Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our need for architects ...

I have now returned from Chicago, but before leaving I walked around the city and I was admiring its spectacular architecture. The picture I selected here shows the old Tribune Tower, just across the street from the Wrigley complex. Originally called the “Cathedral of Commerce”, it’s truly one of the best Gothic creations around.

As you now look back up the river from the South side, toward Lake Michigan, you can see a wonderful line-up of buildings, each representing a completely different style. Starting with the over-the-top, flamboyant, wedding-cake layers of the Marina City apartment and office complex that has been featured in many movies, there follows the austere IBM Plaza that, even in the early 1970s, represented a very minimalist style. Next to them we now have the Trump Tower pushing skywards from the riverside – all concrete and glass. Lastly, there is the very ornate Wrigley Building. Once called “the Jewel of the Mile”, it was an American adaptation of the French Renaissance style and from the 1920s onwards it has been a major Chicago landmark.

I have always had an interest in Architecture. Following a year of Engineering at Sydney University I switched to Architecture at the University across town, the University of New South Wales. But as the ‘60’s came to a close I was one of many who moved into the new world of computers. But I never lost my love of architecture.

During the ’70’s I spent a lot of time traveling. First to England, and then later to Canada, where I really gained an appreciation for cold weather, travel quickly filled out any gaps that may have remained from my school days. It was in Edmonton, Alberta that I first learned that -40 F and -40 C were pretty much the same and that once the temperature fell much below this, it didn’t matter what scale you preferred. It was just cold!

But architecture, and the role of architects, is not limited to just the practice of designing buildings. As I picked up this month’s Motor Trend and looked at an Op-Ed piece on Ford, I was surprised to read that the new boss of Ford, very much a car-outsider in Detroit having come from Boeing, planned to reduce the number of Ford architectures by 40 percent to just 10 core platforms. Furthermore, six cylinder architectures would be reduced from eight to two over the next five years.

I’m not sure how the auto engineers would feel about their craft being viewed as a series of architectures! What are they talking about, I can just hear them mumbling? For crying out loud, we design and assemble cars – not churches or libraries!

But this magazine article reminded me of a recent conversation I had with Jim McFadden at the Euro ITUG event the other week. Jim and I worked together a few years back and I always considered Jim a gifted technologist and someone with very strong views on architecture. So, what makes a good software architect? And, how do you find them?

I became a world traveler and took advantage of the opportunity to develop my skills as I worked with many gifted folks. With my early interests in architecture, it became easy for me to gravitate more to the structures of systems and to the properties of their components and to the relationships that exist between them – to paraphrase something I recently read in Wikipedia on the topic of Software architecture (refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_architecture). But perhaps there’s another way and a checklist we could come up with.

As Jim and I continued to talk about this, we settled on a couple of key attributes and have since exchanged a few emails on the topic. From all of this it became pretty clear to us that any architect in a position of product responsibility, should know the business that they are in. They should be able to bridge the gap between the business goals and the various technology approaches we know about today. As Jim later remarked to me “you have to be able to jump to the white board and present with passion, and this means that you have to be fully involved in planning the technology building blocks - if you don't understand it, then you can't effectively present it!”

As with any senior position these days, communications is essential. Whether it’s the ability to just grab a marker and write all over a whiteboard, or document a position to an industry association, there’s no room for poor communication skills.

There are also a couple of other characteristics that are sometimes overlooked these days. Architects need to want to read, and to stay current. They need to be fully engaged with technology and be fully aware of what’s coming down the road. And they need to be smart enough to ask questions – of their vendors, of industry analysts and consultants, as well as of their own corporation.

And then, Jim remarked, “often times businesses put in place a ‘big name’ for marketing reasons, ending up with situations where the senior technologist or architect is a political position instead of a thought leader. The results fairly regularly are ‘technology drift’, with failed projects. But knowing your business is the most important prerequisite of all”.

I pursued this discussion with others in the ITUG community. Tom Steele, who has supported ITUG events on many occasions, and whose opinion always carries weight with me, pointed out that in addition to the items already on my checklist, he believed “a good architect needs to have a ‘network’ of contacts that are more subject-matter experts, as today’s systems are so complex it is hard for a single person to know it all. Being able to bounce ideas off of someone, or to check and see if there is a technology solution not initially thought of, or even to gain insights into possible pitfalls that might be encountered, are just as important”.

Another viewpoint came from Mark Hutchens who founded InSession back in the late ‘80s and with whom I steal an hour or so for coffee whenever I am back in Boulder. For Mark, while the checklist I had been putting together seemed valid, he was also quick to point out however, that “the real skill would seem to be quick on your feet” and added that perhaps this was something that may not appear on a checklist. It was his observation that folks who were quick on their feet exhibited the openness and eagerness to learn that quickly separated them from others. To conclude, Mark summed it up pretty simply as being “quick to learn, open, adaptable, and honest – and you have it”!

Good architects stay very much committed to the application long after it has been deployed. Not only should they set the overall direction, but they need to stay engaged and manage the whole lifecycle. Applications that make it into production can be properly architected but often outlive their economic usefulness. And this is very important aspect of any architects responsibilities.

“The requirements evolve, hardware, operating system etc. changes, and we keep on patching and modifying to give code another lease on life”, noted my colleague at GoldenGate, Sami Akbay. He went on to add “of course, sometimes this happens at the beginning, before the project is delivered; there is scope creep, disassociated requests from different stakeholders delivered after the code is designed etc. But ultimately, we just try too hard to make square pegs fit into round holes”!

I have spent a small part of my career as a member of an architecture team. I have had a deep interest in infrastructure, and the value that comes from implementing sound infrastructure architecture capable of evolving and absorbing the changing needs of business.

There is a lot of bad code out there today that has come from poorly thought-out architecture.
There are many of us that have a real interest in the bits and bytes of our craft. We spend hour’s fine tuning a routine to optimize its memory usage, reduce its I/O overhead, and tinker with it until we can squeeze the last ounce of performance from it. But unfortunately it is sometimes the case that, when these artisans are elevated to positions of architects and technologists, they often want to continue to tinker - unwilling to acknowledge that there are others in the organization that can do as good a job. The desire for control takes over, and projects begin to falter as these architects become unwilling to pursue the ideas of others. There soon is less willingness to take on risk and the organization begins to loose its way.

We have all come across instances of this, and I am pretty sure we all recognize these architects when we come across them. I continue to be asked whether a group needs an architect or whether an organization needs a chief technologist. To succeed, and o develop plans, you absolutely must have one in a position of oversight.

I have spent time as an architect, but my path to that position was lengthy. The years I traveled to different countries, changing disciplines many times – from programmer, to systems analyst, to DBA, to software engineer, to product manager and so on, and the question after question I asked eventually led me to what I do today and to the contributions I know how to make to my organization.

But today, do we teach the practice of software architecture? Are we encouraging our practitioners to consider stepping up to these important roles? Do we earmark the budgets in support of such training or do we favor selected staff with added benefits, like user events, just to retain their services? Outside of regular participation at our platforms user group events, how much training do we provide?

Yet, to develop and nurture good architects, we have to become a lot more proactive in opening up opportunities for them to be better trained. This is beginning to be recognized within the user groups, and the early word back from their boards is that even greater attention will be given to structured education, and most likely, in parallel to the events themselves.

I don’t think we have any other choice if we want to develop architects of the future, but to step in and build educational programs. Very few companies will want to sit around waiting for the next renaissance-man to wonder in, and even fewer of them will want to run the risk of going with someone who prefers to tinker and who takes them into oblivion. But the role they fill, and the directions they establish, are the most important responsibilities in our organization today, for without their insight we will just bounce from one “Gucci idea” to the next.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Changes in Attitude ...

I was in Chicago for a working weekend with another group of friends and I took time out for a quick break. I walked into the local Corner Bakery Café and as I ate a sandwich, one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs came over the speakers:

“Yes, I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The canons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate!”

The picture included here captures me in a more reflective mood, on the deck of a 19th century clipper. I have included it as I think I am a pirate and there’s much about me and the way I think that, I have to admit, is reminiscent of the rebellious sailors of old.

And I was reminded how often I can be a contrarian. Throughout my IT career I was a bit of a renegade, a bit of a disruptive influence. When everyone else was happy to go left, I turned right.

This song reminded me that following one of my recent blog postings, I had the good fortune of catching up, on email, with Tony Bond – a former ITUG Chairman and the person I hold responsible for launching my career at ITUG. Tony had a lot to do with getting me to stand for a Director position back in 1999.

Tony remembered one occasion in Sydney, at a restaurant just up the street a ways from La Grillade (see “Club at the end of the Street” posting), a number of us gathered one Friday night at a great Vegetarian restaurant. The place was situated on the second floor of a corner premise and was very popular with the developers we were working with on the NonStop NET/MASTER project. But as many of you may have observed over the years, I wasn’t a big fan of vegetarian food – and when it was pointed out to me that the bistro on the first floor was a regular restaurant, I ordered a steak from them and had the waiter bring it upstairs.

It was something that just happened and at the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the impact eating a steak in a vegetarian restaurant would make. Enough to say that the restaurant cleared out a little earlier than usual on that Friday night!

The song above, “A pirate looks at Forty”, comes from a 2 CD package called “Meet me in Magaritaville: The Ultimate Collection” and is perhaps one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett compilations. The song is on the second CD, and on the first CD I found the other one that fits with my story here: “Changes if Latitude, Changes in Attitude”!

Tony Bond is certainly enjoying all that comes with changes in latitude. Tony has become a genuine enthusiast of off-road exploring in Australia. Anyone that is keeping up with where he an Jennie are will know that they spends a lot of time in the outback, in the extreme climate of our Australian “Deep North”. He just recently posted an update on my blog here, simply saying -

“We’re currently sitting under an awning at Burketown in the Gulf of Carpentaria … this trip has been our longest and we’ve crossed the Simpson Desert and the Tanami Desert and have been as far west as Broome, Western Australia.”

These are up in latitudes I have rarely visited and are some of the most remote and hottest areas on the planet. But it’s not just the changes in latitude that speaks of Tony – it’s also changes in attitude.

For nearly all of his term as Chairman of ITUG, he wrestled with the enormously difficult task of integrating the various user groups that found themselves part of Compaq. The request had been made by Compaq to consider forming a single global user community – combining the operations and events of what was formerly Digital’s DECUS and Tandem’s ITUG. And to oversee the evaluation, a joint task force was created with the Chair’s of each group participating.

What wasn’t fully realized at first was that there did not exist a global equivalent to ITUG in the other vendor’s user community. DECUS had independent chapters worldwide with no oversight from a global body – so immediately, the joint task force saw a single ITUG voice becoming one of many. True, ITUG supports many RUGs, but when it came to developing a dialogue community to community, there wasn’t a single DECUS voice.

And so, it never quite worked out and the pace of discussions slowed markedly as the year came to a close. A number of years later, of course, HP came along and bought Compaq and the situation had not changed. There was one significant difference however, that continues to this day – the Advocacy group cooperation. And it is recognized across HP as working well and making a contribution.

But in terms of attitudes, many of us on the board at the time, myself included, looked at all the time and effort Tony put into the dialogue as disappointing and draining. Tony finished the year totally exhausted and walked away from ITUG looking longingly at being able to spend time in the desert. Looking back on it all, Tony‘s efforts and the joint Advocacy activities that resulted, paved the road to the future.

Much has changed in the past year and my own attitude has changed 180 degrees. Deep down I am a pirate and deep down, I am a contrarian. It takes a lot to make me have a change of heart and to get me to consider another path. But so much has changed since Compaq’s time!

What is contributing to all of this “positive thinking” on my part?

I think the users group are happy to be a part of the HP world (no pun intended), and the new owner understands Enterprise Computing. On both sides, the people have changed: the new leadership is cooperating and listening to each other far more earnestly than I saw at any time before. Whereas the prospect of any meeting among the leadership back in 2000 always brought with it uncertainty and unease, today the leadership of each group has developed a camaraderie, and strong working knowledge of each others aspirations. There’s also a real awareness that working together and cooperating projects a stronger user “face” than can be achieved separately.

But there’s a lot more. It’s not just the people, but on the technology side, the product mix has changed too. With Itanium and with the product roadmaps based on Itanium servers HP clearly shows the commitment it is making to a multi-tiered product portfolio, where NonStop has a very major role to play. Under Compaq, the future of NonStop was never really well articulated – and neither was the future of VMS clear.

And the infrastructure and tools now coming from the ITUG vendor community support a lot more of the HP product suite than ever before. Wandering around the exhibitor booths at the last HPTF&E really reinforced how far many vendors had come along the road to cross-platform deployment and support.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the comments recently posted to my blog (“You can’t survive if you aint got jive ..” – October 17, ‘07) by Bill Highleyman, a former ITUG Chairman and whose commentary on the industry I always value. Go back and check it out – it’s a good observation. In it Bill opines “I have to admit that I was one of the supporters of keeping the ITUG Summits ‘pure.’ Back in the early 2000s … however, I must admit that the problems that faced us back then seem to have been pretty well solved. I thought that this year's Summit was a great improvement over Anaheim … but the advantages of sharing community across the product lines clearly showed, and I hope that the joint shows will learn from the past and get better in the future.”

I look back at all of these changes and it’s clear why the future for HP user groups looks good. I certainly see a very strong case being made in support of collocated and cooperative events. And I reflect back and ask myself – are the culture and our heritage, and the voices of those that have been around the user groups for a long time, now at odds with the new reality? Can I ignore these changes in latitude and changes in attitude? Shouldn’t I be trying really hard to work together to build something better?

As the chorus in Jimmy’s song belts out:

“It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”

Yes, I am a pirate, and yes I tack when others just stay the course – but over the years I have changed. I don’t drive as fast and I don’t party as much. And I do take time to listen to others points of view. Shouldn’t we all be encouraged with where we are now headed and with the increased opportunity these changes bring?

As for me, then yes, I am looking forward to it all. I try to stay on the sidelines, as much as possible, but the view I have right now suggests we are headed towards something a whole lot better. I may not be as rebellious, and I may not stay the distance at most receptions, but for sure, I am looking forward to a whole new alignment across the user community.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Busting Myths ...

I have spent an extended working weekend in Chicago. I have been appointed to another User Group board and am wrestling with many of the same topics I saw when on the ITUG board. The weather in Chicago was perhaps the best I have ever seen – three perfect fall days. The fall colors of the trees lining the river were pretty spectacular.

It reminded me very much of a fall trip I took recently in Colorado and the picture I have included here is of the Eastern approach to Independence Pass, the gateway to Aspen. The picture here is among my favorites, and from time to time I see it come up on my PC as my screen-saver pulls up pictures from a folder.

When I am in the major cities, I really do like to walk through galleries and admire the art. Whenever I am in London I stroll down Mayfair and when in Chicago, I head for Rush Street. The galleries I spend time in aren’t your usual high-profile tourist spots – and those familiar with London must be wondering what I am talking about.

But for me, the car dealers showrooms on Mayfair where once a McLaren F1 was a near-permanent exhibit, and where I can glimpse the latest Porsche’s, BMW’s, Aston Martins and other beauties, would never fail to get me to walk on down that street. In Chicago, there’s Gold Coast Bentley, recently upgraded to two levels and where the Lamborghini marque has been added to the regular stable of Bentley’s, Ferraris, Aston Martin’s and Salween’s, and once they even had a wonderful 8.0 Liter quad-turbocharged W16 1001 bhp Bugatti Veyron on display!

Chicago with beautiful fall vegetation, and great cars to admire and salivate over was at its very best.

The picture of the fall in Colorado does feature a 50th Annivsersary Corvette C5 Z06 – a great car. When compared to the cars of my colleagues, it barely gets a mention as talk turns to Mercedes Benz's, Porsche’s and Jaguars. And in Europe I get some pretty strange looks when I try to compare it with the better known super-cars. You see, there’s a terrible myth surrounding the car – it’s just an American muscle car that true performance fans wouldn’t really consider worthy of consideration alongside the current crop of high-performance exotics.

They are too heavy! They may be alright in a straight line, but they handle poorly! And they have no heritage, nothing that would find support among the well-heeled aristocracy! But is this really true – how do myths like this originate and how do they get propagated?.

When you look at a car like the Corvette, it has been manufactured for more than 50 years so it’s not all that new on the scene. Under the management of David Hill, Chevrolet worked very hard on both, the power delivery aspects as well as weight. It comes as a surprise to many that the car pictured weighed less than a Porsche 911 Turbo of the same year, and where horsepower and torque numbers were pretty identical.

But more importantly, in the difficult climate of one of the toughest endurance races on the calendar, the 24 hours of Le Mans, Corvette has taken its class 4 of the last 6 years – loosing once in2004 to a one-off special Ferrari; and then again, this year, to an extremely well-financed Aston Martin team. To put other cars behind it for all of these years, was a remarkable feat!

When I posted my blog “Bugs are Everywhere” and talked about the performance of SQL/MX, I received a comment that said “strapping an ‘Itanium’ rocket to an SQL/MX pig does NOT make it any sleeker”! And in a private email that wasn’t posted, one writer referred to SQL/MX with even less respect and called it “bloatware”! The sentiment was that it was just bad code.

But is it really? And what is good code? I had the opportunity recently to have an email exchange with Dave Finnie on this very topic. Dave is a gifted programmer at my previous company Insession and has contributed to a number of successful product developments – anyone running the ICE HPR-IP solutions is running a lot of Dave’s code. Dave believes good results can be obtained when code is readable, so that someone can fix it. When it’s understandable by any other coder, for the same reason. And when it works and performs as per spec – a bit of thought at the beginning of the project can make a huge difference! In other words, nothing really surprising here – pretty much what we would expect.

The perception of weight, or a heavy footprint, is always a concern. The decoupled nature of the GoldenGate TDM product has a source and a target component and we have always pursued a lightweight implementation for the source. In talking with my colleague Sami, to have any chance of keeping up in real time, you can’t add to the overhead of the source – the data has to get off the platform just as fast as you can shove it onto a link.

But nevertheless, in talking with Wendy Bartlett recently, she acknowledged that SQL/MX did have performance and stability problems in its first few releases. “We think that this has been mostly resolved in newer versions and that the problems at this point are more characteristic of what would be expected from making functional additions to the product.” Wendy added that another phenomenon that they saw was longstanding defects sometimes being exposed, for the first time, when the code meets a new application.

There is also the issue of how SQL/MX is accessed – is ODBC or JDBC involved? Are the applications, or indeed other infrastructure programs, accessing via these standard interfaces? There may be a potential for some performance related issues coming from these interfaces – and I for one, would really like to hear more from the community on this point.

But again, is the myth surrounding SQL/MX much the same as the myth around the Corvette? Has early examples of the product really tainted the expectations that much? I am not good enough these days to pull any code apart and check it all out – although I am sure others have.

When I bought the Corvette pictured above I emailed Chris Rooke and asked him what he thought. Chris is a very active and enthusiastic Porsche Turbo owner who actively races it on racetracks around the Western US. “There’s one that I race against and on some tracks I win, and on others he does. In terms of price performance, it’s a hard car to beat” was his response.

In the last days Hal Massey was on the Cupertino campus, and before he took up his new engineering position in Ft Collins, I just happened to notice a white Corvette in the parking lot. Yes, Hal is a very serious race-car driver and sure enough, he owns a Corvette.

Seeing both Chris and Hal, both of whom I seriously respected when it came to cars, providing such strong support for the car, made me feel a lot better. So then, why aren’t we all more aggressively pursuing the input of others who are now running SQL/MX in production? Why aren’t we spending more time engaged in sharing what we are doing – when I checked the ITUG SQL SIG Forum the last posting was dated mid 2006. Shouldn’t we be communicating more?

HP went to great lengths to get the “Mythbusters” from the Discovery Channel to blow-up one NonStop server complex to see how transparently and quickly the back-up data center took over – do we need to get them to bust the SQL/MX performance myth?

It was a lot of fun to watch the video and see the servers blown apart - but do we really need to see acts this dramatic to impress us? Are we waiting for something similar before we put an end to this myth?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The pull from twin stars ...

In my inbox, when I returned from Brighton, was an email from Fred Laccabue with a couple of good pictures – one of which I show here. This photo was taken towards the end of the European ITUG event following a period of cooler weather, overcast and wet. I didn’t see Fred take this picture but that afternoon, as I walked along the shorefront, I heard a number of cameras clicking away from the main pedestrian path elevated several feet above me.

I was looking out to sea and watching a number of yachts heading down the channel towards the Atlantic. There was a following sea and it reminded me very much of the old Crosby Stills, Nash and Young song “Southern Cross”, the opening few lines very appropriate for a sight as beautiful as this:

“ Got out of town on a boat goin’ to Southern islands
Sailing a reach before a followin’ sea”

When I was much younger, I did a lot of competitive sailing in and around Sydney harbor. I did an offshore event and saw the sun and set over the coastline of Australia with much the same coloring as in this photo and it was something I have always remembered. I don’t sail anywhere near as often these days spending most of my time in airplanes. But even from the window of today’s jets, I have seen a lot of sights.

Returning to Hong Kong from London, in the early ‘80s, I had the chance to fly with Cathay Pacific at a time they were the sole carrier allowed to fly over mainland China and to approach the old airport in Hong Kong from the West. Late in the flight, we passed the Himalaya mountain range and, at the time, I had the shades drawn as I tried to rest up. But the pilot suggested we might want to take a look as it was bathed in early evening light. I threw up the blinds and was staggered.

I have flown over the Sierras and the Rockies. I have flown over the Alps. I have looked down on snow-covered mountain tops and seen the scattering of villages and roads. But never before or after have I looked out an aircraft window to see mountains right next to me. Flying above 30,000 feet and seeing a mountain range that pushed up to about the same height, was another sight I will always remember.

There has been many other occasions, while flying at night, when I have seen other sights. I have seen the Northern Lights putting on a dazzling display – and even though I have flown the Arctic routes many times, I have only seen it once. The night San Francisco 49ers were beating up on San Diego in the SuperBowl!

I have seen the Milky Way from the flight-deck of a 747 – and I suspect I will never get the chance to do that ever again. While on the flight-deck that time, a guest of a captain I once knew, I saw the Southern Cross come into view and again, to pick up a later verse in that same song:

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way”

I should be home in Boulder later this week. Ball Aerospace is a Boulder company and they built the Hubble Space Telescope that was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1990. After some initial technical hitches, this space telescope began to beam back some amazing pictures from deep space. Of the pictures that they released, it was those of giant twin stars that really intrigued me. There were a lot more of them – even triple and quad groupings – than I had thought existed.

For those of you who recall the first Star Wars film (Episode IV), you may recall that Luke Skywalker lived on a planet orbiting two suns where the double sunsets were a spectacular sight. Twin suns exhibit some pretty interesting gravitational effects – pulling very large bodies into their orbits, while over millions of years kicking many, often smaller planets, out into the depths of deep space.

And I had to wonder whether we can see a similar situation, just like in deep space, when we look at the technology today.

In much of the research I have been doing over the past few months, two topics have really begun to dominate – security and what is often referred to as the environment, or the “Greening of the Data Center”! No other subjects, within the IT community, are attracting nearly as much attention as these two with each movement spawning a whole cadre of disciples. Yes, we are all aware of the movement to support applications and data as services, and we are all engaged in making sure we survive disasters both natural and man-made – but the impact on our data centers from these two movements seems the most profound.

It was once said by an executive at Sabre, when he was asked about putting the majority of their systems in one place and underground, I believe, that his preference was to have all his eggs in one basket and to watch that basket very carefully. And so it is these days when it comes to security, there’s a very strong argument that can be made in support of this philosophy. Putting all your critical enterprise data under the management of today’s very large mainframe-like servers and surrounding them with a many-layered fabric of security, holds a lot of merit.

Likewise, the server consolidation we are witnessing – even by the major vendors, like HP and IBM, has everything to do with getting on top of the energy bills. Designing data centers with the right balance of power and cooling characteristics is a whole lot easier with today’s modern packaging options. Whether bladed architectures, or the more special-purpose “books” as IBM refers to them in System z or “the blade element” layers that we see with some of HPs NonStop systems, the complete package that results has far better power consumption and cooling needs than come with throwing together arbitrary racks of servers and storage.

Together, security and the environment are dominating much of the discussions of data center managers. Not addressing these issues carries very stiff price penalties, both legislated and de-facto. No manager wants to be accused of wastage or leakage. No manager wants to stand and face the glare from these twin stars.

There is lots of media coverage on both of these subjects, and information about them liberally populates many web sites. But for me, the question always comes back to the dynamics of the pull and push effects on our data center, as we first distribute and then centralize. We empower our department users and then we pull it all back again. And over the years there have been very sound economic reasons in support for each directional change.

I have to sympathise with data center managers - security, the environment, and the changes that they lead to. Perhaps nowhere else in the corporation are the ramifications more visible, often leading to the creation of new data centers. In a previous posting I launched into the issue of security and shortly, I will take a closer look at environmental issues, but for now I will continue to maintain a dialogue with the data center management community and watch where this takes us.

But with the emergence of these two giants, security and environment, I will be surprised to see any hesitancy, on the part of data center managers, on staying on top of requirements. After all, the glare from these twins may pale in significance when compared to the lights of the media should we give control back to the departments…. and fail!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You can't survive if you ain't got drive …

I have just returned from a successful European ITUG event. But the picture on the left was taken at the SATUG event earlier this year and I was reminded of it by some of the comments made by the ITUG leadership. You will see Scott Healy, ITUG Chairman, and me banging away on drums, along with all of the other SATUG attendees, and looking back it occurred to me that perhaps we were drumming to a different beat. Oh well.

Seated to my left is a colleague of mine, Anthony. He is a South African and like me, has elected to settle in the US. Anthony’s world has just turned upside down – he’s become the father of twins and anyone who knows dad’s in similar situations knows that life will never again be the same. But for South African’s all over the world, even with new families, there’s only one thing on their minds right now – the Rugby World Cup.

While living in Australia I had different shirts for summer and winter. In summer my shirt simply said “I support the Australian cricket team, and anyone playing England” while my winter shirt was even blunter, declaring “I support Australia, and anyone playing NZ”!

Well, who was to predict that both Australia and NZ would come up short and not even make it to the semi-finals. So here I am, along with Anthony, and Jay McLaughlin I suspect, cheering for the South African Springboks!

True, England are the current World Champions, winning the title last time around. But as everyone knows, it was a fluke, and the only time a Northern Hemisphere country has ever won the trophy. I hate to disappoint Neil Pringle, head of NonStop sales in EMEA but, this time around, it’s anyone but England to win the Rugby World Cup! With a South Africa win, as I expect, then for many of us the status quo will be maintained.

It was while I was thinking about the status quo that I thought of the English rock group Status Quo. Early on in their career they were known as Traffic Jam but had to reinvent themselves as Steve Winwood's Traffic took off and became popular. While the group emerged in the mid ‘60s, it was in ’99 that they recorded a song where one verse started out:

“Living isn't easy, feeling bright and breezyEverybody has to try …”

And where the chorus kicks in with:

“That's the way it goes, oh everybody knowsThat you can't survive if you ain't got drive …”

In these words, written some thirty years after the group first formed, you could really get the sense that adapting to the changes in their industry, of pushing boundaries, was very important to the group. And they did survive, and they are still performing today!

Returning from the Euro ITUG, it reminded me of a couple of points Scott made during the event. Looking back to the days when Tandem was an independent entity, ITUG was “the” user group – but today, as part of HP, it’s “one of many” user groups. Not only is it now one of many, but it also finding itself in a competitive position up against a number of very well organized vendor marketing events. Yes, HP has every right to put on these marketing events, to best showcase its own product suites – but they are less about what users do with existing systems and more about what’s just over the horizon.

But today, no organization is a Tandem-only installation, or even a HP-only site. The users of today’s NonStop servers are part of a heterogeneous computing world, interoperating with servers from many vendors. The days of hardware silos are over and, most likely, will never come back. As Scott remarked, “IT shops are multiplatform today, and we all have to deal with inter-platform issues like interoperability, the integration of data, and an almost constant world of migrations”.

The leadership of ITUG is aware of these major sea-changes. They have been observing for some time now how user groups have fallen behind the industry, as they maintain their focus on a very narrow core technology element (our historical differentiation?) at a time when volunteer leadership just doesn’t have the bandwidth to diversify and broaden its focus. As the song says so simply, “you can't survive if you ain't got drive”!

User groups emerged at a time when platforms were unique, and where innovation was important to everyone involved. The community that developed was highly focused on getting the best out of the platform and wanted to see what other users were doing.

While I don’t miss the proprietary nature of these earlier systems and, like most of you, welcome today’s open systems, I am not sure we now have the same sense of belonging we once had. We used to be very proud of ourselves, as we squeezed the very best from our platform-of-choice. But as participation in user-driven events begins to wane, and the number of regional meetings declines, have we the energy to re-invent ourselves?

Earlier this year, the ITUG board elected to proactively support the HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) and to share center stage with Encompass as well as with HP. I’m not completely sure, but perhaps the Encompass president, the lovely Nina Buik, charmed us! But whatever, it represented a major milestone for ITUG and the door was left open for others to join. With time, I think these user groups, including Vivit (formerly OpenView Forum International) may choose to participate as well.

As the event wound down, even those initially opposed to the changes and who had wanted to see the exercise fail, were very pleased with the event and didn’t want to go back to the old ways of the past. User’s wanted to bring their senior management, and vendors who had been investing in cross-platform solutions were very pleased to see the bigger audience.

There’s no question in my mind that there exists an underserved community, within our user groups, very interested in enterprise level subjects. Reaching out to the architects and technical leadership responsible for gluing all the bits together, and coming up with something just as reliable and available as systems in our past, is just one area where our heritage suggests we can provide value. Our SIGs could easily step up and fill this void but we would have to be comfortable broadening our scope to include more than one platform and more than one operating system. It will be a challenge but we need to keep the dialogue open and we can’t rule out accommodating changes like this.

Every visionary, no matter what community or business they are part of, faces the nay sayers, happy with the status quo. It is sometimes very hard to move forward and make the tough calls when some prefer the closed nature of the group.

I have seen this happen across a number of user groups – as we all age, we show preferences for the “private club” experience and dislike being forced out of our comfort zone. Deeper into the community you find some who don’t even want us to introduce new content or push for new themes and focus areas, preferring simple repetition of topics they themselves know so well. Change is very unsettling for many of us.

But we have to try! We either adapt to our environment or we fade into oblivion. Darwin’s theory is no more pervasive then in corporate life – and in case we forget, user groups are a business exposed to the same lifecycles.

We have to keep pushing, or we will cease to be relevant. The lifecycle of corporations, of technology, of products is all about adapting. The principles are so well known to us all. So, as we listen to the messages coming from the leadership of ITUG, we need to really understand that we only have a couple of options. As Scott added late in the event, “we can adapt with technology, and with the industry, or hold the course and disappear over time”!

Holding the course, maintaining the status quo, resisting change, never wins out. Even private clubs eventually fold and disappear. As for me, I have a passion for user groups and I am looking forward to embracing a far bigger community and working with folks sharing my interests!

And who knows, maybe against all odds, England wins the Rugby world cup this weekend and, in upsetting the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses, once again smashes through the status quo. Neil, can you get me another shirt for winter? You know, something with an English rose on it?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bugs are everywhere ....

I caught up with Chis Rooke on the way over to Brighton for the Euro ITUG event and we shared the same flight into Heathrow. Chris was already showing the first signs of the flue and he was quick to put distance between himself and anybody else as he didn’t want to spread the germs.

As any traveler can tell you, getting any cold virus or a flue is the last thing you need! Early this year, while at SATUG, I managed to catch the bug. Out of desperation I overdosed on medication mixtures, and thought I was going to die! I still don’t recall much of the closing evening river cruise.

Seeing Chris again reminded me of one of our earliest meetings some 15 years back – in Nice back in 1992. I was a Program Manager working out of Tandem Cupertino and had been working on NonStop NET/MASTER – indeed it was at this event where we first demonstrated working code.

But my time with Chris in Nice was on a different topic completely. I was interviewing with him for a new job in his marketing team, and on my return, elected to join Chris’s team and my career path within Tandem was to start down an entirely new track…

My first assignment was to work on NonStop Availability concept marketing rollout. The platform de jour was a K Series, if you still remember these…

Fast forward: to the last day of the European event where I moderated an early morning session that was an SQL Survey Follow-Up. Essentially, itself a follow on to earlier discussions by the SQL SIG, it was chaired by Klara Franko with support from Tim Keefauver of HP NonStop Product Management.

The session was going over the results from a survey last year and was reviewing a number of action items that had been generated. HP Product Management had developed responses for them and all was going pretty well.

That is, until Klara brought up the slides on performance and suggested to the audience that the less than ideal performance being delivered was probably closely related to the undisputed fact that SQL/MX was designed to support Decision Support Systems (DSS) rather than the traditional OLTP environments where Enscribe and SQL/MP were more often found.

Well, nothing in this world is more guaranteed to grab the attention of a product manager than when someone tells him his product has performance issues! Considering that we are talking now about a product running on Itanium, and an order (and more) of magnitude better performing than anything on the K Series… I even felt nostalgic, for a moment.

To his credit, Tim remained composed but quietly rose and turned to the audience. “Before we go on, I need to clarify a point just made – it wasn’t on the slide, but the comments just made about the performance, and indeed the categorization, of the SQL/MX product are just plain wrong”!

Yes, there were some bugs in the code and it had some early performance issues, particularly with simple SQL requests where older versions appeared to be much faster. And yes, the original code base for SQL/MX was developed back in the days of ServerWare (later NonStop Software), as part of a planned move into the NT space, in support of data warehouses. But to relate early releases of the product with “what we ship today, was unfair” added Tim.

I was sitting next to Sam Ayres – and Sam took it upon himself to point out that there was definitely a perception in the user community that SQL/MX was a different product and that it was more DSS-centric than the previous OLTP-centric offerings. Indeed, wasn’t SQL/MX the base for all the Neoview efforts – didn’t the Neoview team build their offering directly on top of SQL/MX?

Now it was on – blame everything on Neoview! I could just see the first drifts of steam coming, ever so faintly, off of Tim! How had this perception developed? Where had this myth originated?

The fact that today, the Neoview team have developed a pretty good data warehouse offering from SQL/MX had nothing to do with its original design center. The fact that it had some connection with the very early efforts by the ServerWare team was of no consequence. Developers working on SQL/MX today are completely aware of the demands of OLTP, and as best as I can tell, 80 to 90 percent of deployments are in support of OLTP applications.

Sam turned to me, and said “I just wonder how we could all have fallen for this misperception! How did that happen!” I voiced my own opinion here, as I too had been in some of the user meetings where this sentiment had been expressed. I had connected the dots myself, and had wondered for some time whether the SQL/MX project was floored for the prevailing OLTP user.

“So Tim, our understanding here is all wrong then?” Sam threw back at Tim.

Fortunately for Tim, Wolfgang Breidbach, a large German user of the new Integrity NonStop server, was able to point out that performance had improved significantly and that they were having no problems with SQL/MX usage within their OLTP applications. Could it be improved? Yes, of course! But for now, it was working fine.

In remarks he made during the final Q and A session, Randy Meyer pointed out that there was a lot of investment being made in NonStop infrastructure and tools. Security, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), and Data Base were the three big areas for him. SQL/MX was just that important for NonStop. These were all areas of importance to NonStop users and fitted well with the evolving open, industry-standard, messages now coming from HP.

Perhaps this is not the best way to open a dialogue on data base and the related subject, business intelligence (BI), and the road SQL/MX is travelling, but I will return to these topics often in future postings. Data base, whether in support of transactions as an operational data base or in support of corporate information in a data warehouse, as well as BI, are important infrastructure componenets that benefit greatly from being deployed on the NonStop platform. Something many of us overlook, with the history of NonStop so closely aligned with transaction processing, but becoming increasingly important for the future of NonStop.

I didn’t catch up with Chris as the event concluded but I can only assume he is a lot better now. I didn’t catch his flue and I don’t appear to come anywhere near being close to death from the flue bug he had. It’s uncomfortable at the time, but we all seem to get through these bouts with colds and the flue. And I am pretty sure it’s the same with SQL/MX – it may have had some bugs, and some of us have had issues, but for most of us, it looks like it’s on the mend and definitely showing good improvement.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The artists among us ...

This past weekend at Brighton was one of the best in a long time, weather wise, according to the locals, and a lot nicer than I had been expecting. The last time I had visited Brighton was very late in December 1975, and it was pretty dreadful.

On Sunday there was a charity motorcycle gathering and a couple of us took a little downtime from the preparations for the ITUG event to walk through the bikes and exhibits. I have no idea how many bikes finished up participating, but there had to be more than 1,000, by my estimates.

What caught my eye was the mix and variety of the community. There were the customary groups of mechanics and engine technicians. There were the craftsmen working on leather saddlebags, cases, and clothing, and there were the artists who treated metal, wires, and paint as just different components with which to sculpture. The art works on display were amazing! No question, some of today’s reality shows on TV have contributed enormously to the general public’s interest in all things custom-bike related.

In case you wondering about the connection here with the photo displayed at the top – for those that may not be aware, our incoming Chairman for 2009 just happens to like riding her own motorcycle. Cruising through the Rockies, particularly during the fall, is one way to relax. And yes, that’s me, pumping gas and checking out the bikes.

As I left the Brighton bike show and exhibition, I remember reading a draft data sheet from another company I work with – Fujitsu. I like the direction they are taking, electing to augment their RISC technology (SPARC) with Itanium. Their new PrimeQuest line was being introduced to the marketplace, and their marketing machine was getting firmly behind the Intel Itanium family of chips. As they talked about the data bases they supported, and how customers could migrate to them, they observed how in “quick time, numerous advances have been made in the data base art”!

I have to say, I can’t recall ever seeing anything previously to do with software called out as art. But then again, is anything precluded from being viewed as art these days? Are the more gifted of today’s architects, developers, and operators any less entitled to being called artists than any other group in our society? Today’s gifted motorcycle mechanics and technicians are certainly taking pride in the custom bikes they produce!

Is the operator who instinctively knows what actions to take, at precisely the right time, and pursuing a sequence of commands many of us struggle to comprehend, any less an artist than the conductor of our best symphonies? Are the forward-thinking product designers any less artistic than the fashion designers of Milan or Paris? And are our programmers any different from the custom motorcycle builders we so often see on TV?

I had been in a conversation with Andy Hall just recently on a related topic, so when I asked him whether he thought artists were among our ITUG membership, he responded “I would absolutely agree that those who ‘get it’ will approach their design objective holistically, as an artist might approach a canvas or a sculptor would approach a stone. And then, once ‘in the zone’ they can achieve great things.”

Andy then went on to remind me that for some of us, “what drew us to this industry during its infancy was uncharted processes and lack of a rule book.” The freedom to pursue all options and to have no real judges mandating any one approach was something I recall as being a part of the attraction of IT in the early days.

As I have looked at some of today’s data center schematics describing in minute detail the complexities of the interfaces between servers, storage, and communications paths – I can’t imagine how much time would be involved if ever we had to poor over them to figure out what we had to do next to fix a problem. Time alone, checking things out from scratch, could produce additional side issues and compound the problem.

Wil Marshman of HP Cupertino responded to me after I pushed him a little on this point “I think you are on to something with regard to pattern recognition – we may not create art with our complex data centers, but we are more effective ‘runners of them’ if we have strong pattern recognition skills. It’s not a matter of just using your left brain logic skills; the complexity needs advanced right brain skill for us to understand and even appreciate the complexity.”

But are any of our technicians really artists? As my good friend and colleague Sami Akbay pointed out “is the mechanic who rebuilds the carburetor on an antique car an artist, or artisan? Or is he just a mechanic? The answer may be in the eye of the beholder!”

Earlier this year my wife and I visited the Hearst Castle up on the Pacific Coast Highway where the road heads north into Big Sur. What intrigued us both was that between Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, there developed a great relationship where the sum of the parts way exceeded what each could have done on their own. Hearst would wave his hands and describe something he had seen, and then proceed to outline what he thought could be appropriate. Morgan would figure it out and go to embellish it in a way that the final rendering would turn out to be close to magical! Hearst certainly considered Morgan an artist!

The thought of teams like this made me recall an earlier email exchange with Neil Coleman, the chief architect I worked with back at Insession. He commented “I certainly think there is a degree of art in many ideas and concepts that we have seen come and go in the technology space. Perhaps creativity or even ‘left field approach’ to problem solving is more accurate. However, once we dive into ‘implementation’ then the science does (and should) take over. We have the artist recognizing and promoting ideas and concepts. To do the implementation though, you want someone like a scientist. Then there are the middlemen that bridge the two. A successful company needs both extremes, as well as the management in the middle, to work well together”

I view the concept of teams as a very important and believe that we all need to be aware of the emergence of true artists in our field. As we build teams, as we solicit new ideas, as we weigh our next steps – we need to make sure that the voices of our artists are heard. They may not be the loudest, and they may not be the most popular – but these artists have the knowledge and ability to get us onto paths we may never have thought about at all! And above all, we need to recognize and nurture them as we just can’t afford to see their talents being lost or directed elsewhere.

At this year’s HPTF in Las Vegas we all took a good look at the custom bike HP had the folks at Orange County Choppers (OCC) build for them. I have to admit, I did see the episode on TV where the OCC team sweated the details. Working in the blue coloring really bothered them as they didn’t like it; but together, they figured out a pretty creative solution with creative use of lights.

For many years, I have observed many in our vocation that have transitioned beyond the level of just a programmer, just a business analyst, or just an operator. In each discipline there are those individuals who, as highly skilled technicians, have made the progression to artisans and indeed, have become artists from my perspective. Gifted IT folks do “sweat the details” just as any artist does!

When you look inside your own organization, do you see this as well? Do you have an artist, or an artisan, on your staff? And aren’t you glad that they are around!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don’t change my toys!

I had this picture taken as it really shows me in my “other office” – 15A. As most of you have figured out by now, I spend a lot of time out of the office – at events, seminars, and with clients. I am more at home over a coffee table these days, with a writing pad, sketching out configurations, than doing just about anything else.

I have arrived in Brighton for the Euro ITUG event and if you take a closer look at this photo you may recognize that this is one of the newer models of the blackberry PDA. But what I don’t think you will be able to tell is that it’s not the one I usually use. I had to borrow it from my wife, as I had left my PDA / Phone on the kitchen counter-top.

Some of you have commented in your emails to me that it looks like I am loosing weight – and yes, it’s true. Probably in another blog posting I will get into the background for this – but it’s enough to know that I had to change belts before I left on this trip. The exercise of replacing the belt, literally as I was walking out the door, meant that I walked out of the house without the blackberry. I am now out of the country with no PDA and no phone!

I am extremely grateful that my wife is letting me use her blackberry but any time you are presented with a new device, the first thing that hits you is the human interface. Even without a change of manufacturers, using an “upgraded” device doesn’t always translate into something you’re familiar with, or find easy to use. My wife watched in frustration as I had at it, banging away at different function keys muttering all the time “this thing is a pain”! Followed usually by “why couldn’t they just leave it the way it was”!

On the other hand, accessing the web today is incredibly simple as the browser interface has become ubiquitous. Why doesn't business follow this model more aggressively? Why can't all data be accessed via services as easy to learn as is supported by applications on the web?

I retreated to the hotel foyer for coffee and to watch the sidewalk; Brighton is a very popular tourist destination for the English. Next door to the hotel is the Brighton Conference Center where we will be holding the ITUG event. The Center is used throughout the year for exhibitions and concerts. Last night the Scottish comedian, Billy Connelly, was performing. I didn’t see the show but I recalled seeing billboards promoting his upcoming appearance.

Sitting having coffee, slightly elevated above the hotel entrance and just watching pedestrians passing by, I had a good view of all that was going on. Well, to my surprise Billy steps out and walks around to a new Supercharged Range Rover. The full-size one – and it was a loaner! This became pretty obvious, as he had someone lean in through the passenger-side window and walk him through the functions of all the controls. Instructions followed on how to adjust the climate controls, change the radio station, and key in destinations on the navigation screen.

Billy tried his best to follow – but didn’t give me any confidence that it was sinking in. It was hilarious just watching the level of his frustration rise. Finally, Billy just drove off, but I could tell he wasn’t confident that he could stay warm, listen to his music, or find his way back!

While my frustrations over using a different PDA probably weren’t as big an issue as Billy’s trying to use all the “enhanced features” found in today’s modern cars – it makes me begin to wonder. Has ease-of-use become over-engineering abuse? Have the folks in charge of simplifying our lives fallen in love with the engineering itself, and have our perceived needs to be entertained overridden important basic functions? I want to make a phone call! I just want to drive the car!

Before I joined GoldenGate I was engaged at my previous employer at looking at open source usage, and whether the company could standardize on just one open source “stack”, or framework. Following a number of acquisitions, as well as the move to languages like Java and C++, the company found itself with developers using a collection of different tools and frameworks. Theses developers were a pretty decent lot, but it was getting tough for even the best of them to adjust to the peculiarities that are inherent with each framework they came up against. Standardizing on just one would surely make their lives a lot better!

As I looked at the options, it quickly became obvious to me that there was no easy answer – each framework brought with it different sets of problems. There were licensing issues – GPL, LGPL, ASL, etc. There were different OS requirements – moving outside of Linux opened a whole truckload of issues. And finding support for all the different file structures and data bases in use across the company product line turned out to be extremely difficult.

Programmers are comfortable working with frameworks they have used for some time. When they first encounter a new platform the first thing they check out is the tools and frameworks that it supports. The learning curve is considerable before you can get the full value from any tool or framework – productivity gains come with the experience of constant re-use. Since you know an environment, and how to wring the most from it, there are occasions where you overlook a platform simply because it doesn’t support the tools and frameworks with which you are most comfortable.

The frameworks that are familiar to the graduates coming out of school often aren’t an option for the NonStop platform. Sure, you can mandate that development will use .NET or a Java model like Eclipse – but today, many packages we look at pre-requisite a framework running on the target server itself. The third party is familiar with them and their support organizations depend on them. Enthusiasm for that platform can then wane quickly.

Billy is not only a funny comic but he’s pretty smart as well, and for him to struggle as he did was something to see! Just as I was uncomfortable with a different PDA, Billy wrestled with the complexities he found in today’s modern car, and so it is that most of us take time to figure out how to use a tool or leverage a framework. Shouldn’t we be spending our time addressing the requirements of our business more than re-working our code? Shouldn’t our NonStop servers be transparent to the graduates out of school wanting to develop solutions?

I just want to drive the car! I just want to be warm and listen to my music. And I really want to be able to get back! Do I really need to master a new interface and be restricted in what I can do because of a car’s layout and the knowledge that’s needed to sort through all the nuances that each manufacturer has developed?

Why is it that the more we try to be clever, the more our execution ends up being dumb! It’s time we worked harder on pushing our systems back behind simplified, more broadly-accepted industry-standard frameworks so that we can bring the NonStop server into play and to address our business problems!

There is much anticipation that with web services and increased support of Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) the interface into any application, even those running on NonStop, will be greatly simplified. The ease with which we navigate the web, and retrieve data today, should be replicated across all business environments and in so doing, help dummies like me get to what I need to see.

I just want to be doing my job, and not spend time getting familiar with yet another set of tools, particularly one that is unlikely to be found anywhere else!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The club at the end of the street …

Last weekend I had the pleasure of entertaining a number of visitors. I had Lyman Lundquist of IBM up from Austin, and he was a lot of fun. I also had Peter Shell of ACI, and newly appointed to the position of IT Director for Asia Pacific, as well as Brad Poole, a longtime colleague from my days at Tandem.

While we were waiting for Peter and Brad to arrive, Lyman looked me squarely in the eye and said, “so, you like that little restaurant La Grillade in Crows Nest do you? And you used to spend a lot of time there!” I have only just recently returned from Sydney and had spent one evening there with a good friend Dieter Monch, the former Managing Director of Nixdorf Computer in Australia, but how did Lyman know about my tastes in restaurants? “And I have a good friend who just visited me and who says he knows you, and believes you have been going there since the ‘80s!”

There was a time back in the late 70s where I had a small software company called EDOS Australia. Focused on the IBM mainframe, we licensed an alternate IBM operating system, EDOS, to small mainframe users at a time when IBM provided the DOS operating system for free. My offices were right next door to La Grillade and, with the arrival of wireless phones I found that if I extended the aerial of the phone’s base out the window, there was enough range for me to run my company while seated in the restaurant’s courtyard.

Located at the business end of Alexander Street, La Grillade was pretty much the club at the end of the street. And for years, the hustle and bustle of my office that my customers could clearly identify was really the noise of patrons arriving at their tables. EDOS Australia was acquired by Nixdorf Computer at the time they entered into the IBM Plug Compatible Mainframe business – and it was Kim Brebach, the Manager of Nixdorf for the state of New South Wales, who first referred to me as the “legend in his own lunchtime”!

This is the restaurant where I first tasted Henschke’s Hill of Grace, perhaps the finest Shiraz wine going, and where one night Andre, the restaurant owner, (finding himself suddenly short-handed) yelled, “Richard, could you look after the bar for me tonight?” And I had never tended bar in my life! A good part of my life spent there was with my good friend Kevin McCormack and together, we built a pretty good software business.

Now, following Lyman’s comments, I was really curious. Turns out Lyman had been explaining my present employer’s products to his good friend, a fellow Australian. “You don’t happen to have heard of Richard?” Lyman asked.

“Know him, of course I do and we were good friends a long time ago. Why don’t you ask him about La Grillade?” It turned out that Lyman had been talking with Paul Matthews – a highly respected software entrepreneur I had known a long time ago!

From a well-known line, straight out of Muriel's Wedding, “What a coincidence!” Paul was someone I hadn’t really been in touch with for more than 20 years.

But it gets even better. After I emailed Paul to let him know how surprised I was to hear of him after such a long time, Paul was in for a surprise himself. He began to explain the story to his partner, Georgina Georghiou only to hear her say “not Richard Buckle? I worked with him at a container shipping company back in 1972!”

What a coincidence – I hadn’t been in touch with Georgina for close to 35 years!

As we continued with dinner Lyman, Peter, and Brad we all found that our lives crossed on many levels. Brad came to Tandem after working for Rolm and where, at the time IBM purchased Rolm, he had worked on the NetView/PC network management gateway product. Peter had come to InSession after years working at John Robinson’s NET/MASTER company, and John was another business colleague who I had entertained on many occasions at La Grillade. It was over lunch there that John first told me about the potential to take NET/MASTER to NonStop! Both Brad and Peter were involved in the NonStop NET/MASTER development and now both work for ACI!

As the food kept coming and as the wine flowed, I couldn’t help thinking about all of these coincidences. Dieter, who I had dinner with the last time I was at La Grillade only a few weeks back, sent his boys to the same school as John Robinson. Honestly, I thought I could hear the familiar lines from that Golden Earring song “slipping into the twilight zone” coming from somewhere!

But is anything really a coincidence these days? Is it any coincidence that HP and IBM are electing to collapse their hundreds of servers down to a much smaller number? Is it a coincidence that the platform of choice for both vendors happens to be servers that many in the industry sometimes refer to as legacy? Have we all missed something here?

Is it a coincidence that in the small continent of Australia we all knew each other, and continue to meet in various places as our professional lives develop? Is it a coincidence that in the relatively small marketplace of HP NonStop and IBM mainframes we keep meeting with the same people, only in different roles?

It’s no secret that at the core of Randy Mott’s consolidation program are new variations of NonStop while at IBM it is the System z. These are very big servers and capable of reliably handling enormous workloads. But they aren’t Unixes and they aren’t NTs. Yes, there are elements of Linux in there – probably more so with the IBM approach at this time – but key data bases are running on more traditional zOS and NSK operating systems.

It’s also no coincidence that HP and IBM are so strongly promoting the TCO characteristics of these larger systems. In today’s world of consolidation and concerns over the environment, nothing rivals these large packages in financial or energy terms. It is just no coincidence that we have both vendors so focused on these systems.

We finished dinner early Sunday morning and as we left, I was thinking about my past. I have enjoyed working for two decades in the IBM world, and I have enjoyed working for almost two decades in the NonStop world. I see roles for both of them, and I know where I would prefer to deploy each.

An IBM mainframe can be configured to be almost fault tolerant, but it never quite makes it to NonStop levels of fault tolerance. A NonStop can be set up to run a mixed batch and transactional workload, but I am not sure I would ever want to take out an IBM mainframe and run NonStop on this basis alone.

Bladed architecture is on the horizon but I can’t say I see IBM going down this path with the mainframe quite yet, remaining very much tied to its “book” packaging – but is it any coincidence that we are seeing server packaging beginning to look so similar?

In the end, is it any coincidence that both platforms are finding a whole new cadre of supporters? Can any of us not wonder at the strangeness that, with all that has been happening with software, we continue to rely on platforms like these? On the other hand, there must be many data center managers a lot happier as a result of these decisions by HP and IBM. There's nothing more encouraging that seeing your primary vendor vocally pursuing strategies similar to those already determined as being the best approach for meeting future corporate IT needs.

Perhaps there are no coincidences at all and what we are seeing is just the results of what we, as users, have been influencing with our purchasing decisions. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a natural response to meeting the requirements we have raised. I can’t say I’m certain either way but can only observe that after almost decades, there’s a real sense of familiarity to it all. What a coincidence!