Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back Home .... to NonStop

I have just returned home to Boulder - a place that really does give me an opportunity to think. I suspect that all of us, particularly those in business that have to travel a lot, have one place that they really call home. That place where they can relax and feel comfortable. Back to the basics. My home field where I have the advantage - where I have all the local knowledge.

I have really been appreciative of the emails I have received over the past few days. The early blog posting have all been part of an experiment - a prototype really. Can I develop the discipline to write every few nights? Can I get excited about opening this window to talk about NonStop and Tandem. The emails I have receive to date have been incredibly encouraging - and so I will continue.

But to return to my opening remarks. For many of us, our comfort zone with respect to NonStop has a lot to do with availability, scalability, massively parallel shared nothing environments. This is solid ground for us - this is home. But how will we react if this changes - what if NonStop moves in different directions?

I had a really good chat with Fred Laccabue last week - and I am still mulling over some of the things we talked about. It's too early to go into the specifics and this is mostly because I need to do some homework here myself. I really do need to dig a little deeper. But in talking with Fred I was reminded that the only constant is change - and when you start to look at chips and chip sets and how we are all headed to a multi-core future, then a couple of things we have considered familiar territory, could change. What we have considered as our safe and trusted turf may be moving underneath us.

Too cryptic? Well, in part yes - I sense a lot of change coming in the next year or so - but before I launch into it, I want to reach out to you all. Do you sense change coming? Do you embrace it? Are you really prepared to talk openly within your corporations about the future of NonStop and how you can use it?

I am now back in Boulder and enjoying it. I never take it for granted when I get the opportunity to relax at home. But as I kick back and think about what NonStop is becoming and where it potentially is headed - with talk of blades, virtualization, hybrids, etc - I recall the conversations I had with folks inside HP. There's so much talent and so many gifted folks - but I can't ignore the reality that, from a technology perspective, there's no such thing as a home field advantage. It's OK if you a dog and it's your territory, you pretty much always win (any fight), but for NonStop engineers, there's no time for relaxing. Only pursuit of what's next.

As I read the comments, whether its about the events ITUG puts on, or the Tandem fundamentals (availability?) the one sentiment that comes through each time is the genuine desire to grow the community. To understand where the NonStop plays best and provides real value. And about the special roll for NonStop within the whole heterogeneous computer model we all work with.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the new NonStop world? Do you welcome the change? Where will we find a place to call home in the future - and will it even be relevant or important in the future?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Is 30 minutes too long?

I am slowly adjusting to a new place of abode. It's a long story and not something relevant to this posting - perhaps later. However, as anyone who has moved to a new location, getting set-up as fast as you can becomes a necessity, and minimizing disruptions to daily routines, a priority. For me, the urgent needs all centered around getting our audio / video equipment all sorted out and this meant going to the mall. Pretty routine, I thought - nothing much could go wrong with a task this trivial!

Well, I experienced a crashed system first hand this weekend. My wife and I were at Best Buy purchasing DVDs when, after a wait in the check out line, the cash register simply crashed. I knew immediately it wasn't good when the cash register screen went black and I could follow the flow of NETBios data wrapping around on the screen. Eventually, the ubiquitous Windows icon appeared. But too late - the check-out clerk left his post for guidance and then took us to another line to stand and wait.

Our transaction was pretty routine, but did have a few twists. We had a discount coupon and we were paying by credit card. The coupon had been accepted, and the transaction amount approved. But at the time the cash register crashed - the transaction had completed its last step - printing the receipt. Where were we, process wise?

After standing in another line - this one moving a lot slower, of course, as the activity being performed wasn't routine for any of the participants - we were finally in front of another service assistant. We went through the story, physically pointed to the cash register and the check-out clerk where the crash had happened, and began the process again. We had to get the coupon reinstated and check their server logs (which they did provide us with) to make sure there was no duplicate credit card entries, before we were comfortable enough to proceed. By this time, 30 minutes had passed.

While the service assistant took an additional amount off the transaction - at no time did management approach us to say sorry for the inconvenience. Best Buy is a very successful operation these days - putting a lot of pressure on other operators like Circuit City - but to have customer-facing systems that are not reliable and where their operators simply dragged you off to another line to start over, isn't good for business.

Later that same day, we stepped into a branch of the Wells Fargo bank to update our profile information, add online access, and get a local ATM card so I wouldn't have to keep paying other parties ATM fees. All pretty straight forward. But as soon as we walked through the doors, we could see it was busy and that all the service staff were tied up. This time, however, the local manager saw us and came over to greet us. She offered us coffee and made the other staff aware of our presence. Yes, we had to wait - but we were nowhere near as agitated as we had just moments before.

When we sat down with a bank representative we learnt that all hadn't been well for the bank earlier in the week. They had taken a huge outage - with some elements of the network out of action for more than a day. I was stunned. Yes, I had been traveling during that time, and had missed most of the business news. He informed me that the mainframe failed and that it had taken a while to sort out. He then continued to walk me through all the steps I had to take, and was open and informative throughout the process. As we walked out of the bank - I checked and yes, the whole process took 30 minutes. But what a different 30 minutes.

In this day and age, I have little patience for any retailer or financial institution that skips on their infrastructure investments. And into my broad definition of infrastructure I include all the staff and management working with it - and all the folks involved with their education. Systems are failing a lot more than I had previously considered. Availability, and the need to be available through planned and unplanned outages, wasn't just the mantra of a select group of architects. The impact from a failure becomes obvious very quickly - whether it's a simple PC-based cash register or a whole mainframe-supported network.

But what a visible difference in professionalism between two corporations, separated by only a few feet. It boils down to the old fashioned customer service. Be 24 X 7 or invest more heavily in your human infrastructure.

A short while back I met with Tom Moylan - Tom manages the America's sales organization within HP that is responsible for selling NonStop servers. Right now Tom is as excited to be selling NonStop servers as he has ever been - and for good reason. A number of retailers and card processors had been considering alternatives to the NonStop server product line - but over the past few months, a number of the very biggest have come down decidely in support of NonStop.

There have been projects to move off of NonStop that were well under way; when the end users were polled, companies reversed course and reinvested in NonStop. There were internal competitions and "cook offs" between different cluster-based systems and when the finished product was presented, the winner was NonStop. Even when management had been cautiously supportive of NonStop but had let projects drag, there is now renewed enthusiasm for the platform.

If I was working up in one of the border states that loves ice hockey, then I would know who the big retailer was. If I knew much about card processors - credit or debit, it doesn't matter - then I wouldn't have to think too long or hard to figure it out. They have gone big-time with NonStop.

In the coming months I am going to revisit the topic of services, and of the impact they are having on the way we interface with our applications. In particular, I am very interested in the topic of Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and the impact that is having on the roll-out of new applications. The deployment of this architecture will play a very important role in the continued viability of NonStop, and I have already begun to see inroads being made into the NonStop customer base. This is an extremely encouraging development and bodes well for the continuing relevance of NonStop!

The number of corporations now very strongly recommitting to NonStop is just great to see, and those that are not had better invest in the customer service. Waiting 30 minutes is not that unpleasant if you are treated right - but being down and having to treat customers with lots of human interaction is a costly gamble on the part of any corporation.

Next time I see Tom Moylan I am pretty sure it will be my turn to buy lunch.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Events - Real and Virtual?

In my last blog entry, I asked for feedback on your experience at the recent HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) and I have to say I was pretty pleased to see a couple of comments.

Margo Holen observed that the option to view the greater HP - to see a more complete picture - was a big benefit. This was reinforced for me when one long-standing supporter of ITUG came up to me and said "now I can bring my management! I may even be able to convince our CIO to come - there's now enough content to make it worthwhile for them to come!"

Wil Marhsman's observations interested me as well - going forward, it may not be just bricks and mortar style venues - and that with newer technology, I fully expect to see a growth in essentially virtual events and gatherings. As we all become familiar with new ways to communicate and embrace new products and methodologies, we will see many more options open up where we can get first-hand info from our peers as they roll-out new applications and solutions.

Las Vegas may have it's critics. It's a pretty daunting place for many of us. On the other hand, it is one venue where you can put together any kind of event no matter the size - so, I guess I have to say that it's not an issue for me. As long as I get there a day ahead of an event so I can familiarize myself with the layout.

I have been on the road for most of this week visiting Chicago and the Bay. I was visiting Cupertino to meet with various folks on the NonStop campus in Vallco Parkway. So it's only appropriate that the first picture I use on this blog site is of an early Tandem Computer - a NonStop II I believe. This picture was forwarded to me by a past-Chairman of ITUG and I am very appreciative of him digging this out for me. While in one meeting, in what I still call Building 3, I happened to look out the window, and there was the swimming pool. It's still there, and visible on the bottom was Tandem - complete with the Tandem Chevron - although, today it's blue and not red. Changing the color was something I never did fully understand - but at least this icon wasn't torn up by either Compaq or HP. It's still very visible.

As I looked down on the pool, and on the surrounding grounds, I recalled many Friday beerbusts - those gatherings where ideas were shared. For sure, Jimmy was a pioneer in this area - and the beerbusts are now part of the Tandem folk-lore. I don't believe that they are held anymore - or have they, I suspect for many years. But user events continue to roll on - and for many of us, they are pretty much an extension or outgrowth of the community that first started to develop within those first three buildings.

I only raise this as I begin to look ahead - I sense we are becoming part of a bigger HP, as Margo noted in her comment. We will see new server configurations over the next year or so that will embrace more than NonStop. So knowing more about the whole is going to be very important. In closing - we are now part of a bigger community. The servers of the future will include operating systems other than just NonStop. Is this a bad thing? Is it something we should pull back from. I have to say - I don't think so. Rather, I am pretty excited by the potential of all of this. Rather than asking whether we are diluting the NonStop message as we introduce other technologies alongside it - but rather shouldn't we now be looking at how we capitalize on it?

Our events of the future may take many forms - we will have routine, face-to-face ones, at places like Las Vegas. But we will most likely embrace whole new models including various electronic and virtual formats and I would be very interested to hear back from the community. Let me know what you think!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Introduction

Welcome to RT Writer's blog - for all things related to the ITUG Community. In particular, to topics consistent with the theme of my colum "Real Time View". As you may recall from the first column I wrote back in the July - August 2007 issue, then:

"I am writing it with the expectation of presenting a slightly different view of NonStop than might be presented elsewhere and I am writing it to generate further discussion. I am openly soliciting your feedback and I can assure you I will be reading all correspondence that I receive."

By way of introduction - for some time now I have felt that there was opportunities to open more a direct dialogue with the community and so this is very much a prototype that I am looking at to market to a wider cross section of the community. Most of you know me - I have been involved with the NonStop server since my early days at Netlink Inc out of North Carolina. The company's R&D center was in Sydney - but as we looked for additional funding we ran across Tandem Computers and eventually, they made an investment. I was so impressed with the folks I met (folks like Andy Hall, Jeff Tonkel, Suri Harish, Bob Marshall, and so on) that I returned briefly to Australia so that I could join Tandem. I then held a number of positions before becocming the group manager responsible for a great group of Communications and Networking product managers - Wil Marshman is still with HP NonStop long after I left. From one company with Australian roots (Netlink) to another (Insession) wasn't a big step for me - and over the past 10 years or so I enjoyed working with Insession and later, Insession Technologies after ACI purchased the company. Now I am with GoldenGate - a company I first ran into in my early days at the original Insession - so yes, there's been some continuity to the steps I have taken with my career over the past couple of decades.

This is just background and I do not plan to dwell too much on this - it's just level setting and filling in some blanks for those that may not know me as well as others. The important thing for me is looking ahead - what's going to happen now that Tandem has found a great home within HP.

So, to get started, what did we all think about the recent HPTF&E - how many events do you go to each year? Are they meeting you needs - all of them? Some of them? I am particularly interested in the overall positioning of the NonStop server suite - and whether you value HP's commitment to this product line.

Again, this is the first appearance of my blog - so let me know ...