Friday, November 30, 2007

Legends!

Before leaving Singapore this week, I had the opportunity to be a part of an Audi car launch – the new Audi R8. Audi had decided to use the hotel as the launch site for their new mid-engined R8 and, as part of the launch, to showcase a number of historical race cars from their German museum. They were excited to launch this car, and to position it as the new “flagship” model for Audi.

Audi rolled out three cars, under the banner of “Legends come to Singapore” – the rule-changing Rally quattro A2 from the early ‘80s, the 2002 24 Hours at Le Mans winning AudiR8 LMP, as well as the amazing 1936 Auto Union. The picture here is of the Auto Union Type C “Silver Arrow”, the car that won 10 Grand Prix races in 1936.

It’s almost impossible to describe the impact this race car made on all those passing by. Powered by a rear-mounted, supercharged, 6.0 liter V16 engine that produced over 520 bhp –it was an awesome sight. I have been around Formula 1 cars before, but when they started the Auto Union I was quite unprepared for the impact of such an engine. I was about 25 feet away and yes, I jumped! Turned out that Audi wasn’t just providing a static display and shortly after 9:30 am, all three cars, along with the new R8, drove down Orchard Road to Raffle City. The sight of these legendary cars driving on city streets, and with the Singapore skyline as a backdrop, drew a hug crowd.

It certainly was a fitting end to my trip to Singapore. I had come to the island to eat chili crabs, and I had feasted on a couple the previous night. As I had mentioned in a previous blog posting, turkey may be the centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner but we are developing a taste for chili crabs and a trip to their legendary seafood restaurants and cafes along Singapore’s East Coast was the high point of the trip.

Talking of legendary food and cars, I couldn’t help but think about the NonStop server. And after some 30+ years, its ability to scale, survive failure, and provide data integrity, has all helped develop the legend. However, some of the accepted legend may in reality be nothing more than “urban legends”! What we see presented as facts, are usually far removed from reality. In talking with IT professionals across our community, three of these urban legends come up time, and time, again. So seeing the cars, and checking out the food, reminded me that perhaps it’s time to begin dismantling these urban legends.

Urban legend #1 – NonStop is expensive; we can’t really afford it! With the introduction of the Integrity NonStop server line, particularly the NS1000 models, pricing has been brought into line with most medium to large SMP configurations. Again, the data I have suggests that, in the US market today, an NS1008 with NS SQL costs less than the average 8-Way SMP Unix server running Oracle, and that a NS1004 with NS SQL is about the same price as any 4-Way SMP Unix box running Oracle. This is definitely something I am interested in getting more feedback on from the community. But essentially, with the new Intel engines together with the new 19” rack-style packaging, NonStop is no more expensive than any multi-CPU system on the market today.

Urban Legend #2 – NonStop is proprietary; it’s not an open architecture! As you go down deeper into typical software stacks then yes, close to the metal are proprietary components. But no more or no less than you find in any architecture – and perhaps less than you imagine as again, to the casual observer listening to HP presentations, some of the really low-level interfaces to the processors may begin to look more and more like they have been taken straight from Linux. This too is definitely something I am interested in hearing more about from others in the community. But as you move away from the metal and further up the stack, you will find an Application Server environment that provides one of the better run-time environments for Java. It can scale enormously and it continues to inherit the NonStop capabilities that all applications running on NonStop enjoy.

Urban Legend #3 – NonStop requires specialized skills; trained staff can be hard to find! Today, any C/C++ or Java developer can assemble modern, industry-standard, applications that can be deployed on the NonStop platform. Developers working with their usual development environments, such as Eclipse, are really isolated from the platform and pretty much unaware of where their code ends up running. NonStop has become that transparent these days. From my own discussions, the HP NonStop development organization is hugely committed to providing routines, code stubbs, and just about anything else a developer may require that allows applications to be seamlessly deployed on NonStop. And as for manageability, I am seeing even closer integration with other HP products as well as a wealth of third part products that complement HP’s offerings.

When the MIPS-based Himalaya product family rolled-out in the ‘90s, it was supported with the marketing message that included the statement “No price premium for NonStop”, or something similar. This was the first full-scale attempt at changing market perceptions. It also marked the beginning of a realignment of the usability as well – with the OSS personality, POSIX API’s were supported and anyone familiar with Unix could easily deploy on NonStop. For years, some customers even talked openly with the press about their Unix deployment on NonStop – Sabre being one of the most prominent supporters of this embellishment!

Performance has not typically been one of the legendary properties of NonStop – and I know NonStop product managers become a little nervous whenever I address this subject. And performance was never truly an urban legend either – although some in the community thought the NonStop platform would benefit from some serious horsepower add-ons! This is not to say these earlier products lacked the ability to support thousands of online transactions, but in a couple of areas the need for more horsepower became desirable. Early deployment of processor-intensive routines to do with XML/SOAP, Security encryption, as well as executing Java applications, for instance, highlighted this need. Today we are seeing significant performance improvements and where some companies are running Java at speeds they had previously thought possible only from their dedicated desktop environments.

Legends come in many forms. People, food, even cities and sporting teams can all take on legendary proportions. In Silicon Valley, many of the key industry figures took on legendary status – Tom Perkins, Jim Clark, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison among the stand outs. Jimmy Treybig was definitely a member as well.

They became legends as they consistently rolled out innovative products that shook up the industry. For a many decades this was particularly true for NonStop and many in the industry liked it this way – when you absolutely needed “permanent availability” and when you couldn’t afford any downtime whatsoever, then you could rely on the Tandem. But did you really need to go to all that expense? Was it worth it having all those extra processors and disk? The arrival of the Internet and the World Wide Web, where everyone is online 24 X 7 X 365, has really exposed architectures that have to have their downtime and has really helped to reawaken the IT industry to the legendary capabilities of NonStop.

As I watched Audi roll out its legendary cars and then turn the spotlight onto its new R8 sports car, it didn’t escape me that well-executed product lines, that build on a companies tradition, would always find a strong marketplace. Legendary car manufacturers always have a marketplace, and their flagship products help raise their visibility.

NonStop continues the legend of Tandem and many in the HP community believe it has developed into the new flagship model for HP!

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