications for the NonStop community are still a fair way off, its influence however can be seen already. Just the acknowledgment that NonStop is a software offering and that in the labs NonStop is running in a virtual machine, gives credence to the fact that moves are being made to give enterprises the opportunity to extend the timeline for NonStop well into the future. A future we all know is beginning to rotate around The Machine. The catch phrase all those who attended 2014 HP Discover in Las Vegas heard was hard to miss as according to Martin Fink, EVP and HPE CTO, “all you need to know is that ‘electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store.’”

Paging through the HPE web site, I came across the blog, Behind the Scenes, HPE Labs, where I came across a post published shortly after the announcement of The Machine, The Machine – HP Labs launches a bold new research initiative to transform the future of computing . A couple of sentences from the post caught my attention and without reposting too much from that post, here’s what I liked. “The Machine is a multi-year, multi-faceted program to fundamentally redesign computing to handle the enormous data flows of the future. It aims to reinvent computer architecture from the ground up, enabling a quantum leap in performance and efficiency while lowering costs and improving security.”

This was followed by quotes from Fink’s announcement, “In our photonics research, we’re using light to connect hundreds of racks in a low-latency, 3D fabric. And our work in Memristors points to the development of universal memory – memory that collapses the memory/storage hierarchy by fusing the two functions in one hyper-efficient package.”

The inclusion of Memristors in the announcement of The Machine shouldn’t have come as a surprise in hindsight, as HPE had been working with Memristors for some time albeit without too much success. But the promise of Memristors nevertheless is tantalizing if for no other reason than it changes the game when it comes to memory/storage. In short, there’s no hierarchy any more – all memory is the same and indeed there’s only one type of storage. Memory, as supported by Memristors. And the memory expands almost to infinity – you can now access almost unlimited amounts of memory without any of the latency overhead associated with lower layers of memory in the former storage hierarchy.

As much as The Machine is a game changer and a complete break from computer architectures of the past, should HPE pull off this enormous financial gamble, it will likely start appearing in data centers as soon as late 2019 with partial implementation in the form of The Machine ready operating systems and even processes. Moonshot, anyone? Recall how Fink said, “With Moonshot we’re creating system-on-a-chip packages that combine processors, memory, and connectivity,” so will some of The Machine make its first appearance as options for Moonshot servers? For the NonStop community that typically takes a long time to make changes to its systems, 2019 isn’t all that far away, so it’s the right time to ask questions about how it all will work for them.

How does this affect our understanding of computing? What about files and databases? What about the movement of files and indeed, moving files offsite? Surely, with The Machine there’s no expectation that we will simply rely on one instance of The Machine – good business governance surely dictates we have a second, and indeed potentially more than two sites running The Machine. Furthermore, if you look at the impact Big Data and Data Analytics are already having on transaction processing systems, including NonStop systems, we are still going to be pulling data and files in from other locations, many of which will not be residing on The Machine. Finally, regulatory authorities are still going to need the files even as other institutions mandate key business files are stored off site for many years.

One instance of the impact from The Machine is consideration given to simply replicating to a second instance of The Machine – reading log files, necessary for modern replication products, following the Change Data Capture (CDC) model – certainly it will run fast, but will the database log files really be in memory? Would a log file solely created in memory meet all of our log file requirements? If we elect to connect The Machine to other storage offerings, assuming that The Machine even supports such connectivity, although with the powerful transformation to hybrid infrastructure messages coming from HPE we can expect some relief on this front, so hopefully, the commercialization of The Machine takes this into account.

And what of moving data between The Machine and other systems performing Data Analytics – in theory, columnar databases that we associate with Big Data should have no problem utilizing the massive amounts of memory on The Machine but does all that extraneous and oftentimes unnecessary data need to be on The Machine?

“Rest assured, in the foreseeable future, it’s a safe bet that pulling select information from a volatile database is best handled by looking at the log files created at the time updates are made to the database. CDC has been a process well understood for a long time and has been the vehicle vendors, in the file and database replication business, have relied upon for years,” said Sami Akbay, Cofounder at WebAction, Inc.

“In recent times, this same process is being used to not just replicate files and databases, but as a valuable source to feed to data stream analytics processes, something Striim is now doing," said Akbay. "When you think of all that’s involved in turning petabytes into something meaningful and of use to online transaction processing, then connecting with the source via CDC is the only viable way to view data as it is being born. But will we be looking to do this to logs residing in memory on The Machine? I guess we will just have to wait and see but I am anticipating finding the data we need will be off platform for reasons apart from speed and reduced costs.”

However, Memristors still represent a gamble on the part of HPE and early iterations of The Machine may be introduced without Memristors. As the author of the blog post already referenced noted, The Machine represents “a multi-year, multi-faceted program” where a complete system will likely take time to be introduced  – certainly, The Machine that itself is a hybrid cannot be ruled out. There are certainly many in the NonStop community who will watch patiently from the sidelines for a while and I am expecting few within the NonStop to be early adopters. 

While the full capabilities of a complete The Machine may still be a pipe-dream for many, as Shawn Sabanayagam, Chairman and CEO, Tributary Systems, Inc., suggested recently, HPE faces challenges when it comes to presenting options for logs, files and databases and the best approach for taking backups. “Memory, unlimited or not, is volatile; providing memory, infinite in size and non-volatile (still very hard to envision), off system storage and backup will always have a need and a place, Shawn said. “One cannot archive data in memory – not practical and not possible.” And Shawn could have as easily added, it doesn’t even make sense.

For instance, explained Shawn, “Technology and methodology may change on how backup storage is created and managed but backup storage will not go away.” Among the reasons listed for its continued presence in the data center are the many issues with an all-memory approach. “Volatility, security, longevity, susceptibility to corruption, leakage and data loss,” Shawn suggested. And this was just for starters!

“What we really anticipate with the arrival of The Machine is just one more phase or step needing to be addressed by products, including our Storage Director. We have passed from just moving files to tape; then disk to tape; then it was disk to multiple targets (all policy based by pools of data); then from flash to disk and flash to tape to cloud; now, going forward to a full virtual instance (as in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud - EC2, a web service) running in the cloud with a software defined data center model etc. etc. So the NonStop community can rest assured that this is all just a continuation of the need to satisfy user requirements in a manner best suited to the technology of the day.”

Gambling has been with us through the ages and irrespective of your take on the nature of gambling and whether it’s what we associate with technology corporations, the element of risk definitely applies. Looking out of our hotel window at the mighty Mississippi rolling by, as it has for eons, I couldn't help but observe the timelessness and persistence of nature and contrast it with the often dramatic changes that take place across the IT landscape.  

HPE has placed all of its chips on The Machine and it’s a square that is not the only square on the table. However, it’s also a solution that will be introduced over time where HPE takes incremental baby-steps along the way and where subtle shifts in the priorities of NonStop projects will see NonStop contributing to The Machine.

When it comes to configurations of The Machine capable of replacing current NonStop systems, there will be options, of course, but will they be all that different to what we have today? If I truly was a betting man I would have to say, the more things change the more NonStop may simply look the same!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You have NonStop solutions but who you gonna call!

A chance forced detour out on the highway reminded me of just how important good service is - for the NonStop community there are many options when it comes to service and I suspect there will be even greater demand for services in the future. Think for a moment about Hybrids and NonStop as Software!  

Driving the many miles we do, attending one conference or another, we probably spend more time in car service bays than most. Throw into the mix the need to accommodate extreme temperature changes that living next to the continental divide creates, and the expenses climb steadily through any given year. Seeking the assistance of service managers isn’t restricted to where we live either, as we have been forced, on occasion, to pull into garages all across the western states of America. Service, particularly when it comes to cars, is something Margo and I know a lot about. As much as it really hurts to own up to such familiarity with car service centers across the country, it’s our bank account that tends to suffer.

This post is being written after having just returned from Las Vegas and where in a few days’ time, we head to New Orleans for the ATMIA US Conference 2016, where the theme is “Connecting Consumers and their Money to the ATM.” As the original “cash dispensing machines,” the ATM “remains a convenient and trusted self-service channel.” Last week I was in Las Vegas and Sin City is fueled by cash and you can’t escape the presence of ATMs or for that matter, Bill Breakers, but as for trusted self-service … these days, it’s almost as if service has lost out to products and applications. How often do we hear today that yes, there’s an app for that!

By chance, we learnt of an app provided by the Colorado Department of Transport (CDOT) and we installed the app. Turned out, it was a good thing we did. CDOT was very forthcoming in telling us that the main arterial highway connecting the west to Denver was closed in both directions. A major rock fall had sent boulders crashing onto the highway blocking lanes and causing damage to the roadway.

Turned out we had to follow a 130 mile detour to the south but even as the miles added up, we were thankful for the service being provided by CDOT. While I have written many column inches on products available to the NonStop community I may not have given enough attention to the many services on offer from the same vendors. Nor have I written about vendors we know very well who are thriving today even though they started out providing services long before they brought products to market.

“Our origins are deeply rooted in the services business – the products you see today grew from observations we made while providing services,” recalls OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. For those of us who know Yash well, this comes as no surprise as it was the opportunity to consult with customers worldwide that gave him the impetus to create the modules that eventually led to the creation of OmniPayments.

Likewise, at DataExpress, according to CEO, Billy Whittington, “Our roots are firmly anchored in services. Our technical competence has always been in moving data, whether via IBM products or third party such as NET/MASTER File Transfer or NDM/Connect:Direct, and it was this competence that opened the door to consulting. That’s where we started and how we gained our first customer. Our move into products came about when we saw an opportunity and today, with DataExpress NonStop (DXNS), our services offerings are focused on being complementary to our product offerings.”

Origins, and indeed, roots in services and consulting; an obvious path to gaining the credibility needed to sell products. Not surprisingly, the more I talked to the NonStop vendor community the more this became a recognizable pattern, and for good reason. When you place experienced people in front of real problems and the requirements raised are seen as having universal appeal, the transition to building a tool or a utility or even the foundation for a comprehensive product set, seems the obvious way forward. It’s a characteristic of really smart people that they don’t want to do anything more than once so helping themselves out by developing a tool, utility or product seems an obvious path to follow.

That was many years ago for most of the NonStop vendors I talked to. Times change and now, with so many discussions around transformations, hybrid computers, clouds and the infrastructure that is typically required, most data centers where NonStop systems are present aren’t equipped to install, integrate, and deploy the many tools, utilities and products that are involved. Even the simplest of utilities requires hooks into existing business logic at some point and that requires choices to be made. Not for the faint-hearted is deploying a new product on an operational NonStop system. Services from established vendors are now welcomed by almost everyone in the NonStop community.

“Our success lies in us providing services, particularly into emerging markets, where the primary vendor doesn’t always have the skillsets readily available – our solutions are easy to install but every customer needs help in establishing rules, best practices and even connectivity with their business partners, all of which are well catered for by the staff on hand at OmniPayments,” said Yash. Increasingly, this has become the expectation of enterprises new to NonStop. As the NonStop vendor community look to broaden their presence in different markets, moving out of an original niche and embracing something new becomes less daunting.

“At DataExpress, we are exceptionally strong in the Financial Services market segment but more recently we have turned our attention to Healthcare. We are looking to develop a foothold in this market segment where we anticipate growth coming from our DataExpress Open Platform (DXOP) product,” added Whittington of DataExpress. What DataExpress has experienced from offering services is that even among the biggest banks in America, the need to provide consulting services, sometimes spanning many years, isn’t unusual and for DataExpress, such multi-year opportunities help develop a very strong bond between user and vendor. 

Recently, I was exploring the subject of services with comForte CTO, Thomas Burg. The NonStop community knows all too well of how  comForte’s roots date back to the late 1980’s / early 1990’s where the focus too was on services and custom development for “Tandem” Customers. From that services work sprang the ideas for some of the products we all are very familiar with.I had just completed a post to the comForte blog, The End to Security as an Afterthought: 2016 Trends in which Burg had told me that, “we are driven to provide as many services as we can, with or without our products, as security is such a demanding pursuit. With these latest service deliverables, we consider our main drivers to be providing value to the customer.”

Furthermore, said Burg, providing these services benefits greatly when we tap the skills of others and recently, “We decided to work with Knightcraft. Principal consultant, Greg Swedosh, is someone we have come to appreciate as we know that he has plenty of experience in working in the PCI area. We can benefit, of course, whenever we can complement our current service offerings with even more expertise and Greg brings with him a strong background in Safeguard, general NonStop security and vendor security products.”

Today, the services provided by Burg and his team at comForte can be obtained directly from comForte, whether as part of a product purchase from comForte or independently, even where there are no comForte products present. Leveraging the security expertise of comForte and its associates is a service that will only grow in importance as, when it comes to security, we all need as much help as we can find.

The need for the NonStop community to involve vendors providing services will only increase following recent HPE disclosures of their product roadmaps. HPE Executives have been noticeably vocal about where they are headed and while the information disclosed to date is very encouraging for the NonStop community, many NonStop users will definitely be looking for help from their partners. “Like other vendors within the NonStop community, we are following the HPE announcement for NonStop X and Hybrids and it is our expectation that the need for services from DataExpress will likely grow considerably,” DataExpress’s Whittington told me. “We are prepared to meet that challenge head-on.”

It’s an old saying, but still pertinent all the same. Service can differentiate products – those products where good service is also provided often end up gaining the upper hand in the marketplace. And rightly so; it just makes sense to work with those vendors who can provide services as needed. The NonStop community is well supported by vendors able to provide services and as much as it may be the untold story, should the NonStop community expand in the coming years, as I sense it will, then simply knowing who to call for that expertise will make future growth a whole lot easier. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Back to Vegas … sights firmly set on even more NonStop events!

With road trips about to kick off in earnest, it’s good to be getting out and about among the NonStop community. And the good news is that NonStop is still here, still funded even as it remains highly visible to senior executives within HPE!

Calendars are being reviewed and with a flourish of highlighting pens the first half of 2016 is beginning to take shape. Who says that the NonStop community isn’t active or that there’s little support for user events? Clearly, the first half of the year will be bookended with 2016 HP Discover, but there will be other events including MRTUG (Chicago) and possibly GTUG (Berlin) that are really must-attend occasions. I would have liked to have penciled in SunTUG, as the folks out at Tampa are always fun to be with, but already we have to deal with conflicting dates.

There are also plans firming up for Margo and me to participate in industry association events as well, with the
ATMIA event in New Orleans scheduled for later this month now top of the list. In the past this has attracted numerous NonStop customers as it’s becoming the highlight of the year for many financial institutions and already the list of NonStop users and indeed vendors who will be participating continues to grow – at last count, there are more than 85 exhibitors, including well known NonStop supporters such as Pulse / Discover and Visa. There will be many road trips crisscrossing the country before summer is fully upon us.

On the other hand, putting Colorado snow days behind us is tempting. Digging out from the latest 18” plus snowfall may be good exercise but it’s nothing we want to grow accustomed to. We will be driving to all of these events, GTUG excepted of course; we will be mixing in numerous customer and vendor café chats – with Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas and possibly a stop in between is already highlighted in our calendar, if you would like to join us for coffee on any of these dates, let me know. It’s still early and we have considerable flexibility at this time. With the price of gas continuing to head south, going the extra miles isn’t as onerous as it used to be.

We have started packing our bags to be ready to head out later this week as Margo and I are doing our first trip to Las Vegas for 2016. In the past we have organized meetings with clients to coincide with trips to Vegas this time of year. We end up entertaining a lot during HP Discover events so we will be doing a little extra scouting of the restaurants, but clearly,
Mastro Ocean Club, Las Vegas, continues to be at the top of the list and we always manage to entertain parties from HPE at this venue.

If you are as yet not familiar with Mastro then you are really missing out on one of the best fine dining experiences ever, and don’t be fooled by the name, visits to the ocean club are still all about their steaks. It was while we were in Simi Valley that XYPRO’s Scott Uroff first told Margo about the Mastro experience and we have been hooked ever since. In Las Vegas, Mastro is situated in what the locals call the birdcage – a distinctive architectural element within Crystals at City Center.

However, when it comes to the NonStop community the opportunities to get together and to talk, to reminisce, to plan and to compare notes are on the uptick. Whether or not these events include adult beverages and a night on the town isn’t as important as the opportunity to hear firsthand what HPE plans are for NonStop, and if 2015 was any indication of what those plans really are then 2016 can only see more good news install for the NonStop community.

As we have covered in previous posts, we are now facing a richness in NonStop unlike at any other time that I can recall. There are two families of NonStop systems, NonStop i and NonStop X, each with multiple siblings. And then the veil has been pulled away from NonStop as software and even more impressive, consideration of an eventual NonStop as service(s) offering is being openly discussed.

One other event I am particularly looking forward to attending is the partner event HPE NonStop product management is arranging, set for May 24, 2016. If as yet you haven’t seen the advance flyer promoting the NonStop Partner Technical Symposium then reach out to HPE’s Karen Copeland or MOMI’s Kathy Wood.

I can recall back in the late 1980s when the Tandem Alliance program was in full flight how similar gatherings of partners proved to be extremely lively and I have the sense that this year’s event will not be lacking for either enthusiasm or challenges – already, talk around Palo Alto is with consideration being given to the size of the venue, vendors may be limited to just four attendees and that sends a positive message in and of itself.

What I think most vendors will be looking for in terms of updates from HPE NonStop product managers is news on pilots and early-stage testing of YUMA – the new API and services in support of hybrid configurations featuring NonStop and Linux / Windows. Without giving too much of the game away as best as I can tell it looks like the key selling point of NonStop and Linux hybrids is cost savings and not from reducing the size of NonStop, but rather, moving away from proprietary databases such as Oracle. Continuing to let the application remain on Linux while accessing NonStop SQL seems to be attracting users and any opportunity to lessen their financial exposure to Oracle warrants giving NonStop a second look.

But again, I think there’s more here than just offloading the database – in time I believe more than one NonStop vendor will begin offering middleware that extends the mantle of fault tolerance to adjacent systems where reinforcing the persistence message to applications and files not designed to run on NonStop can be considered. Point is, there are a lot of smart folks familiar with the workings of NonStop who will begin to exploit Yuma with hybrids inclusive of NonStop, and in all likelihood, NonStop will remain relevant with future hybrid configurations as it adds value in new and exciting ways.

I can only reiterate that companies that put in motion plans to scale back their dependencies on NonStop systems may have acted prematurely as bottom line, running NonStop SQL on a NonStop X in a hybrid configuration that includes applications running on Linux is much cheaper than running Oracle on a Linux cluster. NonStop SQL continues to impress anyone who takes a closer look – its support of mixed workloads remains unmatched in comparison to alternate offerings.

If you think that statement is a stretch then ask yourself, why is HPE looking at ways to make NonStop SQL as a Service a reality in the mid-term? Possibly as early as the 2018 timeframe? NonStop continues to bring a lot of value to the table and that is clearly substantiated by the turn out at recent user and community events. Maybe there are not as many NonStop supporters prepared to put as many miles on their cars as Margo and I do nor are there as many enterprises running NonStop as there once were.

But the good news is that NonStop is still here, still funded with major investments in NonStop systems ongoing, continues to be a profitable member of the HPE Mission Critical Server portfolio, and probably most important of all, NonStop has visibility all the way up the HPE management chain to the CTO himself, Martin Fink.

I’m not averse to shoveling snow from around the house even though I am now looking for the first signs of spring and the news out of the east according to those well-known rodents is that an early spring is being forecast. With as many road trips as we have planned right now, that is a relief – snow may make the landscape more picturesque than it otherwise deserves, but as February sets in, enough is enough!

Looking forward to catching up with as many of you as we can and yes, NonStop without limits, restrictions or caveats? A real player on today’s IT stage? Absolutely, and for the NonStop community this creates probably as many warm and fuzzy feelings as the first signs of spring.