Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Autonomous computing; tempting, but we still need input from a good design!

The story lines may take unexpected twists and turns but the enthusiasm for NonStop remains straight and true. For me, there’s much that we can discuss about NonStop but the design of NonStop? Well, with NonStop X, it’s as modern a computer as anything in the marketplace today!

For the first post of my ninth year of blogging I would be hard pressed to start with anything other than yet another metaphor derived from the auto industry. It has to do with self-driving vehicles – an abomination, from my perspective, and something that would give me pause to reconsider whether I would like to continue driving at all. No, I am not even tempted to go down this path, no matter what the signs might suggest! Even now I cause some discomfort among my friends whenever I criticize a popular vehicle solely on the basis of it providing very little driver feedback – don’t you want to be aware of the conditions of the road you have chosen to drive down? Can’t you sense the input the car is providing and doesn’t that just add to the enjoyment that comes with driving?

Readers of my posts to this NonStop community blog will also recall that the associations I draw from the world of automobiles and computers are not only frequent, but something we sometimes don’t see on first glance. Who would have thought writing about the C6 Corvette having its exhaust system improved for better performance, as was noted in the September 2, 2008, post Blood and corpses everywhere! Really? (and yes, check out the picture used) would then segue to where  I said that there’s no emerging social discontent with computing that has chip manufacturers planning some voluntarily limits to their performance. Virtualization will be part of the new landscape on NonStop.

But again, connecting the dots between exhaust manifolds and extractors to virtualization is what keeps readers thinking about what comes next and so it was that this morning I read an interesting exchange in an interview published in the September, 2015, issue of Road and Track. While this is one of the publications from which I draw inspiration it was an interview with McLaren’s design chief, Frank Stephenson, that caught my attention – and yes, at a time when the pundits are working overtime to extol what the future of computer manufacturers is with automobiles, as anyone invested in the likes of Google and Apple can attest.

When Stephenson was asked about autonomous driving and whether it has a place at McLaren, his response wasn’t unexpected. “Autonomous driving is the last thing you want from a sports car, but imagine a track day,” Stephenson responded. “The car knows the best line, the speed, the gears. It teaches you in those first few laps. You’re feeling the input from the car. After five laps, you can give it a go yourself.” Of course, this could be expected from a designer of one of the world’s finest supercars even as it renews its presence racing in Formula 1. But applying what we are watching other auto manufacturers are developing in support of autonomous driving to teaching us to be much better drivers, now that’s something I can work with.

When it comes to IT and data centers much of what I have been writing about of late has to do with the evolutionary steps being taken by companies building monitoring solutions. As the designers of today’s computers pull together mostly industry standard components and subassemblies, there’s little to differentiate one system from another and yet, as we move a little further up the stack and away from the bare metal, industry standard together with open software allow the computer designers a lot of free play when it comes to exploiting the benefits provided by the common architectures. At a time when some industry analysts still question the need for NonStop as they overlook just how modern NonStop has become, up and down these hardware and software stacks, things just fail.

However, as we look out further in to the future at what computer designers are considering building there’s a couple of items that stand out and that, in many ways, play into the hands of NonStop. As previously covered, we are definitely headed towards a software-designed-everything and I have to admit, I am pleased to see the industry headed down this path. But software-designed-everything will lead us to a level of virtualization that many within the NonStop community continue to scratch their heads about – won’t that simply compromise the capacity for NonStop to provide fault tolerance at the highest level?

On the other hand, software-designed-everything coupled with virtualization takes us into the world of self-learning and indeed, eventually, self-healing. Autonomous computing is at hand and for many CIOs, this has become the Holy Grail – whereto the high priced / highly valued systems managers, we will then be asking of ourselves? In times when so many of us are taking a step back from the industry, surely there has to be a demand for our skills as we teach tomorrow’s systems how to learn and heal? Unfortunately, this may not be the case as we head towards a world where a few clever people will lay down the foundations for all systems.

In my discussions with those inside of HP working with software-defined-everything (and no, there’s no product yet so don’t call your HP sales folks just yet), fully virtualized and with the ability to provision for any occasion, what we will see at first is something pretty basic and most likely template based. Given this industry and running this solution, here’s some basic rules to determine when to run an application, where to locate it and give it access to the resources it needs and yes, what to do when something goes wrong. But again, companies building monitoring solutions have already began taking steps along the path to predictability, learning and self-healing. And for good reason – future systems will require a higher level of intelligence to step in at the appropriate time and drive the healing. Completely autonomously and without any operator intervention!

Well, this may fly with some folks in Armonk and along Redwood Shores but for me, even where the computer knows the best time to run an application, the resources the application will require and the steps to take to recover any failed or compromised processes, I would prefer that this was all done initially in kind of a tutorial manner so that after a short period of time, it teaches us rather than dismisses us. Autonomous computer systems will be fine but at some point, it’s still the responsibility of businesses everywhere to know at any point in time what is transpiring on their systems. For NonStop then, this opens the door not only to house the intelligence overarching all that is happening but be the control box for our steering wheel that provides us with the input we need to traverse an increasingly hostile global everything-connected world.

Yes, there is still cause to celebrate good design and as much as the rest of the computer world embraces standards and builds cookie-cutter systems differentiated only on price and perhaps services, NonStop continues to provide value and in a way that is headed in the right direction. NonStop buried within a hypervisor? Why not! NonStop provisioning according to the “availability needs” template / profile? Again, of course! And yes, NonStop as the control box – even as one vendor has begun calling the latest NonStop family, the NonStop X systems, the X Box – allowing us to learn to observe and to step in with all the input needed to steer any desired course.

From the same issue of the same magazine comes the back page article, Driven by Design. Former Vice Chairman of GM and before that, Executive VP at Ford, with just a brief stint at Chrysler long enough, mind you, to bring the Dodge Viper to market. “There aren’t any bad cars anymore. They just don’t exist,” writes Lutz. “The days of seeing a comparison test of four cars where one is the obvious loser are gone, replace by a new age of automotive equality. Reliability, braking, steering, handling, ride, and refinement are all largely on par across automakers and segments. That leaves just one chief differentiator: design.”

Monitoring solutions are only going to get more important over time. But perhaps the attribute that gives these monitoring solutions the option to see it all is that they are running on the box that’s always there, X Box or not. For this to continue, the onus falls on the bevy of designers looking after NonStop systems today and to everyone in the NonStop community, what they do still cannot be replicated – and with that, autonomous computing or otherwise, we truly do have assurances that NonStop has a definitive role to play and I for one, look forward to seeing this role for NonStop eventuate as the designers work to bring us all software-defined-everything!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another anniversary … and NonStop still holds center stage!

Anniversaries are always important and there’s always consequences should we fail to remember them. When it comes to blogging there’s no similar downside but all the same, from a bloggers perspective, there’s a genuine mix of surprise along with the thought of only having just begun – so yes, thanks for all you support!

Last year I was a couple of days late in posting the anniversary post and opened with an apology that kicked off with me reminding myself not to forget writing the post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. But I do forget key dates and for many years now, following an incident I will not get into in any detail, the number of our car that we have driven on road courses for many years is 161 – yes, a reminder of the 16th of January, my wedding anniversary. With the completion of this post, I will commence my 9th year of blogging having first posted on August 20, 2007. As for the cars now in the garage, Pyalla 1 and Pyalla 2, think of them as being Primary and Back-Up!

Numbers of posts don’t really tell the complete story nor does it reflect the many changes I have seen across the community. In the fall of 2007, shortly after I started blogging, the NonStop community was gathered in Brighton, just to the south of London, for the European ITUG event. It was memorable simply because participants came up to me and said that they had started reading my posts and this was all the motivation I needed at the time. Now, supporting numerous industry and vendor blogs, I have really warmed to the task of writing incessantly about all things NonStop and in so doing have watched many others do likewise. At a time when so many in the NonStop community express concern that NonStop is overlooked by the mainstream press, the cumulative work of the NonStop folks delivering content to social media channels fills a very important niche.

Soon I will be pulling out of the driveway yet again for a week’s sojourn on the west coast, visiting both southern and northern California. Brief meetings of investors will occupy our time in SoCal whereas vendor meetings will hold center stage in NoCal. The weekend will be an entirely different matter as we spend time at Sonoma for the final track event of the Indy Racing League (IRL) where our good friends’, Brian and Jan Kenny, together with their son-in-law, Bryan Herta (who owns an IRL team Bryan Herta Autosport ), who will be contesting this final event of the year. Talk about anniversaries. Yes, it was the Bryan Herta Autosport team that won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500 race in 2011 and where the winnings and publicity spurred him on to build a team to run fulltime – the weekend at Indy for that Indy 500 event he won just happened to be a one-off for the team. Success can lead to some surprising outcomes so our trek to Sonoma is bound to be a weekend full of surprises.

My attention this month has been on the topic of modern. The upcoming Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the community magazine, The Connection, has modernization as its theme, but rather than writing another article on the act of modernization my thoughts this time have been on what exactly is modern? Does something today considered to be modern have clearly identifiable attributes? A modern house, a modern car, a modern television – what does it mean to be modern? Is something considered by one community as being cool be immediately agreed-upon by society as being modern? Do we all share a single appreciation for what’s modern and does this understanding cross over to computer systems?

On the LinkedIn group, Mainframe Experts Network, an interesting discussion developed when a member posted the headlines, 71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core business on the mainframe. Forget for the moment that this is posted to an IBM mainframe centric group and read on. “The mainframe is a hugely viable business asset. The alternative is not necessarily better, or cheaper. Mainframe's have a marketing problem, not a quality, function or reliability problem. Why? because perception is, it is more expensive and every IT hardware, software and services company or alternative, is aggressively creating FUD because they all have something to gain if they can persuade prospects to move off what had been labelled as ‘legacy’”.

Forget too for the moment that the IBM crowd is complaining about others using FUD on them – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. FUD has been the stock-in-trade response of IBM for decades to any counter-proposal to using the mainframe. But the observation that perception that (the mainframe) is more expensive and that businesses can gain from moving to another platform resonates with everyone belonging to the NonStop community. Then again, this could be expected as after the IBM mainframe, the NonStop is now the second oldest architecture managing to out-survive highly popular systems from the likes of Prime, Wang, Data General, Four Phase and the like. And as a community we fully understand that the alternative to NonStop doesn’t always end up being better or even cheaper.

However, here’s the kicker. Whereas IBM moved on from proprietary chips and fabrics / backplanes to its own proprietary Risc chips, NonStop elected to head in a different direction as it kept evolving to where today, no piece of its hardware is proprietary. While both systems today support languages, tools and frameworks that make programming applications no more difficult to do than on any other platform, be it Wintel or something else, NonStop continues to deliver an integrated stack in support of openness – something IBM hasn’t quiet managed to do after all these years. I know I will get push-back on this observation but with IBM there’s options and with options comes complexity and complex systems are inherently less robust and tend to fail more often.

As for NonStop, how many of us have forgotten just how much Pathway does for us – in terms of being a framework in support of our applications as well as a working model on how to build other middleware and frameworks with the same characteristics? While it’s still the realm of development shops to do the heavy lifting needed to support fault tolerance, the ability to develop persistent applications on top of these fault tolerant core management and monitoring components has become easy to do. But this is exactly what a modern system needs to possess today – an integrated stack from metal to data that lets developers focus on logic.

Where the commentary on this LinkedIn group heads is familiar territory. Training of the younger generation of IT professionals. “It is always a challenge to convince the younger management group to believe in IBM, and especially so when they ask the question, ‘who can we hire once you retire,’” was one observation that generated further comments. And for many in the NonStop community, this is also true. That is one reason I continue to blog as I do – I may not have the answers but I sure do know who to contact and where to direct questions. NonStop systems are modern systems by any standard of measure and HP has invested considerable funds into NonStop, making sure it is industry standard and open – equipping the next generation of IT professionals to be capable of fully exploiting its capabilities. It all comes down to setting expectations. NonStop is not a general purpose computer, but rather, it’s a transaction processing system capable of processing transactions in real time.

However, modern systems aren’t all we need to communicate as the NonStop community is aware that today we live with modern perceptions along with modern expectations. By this I mean that the model of “good enough” being fine, and yes, “No Service” being a temporary nuisance, shouldn’t apply to the systems at the heart of our business solutions. Having interviewed as many IT professionals as I have over the past eight years it still comes as a surprise to realize that what the NonStop community values so highly is of only passing interest – oh really? The system never fails? NonStop systems must be expensive and complex and very hard to program! All of which is to say, my uneducated IT professionals would likely pushback on having to work on such a system even if it is as modern as we know it is.

NonStop is not a general purpose computer and as such it will never capture the share of Global 1000 corporations many other systems claim in their marketing promotions. But again, that’s not the point – we are talking transaction processing. So the numbers HP is now throwing up on the big screen during presentations about the ongoing success of NonStop in markets like finance, Telco, retail, manufacturing and transportation are impressive. In particular the potential for growth in the mobile phone network markets, looks impressive and is one market segment I suspect few have been aware of the presence of NonStop before seeing HP’s presentations. The signs are all there – just talk to any member of the NonStop vendor community about sales figures this year – in all likelihood, the business of NonStop turned a corner earlier this year. Chalk that up to yet one more modern perception that is in dead wrong – NonStop is shifting into a growth phase and that may be the most surprising observation of mine over the course of eight years of blogging.

Numbers of posts don’t tell the story, but all the same, they do highlight the many channels through which the message of NonStop travels. From association blogs (e.g. ATMmarketplace and more recently, BAI), to vendor blogs (IR, comForte, DataExpress, WebAction, etc.) to NonStop community blogs like this one, Real Time View, there have been more than 1000 posts with readership anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 plus over the past eight years. I often blog about the difference individuals can make and while I remain bullish on this front, I also think persistence counts for something. As does growth - have you noticed, too, just how many orders have been placed for the NonStop X? If you missed it, look for another post on this topic shortly. And so, for the immediate future I will persist – expect many more posts to follow, naturally! Thank you all for your support these past eight years as you too have all played a big part in making a difference, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Modernization versus Modern – is there a difference?

Working on an upcoming feature for the Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the NonStop community magazine, The Connection gave me the opportunity to differentiate between modernization and modern even as it gave me an opportunity to look at the subject a little differently in this post …

As much as I continue to enjoy living in America now that I have U.S. citizenship, after twenty plus years of residency, it’s hard for me to ignore what’s happening in my country of birth. I still tape the Rugby League matches that make it up here – well, DVR rather than tape, I should say – and of course, who can ignore last weekend’s monumental Rugby performance as the Wallabies beat the All Blacks from New Zealand for the first time in goodness knows when. However, the games keep evolving and the rules change constantly, so much so that the modern game of Rugby – League and Union – has elements I simply don’t recognize from the time I committed so many days to playing both codes.

In previous posts I have written about the changes to the America’s Cup yachting event and as a former competitive sailor, who actually made it to Newport, Rhode Island, to watch the 1977 series where Captain Outrageous, Ted Turner, skippered Courageous to a dominant win over the Aussies aboard Australia (4 to 0) I barely recognize these strange multihull yacht mutations that compete today. Then again, coming too from IT, where change is ever present, I should be the last one to complain over the demise of older – dare I say, more beautiful - classic yachts of the past. Sailing, rugby, even the stately game of cricket (and no, I won’t mention The Ashes) have all seen changes to bring them into the 21st century.

Stopping by Starbucks in the Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA, we ran across wireless charging for the first time, pictured above, and it became a talking point. See the Starbucks News on this topic posted in November 2014. Oh yes, this is something that’s very modern! But modernization and modern are really two different attributes, particularly when it comes to IT.

Unfortunately, whenever we bring up a topic of modernization there’s an assumption that we are talking about legacy systems – we wouldn’t be covering modernization if the subject wasn’t old. And truth be told, I may be getting on in years, but my interests remain very much focused on what’s current and what’s topical with few occasions that call for me to wax lyrical on systems of the past. When I think of the cost of systems of decades ago and the capabilities they offered I am still shocked that as an industry, we were able to serve business as effectively, and indeed as efficiently, as we did.

Networking, industry standards and open systems along with Moore’s Law running rampant has seen the world change and for more than four decades NonStop has moved right along with it. The latest NonStop family to be introduced to businesses everywhere, the NonStop X, is arguably as modern as any other system on offer today, particularly when it comes to requiring a cluster for scale-out even as the internal processing power can be easily scaled up via software. As we have all come to appreciate, the move to support the Intel X86 architecture, together with industry-standard InfiniBand (IB), it opens the door to many new possibilities, given so many businesses along with government agencies have been predisposed to Intel for quite some time.

However, none of this comes as news to the NonStop community – we have seen how NonStop has demonstrated flexibility through the years embracing numerous changes of chip sets, interconnect fabrics, storage and network connectivity. Not always a sure fire winner (remember the big push behind Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) for all communications connections?) but always moving forward and remaining relevant, such that today NonStop is a modern system. It may not be recognizable to those familiar with NonStop systems of the past. Compared to a large VLX or Cyclone system you may be forgiven for simply walking past a modern NonStop system having ignored its presence as you think it’s just another network cabinet.

In the upcoming September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine the theme of the issue is Modernization. I am fully anticipating the usual suspects to provide articles and commentaries with numerous references to the use of Java and to SQL and of the benefits that come with leveraging Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) along with Web services. There will be coverage too of different options for supporting smartphones and tablets even as new protocols and services are supported. With NonStop anchoring solutions in industries that move slowly and are cautious about embracing anything modern at all, having access to so many different programming models is a major benefit for business held captive to such solution longevity.

However, in the article I have submitted, I have elected to focus on Modern – a celebration if you like of what we now have available to us with the arrival of the most modern of NonStop systems of all time, the NonStop X. Perhaps the observation I liked most came from Infrasoft Pty. Limited Managing Director, Peter Shell. When it comes to being modern, said Shell, “The technology you chose has to support where you want to go even if you don’t know precisely where that will be at the time you acquire the systems, middleware and solutions. That means a level of flexibility and indeed compatibility with languages, tools and frameworks common across the broadest pool of developers that will be likely candidates to develop these new solutions.”

I also like the observation by IR COO, Alex Baburin, who said that when stating a system is modern, “It is really the perspective of the customer and their judgment is usually based on their needs. If our product were to meet the operational and interoperability needs of these CIOs corporate architecture, then our system would typically be deemed ‘modern’”. In essence, a modern system today has to meet our needs today and yet be flexible enough to be easily reconfigured to meet the demands of the future even as we appreciate that being modern is very much in the eye of the beholder, so as to speak.

There’s still one very important attribute of a modern system and that’s its price and the most important aspect of price is that initial price tag when the system, with the software stack needed to run a solution, passes through the door and enters the data center. “Perhaps overlooked in any discussion about today’s modern systems is the price. Many companies have become a little jaded over discussions about the TCO as increasingly, every vendor puts their own spin as to what to include in the calculations,” responded OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “For me, then yes, it’s all about the TCA as this is the bottom line amount and truly influences the decision to purchase. Before turning to the calculator to see if the TCO is beneficial for any Financial Institution (FI), CIOs first must justify that initial purchase.”

The upcoming article in the September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine includes numerous other observations and I will leave it to you to check them out when the magazine is delivered. The difference between modernization and modern is very real – we all know full well that we can run an older, legacy, solution on a very modern system but the reverse isn’t quite that simple. Running a modern solution on a legacy system is fraught with potential incompatibilities where vendors prove quick to distance themselves from what is being deployed. While I am not a fan of rolling updates and changes we have come to expect from many of the programs that make up the open source movement, on the other hand, doing absolutely nothing for a decade isn’t any better. In time, working with a modern system fails both the price test as well as the ability to access a large pool of qualified personnel.

Coming this far and not seeing a car metaphor may be a shock for some members of the NonStop community but any discussion about modern systems, the emergence of hybrids utilizing clouds public and private, has to mirror what’s happening in the auto industry but that’s a subject for another post. However, the recent exposure of modern cars to computer hackers is proving to be a wake-up call and it’s a circumstance that led me to write a separate post on the subject for the comForte Lounge blog – watch for the publication of the post, The system is safe – where did you hear that? On the Internet!

The modern car, just like the modern computer, is comprised of industry standard sub-assemblies and components and the ability to choose transmissions from ZF, brakes from Brembo, tires from Goodyear resembles the options we all recognize as paramount for any computer to be considered modern and even as I have referenced a number of them in this post, it’s still worth considering how far we have come in the past four decades and not to shy away from those detractors who may not be as well-informed as us; relax, breathe easy, NonStop is modern and I didn’t need to check the internet to draw that conclusion!  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Redundancy! How many NonStop systems needed to bring merriment?

HP NonStop systems have embrace industry standards and yet, for many their fault tolerant properties don’t eliminate the need for redundant systems – a lesson learnt from years of experience as nothing can eliminate disasters and just plain bad luck!

In client newsletters and in posts to other blogs I have bemoaned the fact that even with additional cars in the garage there can be times when you simply don’t have a car to drive. Such was the case in July when even the company command center, the ever reliable RV, was checked in for a routine service. In the same week, the Corvette was diagnosed with having no brakes and had to wait for new pads and rotors, even as punctures took out both of the remaining cars. Yes, the “Trackhawk” Jeep SRT8 pictured above (with ultra-low-profile tires, sometimes a leak can be hard to detect but trust me, it was flat), as well as our Grand Tourer where a front tire simply rolled right off the rim were both victims to flat tires - "when it rains, it pours" as good friend Robert Rosen told me! Tires needed to be shipped in and in both cases their unusual sizes and construction demands meant a week of waiting.

The Holen – Buckle family was reduced to asking immediate family for help and they graciously responded. Much of this was covered in the post to our social blog of August 1, 2015, With places to go and plans in place, the wheels fell off … where you can read more about this predicament. This wasn’t the only instance where the issue of redundancy came up. Among the NonStop vendor community there are those vendors with the sizable inventory of NonStop systems. In some cases, there are systems (vital to these vendors’ customer support programs) that date back to the NonStop Himalaya K-Series systems. However, as with any business model, due consideration continues to be given to just how many systems need supporting and at how many locations?

For the NonStop community the absolute minimum of everything is two, but in recent times, when it comes to systems and indeed locations, this number has steadily risen to where three or more sites with many more systems is not uncommon. Indeed, even as the NonStop community acknowledges a consolidation among the NonStop user base following many years of aggressive M&A activity two sites, each fully replicated (with at least four sites), is not only not rare, it’s more common than we may think. The rise in popularity of Disaster / Recovery solutions in the last decade and the number of product offerings to choose from has certainly contributed to the increase in system numbers and sites.

It is well known throughout the NonStop community that the German luxury auto manufacturer has a pair of NonStop systems deployed at every manufacturing site on the planet and that this duplication of systems has been a cornerstone of the services their IT group provides the company. It’s clear that, even in the highly connected world we live in today, redundancy on this scale is appropriate. An extremely large configuration buried deep underground may be the image depicted in movies but should the site fail for any reason, there’s always the back-up somewhere, but even here, relying on just a single back-up, makes today’s CIOs extremely nervous.

Distribute pairs “everywhere” and make sure there’s distance between each pair with separate power and communications infrastructure may still see one location going offline. Disasters, whether natural or man-made, continue to occur with regular monotony.  However, when your business relies on dozens of locations, such granularity provided through redundancy keeps critical production lines operating. Furthermore, when consideration is given to what is a modern system and perhaps even more importantly, what is a modern data center, then redundancy is a major check list item CIOs would be inclined to check off with a big positive tick!

In a recent interview with IT Director of comForte, Patrick Eyrich, he talked how the sustained organic growth based on the partnership with HP, together with the latest inorganic growth following M&A activity, has made it very important for comForte to treat their systems as a whole, rather than as just a collection of isolated servers. Keeping operational this “whole”, even when individual systems and components may be offline, without affecting the support comForte provides, is a critical concern of their senior management. For more on this interview, check the recent post to the comForte blog, Following the sun ...

In an upcoming post to the comForte blog, Eyrich talks about having, “a pair of NonStop systems in Neuruppin, Germany, and a further pair in Berwyn, U.S, together with yet another pair of NonStop systems in Sydney, Australia.” Eyrich then adds that this is going to grow even bigger as “we have a new entry-level NonStop X system on order for delivery this year and in total, this will allow us to support NonStop OS versions from G, H, J and now L.” Redundancy is just that important and while it may add to the overall operational complexity, the upside certainly makes it worthwhile.

With the new NonStop X system on order, did comForte really need three NonStop Himalaya S-Series systems? “We were considering retiring one of our NonStop S-Series systems but then again, what would happen should our primary data center in Neuruppin totally fail due to some catastrophe? Disaster – Recovery (DR) is just as important as security,” acknowledged Eyrich. “Knowing that we have replicated NonStop systems running elsewhere at two locations outside of Germany, as we have with our data centers in Sydney and Berwyn, greatly reduces the fears of senior management, so yes, we will keep these three S-Series systems for some time to come.”

The systems included may span several generations but the issue of redundancy has more modern overtones than we may first think. In former times, buried deep in the back office, was the mainframe. For nearly two decades I sold software into the mainframe environment and very few sites had anything other than that single mainframe. Walking into an installation with two mainframes was a rarity and yet, for the majority of corporations, relying on tape back-ups was the sole recourse should disaster strike. But today, while we cover a lot of territory when it comes to availability, underpinning recovery is a fabric of redundancy my former colleagues could only have dreamed about – adding 32K of real memory to a pair of IBM 360/30 mainframes in 1970 represented an investment of $750K each!

No solutions or service provider would think of going into business today without redundancy especially when they are supporting mission critical applications. In a brief exchange with OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, he told me how “Redundancy anchors the manner in which we build out or data centers for development as well as support for those customers we support directly using our own systems.” While it’s received considerable publicity of late in blog posts and articles, Yash is pushing into cloud computing utilizing NonStop systems and in so doing, “we simply have to have more than one NonStop system to execute and with the introduction of the entry level NonStop X systems, we can progress by taking small, baby steps.”

As for being a recognizable attribute of a modern system, Yash also noted that for OmniPayments, “presenting an image to prospects of having modern systems at the core of our operations mandates we have redundancies almost everywhere we turn and being able to accommodate the addition of new customers, the introduction of new products and features, all while changing the operating system and the full stack that goes with it, simply isn’t possible without redundant systems and is clearly a highly visible hallmark of what a modern system today looks like.”

In the July, 2015, issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld, Yash wrote of how, “OmniPayments easily expands to provide additional functionality when needed and supplies complete security functions for every financial transaction handled. It will survive any single fault, requires no downtime for maintenance or upgrades, and supports a range of disaster recovery solutions”. And yes, OmniPayments is “now available on NonStop X”.

Before leaving the topic of redundancy, within HP there are some interesting projects – CloudLine to provide bare-bones, no-label Intel servers to those very large operations that buy servers by the thousands and don’t need any of the vendor support infrastructure most enterprises depend upon. Get out of my way; think Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo! There’s a redundancy present on a scale unimaginable with many servers down (to be thrown away) at any given time.

Then there’s the Converged Data Center Infrastructure that looks to separate processing, storage and networking resources as it throws in layers of virtualization to suit rapid reconfiguration as it provisions resources to meet the needs of the day. In both situations, the redundancy involved suggests that at some point someone inside HP will have the bright idea to completely overhaul what we see today in NonStop and bury it deep beneath the OSs to produce a far more competitive solution – yes, NonStop lives but someday soon we may no longer recognize it!

Taking a car to the shop for repair can see a car lay idle for a day or so and for many of us, while it might be a nuisance; it’s not a circumstance that would see us rushing out to buy a second car. Just in case! For those of us in family situations that necessitate two cars, seeing them both sidelined can prove extremely inconvenient and isn’t something we would expect to see happen. And yet it does happen! When it comes to our systems, as every NonStop user can attest, redundancy simply is the way we think and without it, the availability story loses considerable credibility. How many systems do we truly need? As my father would state as the family gathered – the more the merrier! 

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!