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!


Anonymous said...

"Henschke’s Hill of Grace, perhaps the finest Shiraz wine going...."

To also quote Muriel's Wedding - "you're terrible, Richard" Now I have to find that wine.....


RT Writer said...

Yes, and just when you thought Penfold's Grange was the best. Hill of Grace can be hard to find as they don't produce a whole lot - many times it exceeds the quality of Grange. But no, don't expect to find it at bargain prices or at Trader Joe's any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Are you implying I only buy my wine at TJs? *appalled look* :)

RT Writer said...

Not at all my dear! But you know, just in case you popped in for groceries and wanted to scan the shelves.

On the other hand, if one of you highly satisfied clients should take you out and price is no obstacle, see if its on the wine list!

Anonymous said...

Great memories of the "club" and our "EDOS" business which probably really stood for "Everyday Dining Outside" ! :-)

Good read mate!

Kevin Mc

RT Writer said...

Kevin! been a long time - as I recall, you were the only person I know who actually sold wine back to a restaurant.

Seriously, I never considered EDOS had that meaning but for us both, back in those days before Fringe Benefits Tax - it was a lot of fun!

Graeme said...

Ah, La Grillade. The crucible of many an Aussie IT idea. The meeting place of all the movers and shakers of the early days of Aussie IT. I've probably been going there the best part of 30 years myself.

I'm still a sometime computer journalist in Oz - been doing it since 83 - and I have had many long and pleasant meals there. Indeed, I'm pretty sure i first met Richard over a bottle of red (I'm sure it wasn't a Hill of Grace) at that very place.

Now I've got a little market research company (www.connectionresearch.com.au), and I find my office is a couple of minute's walk away. Coincidence? I think not.

- Graeme Philipson

RT Writer said...

Picked this up under the "Introduction" comments, but really, it belongs here ..

Kim said...
It was a time for great legends, Richard, thanks for the nostalgia.

They were the days: IBM-compatible mainframes made in Israel, rebadged in Germany, sold in Canberra and celebrated at a French restraurant in Crows Nest.


October 3, 2007 8:42 PM

TonyB said...

Jennie and I were at La Grillade in July - which was just before we left on our current trip. We're currently sitting under an awning at Burketown on the Gulf of Carpenteria and communicating via a laptop (actually on my lap) courtesy of Telstra's NextG wireless broadband.

This trip has been our longest and we've crossed the Simpson Desert and the Tanami Desert and been as far west as Broome. Tomorrow we are going fishing for Barramundi with a local guy whos'e promised us success. After that we start heading home and should be there by the end of the month.

Anonymous said...

It is delightful to see so many have commented on wine and food. At least, you have your priorities right.

But, to Richard's point, it is all familiar, but to me from a mirrored perspective.

In the days of IBM and the BUNCH (how many remember that phrase), each vendor had his own approach to computers. Since they were so expensive, everything was monolithic, and system-to-system communication was unthinkable, one picked a vendor and went with them. Usually, it was IBM because "noone is ever fired for choosing IBM."

Then, slowly, UNIX popped on the scene as did PCs. Still vendors tried to differentiate themselves with different operating systems as well as different hardware.

This led to the UNIX wars of the 80's and 90's and the Apple vs. Microsoft battle still waging.

Then consolidation occurred and vendors faced a different problem. They have PCs to sell; they have Unix boxes to sell; they have mainframes to sell. How do they tie them together for a solution to sell?

Anyone can build a Microsoft-based machine, but where are the margins in a commodities product, and who wants to tie their future to an outside vendor? Anyone can build a Unix box, but how do we communicate/distribute to all those desktops? And, now, to add to the confusion is this iPhone thing.

Yes, we're are seeing the same thing, but vendor diffentiation is no longer determined by the uniqueness of a platform, but by the availability of solutions in a heterogeneous environment.

Palmer King