Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's time to leave the Duke!

Back in Boulder again for a few days, and then it’s back to Simi Valley next week. Later next week, it’s off to the Euro ITUG event in Brighton. So what I would like to do tonight is to pick up on one theme I have been covering – the Integrity NonStop platform itself.

It is clear to me that in the months to come, HP will be distancing itself from its competitors based on its roll-out, top to bottom, of blades packages. And nowhere will the impact on users be more visible than in the NonStop community. IBM has already made it clear that, for the time being, its mainframes will not be based on blades – the basic building block of “books” will continue for new product introductions for some time to come. This is not to say that IBM’s decision is wrong, and they are certainly enjoying an up-tick in mainframe usage of late, just that it will be pursuing a different path to HP.

As I flew to Denver I grabbed a couple of magazines and among them were a couple of recent ITUG Connection issues. I was flipping through the pages of the July / August 2007 issue when I ran across the Winston Prather piece “News from HP’s NonStop Enterprise Division”. Winston is the VP and General Manager of NonStop Enterprise Division & High Performance Computing within HP. With overall responsibility for the Integrity NonStop platform – it just makes sense to always read his column. So it was with interest that I caught the statement "HP is making significant investments in the platform, most notably in moving it to a bladed architecture.

What further caught my attention was the follow-on remark “we will also be moving storage and communications to Linux front-end servers in the future. Greater leverage of volume economics through increased use of industry-standard components will translate into lower TCO for our customers.”

With IBM and HP going in slightly different directions, the user community will face a number of decisions – but I am always comfortable when there are choices. Blades versus books! Itanium versus Power! And different views on virtualization! These are all topics I plan to cover in future blog’s postings.

What Winston is foreshadowing, to me, is a new paradigm where a common blade building block – even within a single system, such as the integrity NonStop - may be the same, but may be running different OS’s. Underneath the covers, of a future system may be a combination of OS’s each selected to support a specific function - be it storage, communications, etc. As most of you know, I have worked in communications and networking for more than three decades, and today I take no issue with electing to run communications stacks on top of a Linux distribution. It makes all the sense in the world and I can only see more complete protocol offerings and better industry support as a result.

Servers, based on standardized hardware, have a shot at being more energy efficient and we will see their “greening” become a priority. By this I mean placement of the blades within the total package of racks can be scrutinized and then organized for optimal heat management. I just have to believe mapping the heat signature of a common building block will then lead to better blade placements and a more energy efficient overall package.

We are going to see a lot of changes, and have to adapt to new ways of doing things. We may be moving in a totally new direction with different manageability priorities and a whole range of new interfaces and tools.

Last year, in a magazine insert called Next-Gen IT (July, 2006) that was put together by the editors of Computerworld and CIO magazine, Michelle Bailey, an IDC research director said “CIOs are seeing that the economics of yesterday’s data center isn’t going to work in the future – you can’t have more people, more I/O, and more servers with every new application.”

This week I caught up with Wil Marshman and we met in the Duke of Edinburgh for a drink. For all of you not familiar with the Cupertino campus, for the past 25 years or so many of us thought the pub was part of the campus. Back in Tandem days, on special occasions, it was even graced with a regular Tandem building “tombstone” - although I forget the specific location number it was assigned. Being back in the pub with Wil brought back a lot of old memories and as I looked around, there was Jack Trice – in his usual corner! I walked outside and there was Andy Hall on his cell phone, talking to family – it was Andy who first took me into the Duke in 1987 and where I first met folks like Roger Mathews and Steve Saltwick.

And it just stopped me dead in my tracks – for 20 years, we had kicked back in this place and brainstormed all sorts of wild and crazy ideas. It was a comfortable place, and we all knew where to head at the end of the day to catch up with folks we neede to see. We were kind of reluctant to try any place else! And it reminded me of what I had written only days earlier in my August 29th blog posting (Back Home … To NonStop) “what we have considered as our safe and trusted turf may be moving underneath us”!

I guess in some ways, we all would like to stay with what we have. We feel most comfortable working with tools and utilities that we have depended on for many years – where we can quickly comprehend, and react to, the information returned. But I sense we are headed in an entirely new direction and so much of it will be different, unfamiliar, and perhaps a little frightening.

As I look ahead, I really don’t know all the details about what’s coming and so I need to be cautious. But we do know that a bladed architecture is coming, and we will have an industry-standard building block from which any number of configurations will be built. We will see multiple operating systems in these packages, and we will have a much more efficient “green” product. But among the packages, there will be NonStop and it will be a key part of the HP server strategy.

What we can’t predict with any certainty is whether this new NonStop will find universal acceptance and whether they usher in a new era of growth – in selected niches or across a broad mixture of industries. The potential is definitely there however, and I am looking forward to their arrival.

My favorite baseball coach, Tony LaRussa, talks about how he prefers his players to get themselves into positions to “manufacture runs”. Tony prefers to manage the game, one innings at a time, so that a number of runs can be scored over the duration of the game. He doesn’t build a team that relies on individuals scoring home runs to win a game and becoming dependent on a single swing of the bat.

Returning to the Next-Gen IT story, they noted that “it’s clear, that the next-generation of data center will be a bastion of virtualization, consolidation, and automation technologies”. And so it is that I see the strategy of HP unfolding – no longer dependent on a single outrageously successful product, but rather, from the compilation of many successful packages built from a bladed architecture. We do know we are heading towards a future where the basics will be simpler, and where we can’t load up on the data center staff to look after it all.

And this leads me to a couple of closing thoughts.

While Winston forecasts Integrity NonStop servers will include potentially multiple Linux components – can we realistically rule out other HP Integrity server offerings not including NonStop components? Can we rule out NonStop becoming part of every BCS offering?

I can already see a day when the option to run a data base may come complete with a NonStop foundation – but would there be any limits to how Nonstop evolves? I just don’t think so and see the NonStop server line living well beyond any previous expectation I we had.


Anonymous said...

Hey Richard, as I was one of the cabal who gave a LOC# to the Duke, I remember it well. The # can easily be figured out by looking at your telephone keypad, for the letters D-U-K, or LOC 385 :-). I think I will remain anonymous for now, let's see if you can figure out who I am. When you do, tell Margo I say hi. BTW, you should have called me when you were in town. Hint: Argo. M3.

RT Writer said...

OK - so this I have to think about. The only clue "Argo. M3"? I had a BMW M3 once .... but this is way too cryptic and I may need more info ... but let me think some more.

Bur anyhow, yes I recall it was Loc 385 now but didn't know the background. Thanks.