Thursday, November 13, 2014

Modernization – and NonStop is a key part of the landscape!

Even as many NonStop users need to look to modernize their existing applications there’s a pressing need to include modern platform support on NonStop to attract new applications – and shortly, at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp we will hear more of one project in support of such a mission.

Pictured above is an architect’s representation of an addition to the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and from what I read this morning it would appear that it is about to open to the public. In an article just published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, UTS unveils 'paper bag' building, the future home of the UTS business school certainly isn’t escaping comments –calling it a paper bag, tells its own story.

However, for those who have seen some pretty far-out structures in Prague, Vienna and even Barcelona, they can’t help but wonder about the intrusion of highly fluid lines that has worked their way into the form of these buildings. Whether or not they appeal to everyone, they do stand out as very modern interpretations of what a structure can look like – fluid? Definitely; when it comes to modernization of a city’s skyline the eye tends to gravitate to these examples of somewhat extreme architecture.

Watching Sydney develop in the 1970s was surely entertaining. On the one hand, we experienced considerable façade architecture being practiced – something I touched on several years ago in the article Façade - Architecture! One Way to Avoid Scarring As We Soar Into the Clouds that was published in the May – June, 2011, issue of The Connection. Back then, I wrote that when it comes to modernization and using modern technology to empower an enterprise to become more innovative, it comes as no surprise that CIOs are loathe casting aside all that is in place.

In other words, there were very legitimate reasons why modernization programs built on what already existed – a fresh coat of paint, a new entrance lobby, even a complete gutting of the premises – preserving the foundations while presenting a new face to the general public was considered an important element in retaining the distinct characteristic of the city. What was happening to Sydney in the 1970s has born a lot of similarity to what has been happening across IT and CIOs everywhere have been able to bring a wealth of business logic into the 21st century.

However, there is a very big distinction between the pursuit of modernization and the creation of something that is modern. I touched on this just recently in a private emailing to a number of managers and executives that I work with, but it’s worth repeating to a wider audience. Whenever the topic of modernization is raised across the NonStop community, it generates considerable passion even as it pushes community members into different camps. Such discussions, I observed, go down one of two paths: modernizing what is already in place or leveraging modern tools, services and frameworks for something new.

Both camps are well served today by a number of middleware vendors and the product offerings from the NonStop vendors such as comForte, CAIL and NuWave represent the end-result of considerable investments they have made. All financed off their own dime, no less. This was something I wrote about in my most recent post to the comForte blog, For those NonStop systems looking too much like legacy; replacement potential is high! It was comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, who made the case for modernization even as he observed that at comForte, “from our roots in terminal emulation and our desire to freshen the user experience, I think the opportunity for comForte supporting modernization is about as large as the market for security. We do have plenty of material in this area – as of late, the NonStop for Dummies book as well as the modernization white paper.”

Not surprisingly, what concerns Burg most of all is that, when it comes to modernization, “it’s unfortunate but still a realistic observation - with no modernization effort undertaken, even the most recently deployed application will be gone in as little as five years and with their demise, the explanation will likely include references to NonStop simply being an old (dare we say, legacy) system and that today, makes my blood boil.” Fortunately, modern applications are appearing and the success of some solutions vendors can be attributed to those applications being based on modern technologies, architectures and platforms.

The most apparent examples come from the Payments Processing marketplace. Lusis Payments and OmniPayments have enjoyed success of late as they have both embraced modern methodologies. With embracing SOA and incorporating a hybrid NonStop / Linux configuration, OmniPayments, Inc. has produced an extremely price competitive solution that focuses on NonStop even as it has not neglected including features all Financial Institution’s demand, and in so doing, highlights the benefits from leveraging modern programming languages, database systems and network connectivity. However, following the announcement of NonStop support for the Intel x86 architecture, focus has swung back to the consideration of supporting additional services, frameworks and product utilizing the latest programming models on offer today.

In the upcoming November – December 2014 issue of the NonStop community magazine there is an article jointly written by InfraSoft Pty Limited founding executives, Dave Finnie and Neil Coleman. Based in Sydney, Australia, InfraSoft has already successfully introduced a modern approach to networking with their product uLinga and is now in the early stages of launching services, gateways and APIs to make Cloud access transparent with their maRunga product. Now InfraSoft has elected to capitalize on the arrival of NonStop on x86 in a rather novel, yet highly significant manner.

The article, under the heading Node.js on the HP NonStop Server is as much an announcement of a new product – yet again, leveraging the Australian Aboriginal language the product is named bomBora - as it is a primer on the value of developing modern applications using Server Side JavaScript (SSJS). “For the last 18 months, Node.js has been gaining popularity as underlying technology for enterprise applications,” note the authors. “Large organizations including Wal-Mart, eBay, PayPal, MasterCard, and LinkedIn have all rolled out Node.js applications. Why? For many candidates for both increased usage and new adoption of the HP NonStop, modernization of existing applications is no longer the challenge. The Node.js platform has the potential to support applications that meet a wide range of business requirements.”

But what really makes it pertinent to NonStop, particularly NonStop on x86? “The Node.js model of event-driven, non-blocking I/O that is particularly suited to I/O bound applications,” the authors state. “It may have almost been dictated by the fundamental concepts of writing a high-performance OLTP application running on the NSK operating system. 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. One of the attractive attributes of Node.js is its ease of extensibility. Areas that we have extended, especially those that will be familiar to NSK users, include:

Process-pair support so that Node.js runs non-stop, without any extra work by the application.

Enabling Node.js to run as a TS/MP serverclass, transparently providing the inherent scalability and persistence that TS/MP offers.

Providing a simple JavaScript Pathsend interface so that a Node.js application can front-end TS/MP.

Extensive operational control and diagnostic capabilities built-in to simplify usage and contribute to maintaining availability.

So yes, this is pretty cool stuff. 

How close are Dave and Neil to having a commercial product in place? After developing an effective Proof-of-Concept on much older MIPS-based S-Series servers – something that will not make it as a product, according to InfraSoft - attention moved to x86-based servers and just recently, the team enjoyed seeing an early success that exercised a considerable amount of the code. As for a commercial product, there’s still more work ahead but the goal is now clearly in sight. Again, the forthcoming article in the November – December issue of The Connection will be a must-read for many in the NonStop community. 

Dave will be flying up from Sydney for NonStop Technical Boot Camp and will join HP’s Keith Moore for Monday morning’s presentation, HP-26 Going beyond SOAP for a cleaner, fresher web services architecture. The lads will face some stiff competition given that HP’s Jim Smullen will be giving the community a technical preview of NonStop on the x86, something I know many will be interested in hearing, but if you have already heard all you need to hear about x86, then perhaps you will find Keith and Dave presentation rather stimulating.

Last week I wrote about a refreshing new endeavor focused on NonStop and now, this week I am writing about another endeavor every bit as exciting. The point I hope isn’t lost on anyone within the NonStop community – yes, there’s numerous developments under way in support of NonStop that are all aimed at making it a lot easier to bring new applications to NonStop. And this is what I find just as important to ensuring NonStop remains a modern system. comForte’s Burg is absolutely right in stressing the sense of urgency that those looking after NonStop systems must embrace but adding the tools necessary for running the latest modern solutions is every bit as important. It’s going to be one very interesting Boot Camp, I suspect!

Like art in general, while we may not be able to describe what is modern, we certainly can point it out when we see it. City skylines have seen an explosion in modern architecture and it’s every bit as easy to spot as say, a painting. When it comes to solutions, there will always be those applications that all that is needed is a new coat of paint but there’s always room for something completely modern to be embraced. And with this, the NonStop community is the richer! Looking forward to seeing as many of you as I can so if you see me walking the corridors, stop me, and I will be only too happy to chat!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Johnny needs a fast car ... and NonStop rocks, again!

In the Chris Rea song, Johnny Needs a Fast Car, the lyrics are self-explanatory. “Johnny needs a fast one Johnny needs it now. You got to give him something to let him show you how.”  And just sometimes, we need to give developers something to show us how …

Over the past couple of years I have written posts that featured different cars Margo and I have owned at one time or another. However, what has lurked in the back of the garage (and rarely featured in any blog posts) is the car affectionately known within the auto trade as Godzilla – a Nissan GT-R. Left in a parking station it attracts glances only from 20-something individuals who each give it a respectful nod and yet, it’s rare to come across any other vehicle on the road with equivalent capabilities – it just goes fast. While we have essentially tracked all the cars we have owned, Godzilla has not seen the track and for a very good reason. Yes, it’s fast, but we like it far too much to risk damaging it, but when it comes to fast cars, then this is the car Johnny really needs.

Along similar lines as the words of the Chris Rea song is the better known line uttered in the movie Top Gun, “I feel the need … the need for speed”. Unlike references to Godzilla, this line was featured in a post to this blog. In the post of July 6, 2014, I feel the need for speed … I observed that should you accept that speed is of paramount importance to stock exchanges, for example, it would seem logical to consider having the order processing system partially handled by a plethora of optimized front-end processors. Furthermore, I noted in that post, for NonStop to keep up it would depend upon the overall design and the middleware chosen, but there are steps that can be taken, I added at that time, to reinstate the viability of NonStop and it’s something I know several sales folks at NonStop are seriously considering.

At the time of writing, less than six months ago, I had become aware of work being done by NonStop community consultant, Dean Malone.  Over the course of this year I have had a number of telephone exchanges with Dean and then, during CTUG, I was able to sit down with him and discuss in more detail his own plans for NonStop. You see, what Dean is championing is the potential of a very fast NonStop system now that HP NonStop development is well-advanced in its endeavors to have NonStop support the Intel x86 architecture, along with the replacement of ServerNet with industry standard InfiniBand (IB). His vision is to introduce blazingly fast new capabilities for NonStop that will make it a serious contender again in lost verticals like stock exchanges as well as new verticals where extreme throughput plus the exclusive linear scalability and fault-tolerance of NonStop are valued; but without having to significantly re-engineer those existing SMP solutions.

While Dean is known to some of the NonStop development community, as yet he is not a household name across the entire community. For the most part, Dean has worked deep down, “in the weeds”, so as to speak, where he’s been cutting code close to the metal. While not a part of NonStop development per se, he has had numerous NonStop professional services engagements at the likes of Tandem, Compaq, HP, IBM, Target, Logica/CGI, DirecTV, etc. as a solutions architect or product development /integration / deployment specialist. To say Dean has excellent credentials when it comes to NonStop is an understatement – these engagements have spanned multiple decades.

As we head to the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp I have become aware that Dean will be attending as well and will be in discussions with numerous members of the NonStop community. Fortunately, for those who would like a little more insight or who may simply not have the good fortune to attend Boot Camp, I have recently enjoyed a lively exchange with Dean that picked up on a number of points raised over that dinner during CTUG. For me, the most important component here was speed, and just how much additional speed could be extracted from NonStop on x86 / IB solely from middleware.

“When AMSYS North America was engaged jointly by IBM and Tandem Computers to do a deep port of MQ Series on NonStop,” said Dean, “I was engaged as the Chief Architect because of my prior MOM credentials, chairing panels at COMDEX and porting Momentum Software’s XIPC product to NonStop.” However, Dean’s experience doesn’t stop there. He explained how he “produced a verified design for a massively scalable message switch for ORBCOMM - a leading provider of global machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions with the only commercial satellite network 100% dedicated to M2M - that is predicated on a hybrid environment, although this was not on NonStop.”

He is also particularly proud of his role “as telecommunications infrastructure architect in 1993 for the Government of Ontario where we implemented the world’s first wireless WAN under the Mobile Workstation project that brought police, carrier enforcement and health ambulance mobile workstations with direct access to computer-aided dispatch, federal, provincial and regional criminal offences databases, an electronic ticketing application and more.”

It is with these experiences behind him that Dean has been increasingly concerned about NonStop remaining relevant, especially in those instances where applications depend upon the overall performance of the platform. This is particularly interesting as the NonStop community looks for more solutions to be ported to NonStop – indeed, even the word “port” generates a cringe among developers like Dean because of the incongruence of SMP versus MPP.  In reviews of Godzilla, trade publication MotorAuthority observed, “The (Nissan) GT-R doesn't look like the voluptuous exotics it competes with either, though it does cut a unique and instantly recognizable profile.” Moreover, and something everyone knowledgeable of NonStop can appreciate, “the car is a Japanese performance machine that can outrace some of the world's top supercars … all of which add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.”

According to Dean, “NonStop has always been about more than the sum of its parts, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t more that can be done to improve some aspects of the NonStop architecture and clearly, performance has always been something where a little more TLC can be given.” With the announcement of NonStop support for the Intel x86 architecture, together with the introduction of InfiniBand (IB), Dean recognized that there was an opportunity to rethink the way applications can be put together in a manner that could outperform even the slickest of applications available today on commodity clusters. 

“Back in 1992, I was working on message switches for brokerages and EFT/POS networks, and I read about a new software product called Pipes Platform.  It was one of the first of a new breed of software now known as Message Oriented Middleware, or MOM. Momentum Software, who had a product called XIPC, asked that I port the product for them to NonStop after Sprint expressed interest. When completed, there were discussions with NonStop development, but at the time, with K-Series processors (and DynaBus), the product was terribly I/O bound on Guardian IPM. Although it was later to be installed on an Integrity (Itanium) server where it did over 15,000 shared memory operations per second (although only 1/5th of what the same code on an Itanium HP-UX server can do with shared memory), ServerNet made a huge difference.” Shared memory? Isn’t this flying in the face of one of the very basic of premises for NonStop - shared nothing?

“Within ServerNet, there is an RDMA capability that Tandem never exploited.” Dean said. RDMA is remote direct memory access from a process of one computer into the memory of another without involving either the sender’s or target memory’s operating systems. This permits high-throughput, low-latency networking, which is especially useful in massively parallel computer clusters. Given that the handprint of ServerNet is all over IB, Dean then told me that he “was pretty sure RDMA would be there too.  I went to the InfiniBand Trade Association’s web site and downloaded the Volume 1 software specification.  Sure enough, there it was.  IB RDMA is simply an awesome game-changing technology that is going to radically change the computer industry.”

Awareness that this very basic RDMA capability is a part of IB led Dean to make another key observation. “All SMP implementations, without exception, are housed on a single node with a single shared memory address space.  With RDMA, all of that changes because now any process can access the shared memory of another node at extremely low latency and at extremely high transfer rates.  On the new X86 platform, the OFED RDMA libraries can be implemented so that at least as a raw primitive, it is technically possible for Guardian and OSS processes to access the shared memory of another processor.  I am quite sure this will take a few releases to expose to customers and vendors, though.”

According to the OFED web site, The OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED™) is open-source software for RDMA and kernel bypass applications. OFED is used in business, research, and scientific environments that require highly efficient networks, storage connectivity and parallel computing. This is why I am so interested in what Dean has been researching – any speed bumps that lie in the path of migrating new applications need to be removed. And one of the biggest has typically been the SMP nature of almost all modern applications; what would happen if this particular speed bump was removed, and what if, in doing so, the defining attributes of linear scalability and fault tolerance that make NonStop unique can be leveraged along the way?

Perhaps this shouldn’t be considered a panacea for all applications on NonStop, but what if by providing an additional MOM RDMA component new frameworks, platforms and even applications looking to support x86 were suddenly easy to port? Among the folks I contacted in preparation of this post there were comments from “Yes, if available we would leverage it” to “Wow, this indeed could change everything!”

Should you be wondering about what new platforms could be coming to NonStop then make sure you attend Keith Moore’s mid-morning Monday presentation at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp 2014 – about which I can reveal little at this point. There’s some possibility that “dots may be connected in time!” Returning to SMP – the point here is that high-speed/low-latency fabric to facilitate inter-CPU communication has been inside NonStop for a while and is the reason ServerNet radically out-performs DynaBus. With IB, the game changes yet again as RDMA and its other core capabilities reach new heights (or lows, depending on your axis).

“Plans are significantly advanced to provide a product capable of delivering UNIX IPC services (i.e. shared memory, semaphores and queue-based messaging) over IB to NonStop, Windows and Linux.  We have demonstrated these capabilities over TCP/IP on ATC NonStop and HP-UX servers.” said Dean.  “Every bit as importantly, we demonstrated that the NonStop’s IPC resources are fault-tolerant by using DIVER to bring down the CPU where the shared memory resided and all the transactions in flight recovered with no loss or duplication of data – even the HP-UX processes that were accessing these remote NonStop IPC resources.  We seek to deliver a product that will do all of this over InfiniBand with multiple orders-of-magnitude more throughput.”  

And there’s a lot more coming from Dean as well. “We have mapped out how to provide fine-grained user authentication and authorization security over individual IPC resources (i.e. a semaphore, a message queue or a range of shared memory) to thwart hackers from reading this shared memory.  We would also provide the ability to monitor these resources across a network for debugging and monitoring purposes and integrate metrics and statistics for products like Prognosis, Business Process Monitor, BPM Anywhere and AppPulse.  It has taken many man-years to produce what has already been built and we are not very far from the finish line.  I’d say we are second down, 5 and goal!”

Dean will be attending Boot Camp and will be only too happy to take up this topic with users and vendors alike. Delivering on his plans will require help and there’s already a steadily growing list of interested parties. Like Godzilla, hiding in the shadows (a supercar in disguise), NonStop has always been a sum of more than its parts but with the attention Dean is giving to critical components close to the metal, it will more than likely make NonStop of the future every bit as feared by the competition as the Nissan is today.  If the Apple turn-around of the last decade has taught us anything, it is that you shouldn’t count superior architectures out.  I see a Renaissance-in-the-making for NonStop here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Countdown to Boot Camp 2014 – It was a little over 20 years ago ...

A flashback to 1993 and an ITUG event in Orlando gave me the introduction I was looking for with this post about who's talking at the upcoming NonStop Technical Boot Camp 2014 ...

It was a little over 20 years ago – October, 1993, as I recall – that I attended the annual ITUG event in Orlando. I was with a group from development that included Margo Holen and we were showcasing a project we all called Chameleon – featuring “twin tails” connections between PCs, and Tandem computers. Cut one “tail” and the other took over – it was all based on Ethernet and took advantage of custom NICs from Ungermann-Bass (UB).

Joining Tandem developers was Michael Ladam from UB. Michael, Brad Poole (now with comForte), Margo and I took a drive to Cape Canaveral and we stopped for gas alongside a tourist shop selling practically everything. To this day we all will not readily forget Michael’s exclamation while perusing western belts, each one featuring a flashy belt buckle, when he found a belt with “a buckle that says nothing at all!”

More recently, I was driving back from Mississauga, Ontario, having just participated in the CTUG event that is proving ever more popular with the years, and stopped in at the world’s biggest truck stop. Alongside Interstate 80 in Iowa, this truck stop is indeed huge, so much so that when satellite radio station channel, Outlaw, held a free concert recently they had to broadcast where exactly on the site attendees could find the performance.

Imagine my surprise then as I passed a display (pictured above) that boldly proclaimed: Buckle’s Attitude – Let your Buckle do the talking! For a mere $20, you could wear a belt buckle advertising anything you wanted. I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snap a picture even as Margo couldn’t help but prefer to be anywhere else but with me at that moment. However, there are only a few weeks to go before the NonStop Technical Boot Camp 2014 and having checked out the list of presentations it would be remiss of me not to highlight some of the sessions already scheduled.

While I was unable to attend the first restart of this important community event when it was held in 2012, I did make it to last year’s event and will do so again this year. In fact, as much as I really like the show HP puts on each summer – the big-tent HP Discover event in Las Vegas – there’s just something special about being in San Jose and listening to vendors and customers alike talking about their plans for NonStop.

When it comes to vendor presentations what really struck me is the return of the solutions vendors. In times past, it was more or less an event given over to tools and utilities vendors and while they are an important integral part of the NonStop community – indeed, whose continued generosity allows the Boot Camp to flourish, hearing about the aspirations of those vendors who truly live and die depending on the market competitiveness of NonStop, there are many a home truth disclosed about just how popular NonStop is these days among real users.

Topping my list of must-attend sessions therefore is the presentation by OmniPayment’s CEO, Yash Kapedia. His presentation this year is C-11: The Smarts Behind EMV Smart Cards on Monday at 2:30 in the Chynoweth room and I suspect that there will be more than a few interested parties wanting to know more of what Yash has been up to when it comes to securing our card information in these days of apparently easy-access by any bad-guy committed to stealing such information.

“When it comes to adoption of EMV within the U.S., it’s not so much a case of if but when and whether it can be completed before any further regulation occurs. Indeed, there are instances of merchants going ahead regardless – it’s important for them to retain customer loyalty in the face of highly-publicized hacking attacks,” said Yash. “However, more importantly, as from August 15, 2015, any U.S. merchant that does not process most of its transactions with EMV-compatible POS terminals will be liable for fraudulent transactions, rather than the issuing bank as is the case today.”

An important issue for the NonStop community, as Yash reminded me, “Since HP NonStop systems have a significant presence in payment-card transaction systems, it is important that the NonStop community be familiar with smart-card technology. OmniPayments has a number of years’ experience with EMV implementations elsewhere across the globe.” Yash assures me that he will be more than willing to provide the benefit of his experiences to date during his presentation, and plans to be available for discussions with any interested parties at pretty much any time during the event.

While it’s early and there’s a raft of NDAs in place, one session should prove interesting and well worth the effort spent finding the session. Part of the Application Modernization track, the session HP-26 Going beyond SOAP for a Cleaner, Fresher Web Services Architecture at 10:30 Monday morning (in the Guadalupe room) will feature a joint presentation by HP’s Keith Moore and InfraSoft’s Dave Finnie. For any parties interested in potential market opportunities for NonStop running on Intel x86 architecture this may very well be a glimpse into a bright new future for NonStop. I have already seen a little of what will be covered and it's impressive!

The NonStop community has the presence of a real powerhouse vendor in the Big Data space, recently recognized by CIO Story as one of the
20 Most Powerful Big Data Companies, that is providing product that supports NonStop – to the best of my knowledge, a first. Sami Akbay, WebAction Cofounder will be joined by Jim Knudsen (JK) for a Sunday afternoon (1:00pm - 5:00pm) Pre-conference seminar How to Take Advantage of Big Data with NonStop. At this point I would like to just add a little late-breaking news. I will also be participating in this presentation, albeit not to the technical level of Sami and JK.

According to Sami, a good reason to attend is “this will be a true Big Data background and primer focused on just how Big Data impacts NonStop and where you will see how WebAction is already assisting the NonStop ecosystem, bringing with it Big Data context and richness.” Furthermore, Sami told me, “We are looking forward to seeing Big Data being adopted into the NonStop ecosystem and want to be enable and accelerate that evolution. We are seeing novel ways of using data from outside the NonStop ecosystem and the real business advantage that can be gained with deeper insights.” 

Talking of the Pre-conference seminar that will be held Sunday, comForte has a couple of rooms and have populated a number of sessions. I have covered this in a new blog post you can find on the comForte web site – check out For those NonStop systems looking too much like legacy; replacement potential is high! For me the commitment to the user community by comForte is outstanding and many of the company’s executives and management will be highly visible.

There will be some new, or at least less familiar, faces present as well and I am pleased to see Susan Raye from DataExpress attending this event. I have begun working with DataExpress and the more conversations I have with these folks the more I am impressed. If you missed my latest post to ATMmarketplace, check out Lift the flap ... what's behind it? and watch too for an interview with the folks from DataExpress that will appear shortly in the Nov – Dec, 2014, issue of The Connection.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to include a reference in passing to my own presentation – this year, on monitoring. While it will feature my own observations and opinions about monitoring I will be pulling some material from that given to me by IR. The new releases surrounding Prognosis 10 are bringing a lot of modernization to monitoring that really goes a long way to simplifying the tasks and I for one am interested in all new developments targeting monitoring – look for the presentation C-13: Overwhelmed by Complexity? Looking for Business Insight? What's really going on inside your data center? at 5:00pm Monday in the Guadalupe room.

It’s hard to imagine where twenty plus years went and no, I suspect I’m not the first to make such an observation. However, the very presence of a major NonStop user event still drawing a crowd is something very special and not to be taken for granted. I write a lot and true, I talk a lot – no, there’s no such thing as a Buckle that says nothing at all, and with that, as the days wind down, I’m looking forward to catching up with you all!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The value of partnerships – NonStop VAR program?

As the price of gas at the pump continues to drop in the US, it’s hard to miss the flow-on effect to the community. Could we be getting value for our money at last? When the topic is increasing the sales reach of NonStop value too is important. Could we see the return of VARs?

Have you all seen what’s been happening with the price of gas at the pumps here in America? Is the same thing happening everywhere? In the US we have seen the price of gas drop to $2.89 per US gallon (3.8 liters) as depicted above where I just filled up the Jeep. Remarkable! Considering our family has nothing but vehicles with large displacement engines, this is proving to be a blessing for us and it feels like getting an unexpected tax break. With the US now awash in sea of oil, thanks to the wonders of fracking, and the market laws of supply and demand kicking in, the price at the pump is likely to go down even further – the days of $2.00 per gallon gas may just be coming back. For now, $2.89 for gas? Remarkable!

Whenever I read about discussions on value and on value-add, I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to the Value Added Resellers (VARs) that so many of us depended upon in the past. My fondest memories of the early days of Tandem were about the wonderful Alliance program Tandem had assembled and among the list of Alliance partners, there were many VARs. The specialization VARs brought with them – whether it was a specific market, such as travel, or a regions such as Kenya or Columbia – made the process of selling systems much easier. Perhaps the days of VARs are over given how commoditization has brought with it considerable easing of prices. And yet, this may not be completely true when it comes to NonStop, or so it would appear.

Listening to presentations given these past few weeks at both MATUG and CTUG it’s very clear that with the arrival of a family of NonStop systems utilizing the Intel x86 architecture, the plan will be to pursue new markets with new partners rather than simply flipping the base one more time. It is completely understandable that HP doesn’t want to convert a $1million business into a $100thousand business – the most basic of business schools frown on such approaches. That isn’t to say that there will be some existing customers who will provide fertile ground for these new x86 systems, but that will likely be because the new systems will open new doors for new applications, complementing the present Itanium systems, but I expect that to be the exception. No, HP wants to add to the NonStop business, not just pursue yet another one-for-one migration.

What was also obvious from the presentations to the user groups is that HP wouldn’t be all that keen for the sales teams to add a couple of hundred new salesmen to address these new markets. Solutions sell systems today and that’s very much a given, even for the new HP we face, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. So why not engage the solutions companies more closely and reopen the doors for VAR sales of their solutions with NonStop systems?  While nothing that could be viewed as a commitment was given by any of the HP personnel involved in the events, nevertheless to anyone who thought through the mechanics of adding a complementary marketing program it seemed a pretty obvious conclusion. VARs selling NonStop? Indeed, every bit as remarkable as $2.89 gas I suspect!

In talking with NonStop partners the reaction was positive overall. According to the CEO of the OmniPayments, Inc., Yash Kapadia, “Yes we can be VARs and we have discussed being a VAR with HP many times.” But Yash was also quick to note that there would need to be a lot more discussion this time around as in those earlier discussions, according to Yash, “At one time they wanted me to take responsibility to generate more sales than all of EMEA !!!!” Why doesn’t this surprise me? The NonStop sales team that we have working globally is a lot different from what we have had in the past and there’s some level heads watching over NonStop today. If a discussion develops around the subject of VARs the way I would like to see if happen then I think it will be a case of introductory baby-steps in the early stages.

In talking to middleware vendor, IR, there was support for VARs as well although not quite as exuberant as solutions vendors and yet, putting the topic under a different light. In an email exchange with America’s Sales Director, Jay Horton, he began, as I expected, with how he, “Wouldn’t see our large users moving away from a direct relationship with us, (certainly not in the near term anyway) but with the presence of VARs, it would open the door for IR to scale and pick up business we are not able to chase currently.” Horton then added that, “We don’t have resources with knowledge of NonStop to chase a lot of these new markets; however, an HP NonStop VAR channel would allow us to scale. It would require us to put a more dedicated NonStop channel support model in place.”

Andre Cuenin, President Americas & Europe at IR Inc. did remind me that a NonStop Distribution / VAR model is in place in geographies apart from the US. For example, in EMEA and AP-J many markets are being served through local NSK distributors / VARs. “In these countries, these partners  typically sell Prognosis. In the US market, most of our NonStop customers are traditionally, direct customers. However, with our Payments partnership with ACI, we do see a shift to more channel revenue in the US as well.

Could a middleware vendor like IR become an HP NonStop VAR? I asked this more out of curiosity than anything else as I anticipate that this would be of interest to solutions vendors and Yash had already expressed that, should a VAR program be launched globally, he would be more than interested. From an IR perspective they do not see themselves as becoming a NonStop reseller, however Cuenin mentioned that, “working with HP and its respective channels to align its go-to-market model is the strategy”. Horton shared that “we have explored bundling a Prognosis Lite version with platform vendors and NonStop on x86 seems a good target for this approach.”

For some time now I have thought that comprehensive monitoring solutions were butting right up against the line that separates middleware from solutions and with just a little more capability, monitoring solutions would be able to stand on their own merits. Should IR pursue this aggressively, and for a reasonable value-add pricing, then I cannot see why they wouldn’t reconsider becoming a VAR for NonStop, and possibly, in conjunction with offerings from other middleware vendors. Had you purchased a laptop from BestBuy you would notice that it comes with a lot of pre-loaded software offered on trial bases – could this become the norm for NonStop sales?

When I put this prospect to a NonStop manager just recently the response was expectedly cautious. “Just last week, we had a customer ask about becoming a VAR, selling both hardware and their application.” However he also acknowledged that for him, he wasn’t sure “if one request is showing a trend, but I think the x86 does open the eyes of existing and new VARs.” And that’s about as far as the discussion went on the topic of a VAR initiative today – but I’m on the edge here and think this could go either way. Complementing classic sales with a thriving VAR program? Again, that would be remarkable.

The key word in VAR is value – a VAR program would have to provide value for the target marketplace. Customers would need to realize savings they otherwise wouldn’t expect to see – or leverage the partnership in a more competitive manner than their rivals. Companies today see value as having many shades and what one customer views as dross another may prize highly and it would be up to the VAR to clearly demonstrate the value proposition. While I have only talked to a very small selection of NonStop vendors, I know there are more that may be toying with the idea, so it will be interesting to watch whether a much broader program that included the US eventuates and whether the participants truly bring with them the value we all would expect.

$2.89 gas! Less expensive NonStop systems? New partners and new markets! A thriving VAR program … there’s still time for something to develop but from where I sit and following the conversations I have had, I am hoping that this time, it will be a positive outcome. Selling more NonStop systems addressing more markets to even more companies is what we all would like to see and while a thriving VAR program is not an automatic answer to some of the most pressing questions about how to get more NonStop systems sold, it has merit and I truly hope for the best this time around.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding our way …

While driving into unfamiliar surroundings, a GPS is handy – perhaps, two of them, to make navigation easier. For HP, in entering new waters, splitting in two should allow the company to better navigate in two completely different marketplaces!

This weekend it was a case of a quick drive along the Hudson River, the “river that defined America”.  As it is still fall and the leaves continue to change color, it was one of the drives we had always wanted to do and the color show didn’t disappoint. Final destination Sunday night was Montréal where we will be spending a little time on business before enjoying more of what Montréal has to offer. As you can see above, the old Montréal Port and grain processing plant look great in the autumn sunshine!

While the route up the Hudson was straight forward, finding our hotel in the center of town proved challenging. Given that we were later to find out that there were several streets with the same name, our first attempt to locate the hotel via our vehicles GPS led us to an industrial site some 15 miles from the city center. Being typical NonStop aficionados, we pulled out our backup tablet and used it’s GPS and once we shut down the stream of instructions that continued to emanate from the first GPS we threaded our way through city construction zones and found our way to the hotel.

This week, it will be CTUG that is very much on my mind. It was only a week ago that we attended MATUG, held in a hotel just outside Philadelphia, a circumstance I commented on briefly in the last post. NonStop has always been defined by its community and so there was a strong showing by HP and the vendor community with a sprinkling of customers thrown in for good measure. NonStop has always enjoyed energetic supporters, of course, but looking ahead to CTUG, I am hoping for a little larger turn-out of users.

The good news for those tracking HP NonStop developments of support for NonStop in the Intel x86 architecture is that it all looks to be going well with HP looking for even greater community participation in the Beta program.  While I can only speak on behalf of a handful of vendors who have tested their products on x86, there’s only been a few minor hiccups to report all of which were quickly addressed by NonStop development. If I were to speculate, I suspect there will be a couple of users nearing production rollout of their applications on x86 in the new year – very impressive indeed!

However, even as I was thinking about this post over the weekend, there was very little news coming from the financial and business press to highlight what has so quickly transpired over the past 48 hours or so. Yes, we are going to have two HPs now, not one. The much heralded split between consumer and enterprise customers is going to happen and we will be seeing the formation of two independently operating companies. Certainly it is going to liven up the agenda for HP Discover (Europe) that will take place in Barcelona, December 2-4, and I sure wish that I could find a way to participate.

I have kicked off a discussion on the LinkedIn group, Fools for NonStop, and if you are a member of this group you will see that comments have already started to appear. It is true that splitting the company was rumored as being on the agenda of the former CEO, Leo Apotheker, but as soon as Meg Whitman took over, she went to great pains to downplay such a move by HP. However, as this quarter’s results were published and as Whitman responded to the financial community, no matter how good the latest news appeared, HP stock took another hit.

According to a post to the site, Seeking alpha, one analyst wrote of how, “The company is going to be splitting into two divisions, putting more action into practice as it continues its restructuring and comeback under CEO Whitman.” Furthermore, said the analyst, “After the street didn't seem to like the strides the company had made last quarter, it eventually came to its senses. HPQ has dipped over the last month, however, shedding nearly 10% of its value.”  It’s a tough crowd for sure, but in the end, few other options remained for Whitman and HP after focusing on profitability and operational costs. The company is “huge”, as I noted in the LinkedIn discussion, and generally, Wall Street prefers companies tightly focused rather than the sprawling portfolio conglomerates among which HP was now counted.

The specifics? As the news officially broke this morning, it was not surprising to read in the official HP Press Release that “HP has announced its plans to separate into two new publicly traded companies: one comprising of HP's enterprise technology infrastructure, software and services businesses, to be called Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and HP Inc., which will comprise of personal systems and printer ops; Meg Whitman will become President and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise; Dion Weisler will become President and CEO of HP Inc.; Immediately following the transaction, which is expected to be completed by the end of fiscal 2015, HP shareholders will own shares of both Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and HP Inc.”

I have always taken with a liberal number of grains of salt that there was synergy between a consumer, PC company, and a business, enterprise-system company, but I was prepared to let that slip on by for the sake of better story telling. There were so many ways to write about value that a company as big as HP provided but it was getting harder and harder to keep a straight face. Yes, the addition of support for x86 brought some synergy but anyone who has looked at the Intel roadmap for Xeon knows all too well that there’s a swag of different Xeon chips covered by the roadmap and to the naked eye, it was easy to get lost among the numerous pages that comprise the roadmap – different charts for consumers, small business and the enterprise.

Appointing Weisler as the new President and CEO of HP Inc. looks promising, as I’m always pleased to read of any Australian doing well in corporate America, but he will certainly face a challenging job – Lenovo overtook HP just recently and if Australians are just one thing, it’s that they are furiously competitive in all that they do – apart from our Kiwi brethren across the Tasman, I know of no other nation as competitively minded as Australia, including America. But there’s a whole lot more here than just freeing up the PC business to compete, as there is a real need to sew together a competitive mobile offering and even though I thought the Palm deal was a solid beginning, now I am not so sure what HP Inc. will be doing to develop a presence in this part of the market.

Across the aisle, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise lacks a couple of items – a unifying database technology (IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle all have strong database plays), a unique OS (apart from NonStop, of course), and a virtual platform. And this raises the question; should EMC spin off VMWare, should HP buy VMWare? With all that I am watching in the telco space I think a very good case could be made for such an eventuality, particularly as talks to acquire all of EMC apparently broke down a short time ago. But again, even if such a deal transpired, what of NonStop?

For the last couple of years – in my Wishes for NonStop posts to this blog, as well as within my more recent user event presentations – I have openly discussed the morphing of NonStop into something quite different to what we see today. While I have stressed that should you check all the right boxes, you will still be able to order a NonStop system, more than likely, the future will include NonStop as a set of features, services and libraries atop a next generation Linux along the lines of what HP CTO, Martin Fink, has been referencing of late as part of his vision for The Machine. I have no real evidence in support of this other than my own observations so it may prove very interesting times for NonStop development during the next couple of years.

HP does need a course correction. It does need to find its way again and perhaps a complete turnaround is required. In the HP Press Release, Whitman did say, “The decision to separate into two market-leading companies underscores our commitment to the turnaround plan. It will provide each new company with the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics, while generating long-term value for shareholders. In short, by transitioning now from one HP to two new companies, created out of our successful turnaround efforts, we will be in an even better position to compete in the market, support our customers and partners, and deliver maximum value to our shareholders.”

CTUG now beckons and I am sure that this latest news from HP will generate numerous discussions. All we need to do is figure out how to depart 
Montréal for the drive south, along the St Lawrence Seaway. I’m pretty sure I will be able to find my way to Mississauga with the help of my GPS aids, but nothing is ever certain. Like HP, hoping for renewed market interest with a turnaround that involves doing the splits, I too am hoping I can make it without any further course corrections or U-turns. Looking forward to seeing many of you shortly, at CTUG, and I am certain that with this latest announcement from HP, there will be many discussions to follow! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Those Special Occasions!

I’m posting this on the road as I drive to MATUG in Philadelphia, PA. However, before we packed the bags and began the drive, we had an opportunity to celebrate with friends and when it comes to NonStop, I was reminded of earlier posts and yes, I do get it!

Had a good friends, Brian and Jan, over for the weekend; a mix of business and good meals with fine wine. In this case the friend, Brian, is someone with whom I can share my business plans as well as my interests in cars – yes, when asked where he was by a former neighbor, Brian simply responded “I’m with the Buckles, driving Corvettes and drinking good red wine”. As it turned out, he was here for his birthday as well, and on a special occasion like this, it called for something equally as special from the wine cellar.

As I pulled the cork from a 1993 Silver Oak – a great California Cabernet Sauvignon – I have to admit, I was apprehensive. I was real careful removing the cork as it had dried, and once I had it out of the bottle I decanted the wine, just to be sure. Left to breathe for an hour, perhaps longer, it proved to be everything we were hoping it would be – not a single rough edge on this drop of red as we tentatively took a first sip. It was suggested that the wine could be kept 15+ years but I was really surprised as we had laid it down for 20+ years and it tasted a lot better than when first we opened a bottle, back in the mid-1990s.

I couldn’t help noticing that in a post of nearly two years ago, back on December 26, 2012, I had featured another good bottle of wine that I had opened. The occasion that time had been the Christmas holidays, and again it had been a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - 1994 South Australian bottle from Wynns.
The post, Yes, I get it!

In addition to wine review featured comments from a race car driver who had observed how the team had tried to “Control costs, restrict options, standardize on certain parts, increase production, amortize investment over a wider base, increase value for money” and at the time, I suggested we could say much the same thing about NonStop.

Continued investment in NonStop is a very delicate balancing act – there’s a need for new features even as there’s a need to provide an integrated hardware and software product for a fair and reasonable price. The viability of NonStop is still very much tied to it being cost effective when viewed against the competition, even if we all agree that NonStop has very little by way of competition. It was analysts at IDC who came up with an “availability spectrum”, categorizing all systems as either Availability Level 1, 2, 3, or 4, with AL1 referring to systems not shipped as highly available and AL4 referring to fault-tolerant servers.

IDC describes AL4 as being “the highest-availability level, connoting that the end-user experiences no perceived interruption based on the use of fault tolerant servers. In this level, the combination of multiple hardware and software components allows a near-instantaneous failover to alternate hardware / software resources so that business processing continues as before without interruption.” Without delving into the finer points of takeover versus failover, I think readers will appreciate the simplicity of this definition, especially as it comes at the “problem” from an end-user experience perspective.

Control costs! Standardize on certain parts! Increase value for money! It’s hard to argue against the motivation or drive behind these goals. For readers who have regularly attended user events anywhere in the world where NonStop product management has been present these goals should be well-known by now. I can’t recall a presentation by a manager or executive who hasn’t pointed to a roadmap slide and hammered home the continuing pursuit by all within the HP NonStop team to increase the value for money.

The argument in favor of going with MIPS was all based around the unsustainable business model of continuing with custom chips. The subsequent move to Itanium followed a similar line of reasoning, this time the thought being that Intel had far deeper R&D pockets than MIPS (then a part of SGI between 1992 and 1998). However, even as Itanium continues to underpin modern NonStop servers, increasing value for money over time meant that an even more popular chip would be required – something that was not just a standard but deployed broadly enough so as to “amortize investment over a wider base”.

The move to support the Intel x86 architecture certainly is a positive move in this direction, and having a portfolio of products all utilizing x86, economies of scale will certainly be present. But there’s more to this story and as I wrote two years ago (long before NonStop announced plans to support x86), I do get it!

It’s not that NonStop development is hedging on either performance goals or pricing, as I am sure we will hear a lot more about all of this at the NonStop Bootcamp in November, but I have to believe the x86 will result in performance improvement for some solutions, if not all, even as I have to believe the price will be more attractive. When you look at Intel’s roadmap for the x86 you quickly realize that the x86 is a substantial family of chips – Xeon comes in many flavors, if you like, with some Xeon chips focused on client-side processing whereas others are focused on the server side.

Good performance, value pricing, and of course, a whole new fabric interconnect that holds the promise of even faster processing speeds combined with the possibility of building hybrid computers made up of different systems (from an OS perspective) and again, all based on standards. Certain parts just have to be standardized these days – the chips, the memory, the interconnect fabric and NonStop is certainly delivering on this promise. As middleware and solutions vendors come to terms with the new technology, the prospect for even greater optimization is apparent and even though there may be changes coming, I get that, too!

When x86 rolls out, there’s no doubting the special occasion it will represent. In some quarters, it will warrant a bottle or two of champagne being opened. And from my perspective, a well-deserved celebration, for sure! However, when it comes to controlling costs, this is where the NonStop users will share an equal burden. There’s much that they can do to control costs and much of that has to do with the cost of human resources – in achieving AL4, NonStop development has provided an integrated hardware and software “stack” and the higher up the stack NonStop users elect to go, the more they can control the costs.

This too includes those vendors who are now in the midst of porting new applications to NonStop. If existing NonStop users or new users to NonStop elect to skip the middleware available today, they make leveraging the benefits of an AL4 system difficult. It may be viewed as clever, or even ingenious, to dump a new product on NonStop with minimal touch points to the stack NonStop development provides, but I am sure five or ten years out, with the development lead no longer present, it will look little different to instances of the same solution on other systems. If you are going to run it on NonStop then take advantage of NonStop top-to-bottom, otherwise little by way of controlling costs will materialize. System savings will pale in comparison to the human costs involved.

Increase value for money! Adding support for the Intal x86 is going to be a big help in this department. Standardize on certain parts! Embracing an interconnect technology as NonStop development proposed via InfinBand (IB) as well as manufacturing producing an universal blade as a result is also going to be much appreciated. Control costs! Leveraging NonStop development expertise, fully utilizing the integrated stack and letting the OS ride the changes well is our cue for NonStop users to do the smart thing – it’s almost as if we are learning to love Pathway all over again!

The bottom line here, of course, is that after four decades (or thereabouts) we are still talking about NonStop and still thinking up new ways to exploit the best implementation of AL4 available today, Sure, IBM mainframes today now have what IBM is calling Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS) that is an extension of Parallel Sysplex in order to support mainframes located, potentially, in different cities. But this is at what cost? And in the end, with what added value?

Complexity abounds with this model of IBMs and yet, it’s so simple for NonStop users. Can we execute a takeover where systems are separated? NonStop users familiar with the recent additions to Pathway (TS/MP) 2.4 and later, understand how easy it is to deploy NonStop in this manner with far less complexity and at a lot lower price point – TCO remains important as do the number of nines, and even though IDC gives the IBM system z mainframe running in Parallel Sysplex mode an equivalent AL4 status to NonStop, it’s at such a high price point that no, I just don’t get it!

I still have some good wine left in the cellar and I am sure that my friends, Brian and Jan, will find a way back for more. There will be more pictures taken of empty bottles, too, to be featured in stories to come I am certain of that. However, when the new NonStop systems begin to ship I too will make sure there’s a little champagne on the side that I will be only too happy to open and to toast the NonStop development team for a job that is sure to be well done. NonStop on x86? NonStop in IB? NonStop in hybrids and even Converged Systems well, what else can I say but that I get it, too!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For NonStop users, moving data isn’t distracting!

Moving files comprised of punched cards or indeed, magnetic tape, was so 20th century and yet, when it comes to even the most advanced transaction processing systems, files still need to be moved and often this is the specialty of a select few boutique businesses.  

Out on America’s interstate highways you see transportation evolving on an almost continuous basis. With the regular trips we make to the west coast, whether it is to HP in Palo Alto or my other clients in the greater Los Angeles area, we have seen extended sleeper compartments behind the cabs of big rigs simply getting bigger and we have seen much greater use of aerodynamics on nearly every truck we pass. However, on these trips we have also seen the venerable dump, or tip, truck lose ground to massive side dump trucks – often hauled in tandem behind a single tractor or prime mover. With highway maintenance resulting in huge tracts of roadway being torn up, it’s no surprise to see these monsters at work. 

Forced to stop and stand idle on the side of the highway as they go about their work, it’s nothing more than an untimely distraction and one we dread facing each trip out west. The key advantages of the side dump, however, is that it allows rapid unloading and they are almost immune to being upset (tipping over) while dumping, unlike the traditional end dump trucks. More obvious, even to the untrained eye, is that they can simply transport a bigger load than the old-style, end dump vehicles. Furthermore, when they do transfer their contents, it happens a lot faster as the sides, naturally enough, are a lot wider than the ends. I know, I have had plenty of time to watch them.

Whenever we talk about such topics – big loads, greater weight, faster transfer it’s as if the conversation has taken off in a different direction. For data center managers everywhere, it’s all about the data and moving data, storing data, and not let’s not forget to mention, the running of analytics against the data. No longer a case of simply picking up a tray of punched cards and upending them into the card reader, as was once the case (and a task that was taken away from me at one point in my career), but across every channel connected to a computer, voluminous amounts of data flow.

As I watch the beginning of the Internet of Things (IoT) era where almost every mechanical device known to man will be connected to the internet (along with every conceivable contraption being turned into an effective measuring instrument), the prospect of even more data needing to be moved is inescapable. Unfortunately, among the NonStop community, such movement of data has been associated with batch processing, something NonStop applications treat with disdain and yet, much of the data NonStop transactions use either as raw material or as finished product is of value to other parts of the business. And it has to be moved.

As someone who is passionate about cars, a special case of IoT that caught my eye was the recent news that American legislators were catching on to the potential of Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication. Whether it’s vehicle manufacturers – Volvo promising that by 2020 it will provide crash-proof cars (a step up from an earlier initiative to provide injury-proof cars by the same year) – for insurance companies or law enforcement, cars that communicate with each other represent a whole new specter of monitoring even as it opens yet another chapter on data movement.

Streams of data will be shared among these with vested interests, leading to a whole raft of new applications. In a recent post to, For NonStop there’s no downside to monitoring unidentified moving objects I connected the dots between V2V, the movement of data, and the analytics that will be produced and it wasn’t hard to miss the impact that would be made. The real holy grail of business insight, I suggested in that post to the IR blog, has always been determining behavior so as to better focus critical business resources on the closing of sales opportunities. In other words, interrupt the flow of data and view incomplete scenarios and the insight derived will be less than meaningful even if the applications are brand new!

When you think about it, nowhere would this behavior determination add more value than when applied to driving a car.  Furthermore, if we don’t elect to ban driverless cars outright then V2V is inevitable – younger generations of drivers have become too distracted these days. So serendipitous that after all these years, data center consoles and dashboards may shortly be a collage of real dashboards and the real time monitoring familiar to every data center operator will reflect more closely a world that gave rise to much of the jargon that’s used within the data center – system crashes, scratch-files, and (data) collisions  included!

IoT, V2V and even M2M, which has been with us way longer than many of us care to acknowledge, are responsible not only for new opportunities for vendors like IR with Prognosis, but also for the greater movement of data we see today. But moving data has been going on for years, NonStop systems included, despite any apparent disdain for the process. All too often when we discuss solutions running on NonStop and quickly delve into the middleware deployed, our attention gravitates to the transaction processing components. However, for these solutions to participate in the world at large, assumptions are made and empty “boxes” included in flowcharts (to be filled in later) that convey a rather false sense of “she’ll be right, mate!” Files will be moved somehow and we will get there, on the day. Yet keeping that data moving is every bit as important as any consumption of data from any client device.

Contrary to what we may have read in a recent post by Mark Hurd, this is not simply a case of making sure you get everything from just one vendor, Oracle preferably. If you missed my opinion on this subject, check out my most recent post to the blog at WebAction, Ain’t no bugs on me … and yes, I have been waiting a long time to get this jingle into a business blog post. The NonStop team has recognized that they alone will not be able to provide everything the user community may require and this has led to there being there a very strong vendor community well-versed in what users require and when it comes to moving files, this is especially the case.

I covered this recently in a private communication to a major client where I referenced perhaps one of the least talked about products on NonStop – DataExpress. DataExpress has been in the business of moving files for several decades and it has done an effective job for some of the biggest Financial Institutions (FI) on the planet. For a number of them, simply having deployed DataExpress is a market differentiator all by itself. As Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress, sees things, “Our clients know that moving data securely and efficiently is critical to their business, and have trusted DataExpress to manage the process for them.”

In case you think the realm of data movement is something akin to upending boxes of punched cards into a reader, think again. Big Data – well, there’s a lot of data that has to be moved to maximize the effectiveness of Big Data frameworks and the analytics they feed. Clouds – well, more than anything else, there’s lots of data that needs to be securely moved in and out of cloud resources. According to DataExpress’s Marost, “Anyone can move bits and bytes between business units, customers and machines, but have you asked yourself if your business, your relationships and your reputation could survive intact should the integrity of that data be compromised.”

Whether it’s open cut mines, excavating a site for a new high-rise building, or simply freeway construction, moving the dirt is a costly exercise so the quicker it can be moved the better. Not only is it costly in dollar terms, but also in time where smaller loads push out completion dates. Much the same can be said about data, of course. However, there’s a lot more to the story – moving data as not just an adjunct to the main process, it is the main process for some applications. Miss getting all the data to a government agency on time, and penalties will follow.

Finally, Marost reflected, “We see more interest in secure file transfer, not less, and we have a growing pipeline of features that will prove even more valuable for our HP customers down the road!” Clouds? Big Data? Social Media? Email? Yes, this growing pipeline of features from DataExpress embraces them all and in the end, will likely mitigate the disdain many of us may feel about the task of moving data. However, in the highly charged world of always-on, it’s imperative for all parties to have access to timely and complete data and this will always involve moving data. Keeping those side dump trucks moving may not be such a distraction after all!    

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yet another anniversary … yet another post! And NonStop holds firm …

I am still at it and the posts keep on coming. No surprises here but the readership continues to grow and fair enough, the message on NonStop is attracting an even bigger audience. Yes, it’s all happening and shortly, user events will dominate NonStop community agendas worldwide!

I had to remind myself not to forget writing this post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. Shortly, I will be returning to the race track for one more time before summer ends and there’s no escaping that, with the coming of autumn, winter is only a few weeks away. Already fall colors are in evidence everywhere; the neighborhood pools are being closed, gardens are undergoing their annual clean-up and trim, and inside garages battery tenders are being readied for use. 

This year I will skip a lengthy introduction and just come out with it – seven years of posting to this NonStop community blog are now behind me as of last month and now it’s time to look ahead at a new year of posts. Based on feedback from you I now post three, occasionally four posts a month with each one more or less a feature article. I learnt very early on that posting almost daily wasn’t something many of you had time to read, even if the posts were only 800 words or so and there was nothing technical involving the merits of some obscure programming trick or a feature of a programming language.

If you have missed an earlier anniversary posts, I have now set up a label -
Anniversary Post Follow this link and you will find all previous posts. Furthermore, and just as a reminder, there’s a label set up that takes you to all previous posts on my wishes for NonStop – posts I write every three years and if you are interested in knowing how these wishes have involved over time and have missed a couple of them,  take a look at this label - Wishes However, what I welcome most are the comments that are posted and also there are discussions in many LinkedIn groups, I continue to encourage readers to look at the many comments posted to the LinkedIn group of the same name, Real Time View.

Of course, there are folks within HP too who continue to encourage an ongoing presence in social media – it’s an inexpensive way to communicate passion for the product and to engage more directly with the community. Independent blogs with an arms-distance relationship to a primary vendor are among the best read blogs and in many ways, have relegated old-style newsletters from even the most respected thought-leaders to just historical footnotes. The immediacy of posts is appreciated by all members of a community and this is understood by many within HP. “I see tremendous value from independent bloggers providing commentary on HP and NonStop,” said Gary Allen, Senior Manager, HPS Marketing Programs. “Social networking is of huge value and doing so independently of HP, especially valuable as readers of your blog always anticipate a perspective that reflects your history and experience.”

Building a community around NonStop requires many things to happen and in the past, this mostly involved user gatherings. ITUG was once all that the community talked about – indeed, when I first joined Tandem Computers it was the very existence of ITUG that helped me decide to join Tandem. Working at the time on the east coast, colleagues returning from an ITUG event in New Orleans couldn’t stay quiet about all that had happened there. However, social media has pretty much plugged the hole that was once the task of big tent user–run events.

It’s not as if we no longer like to network, but the reality is that few of us have budgets that cover the cost of an annual pilgrimage to San Jose. In all likelihood, few companies running NonStop today even have the staff on hand sufficiently populous to allow a few to disappear for a week. In talking to HP, at one point the conversation turned to the matter of there no longer being a “bench” of technical staff trained and experienced in NonStop to throw at new projects – having tiers made up of senior managers, technicians and junior staff has evaporated leaving data centers staffed by just a few system administrators casting an occasional glimpse at a console display. Yet, surely we can afford time to get together for the shorter, regional, gatherings and we sure strive to find a way to get to the San Jose bootcamp! I hope to see many of you at those events through the year!

Recently, in a discussion on LinkedIn, someone asked the NonStop community whether “Tandem is any longer a renowned server” and “who is going to appreciate it”? Furthermore, from the same individual, “for Java developers working in Tandem it’s a hard task as they can’t bring any new things to it!” Now, I am not clear as to the maturity of this individual or just how experienced he is with working on the latest NonStop systems but I am sure there will be others within the NonStop community who will step in here and provide additional insight – but bottom line, if it’s the latest iteration of the NonStop stack, it’s not that hard to port Java applications these days. “Java rocks!” is still the catch-cry of one well- respected NonStop architect in the user community.

However, the question aside, the more important consideration here is that the issue was even raised in the first place. Social media may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those within the NonStop community scattered as they are to the four corners of the planet, social media is doing a fine job providing us all with a sense of community. If you aren’t all that certain, just take a short time out and check how many active discussion groups and chat rooms are there – from LinkedIn to Yahoo and Google – all devoted to helping out NonStop developers whenever they experience difficulties.

How many within the NonStop community would have thought there would be separate LinkedIn discussion groups for them involving topics like Clouds and Big Data – if you missed it, this was the central theme of last week’s post,
A time to put the hammer down! NonStop accelerating adoption of Clouds and Big Data … If, as yet, you haven’t read that post, it’s well worth the time spent. Again, just the mere presence of such groups sends out an important message – there’s plenty worth discussing on topics like these and there’s more than just an individual or two looking at ways to leverage such key transforming technologies. For me, the presence of as many LinkedIn groups as there are that include NonStop in their group name is more than encouraging – and the NonStop community has to be pleased with the evolution of some of these groups.

This is the start of my eight year of blogging and as I look back, there’s been a couple of common themes but no matter how you look at them, these themes do center on why we aren’t doing more to promote NonStop and why aren’t there more solutions on NonStop and, in a related fashion, why isn’t the rest of the industry as proud of NonStop as we all are – the IDC and Gartner, the InfoWorld and CIO publications. After four decades, why aren’t informed CIOs more appreciative of the fault tolerant technology inherent in the integrated hardware / software stack that is today the modern NonStop system?

In part, it still is up to all of us to become part of the process – yes we would like to see more promotional material from HP but in the end, we have a thriving community involving many stakeholders and we have a voice. We should be using it far more aggressively – flooding every chatroom and community group we come across. Others are doing this and very successfully – so, what about us? Why should we be quiet?  NonStop is indeed a renowned server and NonStop has a global community that knows this! NonStop has a history and that’s important but having a history doesn’t imply a legacy solution – rather, it demonstrates flexibility and adaptability in a way few other systems can claim to have achieved.

Winter may be coming shortly – the signs of fall are more prevalent than just a few days ago.  The temperatures along the front ranges drop 20 degrees today and will hold at that level for the next week or so. But winter is a time of regeneration, a time to regroup if you like. For the NonStop community it’s also a period for user gatherings across the globe and yes, I will be attending several of them – from Philadelphia to Toronto to San Jose. In coming together as a group it’s time, too, to encourage and nurture – and to hear more good news about NonStop that will be the fodder for yet another year of blogging!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A time to put the hammer down! NonStop accelerating adoption of Clouds and Big Data …

Do we really need to see the big guy wielding a mighty hammer, or are areas of focus for many in IT already being covered by smaller blows leveraging what we already have?

Boulder has been hit with some amazing thunderstorms of late, with another one passing overhead early this afternoon. Rather fortuitous in some respects as I took time to have a look – boiling clouds with amazing displays of nature’s powers as lightning flashes lit the sky. It was a big display of nature’s awesomeness. Lightning, disrupting the normality of an afternoon; clouds, the source of tremendous energy; no matter where you stood, the display was on a grand scale – big, by anyone’s measure.

At the macro level, prairie thunderstorms are majestic to watch whether you are out in the open or tucked up alongside a mountain. However, stepping away from nature there are still amazing sights to take in that are man-made. To me, the unrelenting drive to miniaturization blows my mind – there’s just no real way to equate what is inside a modern chip to anything we can see in the real world. When quantum physicists talk of size where 2 to the power of 512 is referenced in the same breath as being more than the sum of all atoms in the known universe, then yes, we have come a long way from a system my father showed me in the mid-1960s that had 8K bits of memory, yet still could store a program.

All of this is leading to the topic of the week and the two subjects are increasingly becoming related – Clouds and Big Data. A short time ago I started a couple of LinkedIn groups aimed at the NonStop community. Clouds, powered by NonStop, that now has 271 members and is a couple of weeks old and Big Data, integrated with NonStop that has fewer than 40 members but is relatively new.  Including NonStop in the names of both groups was intentional, as I wanted to make sure any new member of the NonStop community that searched for groups focused on NonStop would see that there is interest within the community in both Cloud and Big Data. If this is all new to you and as yet, you haven’t joined, then perhaps you should take a few minutes and do so.

While the community is concerned about the growing number of LinkedIn groups out there, its highly intentional on my part to project an image of NonStop that may surprise folks – of late I have become selective about the ones I do end up joining and the metric most important for me is the volatility of the group – just how much is going on. If you have seen some of the discussions and the passions they arouse on groups like Tandem User Group and Real Time View, you will know what I mean. Clouds and Big Data are very important for all stakeholders in the NonStop community. Many businesses have embarked on modernization initiatives so I have to ask you – do your modernization initiatives actively involve Clouds and Big Data?

As a place to start, did you know that vendors, well known to the NonStop community, have begun taking steps along the path to clouds. “The model today is cloud computing is inevitable even among the financial institutions I count as customers,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “It’s inevitable because it represents a more sensible approach to providing the best value for the dollars spent. Too often we size systems and include software with expectations of the volume and type of transactions a customer will face but this can lead to erring on the conservative side with customers ending up paying more. And this is not what we want to do at OmniPayments. Elasticity of provisioning as well as providing capacity on demand is just the latest way to express a need for flexibility and with cloud computing, whether the cloud is on site and private, or is on our premises and managed, it is simply a way to better leverage commodity hardware and open systems.”

The productizing of the demo that has been showcased at the last couple of HP Discover events by Infrasoft as maRunga is just one more proof point. To those embarked on modernization projects where the volume of searches is high, as their clients spend more time looking up items, then maRunga is an easy first step to take on their path to clouds. And solutions for NonStop that include support of clouds are already being deployed. “OmniPayments has already been sold as a cloud offering in the America’s and is in an early stage of customer acceptance. In this first instance, there’s both a private cloud on site as well as a managed cloud on our premises for back-up purposes. And yes, NonStop systems are an important part of both cloud computer configurations,” added Yash. “Are we playing liberties with the concept of cloud computing? I don’t believe we are as the cloud we externalize to the customer is a collection of processors the specifics of which aren’t visible to the customer.”

The arrival of big data comes at a crucial time for the industry. In an always-connected, online world it’s imperative that we have the right information at our fingertips to sway our clients to more favorably consider what we offer. So often we emphasize two of the Vs associated with big data – volume and velocity – but timing is of the uttermost importance when integrating the world of big data with transaction processing, NonStop’s forte. “From our perspective, we should be talking about ‘time value of information’”, said Managing Consultant, Enterprise Solutions & Architecture at Hewlett-Packard, T.C. Janes. “Time is the enemy of data.”

“Big Data is driving much of the agenda of IT of late – business is fully aware that they need better insight into their business and that only comes when meaningful information can be extracted from the reams of data accumulating all around them,” said WebAction, Inc. Cofounder Sami Akbay. “However, the need isn’t something that can be addressed without understanding that relevant and applicable data, meeting business criteria, needs to be captured and repackaged for consumption by business logic central to the running of the business. When NonStop is taken into consideration this is particularly important as it’s often NonStop applications interacting directly with customers – the very community about which better insight is critical.”

I am particularly interested in the work that WebAction has taken to date and in delivering the WebAction product, those in the NonStop community embarking on a modernization revamp, have a very viable solution on hand,  and one that absolutely understands the importance of time. In the August 20, 2014, post 
Value Networking? Nonstop Community Certainly Does! to the WebAction blog, I wrote of how WebAction, by the very nature of the control it ultimately gives to system architects can generate web actions as verbose or as targeted as we need – it’s really the ultimate control gate when it comes to turning on the flow of big data to time-sensitive mission critical applications.  A really big hammer? Yes! A very small hammer? Yes, again!

“Certain types of data have enormous value at its moment of creation but may have less value an hour from now and perhaps no value tomorrow. Stock traders have understood this from time immemorial – if you can identify and act on a transaction opportunity faster than anyone else, you will benefit the most,” added HP’s Janes. “If you can synchronize data arrival velocity with business process velocity, an organization can sell more product, deliver better customer service and capitalize on new business opportunities sooner than their competitors.  Inversely, an organization does not necessarily want to act on every potential black swan “event” if their evaluation of aggregate data yields a contradictory model.”

There is another side to clouds and big data, and that’s the likely intersection of technologies. When it comes to big data and cloud computing then according to HP Master Technologist, Justin Simonds, “I think there will be a collision, at least for a while, as organizations attempt to derive meaning out of every piece of data they can get their hands on.  Cloud is the only ‘price reasonable’ way to churn through all that stuff.” Furthermore, added Simonds, “I believe there will be a falling away as attempt after attempt yields little business insight.  I see the industry adopting specific products for specific requirements. NonStop, as mentioned, is still extremely well designed for the operational analytic, real time velocity events. Vertica still holds the top magic quadrant spot for deep / big data analytics and for all its bad press Autonomy has some very good IP in the audio/video arena.  I believe multiple solutions are the only way to effectively proceed.”

Simonds observations are shared by comForte’s CTO, Thomas Burg. In an interview for an upcoming post to the blog, comForte Lounge, Burg observed that when it comes to “clouds and big data, there almost nothing that is really new here either. Cloud computing is little more than old wine in new caskets where the only issue is one of business best-practices. Can we run this application in a cloud? Can we store this data in a cloud? Security? Bring it on! We have the technology and know-how, we are happy to talk to prospective cloud adopters. Big data is a similar challenge but somehow, many NonStop users see only a big hammer when only a small hammer is needed.” On the other hand, “We continue to include NonStop in our plans for WebAction as there’s no question, serious online processing is occurring on that platform,” added Akbay. “To ignore NonStop would imply we aren’t taking the integration of Big Data with real time processing seriously and that simply isn’t the case.”

It as the Thor, who “put the hammer down”, as Captain America unfortunately requested of him in the film, The Avengers. Watching the lightning storms it wasn’t hard to imagine legendary beings as the source of such a spectacle of nature. Fortunately, when it comes to IT and NonStop, it’s a little less intense but every bit as important particularly as so many within the NonStop community are actively engaged in modernization initiatives. In time, of course, we will find broad exploitation of both technologies across the NonStop community (just as we did with Client / Server computing as well as with SOA and Web services that followed) with much of what is covered here generating little more than a yawn. And if you want to stay informed about what’s important to the community then yes, check out the new groups on LinkedIn and become a member – I look forward to all the comments you care to provide!