Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What do you mean, legacy?

Thanksgiving in Singapore is always different – the temperature is a shock for anyone stepping out of a plane from North America. The combination of high temperatures and high humidity, takes a little while to adjust. But then there’s always a bar nearby.

The picture I have included here is from the “new” Long Bar at the old Raffles Hotel. It has a lot of memories for me as, over the years, I have entertained folks at this bar from Insession, ACI and Tandem. But I sorely miss the atmosphere of the “old” Long Bar that I first visited in May of 1982, and a legacy from the days of British colonial rule.

Back them the hotel was anything but a luxury hotel and the Long Bar was on the ground floor, across from the entrance lobby, and pretty much open around the clock. There was no air-conditioning - just overhead fans, and it was ankle-deep in peanut-shells as patrons discarded them under the tables without a second thought! On the Saturday evening that I walked into the old Long Bar, it was full of sailors from HMAS Parramatta, a visiting Australian warship, and everyone was watching the ’82 FA Cup Final between the Tottenham Hotspurs and the Queen’s Park Rangers.

There’s a good story that the last Singapore tiger was shot under the billiard room or, depending upon your source, under the billiard table itself, relegating the species to extinction. It was also where the drink, the Singapore Sling, was first concocted and it’s no small secret that the two events were likely related!

Much has changed today. The old hotel has had a complete make-over, and reopened as a luxury hotel. The Long Bar has been moved upstairs and out of sight of the hotel’s lobby. The overhead fans are still there and you are still “encouraged” to drop peanut shells on the floor. You can order up Singapore Slings and the only connection with tigers of the past is from a cold glass of Tiger beer. But the legacy of the old place is but a memory now, and I do miss it so!

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Herbert Zwenger, Vice President & General Manager, Business Critical Systems, Hewlett-Packard Asia Pacific. As we were discussing the success he has had this year, he confided “NonStop is really our best kept secret. While I knew that we had a superior technology, and a very loyal base of users, I had very little knowledge of the fault tolerant technology behind this perceived ‘legacy’ system prior to taking on the job.” He then went on to tell me that “I saw the potential to extend the NonStop capabilities into new markets and we have made tremendous progress in the last few years in penetrating them - and even into accounts with many ‘power’ Unix users.”

And I was once again struck by the word legacy – Singapore, and particular places like the Raffles Hotel, had a fantastic legacy. When I talked to my family about the word “legacy”, they viewed it positively, and in terms of how we may be remembered. People often talk openly about instilling in future generations a legacy full of optimism and hope. It’s only when used as an adjective is it ever associated with something “that is outdated or discontinued”, according to my local dictionary. However, within IT communities, it’s almost the kiss-of-death whenever a product gets labeled as legacy.

So, what do we really mean by legacy?

I once heard an analyst with Gartner tell their audience to remember that, any application that is put into production, should be considered legacy immediately! I can understand what he was saying, and that this was just an early phase in an application’s lifecycle that would ultimately end with its replacement. And does it only apply to applications, or does it cover everything – hardware, operating systems, infrastructure middleware, and so on?

I can easily recognize the hardware aspect, and understand that the cost to transform an older platform into something newer can be a lot more than buying a replacement, but I am no longer so sure about the software. I can point to many clients who, with the use of wrappers and services, have externalized older applications in a way that has kept these applications valuable to their corporations. Much of the logic used, to solve a business problem, remains valid with little need for major re-writes. Re-using legacy code is becoming widespread and not usually thought of as negatively as legacy hardware unless the initial programming language choice was poor, or had failed to gain widespread industry acceptance. Anyone for Modular 2?

And what about a legacy technology?

Technologies can be virulent and often thriving in extremely hostile times. NonStop is just one amazing example of this – and I continue to be surprised at how it is still used to solve the business problems of today. With the advent of the web, and the ubiquitous browser user interface, every application can be accessed globally 24 X 7! There is no Sunday 4:00am any longer! We are fearful of taking a system down at any time – for maintenance, an upgrade, a site move, or anything else.

As I watch other platforms being thrown together, with redundant clusters, SANs, etc. and look at the energy spent developing scripts to handle switching and fail-over, it never ceases to amaze me how so much of the NonStop technology was just done right. Yes, you can engineer other platforms to become almost as available, but never out-of-the-box. It’s just not possible to overlay something as critical as NonStop on top of collections of hardware and operating systems – it has to be engineered at the lowest level and be well integrated with all the infrastructure middleware.

Colonial Singapore, indeed much of Asia, continues to be transformed. Once again, the construction “crane” has become Singapore’s national bird and the cement mixer the most widely used tool. It comes as no surprise to me that HP’s growth in AsiaPac, in percentage terms, went past that of other regions. Herbert was quick to point out to me "the Asia Pacific region is the fastest growing region in the world with 60% of the world’s population. Looking ahead, the demand for NonStop’s 24x7, fault tolerance technology will rise with exponential growth, and with the increase in IT spending we are now seeing across the telecommunications, finance & public sector segments.”

When I talk to my GoldenGate colleague Sami, and the discussion turns to Enterprise Data Warehouses (EDW) and Business Intelligence (BI), he often tells me that these technologies are helping us institutionalizing knowledge. And I see a parallel here across today’s thousands of applications – their value being commensurate with the corporate knowledge buried deep within their millions of lines of code. No business ever evaluated a hardware decision in terms of long-term appreciation potential – no matter how attractively packaged, there was no “collectors market” for old computer “masters”. But software, and the knowledge wrapped up within its routines, can be of considerable value to the corporation. Legacy? Yes, but with it hope for our business future, and not to be thrown away as lightly as we do the peanut-shells in the Long Bar.

As I continued to talk to Herbert about Singapore and about his business opportunities, I so love the legacy of old Singapore. On the other hand, I do not miss legacy hardware and harbor no fondness for the old development environments. I never want to go back to programming in a machine language!

I have to admit though that I am excited to see the recent growth of NonStop – the transition to the Intel Itanium chip is certainly bestowing a new modern look on an incredible technology. I am very encouraged by the re-use of applications and the arrival of new technologies, like Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), that breath new life into solutions once thought of as legacy. And I am especially pleased to see NonStop far removed from sharing the same fate as that of the Singapore tiger!

2 comments:

Graeme said...

Liked yr comments about Singapore. I go there only once a year or so now, but spent a real lot of time there in the late 90s. I prefer pepper crab to chilli crab, tho both are delicious.

Agree w yr comments re new vs old Long Bar. I stayed in Raffles once, in 2001. It was when I was courting my (current, second) wife. I took her to Singapore for the weekend and we had one night in Raffles. May as well go upmarket, I thought, it may be a once in a lifetime experience. So I booked the Somerset Maugham Suite, for $800. When we arrived, reception said the guest in that suite was extending his stay, and that we would be upgraded.

We spent a fabulous 24 hrs in the Golden Chersone Suite, second best in Raffles. Rack rate $2300 a nite. Butler, wine cellar, private balcony etc. (where we had a fabulous dinner w friends). That’s the life …

I’m just back from a 3 week hol in Europe, mostly Poland and Germany. I went alone. Highlight was a visit to the Nazi rocket facilities at Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast N of Berlin. Giant museum – fascinating place.

RT Writer said...

Graeme,

Funny you should bring up pepper crabs. My wife and I had pepper crabs as a starter and then moved on to the chili crabs - for the first time in many years. Surprise, surprise! She like them better than the chili crabs as well ...

Oh well; and good to see you are still reading the blog.