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.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

The road to Vegas and further discoveries …

Big picture reveals are always important and for as long as I can remember, the major draw card for any event involving NonStop has been an opportunity to see the bigger picture emerging. However, 2015 HP Discover will likely see more attention given to HP than to its products and just for that, it’s bound to draw a Las Vegas size crowd!

May will be the first month of 2015 when I haven’t been to Vegas. Conferences and events have been the primary attraction and I have covered them in previous posts – both the post Of hubs and spokes; of niches, clouds and beyond the horizon; it all looks good for NonStop X! and Read the news? NonStop information presentation powered by InkaBinka! Of course, visiting Las Vegas also gave me additional material for posts to our social blog, Buckle-Up-Travel, where I am pleased to say, readership has steadily climbed this year – something I am putting down to there being less talk about cars on track and more about business considerations that arise from these many road trips. If you would have told me that 2015 was to be the year I spent more time in Las Vegas than in northern California I would have been very surprised.

On the eve of 2014 HP Discover I blogged of how I had written posts from the exhibition floor many times in the past and that it looked likely that, one way or another, I will be at it again this year! Among the many traditions at such events are the vendor dinners and cocktail gatherings, where unfettered exchanges take place on just about every aspect of technology, and there is always a variety of venues involved. For more, look back at the post,
Mow down barriers, rip out legacy! What’s coming to NonStop will surprise … and yes, as in 2014, I have my fingers crossed that I will be able to attend once again.

As the community has acknowledged for the past couple of years, HP Discover isn’t a replacement for ITUG events of the past – to some extent, the “flavor of ITUG” lives on with the
NonStop Technical Boot Camp and in 2015, the event returns to essentially its roots in San Jose. However, there’s always a sprinkling of NonStop community members at HP Discover, but this event’s main attraction has always been getting a firsthand glimpse into the HP “bigger picture” and for NonStop to even be mentioned is always a cause for celebration. On the exhibition floor there will be a new NonStop X system on display with some well-known faces on hand to provide information on NonStop to those attendees still not familiar with HP’s sizable investments in one of the better enterprise systems on offer from HP.

There is a culture within the NonStop community that thrives on events and it’s good to see not only the return of the Boot Camp but the continuing enthusiasm for regional events planned for all four corners of the globe. Even as I write this post, the Connect GTUG - IT Symposium held this week in Munich is all but wrapped up for the year and I am hopeful that I will be able to bring news from that event after I catch up with the HP NonStop product management team that was in attendance. According to comForte Marketing VP, Thomas Gloerfeld, when it came to the big news coming out of this event, “the roadmap for NonStop X clearly showed an accelerated plan for both 2 core and 6 core additions to the NonStop X product line and that these would likely be introduced before the end of HP’s financial year.”

The first ITUG event I have ever attended was held in 1992 at Nice, France. It’s something that I will not easily forget as alongside my monitor, I still have the coffee mug given out at that 1992 ITUG Spring Conference at the Nice Acropolis. As a newbie to ITUG events I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of all who participated even as it represented many firsts. Wine was freely provided during lunch that led to less-than-anticipated attendance at afternoon sessions. I was on a booth, alongside Tony Bond of SDI, demoing the very first release of NonStop NET/MASTER even as, across the passageway, Steve Killelea of IR was demoing an early release of Prognosis – on color screens, too, as I recall – in his irrepressible best form!

Checking into my hotel I couldn’t help but hear the ruckus that was coming from the adjacent bar and sticking my head around the corner, there was Pete Schott, Randy Baker, and Gerry Peterson – essentially the brains trust behind the sales and support for all Tandem Computers sold at that time. This was my first encounter with 24 X 7 “networking” at the bar, an essential part of every ITUG I attended after that – for many an integral part of the culture that was NonStop!

ITUG Nice was also the first time that I ran across longtime Tandem and NonStop supporter, Bill Honaker, even as it proved to be a place where I was introduced to  Chris Rooke and Gary Sabo with whom I was later to become more closely connected, as I moved on from being a development program manager to a product marketer. It was also just another milestone in a long journey that saw my involvement with Tandem and NonStop user groups that spanned more than a quarter of a century. The culture that I witnessed developing around a fault tolerant architecture I never anticipated holding sway over as many smart people as it continues to do for as long as we now know it has – clearly, there’s a lot more going on here than many of us care to acknowledge. Do we simply hang around for the trinkets, the tee shirts and coffee mugs? Or is it far more meaningful than that?

What I am anticipating hearing more about is the ongoing process to split HP into two companies – HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. News continues to trickle out about the split and yes, for the NonStop community the news here is that the CTO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise will be Martin Fink, an executive with very strong ties to NonStop, dating back to when he was head of the NonStop Enterprise Division. Just in the last couple of weeks we saw Hewlett Packard Enterprise President and CEO, Meg Whitman, unveil the new logo and colors for Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

In the news release posted to the HP web site,
Introducing Hewlett Packard Enterprise Whitman tells the world about, “What I love about our new logo design is how it stands out among our competitors. The color we picked is no accident. I wanted us to stand apart …The other thing that stands out for me is its simplicity.” And yes, apparently HP Inc. retains both the current color scheme and logo that we all associate with HP.

So maybe at 2015 HP Discover there will be an abundance of trinkets, the tee shirts and coffee mugs reflecting the new branding unveiled for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Perhaps what the culture of NonStop has always cherished – the trappings that reinforce our identity – will receive a new injection of life! Will we see green tee shirts, green coffee mugs and yes, green backpacks and hold-alls? Personally, I am hoping that there will be items that are truly unique as I have an office full of bags, notepad binders and so forth, but I guess I will just have to wait. Maybe this isn’t the bigger picture many in the NonStop community want to hear about, but it’s significance to users and vendors alike shouldn’t be discounted – HP splitting into two corporations is a very big deal.

In an age where every business is being told to focus and to stay true to their calling – just look at how rapidly GE is being dismantled in the post Jack Welsh era. In the New York Times article of April 13, 2015,
Jeffrey Immelt Is Putting His Own Stamp on Jack Welch’s G.E. reporter, Steve Lohr, references Noel M. Tichy, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, who said “Where G.E. is going to end up is back to the future.” According to G.E. as reported by Lohr, “It has been a lengthy and often humbling corporate journey animated by the recognition that G.E.’s real strength lies in industrial engineering rather than financial engineering.” Comparing HP to G.E. may not be accurate but you can see in HP’s plans to split the consumer-focused retail business from the corporate business is also a return to the industrial engineering that put HP on the map in the first place.

Culture is important for user communities and we have all witnessed that in the time we have spent with ITUG and now Connect, but it’s also very important for companies like HP. A strong culture is the glue that binds a company and helps cement its place in business – there’s nothing worse than to simply not know what value a company provides in a marketplace. As I look ahead to 2015 HP Discover and the events that will likely overtake all who attend this year I will be very much focused on what lies ahead and how this is communicated – it should be hard to miss, I expect.

However, having said this, I am acutely aware that for those looking to hear more about the latest feature for NonStop or Linux or Moonshot or even The Machine, the references to the transformation under way at HP may prove overwhelming. And yet, this is bound to be the big picture we all need to see and comprehend before any other consideration is made. This may very well be the last HP Discover but on the other hand, it may prove to be the very first of something even more worthy of discovery – Las Vegas, that city of ultimate illusions, may yet have one more rabbit to pull from its hat after all!

Monday, April 27, 2015

About News

This week we worked on an article for an upcoming May / June, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine – Richard and I chose the title Data ain’t Data – a case for mission-critical data on NonStop. The title came as an analogy to a very successful advertisement campaign when Castrol Oil created the punchline, “Oils ain’t Oils!” See the article to read more about it!

The point we were making was that there is some data that is of critical importance; in fact we pointed out that such data could be as mission critical as are some transactions or applications. We also asserted that the source of some of this critically important data could be social media. To illustrate that point I started with: “When you watch news…” and stopped! Who watches news?

 Sometimes, when engaging in the mindless activity of applying makeup, I listen to the radio to get the news. So the sentence was intended to show how social media content can be critical data, so important for example to the police in crime prevention, or to those needing proof of errant police brutality … But the change in the ways we obtain the daily, or even hourly, updates on what is happening in the world, got me off tangent!

Well, I do when I try to walk my 2 miles, like a hamster, in my 24/7 Fitness gym but other than that I try to stay current reading the really short version of the news, using InkaBinka.

Which brings me back to what I wanted to address – in all three ways (watching, reading and listening) the news arrived, last Friday, about the big Bloomberg terminal outage. Oh, my! All around the world! An article in computerweekly.com, by Karl Flinders, made the stunningly obvious remark, “In the trading sector, where systems complete trades in microseconds, even seemingly insignificant glitches can have huge ramifications.”

Bloomberg terminals? CNBC reported after the service was restored, “Bloomberg terminals—also known as Bloomberg Professional—are vital to many traders' day. As well monitoring and analyzing real-time financial data, traders can also execute trades using the terminal. Bloomberg has previously stated that it has more than 315,000 subscribers worldwide.” Well, sounds like a pretty critical service no matter what metric you might use to gauge business critical operations.  

Wikipedia provides following information on the Bloomberg Terminal, “The terminal implements a client-server architecture with the server running on a multiprocessor Unix platform. The client, used by end users to interact with the system, is a Windows application that typically connects "direct" through a router provided by Bloomberg and installed on-site. End users can also make use of an extra service (Bloomberg Anywhere) to allow the Windows application to connect via internet / IP, or Web access via a Citrix client. There are also applications that allow mobile access via Android, BlackBerry, and iOS.”

I wonder…The speed of processing, or lack thereof, was the reason NASDAQ switched from Tandem Computers that had been in production since 1981 to Unix machines. According to the December 25, 2008, article in Forbes, Company of the Year: Nasdaq “Within months Robert Greifeld (a former computer salesman who took over at Nasdaq in 2003) scrapped Nasdaq’s expensive Tandem computers in a Connecticut data center and moved Nasdaq to off-the-shelf servers.” It didn’t take long before the integrity, indeed robustness, of off-the-shelf solutions began generating news leading to the infamous headline in Time magazine of August 23, 2013, Computer Glitch Forces NASDAQ to Halt Trading.

This raised the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, who said in a statement that Thursday’s “interruption in trading, while resolved before the end of the day, was nonetheless serious and should reinforce our collective commitment to addressing technological vulnerabilities of exchanges and other market participants.” White said she will be meeting with leaders of the top exchanges to “accelerate ongoing efforts to further strengthen our markets.” So, if off-the-shelf, industry-standard, technology and solutions are that important to businesses including NASDAQ, with the arrival of the NonStop X, is there really any justification in utilizing platforms that continue to fail? I don’t think so…

Well, back to the Connection article. Some data is more critical than others, and when you think of critical data, life and death come to mind. Having two prematurely born identical grandsons in incubators, hooked to all sorts of sensors, with monitor displays all around them, makes me realize that indeed, there is some data that just ain’t data!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What the future holds … are you scared?

We may be familiar with stories from the past including popular movies and publications but has securing private information become too scary? For the NonStop community there are lots of options ….

This week another trailer was released for the upcoming end-of-year new Star Wars movie: The Force Awakens. Billed as Episode 7, it follows a pretty uninspiring Episodes 1 through 3 that focused on utilizing new film technologies, including a lot of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) that left many a follower of Star Wars wanting a lot more, and with the release of multiple trailers it looks like Disney, the new owners of the Star Wars franchise, is delivering!  Another image from the most recent trailer features the return of Hans Solo, aka Harrison Ford, and following some scary scenes ends simply with the acknowledgement from Hans Solo, “Chewie, we’re home!” and as a quick glimpse into the future, Star Wars fans are resting easy.

However, for anyone in IT the future is looking a little scary these days even as it returns to computing we are a little more familiar with – the latest embellishment on the old service bureau models. Clouds and even hybrids have been with us, albeit under different guises, for decades and few within the NonStop community are fooled by the latest “window dressing” being applied – so, all my compute resources are off site? Cool! And sure, I can provision for my next application quickly (and with minimal human intervention)? I like it! Much of what is now taking place with respect to computing resources happens in real time and that is just one more attribute that looks familiar to the NonStop community, but with the latest application of make-over of a very old model come risks, uncertainty and a considerable amount of fear among those occupying the C-suites on mahogany row. If only we could turn away all potential intruders even as we make sure nothing truly terrifying has taken place. 

Before contemplating the future it’s good to know that our concerns about security have their roots dating back millennia.  In Biblical times, we read of how Eden’s tree of life was protected following the fall of Adam and Eve. According to Genesis, “Thereupon God appointed Cherubim to guard the path leading to the tree of life with a flaming sword which constantly turned its fiery edge in every direction so that none could pass forward without permission.” Turning to Nordic legends and of the worlds occupied by deities, we come across the story of Heimdall. According to popular beliefs of the time, Heimdall “is the all-seeing and all-hearing guardian sentry of the world, Asgard, who stands on the rainbow bridge Bifröst to watch for any attacks to Asgard. Heimdall can also ‘look across time, as well as space’”. Unlike the Cherubim of Biblical times, it is recorded that Heimdall didn’t so much depend on his sword as he bore the Gjallerhorn ("Yelling Horn"), which he would sound to alert all of Asgard to dangers threatening the city's gates.  

Returning to the issues facing modern day IT and looking too to what the future may hold, USA Today published an article on April 16, 2015,
2025 tech predictions both thrilling and scary. The article then asks readers, “And if things don't go as planned and all our data are allowed to bolt out of the corral?” what then?  It then quotes Rachel Maguire, research director at Institute for the Future, a non-profit think tank, "Well that's the dance that's happening now. We're in the age of omnipresence, so the question is, can we solve for the privacy issue so we and future generations can enjoy the benefits of technology?" 

The USA Today article then wraps up by circling back to the first shift in technology, security. “Under the heading ‘privacy-enhancing tech’ are predictions of cryptographic breakthroughs that hopefully will deliver us from a reality where it seems every major outfit is being hacked on an almost daily basis. Of all the shifts, however, this one clearly deserves the most attention,” the article concludes. Its final thought may be chilling to some but it’s what drives middleware vendors today to do even better, “Without encrypted and secure data transfer, our digital lives will fast become an open book. Says Maguire: ‘The question we need to keep asking is, simply, what is technology setting us up for over the longer term?’”

At the very heart of what scares IT and business executives the most today is security. And yet, there’s a lot that can be done right now to diminish the fear of what lies ahead. In a three part series of posts on Security written for the comForte blog, I began by asking, Does our interest in Top 10 …? In that post I quote comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, who also asks, “It is a mystery to me why it seems to be easier to sell a software product in the six digit price range than to convince customers to get paid-for advice by experienced folks like ourselves or our partners.” In the second post, Time to get fit? I quote comForte Marketing VP, Thomas Gloerfeld, who asks, “why would any of us expect to fully understand all the tools at our disposal if we truly didn’t know what they did or how best to use them?” The third post is yet to be published but it asks yet another question, “What about NonStop? Does NonStop inherently ward off all intrusions or do we need to be even better prepared than ever before?”

One vendor who is leveraging the work of another is DataExpress. Identifying their marketplace as addressing secure, managed file transfer, DataExpress leverage comForte SSL / SSH products provided as part of the NonStop operating systems. “This allows DataExpress to focus on differentiating functionality so important for us when it comes to growing our business,” said DataEpress CEO, Michelle Marost. But DataExpress is not alone when it comes to making sure private information stays exactly that; private!  

“Customers have often used Prognosis to supplement their security monitoring on NonStop. It can detect files being created or changed, abnormal process activity or event messages, and act on them,” said IR Product Manager, Jamie Pearson. “More recently, though, IR have provided a solution called Prognosis Change Auditor to assist with PCI-DSS auditing of configuration changes on the NonStop platform. It detects changes in the configuration of system and application components, which can then be reviewed and matched against approved change requests.”

“Today we provide the OmniAuth module that is used to define rules to reduce fraud, an all-important consideration for FIs and our entry in the all-important Fraud Blocker marketplace. But, OmniAuth is really Authorization which is of course checking security etc. plus checking if you have the money,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “Looking at OmniPayments as a whole, it comes already equipped with complete security functions for every financial transaction that it handles, including encryption-at-rest and encryption-in-flight. But yes, we acknowledge that it is an ongoing battle as we face-off with the bad guys.”

No discussion on security across American banks and retailers would be complete without some references being made to the looming October 1, 2015, date for acceptance of smart cards with embedded chips – my first card, from CHASE, arrived this past week giving me a total of one Chip and Pin card. In the post of November 10, 2014, The headlines say it all: EMV is an answer! to the blog ATMmarketplace, Yash said, "While it may be true that security will be a problem for all in IT — vendors and users alike — there are steps that can be taken to make life for the bad guys a lot harder." Furthermore, according to Yash, “Smart cards have been in use in most countries around the world for years, and they are now coming to the U.S. (and) since HP NonStop systems have a significant presence in payment-card transaction systems, it is important that the NonStop community be familiar with smart-card technology.”

HP is pursuing greater security options for NonStop systems and this is evident from recent statements made by HP NonStop security architect, Wendy Bartlett. "Defense in depth is critical, particularly when it comes to securing the applications running today on NonStop. We are continuing to invest in the security capabilities of our own products, including but not limited to Safeguard, even as we continue to leverage solutions from both HP's Enterprise Security group and our NonStop partners. There are many aspects of defense in depth, from intrusion prevention to intrusion detection, analysis, and response, so you cannot have too many eyes focused on security. HP NonStop customers expect this level of attention from their vendor and partners.”

Products, services, education plus a healthy assist from HP NonStop development are all readily available and can go a long way to help the NonStop community ensure there’s a depth of defense capable of warding off all but the most persistent attacker and / or someone who has gained inside information – the so-called weak link. Scary scenes from popular movies and legendary defenders from the dawn of time reinforce how important having adequate defenses truly has become – it doesn’t take a think-tank of futurists to keep as sensitized to what is really happening in the world.

As HP noted, when it comes to security, you cannot have too many eyes trained on the problem and looking for new way to add additional layers of defense. For the NonStop community this is encouraging and the fact that the numerous vendors continue to provide security products helps go a long way to slake the thirst of CIOs lining up at the well of safe IT -  yes, we have to solve for the privacy issue in order for future generations to enjoy the benefits of technology! 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Industry Standard Rules, OK!

As for industry standards, it's been part of the game plan for NonStop to embrace industry standards fully and with NonStop X, HP delivers on this plan ...

From the very first time a container ship passed through the heads of Sydney Harbor at the end of 1969 I have been fascinated by the container industry. Spending my formative years of IT working for a container shipping company cemented that fascination and I have been following the industry ever since. So much for the container ships that carried a measly 2000 standard size Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU as today new-age behemoth ships transport almost ten times this number. What has really sparked my interest all these years later is what’s happening with containers today on dry land, as industries have grown up with novel ways to exploit essentially a standardized “building block”. 

According to one news source, the Port of Seville, Spain, is among the more recent converts using seagoing containers in unconventional ways. In an article of April 2, 2014,
Port of Seville receives shipping container-based cruise ship terminal the reporter wrote, “in order to accommodate the growing number of cruise ship passengers who regularly disembark at the Spanish Port of Seville – the country's sole inland port – a new cruise ship terminal has been built using shipping containers. Spanish architectural firms Hombre De Piedra and Buró4 took 23 well-worn shipping containers to construct the 508 sq m (5,468 sq ft) terminal.” The irony of this isn’t easily missed – boarding your cruise ship via containers; who would have guessed?

Few of us will forget the devastation caused by the February 22, 2012, earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. The devastation was almost absolute – barely a usable structure survived. And yet, as the city of Christchurch began to rebuild, one of the first structures erected was a temporary mall made up of yes, you guessed it, sea containers. In the news release Re:START - a unique shopping experience in the heart of Christchurch that describes the project to get the city back up and running, “The shipping container mall is one of the most striking features of the cities renewal …The brightly colored stacked boxes hold 27 stores (and) the mall offers a bit of normalcy to the residents, and some serious contemporary eco-style.” 

It would seem that embracing a standard, such as has been done by transportation companies, has not only streamlined the transportation industry and revolutionized the way ships are built, ports are constructed, and how supporting infrastructure functions in in general, but created numerous secondary industries as a result. For IT and the computer industry, the message is very clear – utilization of industry-standard components wins out and those holding onto proprietary solutions cannot win over the longer term. The time when mainframe plug-compatibles flourished was when IBM drove the standards, but today, no longer. It’s Intel that now drives the most important of all roadmaps – the chips we package within the systems we rely upon. 

In my March 31, 2015, post Here comes NonStop X and here’s to another decade or two, or four, of NonStop excitement! celebrating the official launch of the NonStop X family of systems – specifically, the first model, the NonStop X NS7 X1, I quoted Martin Fink, executive vice president and chief technology officer, HP. “It’s been a long journey to where we see NonStop running entirely on industry-standard hardware,” Fink had told me and I was reminded by others at HP just how important this message was. Scanning the press for additional news coverage of NonStop X, I came across the article HP’s long road to a single server architecture in the Australian electronic publication, ITWire.

In this feature journalist, Graeme Phillipson, observed, “HP inherited disparate architectures from Tandem, DEC and Compaq, as well as a couple of its own. Bringing them all together has been a long process, which is nearly complete.” Furthermore, said Graeme,   “Over the last decade or more HP has been evolving all these architectures, with their disparate chip sets and operating systems, towards one hardware architecture based on Intel processors.” However, it’s not just journalists that have picked up this message but also many within the NonStop vendor community share similar beliefs – embracing industry-standard technologies benefits everyone.

“After years of simply referencing WinTel as industry standard, it’s acknowledged within IT that anything incorporating Intel chips – particular, Xeon chips with their support of the x86 architecture – is industry-standard,” OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, told me. “But it is a lot more too – integrated support for Ethernet, with TCP/IP communications support a given - and it also applies to interconnect so embracing InfiniBand (as HP has now done with NonStop X) is a big plus. External storage support via SAS and Fiber Channel help round out the industry-standard message as well so yes, the industry standard blanket applies to a broad spectrum of technologies and while it’s not so much a case of acknowledging it as ‘something I would recognize when I see it’ so much as it’s endorsed by my customers and prospects without reservation.”

When I asked Yash whether NonStop X really does close the gap to industry standard or whether there is still more to be done, his response was informative as it was challenging. “Firstly, embracing industry-standard is a journey and a commitment as what constitutes industry standard is a moving goal line,” he began. “Newer, faster, cheaper, components are arriving all the time and where customers accept these components, all vendors need to be cognizant of the implications and stay true to their industry standard support. But secondly, and just as important from my perspective, industry standard also applies to the breath of solutions available – and I am expecting with the arrival of NonStop X that there will be many new solutions becoming available and with that, my task of selling NonStop X into markets I am already established in only becomes easier for me.”

When I put the question about the value of industry standard to InfraSoft VP of Engineering, Dave Finnie, his response reflected his primary focus on software. “I would have said ‘no, it doesn't matter what's underneath’ as I thought that the OS and supporting runtime environments, etc. were all that counted,” said Finnie. “However, I have now heard from a couple of people that NonStop has suddenly become a more accepted platform in their company (i.e. a possible move from ‘maintain’ to ‘invest’) purely because it is now using Intel x86 technology! I would never have thought that that would be an important factor, but obviously it is for some folk.”

However, there’s even more to the industry standard story than just HP’s embracing Intel x86 architecture. According to Finnie, “Industry standard now means support for all the commonly used languages and environments. POSIX support is important here, so the OSS support in NonStop plays a big role here. I think for this simple reason, NonStop X has closed the gap with competing products by embracing industry standard features across hardware and software.”  This sentiment is shared among other vendors I polled this past week, as indeed, standardization may be the tipping point for vendors considering accelerating their moves to OSS as NonStop X confirms for them the longevity of NonStop.

In an upcoming article to the April, 2015, issue of The Connection you will read of DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, explaining how, “Today, we have two distinct products, DataExpress NonStop (DXNS) and DataExpress Open Platforms (DXOP) and we are taking steps to see if we can now consolidate these under a single multi-platform product offering. While as yet we do not have a customer asking for our DXOP product on OSS, considering the built in redundancies that NonStop brings to the table, it just makes sense for us to go there.” To at least have the option to standardize their solutions in a way allowing the product to run on multiple platforms is surely a godsend to many middleware and solutions vendors.

“As I suspect with many vendors serving the NonStop community, the announcement of the General Availability (GA) of the first member of the new NonStop X family of systems strengthens our resolve to stay focused on NonStop systems – they have been a part of IR since it first provided application monitoring solutions,” came the observation from IR VP of Products, John Dunne. “Perhaps more importantly is HP’s commitment to industry standard technologies, which we see as a necessary part of growing a community, and introduction of NonStop X as a complementary product family, as it is doing, suggests that there will likely be new customers for NonStop in the near future.” It is this final point that I sense will foster even more discussion in the future – the NonStop X isn’t just for the NonStop faithful, but is a product for the times for all those companies looking for more secure, highly available (and scalable), industry standard systems. NonStop opens the door to a much bigger world and this is the real value that comes from being industry standard.

Providing a similar observation comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, noted that indeed, NonStop X “is an important step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.” Industry standard “is about much more than what hardware it runs on. It comes down to providing the right ecosystem and solutions, said Burg. “A key area will be the support of ‘Hybrid architectures’ making use of InfiniBand as a fast communication layer within the Hybrid system. Also, getting solutions vendors excited about NonStop will be the real confirmation about the validity of this new industry standard NonStop system. Intelligent Hybrid architectures should in fact enable easier and 'smarter' porting of existing applications to the NonStop X platform”. Like everyone else in the NonStop community the expectation within comForte is that with NonStop X, the community will grow bigger.

Raising this topic with OmniPayments, Yash made it very clear that, “today, industry standard has more to do with the platforms supported – can you run Java? .NET? JavaScript? Does the platform support SQL? And to a degree, can you run popular solutions – SAP being one example. The opportunity to configure the new NonStop X as part of a hybrid solution embracing both NonStop and Linux is a huge step towards finding greater acceptance as being industry standard but there really is a lot more to be done with respect of levelling the playing field when it comes to what IT sees as being an industry standard platform.” And by this, Yash as are many others in the NonStop vendor community, is hopeful that HP’s pricing model better reflects the arrival of industry standard solutions – that is to say, the NonStop X family breaks ground on lower, more competitive, price points.

“We have our NonStop X system now installed and all the OmniPayments code has been certified on NonStop X,” Yash then told me. More enlightening perhaps is that OmniPayments has “built our fraud solution on Nonstop X. OmniHub Payment services hub integrates with Linux and with big data feeds over InfiniBand.” Of course, Yash isn’t the only one certifying products and purchasing NonStop X systems. Already news is beginning to come in about one American user who has bought three NonStop X systems to complement existing large NonStop i Blade systems. A large retailer looking to better integrate NonStop into their business operations it is still early days for this American retailer but already I am openly speculating that this may just be a starting point.

For NonStop to embrace standards has been a popular theme of posts to this blog. Referencing unconventional uses for containers, likewise, has been featured before.

In the post of March 21, 2008, The need for standardization! I wrote about the coming of standardization and I referenced the thriving industry surrounding the reuse of sea containers. As I wrapped up that post, I noted how the arrival of standards for blades and blade chassis will continue to excite me. I noted too that I see tremendous potential to reduce costs while opening up the options and broadening the range of choices available. Seven years ago I had no idea that NonStop would come as far as it has.

There may not be a thriving secondary industry for NonStop X and I don’t see a range of office furniture or even garage hold-all cabinets being constructed from these latest additions to the family of NonStop systems. I can’t rule it out, mind you – there was a time when I hung IBM mainframe consoles as abstract art along my office wall – as this really isn’t the story here. Embracing industry standards, and having the vendor community on its side, tells its own story and the message is inescapable.  To re-quote InfraSoft’s Dave Finnie, “NonStop has suddenly become a more accepted platform in their company” and all thanks to HP rolling out NonStop on industry standard Intel x86.   

Monday, April 6, 2015

I am not ready for this, not yet…

There’s an article in theguardian.com that reads like a science fiction book or the plot from a Bond movie:

“Google has struck a deal with the healthcare company Johnson & Johnson to develop surgical robots that use artificial intelligence. Google’s life sciences division will work with Johnson & Johnson’s medical device company, Ethicon, to create a robotics-assisted surgical platform to help doctors in the operating theatre.”

The article then ends with: “Google’s life sciences team is also developing systems that can detect cancer and heart attacks using nano particles, and has worked on smart contact lenses that contain sensors capable of monitoring the signs of diabetes – technology that was licensed by the Swiss drug firm Novartis in July 2014 to develop into a practical medical application.”  The link to this article is here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/27/google-johnson-and-johnson-artificial-intelligence-surgical-robots

There is more, this time from Japan, also from theguardian.com: “Meet Robear, an experimental nursing-care robot developed by the RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research and Sumitomo Riko Company. Unveiled this month, the robot is designed to lift patients out of beds and into wheelchairs, as well as helping those who need assistance to stand up. Robear weighs in at 140kg, and is the successor to heavier robots RIBA and RIBA-II. ‘We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on caregivers today,’ said Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the project’s robot sensor systems research team. ‘We intend to continue with research toward more practical robots capable of providing powerful yet gentle care to elderly people.’
That’s an increasingly urgent challenge in Japan, where the elderly population is growing fast. According to Riken, robots like Robear can play an important role in taking the strain off nurses and caregivers, who may be having to lift patients 40 or more times a day, risking lower-back pain in the process.”  The article is here:

I am not ready for this; not because I belong to the generation that soon will need Robear and hates change. No! I am not ready because all these technologies can and will fail at one point or another – one hopes not in the middle of the heart surgery or while transporting Grandma from her bed to the nearby chair…ouch! Knowing there is a system that is fail proof, designed to be always on, you know, NonStop … Why would you trust yours or your loved ones’ life to anything less? Say we will overcome it, and the technology will become available on NonStop. Is this solving the problem?

As we continue to differentiate the IoT from the Io (Mission-Critical)T I have the sense that greater demands for integrity and robustness will be forthcoming. After all, there’s a whole lot of difference between missing a nut or bolt on a production line assembling household furniture, for instance, to missing a screw while performing a back surgery. Should software updates be transmitted, as we so often see happening on our PCs, would the dreaded blue-screen of death take on more ominous overtones?

I have to believe that as this trend toward automation and AI intrudes into our very lives, NonStop systems will likely find a whole new market segment opening up. This may not be as fashionable as interacting with the latest smartphone or tablet, but really, we are talking about things way more important than fashion.

In the world of all things connected, communicating with each other and sending tons of information to their creators as well as to places where the data gets analyzed and understood, if you let it, there will be a caring robot to help you as you age. I wonder, will you be less alone? OK, as I said, I am not ready for this, not yet…

I am not the only one!

I came across a fascinating article: http://www.rustreport.com.au/issues/latestissue/oz-research-reveals-the-competitive-advantage-of-iot/

“A new Australian report into the application of the Internet of Things has highlighted the significant cost, revenue and productivity benefits for adopting companies, but also revealed an high level of business indifference to the technology. The research was conducted by analyst firm Telsyte on behalf of Microsoft.

Entitled ‘Cut through: How the Internet of Things is sharpening Australia’s competitive edge’, the report shows that two-thirds of organizations that have deployed and measured Internet of Things (IoT) solutions have achieved 28 per cent cost reductions in their day-to-day operations.

Despite those impressive returns, the report reveals there is a long way to go before the competitive advantage of Internet of Things (IoT) is fully harnessed by Australian businesses with just 26 per cent of the 300-plus Australian organizations surveyed indicating they have deployed Internet of Things solutions, and nearly half (48 per cent) have no immediate plans to deploy.”

Yes, half of the Australian companies surveyed are not ready for this, yet!

Telsyte recommends 5 steps toward implementing the Internet of Things, and I found the last one timely: “Prepare for real time data: The Internet of Things will generate real-time data — not just large volumes of data — across a range of business processes. Real-time data is about immediacy, and brings with it the potential for fundamental disruption. When possible, Telsyte recommends processes be modelled around the availability of real-time data to build long-term competitive advantage.” No surprises here for the NonStop community, as this is exactly what WebAction was saying all along!

So, as half of the Australian companies and I, the “new Australian”, are not quite ready for IoT yet, it is reassuring to see that at least one NonStop partner is leading this inevitable move toward taking advantage of the IoT and all the technologies that utilize it.