Friday, November 9, 2007

Want to be my partner?

I have just arrived in Amsterdam, having spent a few days in sunny Cupertino and San Francisco to find that in Europe, right now, it's bloody cold!

This morning I awoke to a mixture of freezing rain and hail! Not only that, but the storm front I have been told about, is battling with the barriers that surround Holland - yes, they' re holding, but not since the 1950s has this much attention been given to the engineering efforts that are keeping this country "alive". Where else can you play golf below sea level, my colleague Andre reminded me today, but sometimes nature reminds us of the "practical" realities a country like Holland faces every day. No, this is not reality TV!

I am on my way up to the Baltic where I will be joining VNUG / FinTUG for the ferry ride between Stockholm and Helsinki, and I am looking forward to a very warm reception, no matter what the weather outside looks like. I will be giving the community an update on ITUG, and I am expecting it to get a whole lot colder! Even colder and more miserable than I am experiencing right now. Oh boy, stay tuned!

But I do like Amsterdam and I have been coming here for over 15 years. There has been several ITUG events held in Amsterdam since, and they all have been well-attended. The Dutch community is very supportive, and always cooperates with ITUG whenever European events are held in their country.

This year I was in Europe for the Euro ITUG event in Brighton and, as you may remember, the Rugby World Cup was getting into the serious side of the competition. The round-robin pool games had ended, and the premier countries were battling it out in the playoffs. Of course, we were all shocked by the early departure of Australia and New Zealand in the quarter-finals, but were just as amazed by the resurrection of the English team who managed to regroup and make it all the way through to the finals.

As reader my recall, I had predicted a South African win against the English team, in my blog of October 17th (You can’t survive if you aint got drive …) simply because, as my former colleague Mark Hutchens reminded me, good fast teams often will loose to good big teams for the simple reason that, as the game goes on, “the fast teams will slow down, but the big teams will still be big”! Fascinating observation, that one!

While we both like to watch from the sidelines these days, Mark and I both played competitive Rugby in our youth. Mark found his position as a member of the forward pack, while I played one of the more fleet-footed ball distribution positions. My enthusiasm would see me finish the game bloodied and bruised, as I dived into the rucks and mauls after any loose ball, and I never once thought of getting incapacitated in any way. But from either position, we valued the contributions each other made. Today, I just compete by predicting the outcome of the games, but compete I do nevertheless.

Talking of Mark, I have included a picture here of Mark – not in Amsterdam, but one taken in Prague back in the 90s. The picture was shot only a day or so before we left for Amsterdam. We were in Prague for a Tandem Partner-to-Partner conference put on just for ISV partners. The opportunity to check out what other ISVs were doing, as well as looking to see if there were opportunities for forming relationships with other Tandem Partners was a pretty compelling reason to participate. And the venue, of course, was outstanding.

Mark and I developed an interesting protocol that we used whenever we met with customers. Mark would let my enthusiasm spill out into the meeting and he would let me run with my ideas and theories to the point where, in many situations, my competitive nature would bring the meeting teetering on the edge of chaos. “Richard, 5!” (Mark would raise the palm of his hand, as if to give me “high five”) was the signal for me to let Mark regain control, and with this protocol, Mark could then get back to the business at hand.

I can be very enthusiastic, even passionate, when it comes to users ideas on technology. On occasions I have taken advantage of the opportunity to explore new product possibilities. And sometimes my enthusiasm does get me into trouble as I get creative.

I was reminded of this only last week, walking to the neighborhood coffee shop – I walked right in front of one of “Simi Valley’s finest”, as I was crossing the street despite facing a red light. Two or three times a day, I take a brisk 20 minute walk that goes directly to the local Starbucks, and I really enjoy it as it’s the only form of exercise I get these days. But on this occasion, no sooner had I completed crossing the road, the patrol cars lights came on. I was being pulled over for Jaywalking!

Didn’t I know that it carried a pretty stiff penalty on this road, particularly as it has a 55 mph speed-limit? I only received a caution – but his parting words were “don’t let your enthusiasm for exercising get you killed”!

As I was preparing to give the ITUG update next week, I had the opportunity to look at the recent numbers for vendor membership as well as for their support of ITUG events and exhibitions. Unfortunately, it only takes a quick look to see that the numbers have continued to come down over the past couple of years. As I looked behind the numbers, what also became apparent was that the NonStop partners were small operations with many of them made up of less than twenty staff. And I began to wonder whether the community really did have the critical mass of vendors it would need for the future.

We have begun to see recognition among the partners that the ITUG events are being enhanced to support more of the HP product lines. This is not by accident, as the ITUG Board is just as aware of the new products coming from HP. Some of the partners are already cognizant of this transition and are beginning to feature more of their cross-platform capabilities. But I also saw a number of partners talking among themselves. While they have competed aggressively against each other for many decades, it was refreshing to see a number of them openly participating in the exchange of information.

And it did remind me of that Prague Partner-to-Partner event and how there is a real need for greater partner collaboration. As you look at what HP will roll out in the coming year, and how the bladed architecture we hear so much about begins to show up in the customer base, many of the ITUG partners may need to reappraise their business models. There will be enormous pressure on a lot of them to come up with new capabilities and possibly even completely new product suites. And they will all have to take a serious look at their pricing models, too. I have an uneasy feeling that a number of our partners will simply take this time to move on to other pursuits.

HP NonStop product management made it very clear that the three areas they were focusing on – security, web services and service-oriented architecture, and data base – would all feature extensive partner participation. And just as clear to me is that, with these focus areas so clearly identified, we will see more cooperation between the partners than ever before. Some will simply share ideas, while some will work together on joint projects. What is very important for all of us to see is the strengthening of our key partners and for us to develop confidence that they will continue to be the source for the type of cross-platform, multi-function, products we will all need.

In the end, all partners will need to master hardware and operating systems in addition to NonStop, and as the HP product platform landscape changes dramatically, they will need to have far broader technology knowledge. Just as a Rugby team is made of many specialist positions, the world-class teams successfully merge the skills coming from the power and strength of the very big players with the fleetness-of-foot of the more agile players, so we are reaching a time when partners will need to take a look at where their options lie. Do they have to add strength to play for the duration or do they need to become more agile?

My enthusiasm for NonStop remains just as strong as it always has, but perhaps the time for competing indiscriminately is coming to an end. Perhaps partners need to take a good, hard look at greater cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps the issues that have driven many to treat others with scant regard should be put to one side. Isn’t it time we asked the question – who are your partners?

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