Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Proof of the pudding? Without transactions our society wouldn’t work!

The themes of meetings and events, as well as the commentaries and posts that followed, share a common theme – transactions and yes, our willingness to believe in transactions only when we have seen the contributions they make for us; HP NonStop systems are changing perceptions and remains at the forefront of processing the transactions that keep society functioning …

All around us here, in Boulder, Colorado, the harvesting of the wheat crop has begun and there’s no missing the sightings of the harvesters going about their business – the numerous clouds of dust produced by the headers is unmistakable. While the wheat flows into waiting trucks the chaff flies freely in the air and it may be very modern looking, but it’s still rooted in traditions that are millennia old. The harvests now under way are of the winter varieties and if the weather holds, there will be an additional plantings shortly, although not being a farmer I’m not sure how all of that happens but I am only too happy to eat the finished products as they hit the supermarket shelves. 

In today’s world it’s not always easy to track trends as they happen. Avoiding the IT “noise” can be difficult at times and sorting the wheat from the chaff a daunting task. However, never before have we had as many sources of information as exists today and turning to our favorite channel can prove beneficial. We may not always be able to make it to the local user group gathering to hear the latest from HP but as is often the case, what has been presented is quickly posted to a forum or blog and for many in the NonStop community, this is the only way to stay current with all that’s coming from HP.

After participating in a couple of conferences – big tent marketing affairs attracting thousands to the regional user group meetings attracting a hundred or so – I have just come away from attending a vendor sales kick-off event. This is something I like to attend as checking the pulse of the user community provides just one side of the story whereas the vendor community often tells a completely different story and in so doing, helps fill in the blanks. It may please many in the NonStop community to know that indeed, it’s not just HP that’s investing in NonStop but there are considerable investments being made in NonStop by numerous vendors and for them, the need to turn ideas into products is even more a necessity as there’s little wiggle-room these days to recover from product wrong-turns or misjudged timeframes.

What I have been observing has already made it into a number of posts and commentaries. One of the more frequently used expressions this past month has been, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Originating in an exchange with DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, the phrase first turned up in an article by DataExpress in the July 2015 issue of Tandemworld under the heading, To gain a big audience, NonStop goes small! The context was the belief, common now to many vendors, that in coming up with an entry-level NonStop X system (for American users, likely to be priced below US$100K) more customers will chose NonStop and already, the order books are starting to fill up, but we still have to wait and see how this develops for HP and what new marketplaces may develop.

However, this phrase also appeared in the most recent post to the DataExpress News Blog, the post of July 22, 2015, Testimonials by our NonStop customers prove most credible! “‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ is particularly pertinent this month,” the post states, “for DataExpress this is the ultimate test of just how well our product delivers on customers and prospects expectations. This is very important for a company of our size as all we have is our reputation.” So, not just the future of HP NonStop depends upon the sales an entry-level NonStop X attracts, but also for DataExpress;  once purchased and brought online, the customers’ testimonials become just so important for all involved.

The phrase also show up in the previous post to this blog, that of July 18, 2015, Vibrant Composition and the context here has to do with the acceptance not just of NonStop X or a particular vendor’s product but the potential to have NonStop as one part of a hybrid systems. The expectation that NonStop will be paired with a Windows or Linux blade(s) as part of a cluster with InfiniBand providing the interconnect fabric. There will be some markets reluctance to embrace either a Windows or Linux blade inside the system chassis – and yes, finance and banking comes to mind – yet there will be other markets sure to embrace the concept. Telcos, where not every call is a 911 distress call and manufacturing, where not everything involves a robot operating 24 X 7. The popular “look to book” model fits nicely into this hybrid model being unveiled by HP for NonStop.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating and sorting the wheat from the chaff, both have to do with determining value. Whether this is by taste or by letting the wind blow away what is worthless, the result is obtaining that which is prized, whether it is a quality or even ability. For the NonStop community, dependence on NonStop systems to run mission critical solutions has always been highly valued but for the majority of the IT industry, the lessening of expectations has become acceptable. And yet, the climate of tolerance seems to be shifting – as Bob Kossler, Director, Technology, Strategy and Planning for Mission Critical Servers (MCS) at HP, observed, “There was a time when picking up a telephone handset gave us a dial-tone immediately, today we have embraced the smartphone even though we know network access may vary depending on our location; they are a mediocre device at best compared to telephones of the past and yet, we accept the loss of reliability.”

Take stock exchanges for instance where there had been very strict SLAs in place, but today if trades – mostly automated program trading, where orders are placed but are cancelled before execution – cannot be pursued on one exchange because of an outage, are executed on another exchange. No real penalty is incurred due to such an outage and yet, where the SLAs remain, those exchanges continue to depend upon NonStop. Reliability still has its upside even where conditions appear to be favoring speed over such reliability. The point here is not so much whether or not NonStop makes a bold return to stock exchanges globally (which I have reservations about) but rather, in those situations where the dial-tone reliability needed for processing todays transactions without disruption is still prized and considered by all involved as being valuable.

Today’s reality is that NonStop remains the premier system for processing transactions where the highest levels of availability remain an important business differentiator. IDC continues to rank NonStop as Availability Level 4 (AL4), a category reserved for those systems where the “switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users”.  In this case, the proof of the pudding is very much on display across the world’s largest financial institutions, retailers, Telcos and manufacturers, including automobile manufacturers.  This too was the theme of a recent presentation given by IR CEO, Darc Rasmussen, where he reiterated how transactions are at the very core of every business pursuit.

“The voice of the customer is the most important influence (and what we provide) only matters if it makes a difference for our customers! Without customers, you have no business,” said Rasmussen. “Business is engaged in transactions and without transactions our society wouldn’t work!” And while the event where Rasmussen was presenting was a closed affair, the success of this past year for IR is confirmation that Prognosis is making a difference for their customers. How big a contribution? How about record sales in NonStop market? Check. Record sales across the board? Check. Record revenues, stock price and market capitalization? Check. Retaining a sizable presence in the NonStop marketplace continues to pay dividends, even for a vendor who has served the NonStop community for as many years as IR did.

For more on what was said at this IR event check out the post of July 29, 2015, to the IR Payments and Infrastructure blog, More NonStop transactions? More for Prognosis to monitor! It’s not always easy to predict future trends or to second guess where markets may be headed, but when it comes to transactions there can only be more of them involving even more sources and for that, NonStop remains the premier offering. Despite the inroads made by commodity cluster servers and the many redundancies that are built into the clusters, throwing more hardware at the problem of availability only makes the solution more fragile – more parts doesn’t equal greater robustness. AL4, according to IDC, only comes when the ability to switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users, and this is an integral part of the design of the server.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating may be a well-known saying but it cuts to what is important for everyone in the NonStop community. Out of the box and fresh off the truck, a NonStop system provides a level of availability unmatched by any other vendor. We are now seeing, with the narrowing of price differentials a NonStop system, complete with a fully working software stack, from the OS to the database, being less expensive than commodity servers clustered and loaded with a selection of similar software products.  It may take a little longer before CIOs get their heads around this basic fact, but when they do the transactions that keep society working, 24 X 7 X 365, will end up running in part or in whole on the NonStop systems of today. And you will most likely first hear of this on a forum or blog …  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vibrant Composition

It was as if the music played - it was vibrant indeed, and thinking of the composability along with Converged Infrastructure (CI), as Martin Fink described the concept at the June 2015 HP Discover in Las Vegas, I could not pass this guitar without having a picture taken. Vibrancy? HP? Perfect illustration! We travelled to Dallas, Texas, for the N2TUG, detoured through Austin, Texas, where the Vibrancy (pictured above) was on display, then it was off to Las Vegas, Nevada, followed by Southern California. Now as I write this post we're in Palo Alto, California, for a couple of days.

Hearing a little more from Sean Mansubi about CI and more specifically, about Converged Data Center Infrastructure (CDCI), I was thinking how similar CDCI – at least in concept - is to the NonStop we all know. With its ability to add or remove resources, be these the processors, storage, or networks, visibility to the system in part or in whole by any application is a given. Having the ability to provision it for whatever new requirements arise – absolutely, it’s being able to compose your system. Yeah, just like a NonStop, right? There’s no Pathway as best as I can tell, but even here, I am intrigued now by the potential of OneView.

With OneView it is beginning to look pretty exciting and so is the concept of the “virtual” NonStop.  CDCI, at its core, supports the externalization of all resources and via One View has the ability to change everything to better accommodate the needs of the moment

Many current members of the NonStop community may have forgotten Black Monday, October 19, 1987, when the volume of trades overwhelmed SIAC and yet, with NonStop in the data center and running the trading application, it was just a case of adding more processors and disks on the fly - and the NonStop OS embraced them transparently. If it wasn’t for the ticker tape not being able to keep up, NonStop would have just kept on processing. Looking at this new composition model that’s central to CDCI shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with NonStop.    

I couldn’t help discussing where HP is headed following our discussions with Sean, and Richard and I had a thought. The requirement, or question, was how could we hasten the deliverable of having NonStop, via IB, participate, adjacent to the CDCI systems. The value-add we came up with had to do with a very key NonStop subsystem; wouldn’t it be nice to be able to wrap the arms of Pathway around processes on the CDCI systems and give them the same degree of persistence as you would expect to have from running them on NonStop?

With maRunga being re-messaged around hybrid and hopefully set up in the ATC – could a demo running a NonStop / IB / CDCI be arranged at some point, and perhaps even before December’s HP Discover? We can’t see why not!  I keep coming back to maRunga as I don’t think we have fully exhausted all that it can do when it comes to heterogeneous system deployments. And I don’t want to sound like a broken record but fundamentally, when I think of clusters and where there’s more than one platform involved, extending NonStop attributes to include these other platforms just seems to make sense.

The proof in the pudding is in the eating of course, so first we need to get the hybrid system set up at ATC and put our paws on the IB APIs as they will become available (we would not go for the raw verbs, of course), then look over at the CDCI systems should they be available.  But here’s the bigger question – will NonStop always look the way it does today? Could there even be more than one NonStop solution? Just as important for many within the NonStop community, might NonStop be given a new name, from Tandem to NonStop to something else certainly can be in the cards and new branding just might do the trick of generating interest among the industry analyst community. Goodness knows, we need to get them engaged anyway we can. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The long road home …

A brief exchange with another executive led me to reflect on just how far we have come with respect to embracing the newfound modular world of development where developing applications has become more akin to playing with building blocks …

After three weeks on the road, covering almost a fifth of the continental United States, we finally pointed the company command center towards Boulder. With 4,000 new miles on the RVs odometer plus another 1,000 on the Corvette we used to get around while camped, it was just another typical day in the office for Margo and me. Uneventful is the best way to describe it and next month marks one full year of abstinence from flying. That’s right, no plane rides in a year and you can read more of that last trip in the posting to the Buckle-Up-Travel bog, Round and around in the Georgia rain! But flying there was, all the same, as states now bump up the speed limit to 80 mph and there are no restrictions for drivers of rigs like ours – all 60+ feet.

To sum up impressions derived from peering through the front windscreen, it’s been a very green period – so much rain in Colorado and even in Nevada, not to mention Texas, that in parts it looks more like Europe than your typical western U.S. landscape. Of course, California remains the odd state out and there’s no escaping the bareness on display alongside most of its thoroughfares. With each mile covered, what was just over the horizon continued to motivate us to push on. But again, when it comes to impressions, it wasn’t so much what was outside the window that left an indelible mark on us but rather what transpired inside the command center, and more importantly, of course, inside the venues we attended.

Yet again, we made it to Las Vegas. This year we have found ourselves in this city every month but one and the changes taking place there are tangible, so much so that we fully expect to read shortly of an enterprise buying the whole strip and setting a dome on top of the lot. Fully environmentally controlled, with a perfect AC setting – a kind of adult Disneyland – where conventions run 24 X 7. Given that it plays host to so many IT related events, perhaps the likes of Oracle or Microsoft or even Facebook take up the challenge to fully enclose the Las Vegas strip!

I only mention this in passing as we suffered through daytime temperatures that pushed well past 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Throw in a couple of evening thunderstorms that pushed humidity close to 100 percent and you can get the idea. But again, if so many IT events are coming to Las Vegas with the temperature as hot as it is, are we surprised to read that when it comes to developing business solutions, the heat has definitely been turned up. By that I mean the presentation by HP EVP and CTO Martin Fink at HP Discover this past June on “composability” is just a starting point – every aspect of what has been traditional IT is being subject to composability at an escalating rate.

For some time now Margo and I have been heavily involved in a dialogue with the Sydney team at Infrasoft as they worked to bring Node.js to NonStop. This was a very deep port in support of Server Side JavaScript and was done not so much with a firm business plan in place but rather an appreciation that composability brings with it a certain reliance on non-traditional programming models. Many in the industry thought of JavaScript as something you used to program apps on phones, but no more – it’s unique property is that as a language it’s the same whether you use it on the client or the server. A first for IT as best as I can tell!

But wait; one more thing! With JavaScript we are beginning to see acceleration in the trend across all of IT to bring in components to plug into frameworks in order to provide real business solutions. Indeed, JavaScript is a response to a common need across business to simplify and to aggressively dismantle much of the proprietary, and often expensive, infrastructures we have spent so much time tinkering with for the past couple of decades – “reinvention it is, returning to its roots by trimming nearly every dimension and ‘adding’ Lotus-grade lightness”. Sound familiar? What’s good for cars (and in this case, the magazine was reporting on the new Mazda MX5) seems is also good for IT!

Barely home a few hours and a client passed on to me a link to an interesting report in Forbes magazine, Ladies And Gentlemen, Corporate IT Spending Has Left The Boardroom. In my response to my client, I quoted from this article more than once, noting that there’s the reference to “cloud services and composable technologies becoming more common in the enterprise”. Furthermore, states the reporter, “According to cloud communications platform company Twilio, ‘The line between buying and building is blurring as developers combine and customize off-the-shelf technologies today.’” Yes, Twilio is in the framework, libraries, APIs and so forth business so some balance is needed. But after talking to the team at Infrasoft, not that much balance it would seem as this trend is just a further example of IT’s penchant for the mini-application and a total dislike among CIOs for the big project.

Too chaotic? Too disruptive? Assembling new solutions out of the pile of routines and libraries readily available? Sounds like my early days in IT when my company built a boat-load of macros we all used to help speed the development process, but I digress. Composability is just so much cooler but as the article in Forbes concluded, “The best advice here is approach this subject with informed but cautiously suspicious minds.” However, what this road trip also exposed me to was the carry-over of composability into the physical world of servers, networks and storage – think HP’s initiative for the Converged Data Center Infrastructure (CDCI).

Responding to the demands of business to more loosely associate all three technologies – servers, networks and storage – and providing tools to easily “provision” to meet the resource needs of the day, HP will rollout capabilities to “borrow” from one platform to meet the needs of another almost instantaneously (again, think and indeed revisit, One View). Yes, we aren’t in Kansas anymore and for a good reason. The old days of soup to nuts in-house development are over; it’s all about distributions, open source and leveraging the work of millions of fellow IT professionals. 

It’s all about industry standards and languages like JavaScript and frameworks like SKEL JS, SPINE and RIOT (no recommendations or endorsements here; I just liked these cool sounding names), and the first users of much of this technology are the NonStop vendors – and that’s another major step towards keeping the costs of NonStop software low which should appeal to everyone in the NonStop community. For me, NonStop is heading in the right direction and its presence in the HP product portfolio is assured for the rest of this decade.

The quote about the Mazda MX5 came from the August 2015 issue of the car magazine, Motor Trend. In its back page editorial by fellow Aussie, Angus MacKenzie, he takes a similar look at what’s happening in auto manufacturing as I am for IT. “The Ford River Rouge Complex was the most vertically integrated factory the world has ever seen—raw materials from Ford-owned mines and plantations went in one end, and complete cars rolled out the other,” observes MacKenzie. “The Rouge had furnaces to make steel and glass, its own tire-making plant, stamping plant, engine-casting plant, transmission plant, radiator plant, and even a facility that turned soybeans into plastic car parts. In the 1930s more than 100,000 people worked at the Rouge, and a new Ford rolled off the line every 49 seconds.”

But no more – it’s all about sub-assemblies and flexible production lines where the concept of composability is being elevated to even higher levels. Leave it to the Japanese manufacturers, writes MacKenzie as, “Toyota claims it will be able to build different vehicle types in different colors, one by one, on the same assembly line.” And today’s IT isn’t far behind – think too of the upcoming hybrids featuring NonStop, with potentially new build-out options to enhance provisioning possibilities as yes, “cloud services and composable technologies becoming more common in the enterprise.”

We may never see the appearance of a dome over Las Vegas even as we wish for more temperate weather. There is a limit to composability after all, and the weather remains off-limits for now. When it comes to IT and the way business responds to the challenges of the day, only those with the basic building blocks in place will be able to compete in the future and with what I see coming from HP, but still just over the horizon, out of sight, assures me that HP and NonStop will continue providing the types of systems today’s increasingly modern IT demands. It may have indeed been a journey down a very long road but what’s coming into view certainly makes up for the distances we all have covered! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

N2TUG RUG meeting – being there was its own reward.

Regional user group meetings are returning in strength and my hope is that even more members of the NonStop community will make plans to attend at least one this year – you may be surprised about what you hear and see!

Spending the week in Dallas, Texas, has proved not only challenging, heat wise, but also frustrating when it comes to driving around town. The whole place is under construction and to misquote another writer who spent time in Paris, Dallas should be a pretty good city when it’s finished. The growth that fuels Dallas prosperity continues unabated and before much longer I have to believe the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex will be the largest community in the country. If I had thought I would remember landmarks from previous trips to the city, I was sadly mistaken – I couldn’t see anything that looked familiar.

With all the travels I have done across the U.S. over the decades, this was only the second time I had driven south to Dallas and as I recounted at the N2TUG NonStop regional user group (RUG) meeting, the last (and only previous) time was when I crossed that line that separates being a user from being a vendor. I arrived in Dallas representing a Canadian Caterpillar dealer, for whom I had just installed and configured a data base / data communication product, only to accept a job offer made by that vendor a few days later. And so yes, the die was cast for what I would do for the rest of my career. Fortune smiled on me all those years ago as the path I took once crossing over to the vendor side led me ultimately to Tandem Computers.

The N2TUG RUG event impressed me for two reasons. The first positive impression was the large turn-out by the NonStop community for a RUG event. Yes, there were a high proportion of vendors present but there was a goodly mix of users as well. As for the second positive impression, I have to admit how pleased I was with the support coming from HP. No more voices coming across a speaker phone – the HP presentations were done in person, with Bob Kossler and Justin Simonds both happy to spend time with customers and vendors alike. For the whole day and into the night the theme of the event had been “Hit a Home Run with HP's NonStop X” so it was only fitting to end the day at the ballpark watching a game between visiting Oakland As and the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately for some, all the early hitting was by the visiting team with the As scoring a rare opening innings grand slam.

While the NonStop community is looking forward to the NonStop Technical Boot Camp in November, in the run up to this year’s ending event there will be several more regional user group events and I am hopeful to make it to a couple more, weather and budget allowing. I have always been reliant on my clients having a need for me to participate, and I welcome the opportunity to simply talk to current NonStop users – many facing difficult upgrade choices in the near future – but here’s the thing; can a community truly identify itself as a community if it doesn’t meet on a regular basis, and perhaps every bit as important, can a community really influence a primary vendor’s roadmap anymore?  There is considerable talk about the NonStop community influencing HP’s decision to bring forward the availability of entry-level systems in the NonStop X family, but development of a smaller variant of NonStop X was always on the roadmap. Can the NonStop community be even more influential?

My sense is that no, not really, and let me explain that a little more completely, even as I acknowledge the value of having as active a community as we have today with the NonStop community. First, let me acknowledge that through the years the NonStop community has always supported advocacy and there has been some success achieved via the advocacy program. Furthermore, customers have known that there is another channel that they can approach should their own lobbying efforts fall on deaf ears, but really, the value that comes with an active NonStop community shows in other ways.

One of the valuable lessons that has come with the numerous crossings of the American countryside that I have done these past couple of years is that I have seen first-hand so many different cityscapes and natural wonders that I have a better sense of what distance and separation means – there are days where you can head down a road and barely encounter another individual. Leave the main road and you will begin questioning whether the country really has as many inhabitants as it is reported to have. Often there are times when you simply wonder whether there’s even a gas station or rest area anywhere on the horizon. You kind of know the journey will end up OK, but that doesn’t rule out the many times you simply aren’t sure you have made a wise decision to take the path you have chosen.

And so it is with our commitment to NonStop. For many of us, despite the assurances to the contrary, we feel as though we are very much on our own and that our view about what next project to pursue on NonStop maybe flawed from the outset. Attend any industry gathering, whether solutions focused or platform specific, and it’s generally something out of the ordinary that sees us in the company of a like-minded NonStop user. Even when we do run into someone wearing a badge denoting they are from a company we know for sure runs NonStop, they feign complete ignorance of that fact. The popular NonStop groups on LinkedIn are full of stories about why there isn’t greater visibility of NonStop success across the general IT community.

The good news here is that there are signs that IDC, and more recently, Gartner, may be providing just a little more coverage of NonStop than in previous years – while not related to HP NonStop, recent promotions from Gartner for one of its seminars does include the line, Nonstop IT: Delivering the Integrated Data Center. As for what Gartner describes as the, “Six key technology and process foundations for this next-generation infrastructure include software-defined data centers, multi-zoned facilities, hybrid alternatives (such as cloud services), integrated infrastructure, bimodal service delivery and nonstop operations.” Before we rush off to our CIO with this Gartner promotion, enthusiastically suggesting that finally Gartner gets it, remember its promotional support for a very broad definition and I know Gartner isn’t quite prepared as yet to fit HP NonStop systems into its model for Nonstop IT, but the time for Gartner to do this may not be far away. All the same, analysts are paying NonStop a little more attention than they have in the past.

OK – so let’s get real here. What am I talking about – well, for starters, who have read the Gartner report of May 4, 2015, Magic Quadrant for Modular Servers? As the report states, “For Gartner to consider a server product as ‘modular,’ the product must have a chassis or enclosure that allows for the easy and rapid addition or replacement of servers. Rack, tower and frame servers are not considered modular servers, and neither are do-it-yourself servers created from motherboard and component acquisitions.” A good start, for sure, but NonStop modular servers?

After placing HP in the topmost right hand quarter of its magic quadrant, it then adds, “HP has also created a fault-tolerant version aimed at the NonStop installed base. HP also offers a wide variety of modular server products for scale-out workloads, including the Apollo platform (targeted at HPC and other compute-/graphics-intensive workloads), Moonshot (a system that blurs the boundaries between blade and multinode servers that is targeted at virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI], Web serving and workloads requiring extremely low-energy servers) and ProLiant SL (a highly proven multinode server that is suited to multiple workloads).” So, yes NonStop is firmly on Gartner’s radar screen – when was the last time we said that or saw any reference to HP in the prized magic quadrant?  

However, the point here isn’t so much about what Gartner may elect to do or say or not, but rather, I heard about this at a RUG meeting. I would like to say I already knew this but I’m not sure that is the case, but now, it has aroused my interest in the topic – after all, nonstop operations has been an interest of mine for more years than I can recount. Decades ago, as I recently reminded one audience, I was the program manager at Tandem Computers for the deep port of NonStop NET/MASTER. Yes, no matter the expectations you may take into a RUG meeting, there’s always going to be surprises and this is the true value of simply showing up. 

It was that fine English actor, Peter Sellers, who reminded us that simply “Being There” could lead to infinite possibilities, even talk of being the next President. While participating in a RUG event carries no similar promises, simply being at a RUG meeting is its own reward. You most assuredly will leave having picked up some “gems”, even as you gain assurance that the path you have chosen isn’t leading to a lost world, so as to speak – yes that much needed gas station is just over the next hill. I never did return to the user world once I had visited Dallas all those years ago, and while I have no regrets on that score, landing at Tandem Computers all those years ago proved life changing and for that I will be forever grateful. See you at the next RUG event!    

Monday, June 22, 2015

Deep in the heart of Texas …

For the next three weeks I’m on the road – talking with clients, users and of course, HP. I will be presenting at N2TUG, a vital NonStop user group in Dallas, on behalf of a client even as I am being challenged - Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X!

Having just crossed the state line into Texas, shortly we will be on our way to Dallas where we will set up temporary company Command Center from which we will be working for the next six days. N2TUG will be the first engagement, before catching up with clients and prospects; squeezing in a side trip to good friends at IBM is also part of the plan. Yes, IBM, and given my long history with straddling the fence separating two of the biggest players in enterprise computing, it’s always good to see whether the grass is truly greener on one side or the other.

Cadillac Ranch – ever been there? A monument to cars of decades past, converted over time into art forms some appreciate while others quickly dismiss as vandalism and graffiti-riddled; half empty spray paint cans litter the ground, just waiting to be picked up for a little ad-lib! And yet, they stand as sentinels from a time when Cadillac truly represented the very peak of automotive excellence – yes all those years ago the Cadillac of cars was a Cadillac. Sitting back on the fence, I often wonder if the IBM of computers is any longer IBM? Or HP? Or anyone else for that matter – and more relevant given today’s cavernous data centers full of nameless server farms, is there a role for quality, and of course, the three Rs - resilience, robustness and reliability!

We passed the Cadillac Ranch a short time ago even if that only adds confusion about our exact route to Dallas, but more about that will have to wait until I post to the social blog, Buckle-Up. What’s more important though is the disruption inside the data center we have all witnessed in just this millennium. It’s been 15 years and while I can recall the 1990s well, and even parts of the 1980s, though the timing of specific events is proving more difficult to pinpoint of late, it seems a very short period of time and yet, despite the havoc wrought by the collapse of the dot com bubble, we have the internet as ubiquitous as everyone expected it to be, the blossoming of the smartphone and tablet marketplace and yes, the broad acceptance of open source and with it, the applying of the IT “seal of approval” on all things cloud related.

Survival - yes, the Cadillac survived even as it has morphed into something quite different than anything that had been produced in the past – a Cadillac station wagon with a supercharged V8 that was as much at home in a supermarket carpark as it was hurtling around the famed Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring! Today Cadillac’s best seller continues to be its SUV, a category not even invented in Cadillac’s heyday in the 1950s. In a recent interview with Cisco CEO, John Chambers, on the CBS This Morning show, he quoted Intel’s And Grove (in part) when he said, “Only the paranoid survive”. Grove’s complete quote was that “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” And for many, this succinctly sums up a good number of decades in the life of Cadillac.

However, two other comments Chambers made (and I am not sure whether he was quoting others, although he made no mention of that) were, facing a recent audience of CEOs, he said “40% of the business here (in the room) will be gone in 10 years.” Even for the paranoid, this certainly sounds alarming but then, Chambers went on to note that today, “companies either disrupt or are disrupted.” All up a cute way to say that you have better innovate to the point where you disrupt a technology or marketplace or else; others will be doing the disruption and you will miss out, leading to your own demise. Again, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

What we have all witnessed in just the last year and a half is HP upping the ante on NonStop. Doubling down, if you look at it another way – yes, HP investment in NonStop is apparent and the product family just unveiled is as modern, and indeed as relevant, as any other server in the marketplace. When it comes to NonStop X, many argue that the hardware journey has ended and that from here on out, it’s all about the software and that may indeed be true. But don’t think you can cable together your own servers and switches and simply order a NonStop distribution to throw on top of it all – HP is very much in the solution space and so NonStop will be a blend of commodity hardware together with the integrated stack comprising the hardware, the fabric, the OS, the data base, etc. Success, yes! Complacency, I don’t think so, well, at least not now given the evidence we have with the availability of NonStop X.

But then again, even as the expression “complacent” may have been levelled at Cadillac for several decades, perhaps the paranoid inside GM did survive and with their survival, a new car has emerged and it’s just “borrowing” the Cadillac moniker. Somehow it reminds me of the lyrics to the song by the Eagles, James Dean, “You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye”. Fast? Perhaps it’s best left to Bruce Springsteen who gave us the song, Cadillac Ranch, where you can hear the lyrics, “Open up your engines let 'em roar; Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur”. It’s no surprise then to hear that on my first trip to Raleigh, N.C., in the early 1980s,  the IBM VP who picked me up was driving the latest Cadillac Coupe de Ville – by then Cadillac was no longer fast, but somehow out on the interstate it felt like a dinosaur and the association with all things IBM wasn’t lost on me. Another case, perhaps, of “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Before Chambers finished his interview with CBS he made one comment, and this time it was regarding JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon. It was about Dimon’s May 2015 conversation with the Wall Street analysts that has been referenced numerous times since as what Banks Can Learn From Silicon Valley. The way Chambers told the story, Silicon Valley is coming to Wall Street and we all becoming technology companies. What Dimon actually said, talking of how Silicon Valley is increasingly encroaching on businesses once controlled by banks, "Silicon Valley is good at getting rid of pain points; Banks are good at creating them. In a capitalist society, you better be looking for ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper." You better be the disruptor or you will be disrupted and yes, 40% of businesses will be gone in ten years mostly because they failed to heed this simple message.

The question remains – does HP have more to do for NonStop to ensure it continues to be disruptive? Is the value proposition from being available, scalable and dare I add secure with great data integrity, still relevant especially as we see the gradual shift from baby boomers to millennials to Gen X’s and shortly, even  Gen Z running today’s data centers? True, with their exposure to consumer devices that routinely drop calls, screw-up downloads has educated a whole generation that it’s OK to restart or even power off / power on?  Has availability lost all relevance today? Once Cadillac epitomized luxury but, thanks to Madison Ave. marketers, luxury no longer means all that much to anyone buying a car. And yet, even as NonStop continues to epitomize availability, there’s a place in every data center for NonStop. No, there may have been a perception of complacency over NonStop, but no longer and there’s plenty of opportunity to generate even more success in the future.

Heading into Dallas and to the upcoming N2TUG user group meeting, it was hard to miss the message of their open invitation to the NonStop Community. “N2TUG presents ‘Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X’” with its reference to finishing the day with a visit to the ballpark of the Texas Rangers baseball team. But hitting a home run is exactly what the arrival of the NonStop X family of systems is all about and perhaps after all Intel’s Andy Grove only got it half right – it wasn’t that the paranoid survive but perhaps, after all these years and with the right product families, the paranoid thrive! Yes, to quote another Texas family, this is turning out to be a good day, for a good day!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

About the kids ...

People wrote and talked about their impressions from the 2015 HP Discover and all I could think about was how much younger the crowd looks. There are some distinguished silver heads (we used to call them silver backs, but they took offense, so we stopped that), but they seem to be in leadership positions. Everywhere else it was bright and cheerful smiles coming from younger people only too happy to man the booths twelve plus hours a day.

Most of the troops looked like our kids … and there is a reason! With HP offering attractive retirement packages of the kind “you’ve got to be kidding!” most of the older baby boom generation of workers, and even some of the older leaders, just could not refuse. This would tell me that HP wanted to encourage its older cadre to simply go home – the experience and accumulated knowledge isn’t a value worth pursuing any longer. Youth, energy, new ideas and an open mind to embrace the open source; is that what it’s all about today? Is it now a given that age isn’t accommodating of change? Are there those out there who perceive the possible contributions of us, deeply rooted in technology, as less tangible than those coming out of college?

I think with the company taking on the new brave world with The Machine, even as those working on the open source story were getting tired of the skeptical older folks wandering the corridors and talking about the dangers of “giving the shop away” (by going even further down the open source path) little consideration was given to what was being lost. But not every IT elder thinks this way and indeed, some of the most vocal supporters of open source are aging too – just think about the open source movement that started back in the late 1990s! As for the Free Software Foundation, founded by Richard Stallman some thirty years ago, it was way back in October, 1985! So this is not a new concept but has been welling up for some time, supported by many who now have silver in their hair.  

Paula Giovannetti, CPPM, wrote a great blog talking about the older folks having a hard time finding a job. See Perhaps most revealing of all was when Giovannetti acknowledges that, “One of my most valuable assets is forty years of networking. It would be hard for you to come up with a topic in my field for which I do not have a number of very capable professionals to whom I can turn for advice and answers.” Often, this aspect of experience is simply lost on many as the review the credentials of potential candidates for an employment opportunity.

Between the pruning by HP, and personal stories from the older folks having a heck of a time finding employment, it dawned on me that the future is not ours; the future truly belongs to our kids! Yes, to echo the words of The Who, apparently, “the kids are alright!” If those of us with gray hair continue to participate then that’s cool but seriously, even with the kids proving to be alright, isn’t the experience and knowledge spread across our NonStop community worth a lot more than simply being told to go home?

This of course brings the issue of what will happen to the leaders steering the ship toward the bright new future – they too may become eligible for a 6, 12 or 18 months package, and guess what – that future will happen, no matter what or who, and Richard told me that he actually heard it said, in the general session on the first day of the 2015 HP Discover,  “The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” according to Charles de Gaulle. 

Even now, as we drive back to Boulder I am calling my hair dresser making an appointment to have the deep roots of my hair tinted a golden hue – perhaps it really is that simple to correct the perceptions that seem to be every bit as deep rooted. And off color!

Monday, June 8, 2015

First impressions – all that happened in Vegas at 2015 HP Discover!

2015 HP Discover proved eventful for numerous reasons - less about The Machine and more about Composability ... for the NonStop community, the future is beginning to come into view!

It’s been a hot, dusty and somewhat dirty week in Las Vegas and returning to the green landscape that is Boulder has brought into stark contrast the difference of just a few hundred miles. Living in the command center wasn’t without its challenges this year, as unfamiliarity brought unintended consequences. Who knew a push tab on the shower head would reduce the flow of water to barely a drip and who knew that the pilot light on the RV’s hot water system would go out … but in the end, we were able to keep our cool (and our hot) while showering with good water pressure!

The world takes on a completely different image when all is well on the motor home front. Rested and looking forward to each day’s program, 2015 HP Discover was all about perceptions and presentation. Passing an exits sign on Interstate 15 for the Utah township of Browse - even with the assertion that there would be no services – more or less summarized my intentions for participating in 2015 big tent event by HP, as I had many questions I wanted to pursue.   

What would happen to the event itself following the HP split and would the new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) continue to be a good home for NonStop? Would HPE become more like the desert of Nevada or be as verdant as Boulder? Of course, like everyone else’s in the NonStop community, my hopes are high that with renewed focus on the enterprise HP will place even bigger bets on future contributions NonStop can make to the company.

On my way to HP Discover I caught up on emails and newsletters, among them my old favorite, The Rust Report. Author Len Rust has been a stalwart of the Australian IT industry for decades and was responsible for me landing a very good job back in the 1980s, so I always give him the benefit of the doubt when he writes about IT, but in the newsletter of May 25, 2015, his editorial column, Rust Bucket, I found myself agreeing to all the points he makes. In the changing landscape Rust let’s fly with a broadside, telling us that “The IT world today is rapidly moving from legacy application software to SOA, SaaS integration and APls all driven by the power of convention over configuration and the promise of agility and better operational efficiency”.

So far, so good – nothing too extraordinary or earthshattering at this point, but then Rust adds, “A profound change is occurring in the IT world; the power of technology has been discovered! After years of relegating computers and information technology to the back office as a cost cutting productivity tool, the community has discovered that technology has an exciting potential as a force in the marketplace.” While it may have taken some time for companies to make this discovery, Rust then makes the observation, “Companies of all sizes today are grappling with aging complex systems that are costly to maintain and too inflexible to support new business initiatives … Innovation today is no stranger to the information technology function … Many corporate leaders though are now raising the bar: they expect IT’s core mission to expand from cost-cutting to enabling revenue generation all within a short period of time.”

The crowds for 2015 HP Discover appeared as big as I had previously experienced, even as there were those I talked to speculating about an audience down in numbers from previous year, but come time for each day’s General Sessions and the large auditorium filled quickly. As depicted below, it was quite the spectacle although, I have to admit, the choice in welcoming music was a little puzzling and about that, I will say nothing more.


The most critical message that came from HP CEO, Meg Whitman, and HP CTO, Martin Fink, during the Wednesday General Session at the 2015 HP Discover event was that, “Time is the enemy”. In my most recent client newsletter, released this weekend, I noted how these two HP executives went about launching the concept of “composability” and defining it as the “key enabler for this continuous everything world” they also expressed how vital it was for business and IT that they understand that the “need to compress time to value (and get resultant insight) will never stop accelerating”. 

Furthermore, when you consider “our legacy systems, think concrete buildings; once we knew what we wanted, we poured concrete walls and (the result was) a structure that was strong but very rigid”, Fink told the audience. “But now, if we operate with the notion of buildings, we lose; we have to think more of writing symphonies where it (the finished musical score, over time) may be subject to changes of instruments, tempo and even key.” In the same way, we should all expect our business services be capable of self-composing based on business rules, policies and context and just as Rust pointed out in his newsletter, it’s now all becoming a case of the power of convention over configuration!

In all, Fink talked about the “digital business platform”, the “transformation services” and the “infrastructure as code” as the core elements within composability. While there were a number of detours, the most important, and indeed relevant, topic was the launch of Grommet , which is a big bet by HP on an open source framework. But this detour into the launch of Grommet was for the most part, a demonstration by the new HPE of just how seriously they were taking open source.

As reported in the June 4, 2015, edition of the UK publication, The Register, Open source? HP Enterprise will be all-in, post split, says CTO “‘We have taken this very, very seriously and we are all-in on the notion of open source,’ Fink said, adding that even game-changing big bets like the Machine will be backed by open source software. ‘We are the Number One contributor to the OpenStack project (and) we contribute large bodies of code to the Cloud Foundry project. We are heavily involved with partners who lead open source projects – like Hortonworks, for example. We are contributing heavily to making the cloud open source and making that real for you."

Furthermore, according to The Register, “Going forward, however, Hewlett Packard Enterprise will be more vocal about how it takes advantage of existing open source projects and will be more proactive about contributing code of its own. To prove it, on Wednesday HP announced Grommet, a new user interface framework that's specifically tailored for enterprise applications and that HP has released under the Apache License. ‘I want to stress something here: It is not called HP Grommet. It is called Grommet,’ Fink said. ‘It is HP's contribution to the IT industry to bring consumer-grade capabilities with an enterprise user experience framework so that all of you can take advantage of it.’”

Less information was provided this year about The Machine although there was a lot of coverage of The Machine in the HP Labs booth. Walking to the booth after Wednesday’s General Session, I ran into Fink, the Enterprise Group head, Antonio Neri, and Meg Whitman walking the stand and interacting with those manning the booth. See below for the brief video clip I captured – without a security entourage (that I could see) or a bevy of handlers, it was pretty good to see such interaction by HP’s most senior executives. 


While the trip to Las Vegas gave me plenty of time to read and catch up on correspondence, the return trip was an occasion of quite a difference nature – I spent much of the time in thought. Yes, The Machine was progressing as was Hybrid Computing and as such held significance for all in the NonStop community. What was more important however was the very significant message about just how open HP was becoming and just how big an impact open source was having even among the most senior HP executives! Could we ever see NonStop as software and perhaps, even as part of open source either in part or in full? More about this at a later time ...

HP Discover events rarely disappoint and this year’s big tent was one I found most enlightening. If you missed my daily updated to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, you can see them all listed under Managers Choice. IN particular, check out the final post – Final day – all things come to an end … In a few short weeks’ time I am off to Dallas, Texas, for the N2TUG NonStop user group meeting where I hope to catch up with more of the community, but again, impressions remain important for everyone in the NonStop community and the lasting impression from this year’s HP Discover is one of focus, intent, and greater differentiation versus their competitors, and yes, a sound home for all that today is NonStop!

Friday, May 29, 2015

If it’s the end of May, then it’s time to return to Vegas!

About to hit the road, literally, for the drive to Las Vegas for this year’s HP Discover event. Will this be the last year for the big tent event covering all of HP and will we see a new show just for HPE in 2016?

For anyone east of the Rockies, May has been a month of hard rains a’fallin! To add one more sentiment from popular music, well there's floodin' down in Texas and just about everywhere else across America’s heartland, for that matter. Before saying anything further I need to pass on my families condolences to all those who suffered losses in Texas - the situation in that state went from bad to worse as I was writing this post. It's a tragic situation for many of its folk. 

It was only part way through the month when the local weatherman reported that we had just two days of sunshine – a first for the Colorado front ranges – as rain kept falling. Everywhere, that is, except for California where the rains are needed most – and the negative impact on California’s economy is hard to miss. As the California landscape slowly turns from golden yellow hues to dusty brown even the coastal regions have begun to look a lot more like the deserts of Nevada than the plush green acreages we see reflected in postcards. And Margo and I should know, as it is with May coming to an end, it’s time for us to drive to Las Vegas for HP Discover.

But what can we expect to see? What will generate headlines, and most important of all, what will it all mean for the NonStop community? For many of the NonStop community THE big event of the year continues to be the NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp, held in the fall, and that too is firmly on our radar screens, but HP Discover represents an entirely different experience with the opportunity to hear firsthand from the leaders of HP. This year will likely mark the end of an era as we look to the HP split taking place before the end of HP’s current financial year, and for many, there are anxieties mixed in with relief as well as some heightened expectations

Splits cost money, and with this split two companies will be equally dividing HP revenues right down the middle – both companies will start out with revenues of $50+billion – means that there will be a measure of duplication, but more importantly, those who may have been concerned about the direction HP was taking will likely breathe a sigh of relief as each company is free to focus more tightly on what their core business will be. It is being repeated often in the financial press that now one company will likely be consumer centric whereas the other will be enterprise centric, and indeed, with the new company names – HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) – this focus seems obvious.

But what of the anxieties about the split others will feel? For starters, whenever there’s a company split of this magnitude, it’s often the mundane things that cause grief. The HP office you turned to for support is no longer with the HP company, post-split, and perhaps a little less mundane, you have invested in HP products that now span two sales forces and two support organizations, where previously you only dealt with a single HP company. So, who will be these new people calling on your company? Overall, these are mostly transition concerns and once the two ships start steaming away, following their own respective courses, this new sense of focus is bound to make it easier for all of us, particularly those in NonStop vendor community. To find out more about what the NonStop vendor community thought of the coming changes to HP I went back to the same vendors I referenced in the last post for further comments, this time just about the upcoming split.

While the majority of the NonStop community welcomed the original Compaq / HP merger (although we all knew it was really an acquisition), nevertheless immediately following the completion of the transaction, there were those within the NonStop vendor community who saw NonStop not fairing all that well as the bigger HP settled into its new style of operations. “In those early years of HP’s ownership of NonStop”, said DataExpress CEO, Billy Whittington, “our perspective at THAT time was that the NonStop platform had got completely lost within HP, had no uniqueness, and that momentum would be lost and therefore the future of NonStop looked dismal to us”.

Indeed, according to OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, “It was only a short time ago but in those days after the HP acquisition of Compaq, it wasn’t all that clear that HP would even keep NonStop considering there were still elements within HP that never truly came to terms with the departure of Jimmy Treybig and the success that followed.” Telling the same story, IR Inc. President, Andre Cuenin, made his position very clear as he explained that, “With our Prognosis product our joint customers will be with HP Enterprise. Martin Fink’s new role as HP Enterprise’s CTO and his appreciation for the robust NonStop architecture, we think is actually good news for our joint NSK customers.”

But what will be the focus of the one company most of the NonStop community is most interested about, HPE? Following the release of this latest quarter’s results HP CEO, Meg Whitman, told an audience made up of financial analysts that, “Over the past six months we have seen our customers shift and evolve at a rapid pace, demanding services and solutions that will help them manage traditional IT better while planning the journey to a hybrid infrastructure.  (We have to) move faster and smarter to meet that demand.” Call out the journey to a hybrid infrastructure the way she did, is certainly newsworthy and not an accident either – HPE will be selling multiple architectures so bringing them together and wrapping them under the heading of hybrid infrastructure just makes sense.

“Our products have been all about hybrid configurations,” said Yash. “When you consider the way we deploy our OmniPayments solution, it’s all about optimizing the placement of components according to best fit (in terms of price and performance) and it’s becoming more routine now for customers and prospects alike to show preference for a mixed Linux and NonStop hybrid.”  No discussion about hybrids today would be complete without some references to cloud computing and this too was part of the message I received from IR’s Cuenin. “From an IR perspective HP is today a technology partner, a user of Prognosis both on the NonStop and Unified Communication and Contact Center side. We also understand that HP Inc. has a keen interest to deliver their IT services through the cloud and, with our Cloud Enabled Architecture, we are in a strong position to continue serving both entities.”

HPE certainly has a brand new NonStop family to promote that now brings NonStop more tightly integrated with the rest of the product lines – the NonStop X family just released this year. “Over the years, and I am sure many backroom discussions occurred between large NonStop customers and HP, NonStop seemed to regain some momentum,” said Whittington of DataExpress. “We saw Itanium born but there was only a limited low-end offering in the NS2300 / NS2400 so it again seemed that HP did not want to confuse the market. With their other HP platforms, offering both low and moving to high-end capabilities, and NonStop almost an afterthought, HP of old seemed comfortable to let it tick over “somewhere in the corner’”. But no longer, as the focus on NonStop by HPE becomes better known, according to Whittington.  “With the advent of the NonStop X family of systems,” he said, together with “the promise of lower cost to market models and the ability to grow exponentially within the same platform all WHILE keeping the redundancy that only NonStop has, shows huge promise.”

Along similar lines, Cuenin notes that, “There is always a balance between synergies and focus. Certainly the reaction from the stock markets supports the belief that two focused entities split into Enterprise and Consumer narrows the focus and still allows to leverage many synergies within each organization.” As for comForte’s CEO, Dr. Michael Rossbach, the upcoming “split will be good for ‘everybody’; partners and customers will benefit from a better focus in general.” And Rossbach expects that, “HP will streamline the different parts of the business. ‘Small is beautiful’ - although ‘small’ is pretty relative.” In closing, Whittington admitted that from the perspective of DataExpress, “the split is brilliant because it will allow HP to divorce their efforts between vastly differing market segments, which will allow the lower consumer market to be measured in its own space and more importantly let NonStop stand shoulder to shoulder with its HP cousins in the enterprise space.”

When it comes to looking further down the road, after the separation into two entities has been completed, Yash of OmniPayments admitted that, “without a thriving NonStop vendor community prepared to develop more solutions, there’s still a risk that NonStop will continue to meet the needs of only a select marketplace even as there will be those vendors looking over their shoulders, concerned about what comes next as the excitement around Martin Fink’s ‘The Machine’ continues. But from the perspective of OmniPayments and the markets we serve, this move by NonStop to industry standards and participating in hybrid computers is all good news and having more of the spotlight shining on NonStop following the split is something all in the NonStop vendor community have been seeking for many years.”

2015 HP Discover will likely be a time for revelation even as it will be a time to see just how wide the HP split has already become – the banners flying over stands on the exhibition floor will be one guide to just how much progress has been made. Mobile, Security, Social, Clouds and Big Data will all be strongly represented – will we see the new HPE branding everywhere? Synergies? Focus? Hybrids? As for my own observations about the upcoming split ever the optimist, I can only see good things coming from it.  As for heightened expectations then it may just be California Dreamin’ on my part, but even as the grass turns brown and skies stay blue, I’ve already mentally checked out as I pack my bags for Vegas! 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

We may want to leave a Legacy, but NonStop stands apart!

With the introduction of brand new NonStop systems – the NonStop X family – distance is being put between the modern NonStop systems of today and any lingering thoughts CIOs may still have about former legacy systems from HP and Compaq.

With the passage of time almost every important historical figure begins to muse on the legacy they will leave behind. In America, this involves a lot of discussion about philanthropy, even as it touches on the ramifications of endowing considerable fortunes on their heirs. As for Presidents, the talk is about future presidential libraries and having spent time in the Ronald Reagan library I can see why the creation of presidential library can cost a princely sum. With much work ahead of him still, I was curious to learn that President Obama is already talking about his own presidential library and the likely impact of his own legacy on the citizens of the U.S. as well as the city of Chicago.

A colleague of mine from the time when I was on the board of the IBM mainframe user group SHARE, Jim Michael, has come to terms with his own imminent retirement and has elected to document it in a novel and somewhat sobering manner – via a blog he is simply calling, Last 100 Mondays. This is in recognition that, with his first post to the blog, there is only 100 more weeks before he retires. As for the best quote from his first post, it is Jim’s acknowledgment that his “emotional intelligence has been an asset and I believe it has helped me as a leader. One of the things I have most enjoyed in my work is helping people to come together by exploring how their diverse points of view can lead to better outcomes.” What Jim’s blog so poignantly reminded me of is that like life itself, technology has very well defined beginning and ending points  and what was once considered highly creative, perhaps even disruptive (even by today’s standards), can lose its sheen pretty quickly.  

“There is an ongoing dynamic tension between seeking input and choosing action,” Jim writes in his most recent post.  “With good quality information flowing between the IT staff and those we serve, moderated by managers to help ensure clear communication, we can avoid the pitfalls of both top-down and bottom-up design.” Not forgetting, of course, the need to keep it all in historical perspective. When it comes to IT there seems to be little attention given to that famous quote of the philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist, George Santayana, who admonished us with, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. A case in point?  As we rush headlong into cloud computing those of us with more years in IT than they care to recount, see many similarities with past models for IT.

Whenever the topic of Legacy comes up there’s so much emotion involved, but is the label, Legacy, being unfairly applied today? We don’t doubt that a system is Legacy when we see that its I/O is limited to punched cards and paper tape but are we misusing our emotional intelligence assets?  The picture above is just one representation of the vendor ecosystem supporting NonStop and the good news is that there’s many more vendors represented than just a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, whenever we talk of middleware and solutions, the waters become even murkier – one vendor’s brilliance may be viewed by another vendor as nothing more than ho-hum, same-o! Same-o! Perhaps Legacy is best defined by how we find it being used and perhaps, it is the environment that speaks volumes about what’s Legacy!

All too often I have had correspondence with individuals who have dismissed a product or solution on the grounds that they considered it and found it to be less than leading edge. Ouch; you mean there’s no market for something that addresses a real business need without resorting to usage of a just-emerging programming model, framework or language? For data center managers, charged with the oversight of multiple generations of systems and servers, unwilling to pull that cable when they aren’t sure what is on the other end, Legacy may not be a label as much as it is a reflection on the decisions made over many decades. It’s simply not possible to “rip and replace” every time something new comes along so balancing the investment in what’s new with what’s needed requires considerable skill.

When it comes to Legacy, the question is whether we are captains of our data center, or captives of our environment?  And what of vendors, too, balancing investments in new solutions and middleware against reluctance on the part of users not to be on the bleeding-edge even as they want to appear innovative? Yet, can we put a stake in the ground, dig our heels in, and say this is good enough?  For the NonStop community  not a week goes by where there aren’t similar challenges and the number of times I have been quizzed about the future of NonStop – just this year – I don’t care to recall.

The investment HP has made in the new NonStop X family has given me new opportunities to direct the spotlight onto a system that is industry standard and every bit as modern as any other system in the data center. And yet, I really have to work hard to convey this message to IT professionals, be they data center managers or CIOs. However, for most vendors developing solutions and middleware it is the view of these IT professionals that determines these vendors’ actions and without a doubt, dictates the pace of change they are prepared to embrace. We may not be relying on punched cards and paper tape anymore but we still have to connect to terminals, we still have to move files offsite, and we still have to batch up data and churn out reports in order to meet regulatory mandates. In the view of many who work day in, day out, supplying innovative solutions to the NonStop community, Legacy remains colored in many shades of grey.

I have often thought that perhaps the use-by date for the NonStop brand has expired and that it is time to move on from Tandem and NonStop to something a lot more appropriate for the times, perhaps even associating it with the trend towards hubs and appliances. When you walk into a home for sale and see brass fittings everywhere, you form an immediate opinion that the house was built in the 1980s but should the sellers swap out the brass for chrome, impressions change instantly. Has the time come to swap out the name NonStop for something else?  Should HP be actively seeking input and choosing action? “The NonStop brand is a very strong brand” said a good friend and client quite candidly. “If I were to look at changing anything perhaps I would look to change the marketing strategy around NonStop.”

On the other hand, the opposite of Legacy surely must be modern. If that is the case then no IT professional can make a case for NonStop X not being modern. NonStop X embraces the Intel x86 architecture, utilizes InifinBand for processor and peripheral interconnect, and is capable of supporting the current brace of popular platforms including Web services / SOA, REST/JSON, SQL, Java and JavaScript – what more is required? Few IT Professionals will argue any longer that, after installing NonStop X, they remain captive of this component of their environment – they are indeed levelling the playing field in a way that sees them moving beyond today’s vision of what’s modern and put distance between NonStop X and their otherwise less reliable racks of energy consuming commodity boxes. Changing the marketing strategy necessitates a big rethink not just by HP, but by every stakeholder in the NonStop community. That’s right – it needs us to voice our appreciation for the modern NonStop we have today.

“We remain firmly customer drive as it’s the customer who sets the requirements for a solution; if an industry body or government agency mandates a daily file transfer, then so be it,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “But it hardly qualifies any platform as being Legacy. Likewise with languages – if critical business logic is written in COBOL it is not up to others to deem the platform old.” Sharing a similar sentiment, WebAction, Inc. Marketing Director, Jonathan Geraci, notes that, “I think our play in ‘Legacy’ is that we are agnostic to sources and targets, which makes WebAction a great place to bring all of your heterogeneous streaming and static (context) data together in one place for analytics.”

Customer driven is also a theme of DataExpress. “I think we’re driven by our customers, and they are driven by their customers in turn, it’s a lifecycle in which the software vendor is the bottom feeder,” said Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress. “In all honesty, in an economy which, despite what Wall Street is telling us, is still under stress, and flooded with software vendors trying to catch a break, we have no choice but to be customer driven. If Bank A has a customer who is happy with their dial up connection they have no choice but to support them, and we have no choice but to support Bank A.” And yet, Marost wasn’t prepared to take a backward step for a single enterprise. “I’ll temper that statement with a note that if a customer tries to drive us away from our capabilities to an area which would cause harm to that core, we will have to make a stand,” she said. “We can’t dilute our resources too greatly to please one customer.”

According to comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, who puts a lot of energy into their company’s modernization messages, “Of course, the NonStop ‘platform’ is not Legacy! That should be “Duh!”, but not everyone is prepared to accept that even with NonStop X,” said Burg. “However, many ‘applications’ on HP NonStop are very much legacy. There is no point in beating around the bush here and we sustain a thriving business rectifying that situation by using a 'lean and mean' approach that makes legacy applications no-more-so.” In features and webinars, comForte is making a major investment in highlighting how important it is for CIOs and data center managers to know that the Legacy label may only be attached with Velcro.

Committed to customers and being responsive to their needs even as we fully realizing that the environment may hold us captive (and often, for very good reasons), there’s no truth whatsoever in the thought of NonStop itself being Legacy. The exception here perhaps is that the NonStop today is most definitely a positive aspect of Jimmy Treybig’s legacy to us all. But just as there’s nothing to sustain the idea that a data center is Legacy because of a modem, a file transfer or anything else that comes as a result of a customer or partners “special request”. Legacy hardware is easy to spot even as legacy tools, middleware and solutions quickly reveal themselves but in a world revolving around an always-on, instant gratification, need it right now, today’s modern NonStop system is sitting squarely in the cross hairs of those with the intelligence assets charged with ensuring a business keeps moving forward. 

Our choice of language and platform may suggest there’s room for improvement but even here, the waters remain murky. Let’s not let CIOs, or data center managers, be too quick in mislabeling NonStop given how far it has come these past forty years. Repetition of references to the Legacy moniker, with respect to NonStop, no matter the conversation or publication is a grave disservice to all who make up the NonStop community! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why would I think our lives will get any better?

It is a rainy Friday morning and I am sitting in “Moe’s Bagel” shop, having earned my half a bagel and lox smear by walking on a treadmill and doing my 7.5 min of elliptical …Worth it!

The statistics clearly lie – the unemployment stats do not explain why the gym is filled to the brim at 10 am on a Friday – and I know that many of my fellow hamsters are preparing for yet another round of resume sending while walking on treadmills - smartphones and tablets clearly at the ready.

As I watched from our favorite bagel shop here in Boulder, I could see a garbage truck, green and shiny, using mechanical forks to lift two huge garbage containers, and it empties the contents into its huge belly.  It has a driver, who is also the operator. Period! I recall garbage trucks where two guys were in the back, catching a half-hazard ride, and as the truck came to a stop they would grab a garbage bin and empty it with the driver moving on to the next collection point. The two guys would jump back onto steps in the rear fenders and continue their ride somewhat nonchalantly and completely uninterested in what they do.

That is two jobs per garbage truck that no longer exist in their previous form. That’s my little example. There are many more!  I am reading in the South China Morning Post (about a manufacturing facility. Reading the paragraph about the sheer number of replaced humans made me wonder what will be the future for my grandchildren? “Since September, a total of 505 factories across Dongguan have invested 4.2 billion yuan in robots, aiming to replace more than 30,000 workers, according to the Dongguan Economy and Information Technology Bureau.”

So, it is safe to assume that there will be a shortage of jobs, possibly much greater than I am observing here, in Boulder, CO, today. That would imply that people will have even more time on their hands. But will it be fun? Disney is about to come out with the Tomorrowand, a movie based on their showing at the 1964 World’s Fair (and now a Disney attraction) and I have to wonder, are they behind this movement to automate everything? “What if there’s a place. A secret place. Where nothing is impossible. A miraculous place? You wanna go?”

I don’t really think so. I also recently read a Washington Post article about Google perfecting self driving cars! “Google’s algorithms can determine whether a cyclist is present, and then identify parts of his or her body. Once Google has identified a cyclist’s hands and arms, it can recognize signals and act accordingly. So if a cyclist sticks out his or her arm to indicate a left turn, Google can recognize the motion and adjust the car’s speed or direction as necessary.”

Sounds like a great step forward, but it makes me think that my grandkids will not have a chance to enjoy driving cars, real fast! They will be driven by smart, self-driving vehicles with very little interaction with their occupants. Yik!

Not all of it is gloomy, I know. In the April 27, 2015, issue of the Khaleey Times, there appeared the article Smart policing to come Dubai with robo-cops.  “‘Colonel Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi said that in the next two years robots will be used to bolster police forces patrolling malls and other public areas. The robots will interact directly with people and tourists,’ he said.  ‘They will include an interactive screen and microphone connected to the Dubai Police call centers. People will be able to ask questions and make complaints, but they will also have fun interacting with the robots.’” 

In four or five years, however, Alrazooqi said that Dubai Police will be able to field autonomous robots that require no input from human controllers. ‘These will be fully intelligent robots that can interact with people, with no human intervention at all,’ he said. ‘This is still under research and development, but we are planning on it.’”

In one respect, it sure beats the recent standoffs with real cops …

OK, yes, I am concerned with what the future holds for my grandchildren, but I am also thinking that, if what is coming is to my liking, I may try to see if there is a chance of taking advantage of the new research on aging and dying – NOT! 

Amazing! Coming from down under the article tells us, “‘To achieve longevity, de Grey is developing a therapy to kill cells that have lost the ability to divide, allowing healthy cells to multiply and replenish the tissue.’ de Grey said his research aims to undo the damage done by the wear and tear of life, as opposed to stopping the ageing process altogether. If we ask the question: ‘Has the person been born who will be able to escape the ill health of old age indefinitely?’ Then I would say the chances of that are very high,” he said. ‘Probably about 80 per cent.’”

Why would you want to live longer, what would you want to see?

I am thinking that I may want to see a world where robots take over jobs nobody really wants to do (robo garbage collectors being a perfect example, but robo cops come to mind too), where people have way more leisure time thanks to the progress in automation of anything and everything, where computers will be “using electrons for computation, photons for communication, and ions for storage.” Wait! The Machine from HP is not that far away - check out the HP web site.

It’s no coincidence then that the rise of The Machine, the opportunity to live forever, and robots are just around the corner. I’ve been following the IoT for some time but really hadn’t connected all the dots – it’s the Internet of Anything / Everything even if I want them communicating or not. And while I can imagine rebooting a robo cop and perhaps even a stalled garbage truck, when it comes to anything / everything else, always-connected as they will be, then it’s going to be a perpetually working world. Without interruption, or downtime!

With that then I have to admit, yes, I am almost certain that the soul of the new machine will be of the NonStop variety – why would you spend all this money, effort and human talent to create something less than a NonStop? Why would I ride in a car that could simply stop? Why would I call 911 if my robo cop was in maintenance? Why would I even contemplate a longer life if I was to be left “on hold” interminably? Nah – it’s just got to be a NonStop world. Will someone pen a song about “it’s a NonStop world after all”, as I reckon it will catch on quickly if not today, then obviously, tomorrow.