Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I need data I can digest, in small bites, please!

When it comes to the NonStop community discussing the potential benefits from Big Data often results in conversations about taking baby steps and where less big may be the place to start! 

How many times have we heard the expression “biting off more than we can chew”? Whether it applies to household chores, car maintenance, or simply arranging our next vacation, there’s always something that comes up that belays expected benefits and rewards. With summer and the time for BBQs, this expression often comes to mind.

There’s no denying that IT is littered with failed projects and the more I talk with IT professionals, the more I sense that we continue to bite off more than we can chew. Even among the NonStop community, it’s not uncommon to hear of projects, from simple modernization efforts to major system upgrades, coming up short and often simply abandoned.

This week, a couple of emails arrived that had me thinking about past failures and they were all about Big Data – multiple invitations to read papers, participate in surveys and join webcasts. While it’s true that Big Data is among the most talked about topics across IT, it’s also a little overwhelming and the opinions from experts do little to lessen our anxieties. For a while it seemed that the NonStop community could pull its head in on Big Data, but now companies are wanting to elicit marketing “truths” as they develop in real time and NonStop is in the cross-hairs of every business manager targeting exploitation of Big Data in real time.

First up, I received an invite from HP to join HP CEO, Meg Whitman, and her team working on Big Data “as they discuss the pressure to extract valuable insights from your data even as the volume and variety of data being collected significantly increase.” There’s those two critical V’s again that along with variety (and occasionally veracity), help define Big Data. However, this wasn’t the item that caught my attention. It was the reference to there being “the pressure to extract valuable insights” within IT as it continues to store all the data it captures. So much in fact that apart from those selling storage, nobody seems all that sure if there’s anything good going on at all!

Secondly, there came an invitation from IBM to “tell us what it takes to create a data-driven competitive advantage”. When you dig a little deeper into the invite, IBM let’s on that it is “seeking a cross-industry, global pool of respondents who have business or technical responsibilities for analytics activities.” What followed was a survey IBM created from which it hopes to be able to get a better sense of what business really does need.

The third email was a link to a HP post,
No limits: How Big Data changes competition - Data drives the bottom line, and technology is no longer limiting your competitors. “Data-focused businesses have rejected the concept of compromising business objectives for the sake of technology,” said HP. HP said it after noting that “For organizations that weren’t ‘born’ in the era of no-limits technology, a transformation is required.” Furthermore, HP adds, “It’s a novel idea for most organizations, but it’s in the DNA of young, agile companies.” And, “To compete, the rest of the market will need to act urgently to change their data ideologies and reject limitations as they store and explore data, and serve analytics insights to the business.”

The one thing I believe we can all agree on is that everyone has an opinion about Big Data, but here’s the problem as I see it; is this simply a case of there being more Big Data than we can chew and if so, is what we would really like actually less Big Data? Very few enterprises today feel comfortable with committing to three or five year projects and are more interested in immediate gratification – so, can we reduce Big Data into bite size chunks and indeed, can we tighten the focus data-driven apps and apply to lesser, more mundane tasks?

But again, here’s the rub and I have written about it in other posts – Big Data is not an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, it’s not really a solution but rather a tool that, in the hands of knowledgeable business scientists, can perform amazing feats and deliver incredible business insight. For most enterprises I know, such business scientists are a non-entity. Where they do exist they are a part of a vendor and are focused on making sure product A outperforms product B. And, as an aside, I am pretty sure that, over the long haul the model of capturing then storing then analyzing data is not a sustainable model – capture, analyze, store seems to be a little more workable for the enterprise.

Among the NonStop vendor community there’s already inklings of what lies ahead – solutions and middleware vendors are beginning to add capabilities that tap Big Data. IR with Prognosis has already confirmed that it’s at vendors like IR “where you will find the data architects, statisticians and data scientists that can decipher what’s taking place from the myriad of events coming from multiple sources.” In the May 6, 2014, post to realtime.ir
For business managers today, situational awareness is critical … IR’s Jay Horton then added how, “The Business Insight provided by IR, is as big as the customers want it to be, and is limited only by their perspective on what is important to measure.” Alerts produced before a crises starts is always more preferable than an alert that simply states the obvious – you have been robbed!

As for the solution vendors, it’s hard to miss the messages coming from OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia. According to Yash, in the March 12, 2013, post to ATMmarketplace
You don’t have to make it to 6th grade to know EMV support is the smart thing to do! ,when the discussion with any prospect turns to fraud, then “my experience tells me that work being done in adjacent technologies such as analytics and the accumulation of data in Big Data frameworks is going to be leveraged by payments platforms in new and innovative ways. Legitimate customer experience cannot be compromised, of course, but the need to detect potential fraud as it is being perpetrated has become of paramount importance to all in the financial industry.”

Expressing similar sentiment to those by IR, Yash also notes that across his constituency there’s “little expectation that customers will have the ‘Big Data’-skilled scientists at hand and are looking to OmniPayments to capitalize on Big Data (where it’s in place and accessible) and furthermore while I am not expecting to see Big Data implementations on NonStop systems I am expecting to be a consumer of Big Data analytics generated in real time.”

“No transformation required” is well understood at WebAction. “To be completely honest, when it comes to enterprises relying on NonStop systems for mission critical transaction processing,” said WebAction Executive VP, Sami Akbay, “we know of no instances where embracing the value of Big Data has seen such an enterprise replace their NonStop system. Quite the opposite, in fact, augmenting a transaction and giving it access to additional information for greater insight seems to be a reasonable request and one we are taking seriously.”

While WebAction isn’t changing the underlying technology of its core product, the messages in support of WebAction have become more tightly focused of late – visitors to the
WebAction web site can now view a number of examples that are of interest to any enterprise running NonStop systems. “Whether it’s just a case of optimizing data center management along the lines IR has recognized or enhancing security event processing where OmniPayments sees concerns, we are seeing enterprises building, modifying and then deploying real-time apps in days and not months or years.”

Should you be interested in following the discussion about Big Data and its intersection with NonStop and real time transaction processing, you may want to join the new LinkedIn group, Big Data, integrated with NonStop. While there is no Connect SIG supporting Big Data at this time, this may do as a substitute.

Biting off more than you can chew has plagued IT for as long as IT has existed. The five-year Mega projects that make headlines have a poor history of completing on time and meeting expected requirements – not hard to imagine as IT just hasn’t ever stood still for five years. Vendors selecting elements of Big Data they see as helpful and enhancing the capabilities of their products also makes sense and is something easily comprehended. New vendors building tools to enhance the experience of consumers interacting with mission critical real time applications is also easy for most of us to swallow.

Less big might be right up there with giant shrimp and user friendly but to those who have witnessed change within IT over decades, breaking down a new technology into bite-size chunks makes sense. Big Data is above all else, big! And as such, demands transformation even as it favors those companies starting from scratch. However, when it comes to the NonStop community and the enterprises they serve, the risks associated with ripping and replacing isn’t attractive and seeing Big Data arrive incrementally is a godsend!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

HP NonStop systems’ deployments you might have missed!

“Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace,” observes IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood. And yet, as a community, do we truly know where NonStop systems run today? 

As a writer it’s not every day that I get to write about my favorite topic, but a few months ago, I was given such an opportunity to once again write about NonStop. Of course, check it out now – it will be easy to spot: HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before and even if you lose this link, just go to hp.com/go/nonstop For me it’s always been a lot of fun working with the folks at HP on topics like this.

In discussions with HP late last year, following 2013 HP Discover, I began focusing on material that was pulled together as part of a presentation given by Wendy Bartlett, NonStop solutions: beyond financial services and telco. Yes, if you follow the link, you can still access the material Wendy used in her presentation. I was among the more fortunate attendees that were given a sneak preview of what Wendy was to present during an early morning breakfast briefing for attendees from Asia Pac / Japan.
           
I covered this in the post of June 29, 2013, It’s running on NonStop – I didn’t know that! where I remarked on how, not so long ago, I had proposed a story line that hit many of the same non-financial and non-telco verticals that went something like this: imagine a businessman in Germany, I suggested, who drops off his car at the manufacturing plant for special service (yes, you can still do that with some auto manufacturers in Europe), buys a rail ticket to Frankfurt where he catches a flight to New York, where he is to follow up on a recent shipment that he had made.

Perhaps this was the catalyst for the conversations that followed, but working with the NonStop community as well as starting several LinkedIn discussions on this topic, it quickly became apparent that most of us are truly unaware of the diversity of use-case scenarios that exist off the well-worn paths that wind through financial and telco uses. We underestimate the level of enthusiasm for NonStop among the non-conventional users, even as we are often ignorant about just how long these NonStop systems have been in place.

I am particularly attracted to industries apart from financial and telco, as my IT career began in heavy industry and transportation. My early days, as a cadet / trainee, were spent at a steelworks in Wollongong, New South Wales, building the software required of a new steel mill under construction in Victoria. I then spent time working in shipping – container ships had just started coming to Australia –where I accepted my first overseas assignment at the company’s head office in London. A few years later I found myself working in Canada for a large regional distributor of Caterpillar.

Perhaps there’s no better background – steelworks, shipping and then manufacturing – when writing about NonStop’s presence in industries apart from finance and telco. As I worked with present day users of NonStop, the years spent under blast furnaces, on docks alongside ships, and inside the cabins of giant earth-moving tractors, memories come flooding back from these times. Yes, there are real reasons why NonStop remains relevant today within these market segments – more often than not, these markets process continuously and outages are every bit as damaging as they are to financial institutions and telcos.

To kick off my assignment for HP not only did I have access to Wendy’s presentation from the 2013 HP Discover, but the brochure developed after the event (and available too on the HP web site) proved extremely helpful. If you aren’t aware of this paper then it’s well worth downloading from the HP web site - check out, For industries that never stop. This is a good brochure and complements the opinion paper I just completed that has just become available from HP – HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before . However, much of the credit for finding the examples of use-case scenarios that I covered needs to go to the community – including HP field personnel.

While not wanting to sound like the winner of a NASCAR event, I do want to thank the solutions architects in both EMEA and the Americas for pointing me in the right direction. I also want to thank the many NonStop vendors that lent a helping hand along the way. This includes comForte, Integrated Research (IR) and a number of payments processing solutions vendors. Even though there weren’t being covered this time, you will find an interesting observation made by one such vendor towards the end of the paper. “NonStop finding traction among users in other markets is a big plus for NonStop,” came the observation, “and that makes our job selling solutions on NonStop a whole lot easier.”

However, it was a report from IDC that really helped anchor the paper. Written by IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood, and published in November, 2013, it too can be downloaded from the HP web site - just follow this link; Mission-Critical Business Applications: The Need for Always-On Servers. IDC’s Eastwood stated that, “always-on requirements significantly affect business organizations and the IT departments that support those businesses. When downtime is not an option, organizations are increasingly turning to fault-tolerant systems to keep their business up and running.” Seeing the reference to fault-tolerant systems also brought with it another flood of memories.

“As users spend more time online, IT services must be available around the clock. Windows for planned downtime become increasingly difficult to manage, and users are unwilling to accept unplanned downtime,” IDC’s Eastwood observed. “Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace.” Too often we forget about the real reason we continue to depend on NonStop, and perhaps it is not having to face the consequences of outages that numbs our minds to the impressive track record NonStop has developed. There are many systems that with redundant hardware and clever load balancing algorithms mask simple failures but they never quite reach the levels of uptime of a typical NonStop system.

There have been many exchanges in chat rooms and blogs about the quality of today’s components – something that applies to all systems exploiting commodity components. However, NonStop arose at a time when component failures were routine and NonStop simply keeps on going – very much like the Energizer bunny. This is not to sanction poor quality components, but rather highlight how better of NonStop systems are in a era where system packaging is going through dramatic change as vendors look to lower power consumption, run cooler, and take up less space. All for less money, mind you.

So, what can we point to when it comes to businesses depending on NonStop that aren’t either a financial institution or a telco? Without disclosing too much about what is in my latest opinion paper, there are examples of where NonStop has been deployed in support of mission-critical applications in raw materials processing, manufacturing and distribution, transportation and entertainment. While many may be familiar with the presence of UPS on slides used during one of HP CEO, Meg Whitman’s, keynote presentations, how many attendees knew that every time a driver pulled their handheld terminal out to check on their next delivery address, the request was being handled by an application on a NonStop system.

Assumptions are often made and frequently can lead to wrong conclusions – many folks I talked to about the UPS example above thought it was a ProLiant solution. While there are ProLiant’s present at UPS, it’s still NonStop that keeps the trucks moving and I am almost certain that HP folks working on the slides for HP Discover had the same impression. How many folks within the NonStop community really grasp just how big a presence NonStop has in the reservation systems supporting European passenger trains – would you be surprised to find more than half the trains running in Europe have had seats reserved through a NonStop system?

To some within the NonStop community I may have already played my hand and this latest opinion paper simply reinforces what’s already been covered in chat rooms and blogs. For others however, it may be quite a revelation about just how widespread the use of NonStop has become. Irrespective of how well informed you may be, the story of where NonStop systems reside continues to be a compelling story, more so today as we wait for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture.

Getting the opportunity to put this all in writing for HP was a task I welcomed so yes, go ahead and check it out; there may be even more surprises than I have led you to believe. Yes, you can download the paper “HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before” from hp.com/go/nonstop - it is a featured resource - and of course – I welcome any comments you care to provide as this is not a topic we need to keep to ourselves. For each and every stakeholder in the NonStop community, the better prepared we are to promote NonStop within our companies, the more likely we will see greater traction develop and with that, I am more than willing to write some more!      

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I feel the need for speed …

It is the age old question - what is speed without reliability and even among those who prize speed over all else, questions are being asked. Are the tables about to turn, once again, and what will open up a seat for NonStop?

Few who ever saw the film Top Gun can readily forget the sensory overload of the opening scenes as aircraft are readied to be catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. And perhaps even fewer still have forgotten one of the most famous lines ever uttered - I feel the need. The need for speed! Adrenalin junkies for sure, but just letting the film embrace you, depositing you right alongside a Top Gun fighter pilot, more effectively communicated the sense of speed than any other film from that era.

Whenever I spend time in our car at weekend track events, it’s inevitable that at some point there will be someone who asks, “How fast does your car go?” The design of road-racing circuits however, isn’t about speed as much as it is about challenging drivers to find the best way around the track. However, it is reliability that ends up being the most appreciated attribute. Simply going very fast, for a brief time, accounts for little over the course of a weekend.

Imagine my surprise than as I turned to the back page of the August 2014 edition of the magazine, Motor Trend, to read Angus MacKenzie’s column, The new fast. “I suspect, when auto historians of the future look back at 2014”, wrote MacKenzie, “they’ll say it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.” In the world of Formula One racing, the power train in today’s racecars combines a conventional internal combustion engine married to an electric motor. Despite the strange noise they elicit, notes MacKenzie, “I’d happily trade noise for the opportunity to watch the world’s best drivers attempt to tame cars that are clearly a handful.”

For as long as I can recall, every time a new computer system is announced, there’s always a page detailing performance criteria and with each new announcement, the numbers get even more outrageous. During HP CTO Martin Fink’s initial presentation on The Machine, at one point he threw up a slide with the heading, Performance estimates – transaction speed, that was followed with the question, “What could you do with 168 (Giga Updates per second) GPUS? For NonStop users, just breaking the 10,000 tps was an accomplishment that was only recently achieved and yet, now HP is talking up numbers that are mind boggling.

“I feel the need for speed” has been the clarion call of all involved in stock trades. A market that for decades was well-served by NonStop systems, of late the push for even greater speeds has pushed aside NonStop. In August of last year, there were numerous headlines telling of the crashes that had taken place with the most discussed outage being that at NASDAQ. 

According to a report published by Bloomburg on August 26, 2013, Server Crash Spurs 3-Hour NASDAQ Halt as Data Link Lost, “Within two hours, trading stopped in more than 2,000 U.S. stocks. The three-hour shutdown was the latest in a series of failures to disrupt increasingly complicated markets, prompting the Securities and Exchange Commission to push for rules requiring executives to improve the reliability of their technology.”

A few days later, it was The Guardian’s turn to take a look at outages and in the report of August 23, 2013, Nasdaq crash triggers fear of data meltdown - Digital infrastructure exceeding limits of human control, industry experts warn, The Guardian noted how, “On the same day, Microsoft customers began to report email failures. The outage was traced to problems with the Exchange ActiveSync service which serves email to many of the world's smartphones. When Exchange hit a glitch, the sheer volume of phones trying to connect triggered a ripple effect that took three days to control.”

The Guardian then went on to note that on “16 August, many of Google's websites, from email to YouTube to its core search engine, suffered a rare four-minute global meltdown.” Furthermore, to rub even more salt into the wound, it then noted that on, “19 August, Amazon's North American retail site went down for about 49 minutes, with visitors greeted with the word ‘Oops’”. Finally, according to The Guardian, “On 22 August, Apple's iCloud suffered a blackout that affected a small number of its customers but lasted 11 hours.”

Over the course of just a few days – August 16, 19, 22 and 26 – it would seem that reliability all but worked its way out of the world’s major systems. Shouldn’t the question now be how best to harden todays systems? True, there were numerous outages that could be traced back to the networks themselves but when you measure application availability, these too count and systems should be better engineered to recover or at least work around, all situations. It’s no good going fast for just one or two laps when it’s an endurance race – speed always plays second fiddle to reliability.

Inserting NonStop systems into hybrid configurations certainly is one way to address the problem and with plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture, those businesses committed to only running x86 solutions have little left to complain about. NonStop as a pure software play, as it shortly will become, should be a no-brainer for many of these businesses and with its lengthy history working with stock exchanges worldwide, the opportunity for NonStop to add value in new and innovative ways utilizing hybrid configurations seems a rather obvious choice.

If you accept that speed is of paramount importance to stock exchanges, and handling enormous transaction volumes at blinding speeds key to their survival, it would seem logical to consider the order processing system to be partially handled by a plethora of optimized front-end processors. But then again, in this fast moving environment, could NonStop – even on the x86 architecture – keep up? Again, it would depend upon the overall design and the middleware chosen, but there are steps that can be taken to reinstate the viability of NonStop and it’s something I know several sales folks at NonStop are seriously considering.

In case you missed it, for the first time that I can recall, questions are now being asked about the true value of high-speed trading and whether there is a level playing field. Early reports now becoming available suggest it is anything but a level playing field and yet, I suspect that we cannot turn the clock back when it comes to speed. However, as CNBC television reported in a post of June 30, 2014, Wall Street’s diminishing need for speed, “Speed has created a world of "haves" and "have-nots" in the investing world.” 

Furthermore, aside from potential moves being taken by regulatory agencies, CNBC left it to Intercontinental Exchange Founder and CEO Jeff Sprecher to state the rather obvious, “I think at some point, it's not that important for us to make speed decisions that you and I can't comprehend, so I actually think we've reached, in a weird way, the limit of speed.”

Adding to this sentiment, according to CNBC, “Others argue that the focus shouldn't be on the absolute or even relative levels of speed. Nasdaq OMX CEO Bob Greifeld said the market is more concerned about reliability in the markets … As markets evolve over the next 25 years, there's no doubt that things will continue to get faster, and more complex, but perhaps not as much as one might think. There may come a point where a certain level of fast is simply fast enough, and that time may not be too far off in the distance.”

Could this be the news NonStop sales folks have been waiting to hear for some time? The focus on speed will taper off as interest refocuses on reliability and perhaps even simplicity and with so much discussion about hybrid computers occurring today, could there be a future for NonStop inside Stock Exchanges? Would it be unimaginable for a systems integrator to assemble their own rack or tower where a couple of NonStop processors resided simply to oversee the availability of the entire system and to hold onto that vital data crucial to ensuring trading systems achieve the level of reliability traders now expect?

Furthermore, could you even sell NonStop in this manner and mask its very presence in the hybrid configuration? OmniPayments, Inc. CEO Yash Kapadia is already doing something very similar for financial institutions. Yash equips a tower made up of racks with not just NonStop but a couple of Attala security modules as well as a number of ProLiant boxes running Windows and Linux. According to Yash, “Even after four decades of being in the marketplace, there’s still some residual hesitancy over the presence of NonStop in any proposed solution, and this just takes any conversations about NonStop out of the equation entirely!”

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conceive of something similar being done in support of the world’s stock exchanges. Perhaps not the world’s biggest but certainly in marketplaces apart from New York and London. NonStop still has a presence in Asia and in South America so perhaps the hybrid computer approach will first appear in these markets. No matter where it takes off, or who are among the early adopters, with NonStop in hybrid configurations it’s easy to agree with Motor Trend’s MacKenzie that yes, when we look back at 2014, we’ll all agree that “it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.”  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Take a chance; align your messages – HP NonStop and HP’s big messages!

With another week to chew on all I saw at HP Discover, the more things change the more they stay the same. And that’s encouraging news for all Pathway fans I suspect … but there’s even more that’s positive for NonStop! Even HP!

If my immediate consideration following 2014 HP Discover was to let my mind shuffle around all that I had seen and heard, today I can honestly admit that I have developed strong opinions about what looks to have staying power. If your interests include mobility, security, clouds and big data, then there was plenty of material on hand and the Discover Zone (a.k.a. the exhibition hall) had it all; from kiosks, to demonstration booths, to specialty mini-theaters! Beneath overhead banners supporting the big messages from HP you could find out all you ever wanted to know about a particular theme or focus area with someone knowledgeable always at hand.

On more than one occasion I was rewarded with insight and perspective in an unambiguous manner, so much so that it was easy to see where to spend time wisely. Fortunately, I have a number of clients who are making investments in building products in support of these themes so at least I had a yardstick with which to measure what HP was talking about, but unfortunately, more often than not, it appears HP has a long way to go before any investments should be considered by the NonStop community.

Let’s start with big data and the work being done by Vertica.
When you consider HP’s recognition of data and of being overwhelmed by data - particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT) and, just as importantly, the explosive growth of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) dialogues – and that this is what has driven HP to pursue the vision of The Machine, you would think the team at Vertica would be well versed in all aspects of big data. However, it is unclear just how broad their focus is at this point in time.

Throw into this mix the recognized need for real time analytics and the rapidly-developing customer requirement to bring all pertinent data, including transactional, reference and historical, to bear at the time a transaction is being performed, and Vertica becomes vague on the matter. One expert tried to persuade me that I could achieve this is if I narrowed my “update window” sufficiently so that Vertica could refresh my operational database with pertinent information “in a timely manner” – a less than elegant solution, in my books.

On the other hand, anyone who has recently paid a visit to the web site of WebAction, Inc. knows full well that imagined technologies are coming off the whiteboard quickly with new products being aggressively marketed. “Along with NonStop real-time data, the WebAction platform can ingest any other structured and unstructured data source and provide you with a single view of your data streams,” said WebAction executive vice president, Sami Akbay. “For example, bring together your system logs, social media feeds, infrastructure logs, and correlate them with events happening right now on your NonStop system and elsewhere across your enterprise.” And that synchs well with my own observations but as yet, hasn’t really percolated up to Vertica management.

WebAction is light on its feet when it comes to NonStop, running outboard on a cluster of servers but what it detects, and then reports can be ingested on NonStop – applications on NonStop responding to web actions will become routine and this is very important to the NonStop community. However, while this is understood to be a legitimate business requirement, providing big data in real time remains alien to the team at Vertica.

Moving from big data to clouds, and to NonStop and clouds in particular, at HP Discover the discussion often ended even as it began. Get in front of the cloud evangelists and then raise the concerns large financial institutions have about privacy and security and of how comprehensive (and time consuming) the certification process is today, when it comes to changing a simple routine or process, the disengagement happens very quickly. However, the reality is that there’s numerous large applications that could benefit from cloud computing but all that seems to catch the cloud evangelist’s ear appears to be web hosting and web serving opportunities.

It’s all a services model today, right? So just put the services that chew up the most resources into the cloud and problem solved! Not so fast, or so it would seem – again, the work being done at the macro level by HP, with cloud messages omitting way too much to hold out much hope for the NonStop community. Or is there hope after all? “After marketing maRunga to NonStop users and telling them how easy it is to burst into clouds whenever demand on a NonStop system exceeds capacity, it’s clear that, to most NonStop users, introducing anything that’s cloud oriented scares them away,” said Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell.

However, “what is becoming interesting is the re-awakening of interest in Pathway,” Shell added. “As much as the community talks about TS/MP, it’s hard to ignore it’s really all about Pathway so we are refining the message of maRunga to highlight the added capabilities we can provide Pathway users. Since the advent of TS/MP 2.4 it’s relatively easy to plug in maRunga and extend the persistent coverage Pathway provides to processes running on systems other than NonStop.”

Everything of value today on NonStop runs under Pathway – you want to set up a JVM then yes, it’s just another instance of a Pathway serverclass. NS SOAP? Yes, runs under Pathway, too! With consideration being given to hybrid configuration involving NonStop and Linux, “wouldn’t it be valuable for processes on Linux having the same degree of persistence as any other instance of a Pathway serverclass,” said Shell.

At HP Discover there were a number of packaged offerings built around Converged Infrastructure that HP is calling Converged Systems (CS) and it’s no stretch of the imagination to think about how easy it would be to throw in a rack or two of NonStop processors – the CS100 already holds a Moonshot cartridge draw – and then engaging Pathway via maRunga to obtain levels of availability normally reserved solely for NonStop. Should the wait for such a CS package prove too long, there’s already one solutions vendor who has begun building their own hybrid in a tower that I will cover in a future post.

However, few can argue that maRunga with clouds is off the radar screen for many within HP. But like WebAction, while the underlying product set isn’t changing, the messaging is – and finding a fit with HP’s big messages. Unlike some of the slideware I ran across in the Discover Zone, it is a real product and just prior to HP Discover, maRunga was successfully deployed within HP’s Advanced Technology Centers for all to see at the event.

When it comes to mobility it would be remiss of me not to mention InkaBinka – a product I have covered in several previous posts. InkaBinka was highly celebrated within HP and following the decision by InkaBinka to deploy the product on in-house Moonshot system, InkaBinka’s web serving solution was heavily promoted at the event. Late breaking news? InkaBinka featured in Enterprise Tech – check out the article by following this link: InkaBinka Moves From Cloud To Moonshot For Launch 

“Today, Sunday, June 22 InkaBinka became the #4 app under ‘news summary’; the same morning it had been #10,” wrote InkaBinka CEO, Kevin McGushion, this past weekend. “Thank you to everyone for downloading and loving the app!” Pictured above, is McGushion (on the left), along with HP VP & GM, Moonshot Business Unit, Paul Santeler, addressing InkaBinka on Moonshot during a panel session at HP Discover.

I will be covering this development in more detail in a future post. But again, Mobility? Today InkaBinka has become one of the most downloaded apps in news summary, and a lot of credit needs to go to HP for giving the InkaBinka product as much exposure as it did. So, even as I wonder about the effort needed to grab HP’s attention for work being done in support of big data and clouds, accepting chance opportunities can still prove beneficial to NonStop vendors as HP is not immune to throwing its weight behind something it sees as strongly aligning with its own interests.

And this leads me to my final observation – when it comes to the big messages being promoted by HP, it’s good to recognize the breadth of coverage as well as the intensity of focus. As of right now, the focus is intense but the coverage still presents opportunities and not for a moment should any in the NonStop community feel NonStop is not being given due consideration. Get the message right, and HP listens – what I have watched happen at InkaBinka more than proves that point.

For me, it’s encouraging whenever NonStop partners break through the noise and are given greater visibility – there’s no escaping an increasing NonStop presence in big data as mission critical transaction processing around the world continues to depend on NonStop. Cloud participation will continue to be a hard sell but again, it’s the message and not the solution that needs fine-tuning. There are more posts still to come about HP Discover elsewhere in the blogosphere even as the event itself begins to fade from memory but  for now, it was rewarding enough just to have participated. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

This changes everything!

Will the sun finally set on NonStop? Is the journey about to end? Or, will NonStop morph into something new and yet, still recognizable? It may take five or more years but there are signs that HP is taking bold steps to change everything!

The official program for 2014 HP Discover has ended and in a few hours’ time I will be heading back to Boulder. But for now, I am still in Las Vegas, sweltering under the heat of an early arrival of summer, and catching up on posts and other correspondence all the while letting my thoughts run free as I shuffle through all I heard at this year’s big tent event.

The doors to the conference have closed, and another event is probably in the early throws of being set up. 2014 HP Discover is now just another footnote in the 75 years of HP’s history with expectations for the next 25 years running high. When I posted to this blog around this same time last year, I titled the post, At long last, disruptive innovation from HP! Of course, this was a reference to HP taking the wraps off Project Moonshot. But little did I know of what HP may do to top that announcement, and yet they managed to do so.

However, before going into the specifics of what was covered during the final general session keynote hosted by HP CEO, Meg Whitman, let me just jump right into the event itself. As you can expect from such a large event attracting about 10,000 participants, there’s a wide variety of topics covered by HP – and yes, this is a HP event where every presentation has been vetted by HP, so it’s rare to see anything unexpected and yet, the unexpected still happens.

There were a handful of presentations the NonStop community could enjoy – presentations by Randy Meyer and then a little later in the week, by Mark Pollans, gave the NonStop folks present at the event some resemblance to user events of the past, but overall, if you wanted to hear about NonStop it was pretty slim pickings. However, NonStop just isn’t the focus of this event nor is it an event focused on users – it will be the bootcamp in November where this will all happen. On the other hand, it’s still incredibly important for all with investments in NonStop to see just what’s capturing HP’s attention as it is an important consideration for anyone prepared to keep investing in NonStop.

In England, the houses of parliament have been designed not to seat every Member of Parliament. And that’s for a reason – when there’s an important legislative debate taking place, members are literally hanging from the rafters and this is the mood  parliament wants to convey. When the issues being debated are so important it pulls every sitting member out of the nearby pubs just for the occasion. Something similar happens at events as well, and this year the big surprise was the keynote by the new Senior VP & GM, Servers and Networking business units within the Enterprise Group – Antonio Neri.

For his presentation (and reflecting the scope of his portfolio that includes NonStop, of course), he had invited a number of guest presenters that he essentially interviewed and among them was Steve Wozniak, former Dancing with the Stars contestant, but now Chief Scientist, Fusion-io. Yes, the same Steve that co-founded Apple. It appeared everyone wanted in on this presentation so as the hour approached, and with a meeting room seating fewer than 400, the line that developed snaked all the way down the primary corridor, into an adjacent corridor and back to the top of nearby elevators.

While little, apart from a reference in passing, was given to NonStop in between each interview by Neri were videos that were just collages picked from videos made about users and vendors of servers and networks.  And there were some better-known names referenced – Visa, UPS, etc. that were familiar to all at NonStop. With Steve on stage, and pretty much taking over the show, this was pure entertainment of the highest order.

 It seems everyone attending the event wanted to hear Steve and it reminds me of the grand old days when Jimmy Treybig held court. It’s a shame in some respects, but with the passage of time, I have to wonder how many more occasions there will be to listen to Silicon Valley legends and I was sure glad I made the cut and was able to hear Steve. And who knows, with Fusion-io partnering with HP, the management team at HP may see a new face!

NonStop wasn’t the star attraction of HP Discover nor were enterprise servers. When you look at the big themes then it was hard to miss mobility, security, clouds and big data. Clouds has undergone a makeover, resurfacing under the branding of Helion – yes, it was Helion this and Helion that. Big Data centered on Vertica, naturally, although no one I talked to at Vertica could explain to me how their vision of big data was going to engage with real time transactions and any reference to wanting to integrate big data into the transaction world and so enrich customer engagements simply generated a blank stare!

As for mobile and security they were well represented but what did catch my eye was the appearance of Converged Systems packages. Yes, cabinets labelled CS100, CS300, CS900, etc. were on display and represented a mix of general purpose Converged Systems as well as a couple of very specific packages. And packages these were – each illustrating what can be done when being creative with systems compliant with the previously announced Converged Infrastructure project.

What the folks here were doing was filling cabinets with processors, storage and networking kit sourced from different development groups and delivering hybrids all nicely tested, configured and with a common operational interface. To demonstrate the versatility of this group, the CS100 included Moonshot cartridges along with more conventional 3Par storage, together with HP networking products – all in a very clean package. On the other hand, the CS900 was optimized for SAP / Hana with another model optimized for Vertica. How soon would it be before a CS configuration would support a mix of say NonStop, Atalla, Linux and Windows? Who knows, but with the coming support of NonStop on the x86 architecture, some at the CS pavilion thought it would be highly likely (once I explained what a NonStop system was, of course).

As for personalities then there were still many familiar faces – there were the lads from comForte standing by a kiosk, with Dr. Michael Rossbach nearby. At another kiosk were our good friends at OmniPayments with Yash ever present.  WebAction sent Dale and JK, and Brian Miller of Lusis also were in attendance. Kramer from IR and I briefly exchanged opinions, and yes, I was able to catch up with Keith Evans, formerly of NonStop and now with Gravic as well as with his better half, Sharon Fisher. So yes, there was a sprinkling of familiar faces and we all thanked Tom Moylan profusely for hosting a Tuesday night soirée for all parties associated with NonStop.

In the weeks to come we are going to hear a lot more of the major announcement by HP concerning The Machine and I will cover in more detail in a later post. Suffice to say, when Martin Fink walked us through the technology it was a case of back to physics and back to chemistry. All you need to know is that “electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store,” Martin told us. At the conclusion of his reveal, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, than wrapped it up with the observation, “This changes everything!”

The Machine will likely get a name at some point but there are at least four projects – the development of the special purpose processors, the photonics and the massive memory as well as a new clean-sheet operating system and stack. No small feat to even contemplate doing but the board of HP has approved 75% of all R&D dollars be earmarked to this project, so The Machine carries with it all the hopes of HP for the next 25 years. If Martin manages to pull it off, then indeed it will change everything.

Last year I came away impressed with Moonshot – so much so I managed to sway the principles at one of my clients, InkaBinka, to switch from the cloud to using an in-house Moonshot system and in doing so, they were one of the featured companies in Neri’s videos. This year, it’s The Machine. Neither of these projects seem to have any connection to NonStop, but can we be sure? I think there’s likely considerable trickle-down transfer but that I will leave to another post as well. More importantly what will become of NonStop with such a massive development project opting to go down the open source path?

For now, I need to pack and prepare for the return trip to Boulder. I want to take the two days I will be driving to let my thoughts continue to do their shuffle thing. Even as momentum builds in support of The Machine, NonStop has much to look forward to – first with x86 and then with hybrids clouds and much more. Even with a successful program behind The Machine followed by an aggressive roll out, NonStop will continue to provide value wherever mission critical transaction processing is needed. And for a very long time …

HP Discover events never cease to surprise me and I can only imagine what will be pulled from the hat next year, but in the meantime, the storylines that come from this week’s events are enough to keep me busy for another year. To all travelling home I wish safe travels and to those undecided about bootcamp, well, make plans and I will see you all in November.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Explosions possible even as hope springs eternal!

Time spent in Hope, B.C. held surprises for me and Sylvester Stallone however, time spent in Las Vegas, every bit as explosive (I’m almost sure) will create a renewed sense of hope …

In the 1970s, after spending a short time in London, England, I immigrated to Canada. When the opportunity came to put London behind me and to work in Canada, I jumped at the chance. As my final destination was to be Edmonton, Alberta, the Canadian authorities fast tracked my application for landed immigrant status and I was on the plane, out of London, in only a couple of weeks. That should have been a clue. Seriously!

All the same, I felt exhilarated to be going to a new country and I was hoping for the best. After landing at the airport, early March 1976, and with snow everywhere (yes, my first encounter with the fluffy stuff), I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out, but a few weeks later I was hard at work for the local Caterpillar distributor and had a great condo down town with a new BMW 530 sedan in the garage.

And this brings me to the matter of the small town of Hope, British Columbia, pictured above  – a small village on the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Early one morning, all those years ago, I executed a perfect U Turn on Hope’s main street only to be pulled over by the sheriff. Fortunately, it was only a brief lecture that time and I didn’t get a ticket.

Years later I was to reflect on this incident when I saw the township featured in a movie. It happened that this very same Hope, B.C., was the setting for the fictional American township of Hope in the film, Rambo, First Blood. Unfortunately for Rambo, the Hope sheriff depicted in the movie wasn’t as conciliatory as the one that pulled me over, and the rest, as they say, is history. In a case of serendipity, I share with Stallone considerable discomfort – even if only fleeting in my case – because of Hope.

Looking at the prospects of American NFL teams in 2014 sports reporter, Mike Tanier, blogged to the web site
Sports on Earth about The Hope Index. “How do you calculate hope?” he asked. “That is a question that has not baffled philosophers throughout the ages at all, because it is an incredibly stupid question that they would not waste their time with.” Stupid it may be, but then again, there are those among us who believe that hope can indeed be calculated.

As I prepare to go to Las Vegas this weekend, many of my conversations have included numerous references to hope. HP’s biggest event of the year (attracting crowds we could only dream of, back in ITUG days) will kick-off shortly and for the NonStop community there’s hope that NonStop will be referenced even if only in passing. As for me, I’m hoping to hear a lot more from HP about the big picture. The vision and strategy that
will shape the course of HP’s business for the next couple of years!

If you read any of the commentaries following HP’s just-released quarterly financial results, you would have been disappointed by much of the coverage that followed.
“Hewlett-Packard does not seem to have a working strategy in place,” wrote one analyst in a post to
Seeking Alpha. “Hewlett-Packard is still knee-deep in its restructuring,”  followed with the observation that if, “Hewlett-Packard was in the retail business, the stock would have likely declined 5-10% after results released as retail investors are much more sensitive to revenue declines than investors in the tech business (hopes are usually higher in the tech industry).”

Yes, IT has always has been driven by high hopes and it’s a sentiment I share (and one I am not ashamed to admit), even as it sums up my own impressions of HP. There’s just too much talent within HP for anyone to discount the company’s strategy and if we were to calculate hope, then I for one believe the final number would be large.

Beneath the surface, as turbulent as it may seem, I sense there’s major transitions under way and with transitions, opportunities. Something new is coming and I sure do hope HP gets it right. I have been around IT for a very long time and yet, whenever I hear of something new, I still get excited. At the top of my list is the coming need to accommodate today’s business (the enterprise) morphing into something very different to what we see today.

In a recent private email to my clients I made the simple observation - The application? Legacy! The data center? Legacy! How about the enterprise? Legacy, too! It was shorthand for suggesting that when we think of legacy, it shouldn’t surprise any is that anything that’s currently working is, almost by today’s definition, legacy and requires constant maintenance. It’s not surprising then that we can apply the legacy label to business itself.

Suffice to say, one reason I am hoping for change is that I cannot see us making much progress – when it comes to innovation and growth – if we stick to doing what we do today. IT will bear the brunt of these changes – in fact, I have a sense that IT as we know it has outlived its usefulness. So sorry! As for the CIO, well, we already know he’s increasingly focused on the business and is becoming an integral part of the marketing team.

Looking at the agenda for 2014 HP Discover I couldn’t miss the headlines promoting the general session presentations. On Tuesday HP CEO, Meg Whitman, along with HP executives, John Hinshaw, George Kadifa, Mike Nefkens, and Bill Veghte will talk about Defining the New Style of IT and about HP providing solutions for this new foundation. The following day, Wednesday, Whitman will be joined by a familiar face, HP’s CTO and EVP, Marin Fink, where they will talk about their Vision for the Future of the New Style of IT.

This all sounds like strategy and vision to me and likely, a recognition that there are indeed, observable transitions under way. But as part of these changes, what are we hoping will happen to NonStop? As of right now, within HP, all enterprise systems are conveniently packaged together in a single entity and while I am not suggesting they will be dropped overboard anytime soon, it does worry me a tad that this neat little bundle is so perfectly gift-wrapped. When it comes to defining the new style of IT, is there room for enterprise servers?

Together with NonStop there are a couple of other server offerings worthy of further investment so I believe dropping this bundle overboard isn’t in the cards at this point. Furthermore, just placing all the enterprise servers in one bundle under one leader and including a couple of cutting edge technologies isn’t all that bad – should the enterprise as we know it, be legacy and should the data center (and it’s CIO) be legacy too, whatever emerges will need a lot of compute power, for next to nothing.

Future enterprises will be even flatter (organizationally) than we have ever seen before, with every employee having access to all the compute power they need, and so vendors will be increasingly focused on shipping technology to the powerhouses on the grid delivering the compute power required. For many, the hope is that HP evolves to become something akin to the GE of computing and I see that very much in the cards. The question “does HP have a working strategy in place?” may be answered a lot differently than we may expect.

It was the eighteenth century poet, Alexander Pope, who penned the lines
Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

In other words, as one commentator paraphrased the above, people will continue to hope even though they have evidence that things cannot possibly turn out the way they want. The contrarian in me despite all that’s been written of late is hoping HP doesn’t disappoint!

Hope can blind us if we let it but it can also help us focus. In the case of Rambo, he became focused in a hurry when he found himself in an abandoned mine shaft after the sheriff’s deputies from Hope blew up the entrance. As for HP Discover I do anticipate there being explosions but of a different kind and amid all the entertainment and hijinks that accompanies big tent marketing events such as this, I am looking to discern more about the future of HP and of NonStop.

Well, at the very least, this is what I am hoping for …  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Time to go … don’t count the hours, it’s NonStop!

“How I wish that there were more than the twenty-four hours in the day
'Cause even if there were forty more I wouldn't sleep a minute away … Viva Las Vegas!”

So go the lines in a verse from Viva Las Vegas and it pretty much sums up the frenetic pace of networking that takes place each year during the three-day mega-event, HP Discover. It was only a few days ago that the registration was finalized and I can assure everyone that I will be there – and yes, bright and early each morning. I will be providing commentary on a routine basis to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, as I have done on all previous occasions, so look for the new posts each day.

The all too familiar signs of too little sleep and too many cocktail receptions are hard to miss, but each year there’s a couple of places where the NonStop community heads – the inside The Venetian hotel always the most popular. Not forgetting the Morels Steakhouse & Bistro or TAOs, both proving to be popular. Walk through the Grand Lux Café and you will see groups huddled together in animated conversation at almost any hour of the day. As for me it’s still a good reason to walk a block south to City Center, Las Vegas, and to dine on what I believe are the finest steaks anywhere – Mastro’s Ocean Club. Forget the name, it’s the steaks (and the martinis) that stand out!

Recent promotional material from HP indicates we will be seeing a lot more of HP CEO, Meg Whitman, as she will be anchoring multiple keynote presentations. On Tuesday Whitman, together with HP executives, John Hinshaw, George Kadifa, Mike Nefkens, and Bill Veghte will talk about Defining the New Style of IT. HP encourages us to come and listen to “how we are providing solutions for this new foundation”.  There’s a lot being openly discussed of late as to whether IT as we know it has run its course – indeed has the very concept of IT become legacy - and is no longer providing companies with true value, so hearing what HP executives have to say on a new style of IT should prove quite entertaining.

The very next day Whitman will be joined by a familiar person, HP’s CTO and EVP Martin Fink, and they will talk about their vision of the future for the New Style of IT. As someone who’s always up for looking at something new, I am pretty much in the same boat as everyone else and have to wonder what’s this all about! With Martin Fink involved it has to be about Clouds and after what I view as a rocky start, with perhaps marketing well out in front of technology and real deliverables, perhaps we will see more concrete infrastructure and tools unveiled.

For folks like myself, who like to look well into the future, there will be a second part of Whitman’s Wednesday keynote we will all get to hear from New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman, as he sits down with Whitman and Intel and Microsoft CEOs, Brian Krzanich and Satya Nadella, for a candid discussion about technology today, tomorrow, and beyond. Again, for the NonStop community participation may be viewed as a luxury and of lesser interest than knowing what is in the next NonStop Kernel (NSK) release – but for all involved in technology, there really is no substitution for hearing first hand what HP has to say.

HP NonStop sales will be present with the America’s head of NonStop sales hosting a reception. Again, this is not a venue strongly favoring the NonStop community, but for those who find a way to attend, their interests will not be ignored and there will still be content that will prove engaging. I will be taking a small stock of my Fools for NonStop T-shirts with me, so if you do have plans, let me know as I will make sure you don’t leave without this memento.

For the NonStop community it’s worth pointing out too that there are new HP products coming to market that perhaps are worth more than a cursory look. For some time now I have been referencing Project Moonshot and the impact it will make on the industry.. A vendor I work closely with, InkaBinka, now has firsthand experience with Moonshot and I paid them a visit just a few days ago. Located within the perimeter of Camarillo Airport, InkaBinka has refurbished one of the support buildings and turned it into a really nice facility – Hanger 18.

Initially, InkaBinka leveraged Micrsoft’s Azure cloud services but then switched to HP’s cloud before installing Moonshot cartridges. Running a mix of Linux distributions and Windows, they have built a hybrid application that now runs InkaBinka. Anyone who visits InkaBinka.com and clicks on the button, What is InkaBinka?  will be taken to a page where more information about InkaBinka is provided. In addition to a video explaining InkaBinka you will see that InkaBinka is built on Hewlett Packard's new Moonshot servers – scroll down and check it out!

ThisMoonshot implementation gives InkaBinka scalability and the power to serve the users with one of the greenest footprint possible. Front-ended by some clever lightweight load balancing software running with a master and a slave instance (and with take over capabilities configured), and with a back end database that actually looks like it’s a RAID configuration, with consequently very high levels of availability, how InkaBinka exploits Moonshot looks like … a very primitive NonStop system.

“Having experience with cloud offerings from multiple vendors,” said InkaBinka Founder and CEO, Kevin McGushion, “we know all too well the importance of availability and indeed of the need to architect into our solution extraordinary scale-out properties. As a start-up that has begun attracting users, keeping a tight lid on costs is critical, but with what we have seen with Moonshot, it’s all rather exciting. HP has been a terrific partner so far and yes, we are off to HP Discover where you will see our presence on stage along with HP executives talking about our experience with Moonshot.” As HP tells the story, mark your calendars for Tuesday June 10th, 11:30-12:30 when Paul Santeler (VP and General Manager for HP Moonshot Servers Group) will talk to a number of customers who are already are experiencing the benefits of the HP Moonshot system.

What’s bringing me back to Moonshot time and time again shouldn’t surprise even the hardiest of NonStop supporters. Right now, HP has plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture and a number of vendors have successfully demonstrated their products are running on NonStop across the x86 architecture. As part of these plans, we are seeing the commoditization of the blade itself come full circle as the blades will be the same whether it’s NonStop, Linux or Windows that is deployed. Yes, NonStop will be a software offering just as I have been predicting for a number of years.

More importantly, however, the pricing of NonStop will be something we all will be watching. Price NonStop too low and there’s not enough revenue to fund ongoing R&D, but price NonStop too high relative to, say, a supported Linux distribution (and add-ons), and even the hardiest of the hardcore NonStop supporter will begin to wonder whether the time has come to build their own NonStop. There’s still an understanding that NonStop will carry a premium for fault tolerance, but it has to be seen as a fair premium and not a penalty tax.

Looking at what InkaBinka architects built on something as inexpensive as Moonshot is impressive, but not everyone has access to such expertise. Getting something on par with what can be built on top of Moonshot for a small premium and yet, have it delivered and working right out of the box, will be more appealing to commercial users, of course. However, there is a breaking point and even the most respected NonStop solutions vendors have turned to hybrid configurations, running everything from consoles and administration tools outboard of NonStop, might find implementing their solution fully on platforms apart from NonStop attractive.

Of course, none of this is lost on HP, I suspect, and in the end I have to believe HP will consider the input from all of the NonStop community and will put just the right amount of distance between NonStop prices and those of other operating systems, without deterring too many vendors from sticking with NonStop. Although it’s still early in the lifecycle of NonStop support of x86 and there will likely be little by way of promotion, all the same there should be enough signs coming from the event to let us all know where NonStop is heading, and that will not be something I will miss.

It will be a very busy time for those attending. The NonStop community may not be present in numbers but for those who do make it to Las Vegas, the show put on by HP will be one to remember. As someone who does think traditional IT has run its course, and it’s contributions to business questionable, it will be very interesting to ‘discover’ exactly what HP means by the new style IT. Will it include NonStop, or at the very least, leave the door open to NonStop properties? That will be interesting but no matter, it’s almost a certainty that bright lights and all, there will be few opportunities to “sleep a minute away”. Viva Las Vegas!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

What’s next in Vegas!

Big wheels! Big shows! Big events – it’s all happening in Vegas and it’s only going to get hotter in the coming weeks and with that, it’s getting even harder to ignore Big Data!

Leaving Las Vegas! Yes, after spending a couple of days there – well, on the outskirts actually and far from the strip – there’s only one word that best sums up everything about Las Vegas and that is Big! It’s oversize, loud, and even a little outlandish and yet it continues to draw a crowd no matter the time of year. If only Disney could drop the proverbial dome over the whole thing, it could be air-conditioned 24 x 7 and sold as the adult equivalent of Disney World complete with every imaginable theme park!

Yes, and when it comes to big, there’s nothing bigger than the recently opened Ferris wheel. At 541 feet high it’s about 10 feet taller than the Singapore Flyer that in turn is bigger than the London Eye that measure a puny 443 feet. Together with some lads from the offices of ACI, Margo and I rode the London Eye but as yet, we haven’t hoped aboard the High Roller, as this big new Vegas attraction is called. Given that 2014 HP Discover is only a few weeks away, perhaps it’s an time to put on the activities list – now who could I impress from a seat this far above the crowd.

Big has been on my mind a lot of late. You would have to have awoken from a Rip van Winkle sleep to have missed the noise Big Data is generating of late. There’s rarely a day go by without one headline or the other telling us something extremely important about Bid Data. While doing background work on Big Data for the latest post to realtime.ir, For business managers today, situation awareness is critical … I googled Big Data conferences and I got 100,000,000 + results.

What triggered my recent interest in Big Data was a post to Technobabble a blog site well worth visiting and hosted by an old friend from my time spent at Nixdorf Computers, Kim Brebach. The particular post that caught my eye was the post of April 18, 2014, Big Data for Marketing – Separating Hype from Hope Yes, any post whose heading included Big, Hype and Hope just seemed to fit with a trip to Vegas. However, what I found particularly interesting was some of the observations Brebach provided.

For instance, in the opening paragraph Brebach tells his readers that, “from search engines to social networks, banks and credit card companies, they (marketing) know our buying habits and the destinations of our travels on the internet. There is nowhere to hide unless you get off the net altogether.” More significantly, Brebach notes how, “Big Data is really about the ability to launch big queries, which until recently required massive and expensive computing arrays. Big Data typically refers to volumes of 10-100 gigabytes or more. However, it’s not just about massive amounts of data but about a variety of data from different sources.” 

Brebach brings this all down to earth with another simple observation, and one I included in my post to realtime.ir – “The hold-up is that you can’t simply go out and buy a solution to analyze the Big Data you’ve collected.” And when it comes to launching big queries, “To do that, you have to build your own tool set, starting with a platform.” Furthermore, “It seems the big IT vendors are selling big data analytics solutions but, when you dig a bit deeper, they’re telling you to ‘invest in a big data and analytics platform.’”

Even more telling, “you need some IT types to put all this together and make it work, but that’s only the beginning. You also need data architects, statisticians and data scientists to make Big Data Analytics produce intelligence form the mountains of data you’ve collected and/or bought. Specialists like these are thin on the ground, and the few that exist have been snapped up by the military, the intelligence agencies and the big consulting firms.”

Against this background, I decided to check in with a couple of vendors familiar with NonStop. After all, surely with the transactions NonStop processes, in real time, there would be some interest among vendors to tap all that’s taking place on NonStop. Perhaps the platform is not one where we will see big data laying down roots but even on the periphery, there must be something going on. “Realistically, we don’t expect OmniPayments ever to be driven by Big Data, but rather, it will be a contributor to populating Big Data databases,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO Yash Kapadia.

“As stated in The Connection magazine last year, we fully expect that OmniPayments will be required to participate and our architecture lends itself to such pursuits. However, not only will OmniPayments be populating Big Data databases but support new products coming to market that aggregate Big Data and transactional data in real time. This is only natural for us to consider as it makes little sense to us that pseudo batch processing will remain an option for many of our customers – they will want to look for relevant information in real time. As it happens and as their customer is interacting with their services.”

In in way, it’s highly encouraging to read of observations like this. If Big Data is already on the radar with vendors like OmniPayments, then there’s every chance that among the middleware vendors more NonStop system specific work is being down. If batch is on its way out as even the most complex of big queries needs to be satisfied in real time, then surely NonStop will play a role? “Our product is WebAction Real-time Big Data Server (RTBD)," said WebAction, Inc. cofounder Sami Akbay. "It runs on Linux and Windows, scales out and up well. As for NonStop, running WebAction RTBD Server on NonStop isn’t part of the plan and yet, we recognize that it’s a key source for real time transaction data and we include it as a source we connect with.”

All the same, “There is clearly a need to capture data that’s an intersection of transactional data with both reference data and historical data, and to do so in real time. Providing meaningful information from the data is important for users as the time to act is often as a client is interacting with a system – when he walks away, it’s an opportunity lost.” This observation is critical to those running NonStop systems. Big Data is applicable in that at the time transactions are initiated, companies want to be able to correlate current transactional data with both reference and historical data to detect even the smallest insight as to what might happen next.

The value of information has such a short timeframe for much that is transacted in real time. After the fact is definitely of interest to strategists but when it comes to making money right now, it’s the ability to derive a sense of what is motivating a buyer that’s important. As the transaction currently being undertaken completes, the customer will move on and getting them to consider something additional, while at a kiosk or terminal, is vital to the health of any company. The likes of Yash at OmniPayments may in time be depending on the presence of technologies from companies like WebAction to better grow the payments business.

Are there other vendors within the NonStop community also looking at Big Data? Some of what I have written here has been referenced in the post to realtime.ir already referenced, so what are we seeing from Integrated Research (IR)? As the leading provider of monitoring products aimed at meeting the needs of IT operations staff, anticipating what is to come surely must be every bit as important as data of a different type is to business folks?

IR has been evolving monitoring to provide greater Business Insight (BI) – collating and aggregating a plethora of events, as they occur in real time, so as operations staff can quickly spot developing trends as well as escalating incidents. Observing a network component about to fail and being able to switch to a more appropriate resource before any customers are even aware of an imminent failure is every bit as important to operations staff as selling additional merchandise is to the business.

According to IR Director Key Account Sales - America's Jay Horton, “Yes, it’s at vendors like IR where you will find the data architects, statisticians and data scientists that can decipher what’s taking place from the myriad of events coming from multiple sources. Not just the solutions, but the frameworks, software stacks and the operating system so many at times that they often mask real problems, and if missed, trigger the crisis companies work hard at avoiding. The Business Insight provided by IR, is as big as the customers want it to be, and is limited only by their perspective on what is important to measure.

In his post, Brebach made it clear that the data architects, statisticians and data scientists have indeed been snapped up by the military, the intelligence agencies and the big consulting firms and this includes vendors well known to the NonStop community. When it comes to excellence, reputations and leadership, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and the fact that products and services applicable to the NonStop marketplace are well advanced, should equip all associated with NonStop to better educate their IT peers.

Next month, we will have 2014 HP Discover in Las Vegas. I am planning on being there and will provide coverage of all that is promoted by HP. So what should to see happen next? It’s clear to me that formerly announced focus areas of Mobility, Security, Big Data and Clouds will continue to gain the lion’s share of attention but as to its inclusion of NonStop, that will prove interesting. But the fact remains, whether HP overtly promotes NonStop as part of any of these initiatives may not be all that important – more than enough vendors within the NonStop community are already on board and are working hard to ensure NonStop plays a role. And perhaps, that’s the biggest story of all as we leave Vegas!






Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Step on the gas!

Just looking at how much progress has been made to ensure NonStop has a future leaves little doubt NonStop will be around for many more years – but c’mon, let’s get going! There’s more to the story …

It’s not like me to ignore popular consensus when it comes to technology. Drones? Sure, they’re flying overhead and if I believe the story line of one popular television series, they have already been shrunk down to the size of insects. Camera networks capable of retracing our every movement? In an interview of Jay Leno by popular BBC TV journalist, Jeremy Clarkson, the subject of speed camera deployments in the UK came up to which Leno responded, as any good citizen from Los Angeles would, “why don’t you just shoot them out?”

Then again, watching television on our phones or watching the big game on our tablet all seemed pretty far-fetched only a decade ago. Glasses with video displays? Preposterous! Flying saucers? Not likely, and this is where I draw the line. Bigfoot?  The abominable snowman? The Loch Ness monster? Urban legends may develop traction within some communities, but for most of us, if it’s unbelievable then it’s highly unlikely. Last year, while attending a conference in Orlando, I witnessed Michael Gore, a paraplegic, walking again with the help of a computer controlled partial exoskeleton suit – it’s as if its technology related, it’s believable but otherwise, it’s fantasy.

And that’s just who we are – IT folks rarely witness anything out of the ordinary and yet, coming up on its fortieth anniversary, the longevity of NonStop is proving extraordinary. In a year when Nixon and Brezhnev met in Moscow, OPEC ended the oil embargo and the films Chinatown, The Godfather II and Blazing Saddles came out, who could have predicted that NonStop systems (née Tandem Computers) would still be playing as important a role for IT as they do.

In a private newsletter I email clients weekly, I picked up on a common theme I observed following a number of conversations with folks inside HP. Talking about NonStop and of its future presence inside data centers, the comparison to a ship came up more than once. The good-ship NonStop, it would seem, has witnessed a miraculous transformation that is surprising even to the most jaded IT professional. Rather than benefitting from the fitting of an external assist, the way Michael Gore was doing, NonStop was the benefactor of even greater radical treatment.

For several years, under the leadership of former head of NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), Randy Meyer, the storyline involved righting the NonStop ship and plugging the leaks – the prognosis at the time was less than appetizing. It seemed with every shipment of a NonStop system, HP was losing money and on that basis, it would have been easy for HP to simply walk away. However, embracing commoditization, as HP’s Meyer told it, allowed NonStop to live to fight another day.

Leveraging a common blade architecture, even as a shared-infrastructure chassis was released, helped HP take out even more manufacturing costs but as the ship was righted and the leaks plugged, there was still an issue with the rudder. Where was NonStop headed? The most pressing need was for NonStop to attract more solutions, but at the time, it appeared as though some of the biggest applications on NonStop were embracing platforms apart from NonStop. ACI was heading to IBM mainframes and IDX, following its purchase by GE Healthcare, who knew where!

Rather than trying to cherry-pick applications for select market segments, the approach coming from NED was to see if they could make NonStop attractive to all applications. Or so it seemed to me. Revisiting the requirements of Java developers, NonStop came up with a solid implementation of a Java application server and now with NSASJ, the equivalent to industry-standard JBoss on NonStop, this opens the door to practically any application developed in Java.  NS SQL too has seen a number of upgrades that broaden its acceptance among developers.

These are course changes I heartily support and now, as I only recently found out, with the NSK operating system supporting process pairs in which the processes operate in the Open System Services (OSS) environment, a key attribute – availability – is “available” to all who code in Java. However, with the good-ship NonStop no longer threatened with foundering at sea and with the helm back under control and running true, the story isn’t over yet. As a car guy, there’s still one more action required – let’s get going! It’s time to step on the gas!

NonStop is about to celebrate its fortieth anniversary and that’s a significant milestone. It made it through a significant transformation and the marketplace has embraced the changes – nearly all the customers I interviewed recently for an upcoming opinion paper have NS BladeSystems deployed. with most of them moving to the new NB56000c systems powered by the latest Intel® Itanium® 9500 series processors. Having said this, we are about to see even greater alignment with the bigger HP as NonStop announced plans to support the Intel® x86 architecture. But if we are to step on the gas, what does this really mean?

Communications and networking! As a community, we need to make a bigger noise – something that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my posts. In many instances, it would seem that even when NonStop systems are deployed, their presence in the data center is in support of something very specific and as such, is often overlooked for other projects. NonStop is also often understaffed – who wants to invest resources in training programmers and operators – and in general, underfunded in terms of what utilities and tools are implemented. We, as a community simply have to get a lot better with interacting with our peers and with management.

There’s nothing at all out of place with NonStop today – it’s modern and it’s competitive when it comes to clusters. I continue to be amazed by the ignorance of many IT professionals when it comes to just how expensive it is to support better known platforms like Windows and Linux. Just in human resources alone (in support of key subsystems), the costs add up to quickly surpass what’s needed by NonStop. And the story doesn’t stop there – some of the critical subsystems on these cluster configurations seeking to emulate NonStop are priced well above what’s on offer for NonStop.

HP’s Meyer certainly oversaw a significant transformation and now there’s other leaders at HP working every bit as hard to ensure future success of NonStop and for that, we are way, way better off than many other platforms. Prime, anyone? Wang? Data General? What about the once mighty Amdahl? Again, what HP has achieved is monumental in the annuls of computing and this too is a message we all need to convey to our management.

So far, there’s nothing too surprising in what I have written here. Many of these comments have appeared in posts to this blog, if not elsewhere, on other forums. However, my sense of urgency is only increasing as I sense a forlornness overcoming many advocates. It’s all too hard! It’s not getting us anywhere! There are few youngsters looking to invest time in NonStop! But again, if the good-ship NonStop is now seaworthy once again and headed in the right direction, has the community suddenly developed a bad case of sea-sickness as one vendor’s marketing executive suggested recently. Do we need to hand out sea-sickness tablets?

It’s a candid comment worth discussing – has our sense of forlornness generated a sense of despair and is the NonStop community losing all hope?  The short answer is, I don’t think so! If you really want to test the overall health of the community, attend a regional user group – there’s certainly no shortage of evangelists at these events. Urban legends among IT professionals may not be commonplace but if they think NonStop is legacy, they are surely wrong and poorly informed.

Again, we have a message to communicate and it’s in urgent need of being delivered. At 40, the longevity of NonStop is indeed extraordinary and NonStop is closing in on this milestone for all the right reasons! IT professionals may not have much faith in the extraordinary but in NonStop, we may be witnessing the closest thing to a miracle some of us will ever see!