Saturday, December 15, 2007

May I remove this label?

I have just returned from a quick trip up to Silicon Valley for meetings with HP among other commitments. On my way home from dinner last night – and I have to give Evvia, a Greek Restaurant in Palo Alto, a plug as the food there was excellent – an Ice Hockey game was being broadcast. Coming direct from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, the commentators were talking about an incident, where clearly one teams “skater” had been hit hard by the other teams “goon”.

In the game of Ice Hockey, from the time you show any talent whatsoever, you quickly become tagged as either one of the elite, a fast and skilled skater with great puck-handling skills, or as a goon! The later character is the very physical and aggressive player you only ever send out onto the ice after your opponent elects to take a cheap-shot at your best skater. But every so often, a good skater will make a tough play only to hear much later that he has just been labeled a goon, an association that will take years to shake off.

There’s only one thing worse than watching ice hockey on TV and that’s trying to follow it on the radio, so after a few minutes I changed channels where I was able to relax a little with a Pink Floyd anthem. But being labeled, or tagged, brings with it a lot of baggage and nowhere is this more visible than within our community, whenever a technology attracts the dreaded legacy label.

The discussion of what is legacy and how bad it is to be labeled legacy, has appeared a number of times in my postings already. But I think we do need to take a look at whether NonStop really deserves any association with this label. I may be crazy and perhaps there’s a lot of renegade spirit still with me, but I just can’t accept any association of NonStop and its position in the marketplace as a dying, or less than strategic, platform.

My passion for NonStop was sorely tested this week in a conversation I had with Sami Akbay, our VP of Marketing here at GoldenGate. Like many companies, GoldenGate depends upon the NonStop marketplace for a lot of its business, but the company is adding support for other platforms to develop the additional growth our investors require. While Sami acknowledged my zeal for NonStop, and my enthusiasm for enterprise class servers in general, he was very cautious about accepting my story about how modern NonStop had become, and how ideal it was in addressing many of today’s business problems. And the picture I have included here is of me in one of my more philosophical poses.

So then, when does technology become legacy, and when exactly does it acquire the dreaded legacy label? Is there a line that’s crossed that determines this, and when exactly do we know for sure that its time to wind down our investments in a platform and operating system? Back on October 17th, I wrote a posting that I called “You can’t survive if you aint got jive …”, where I quoted Scott Healy, our current ITUG Chairman, who suggested “IT shops are multi-platform today and we all have to deal with inter-platform issues like interoperability, the integration of data, and an almost constant world of change.” And this really is my first litmus test for whether a platform deserves the dreaded legacy label. If you can’t easily integrate it with everything else – at the application, as well as the data level, then you have a problem.

Later, in the November 27th blog posting that I called “What do you mean legacy?” I made the comment that while “I am excited to see the recent growth in NonStop – the transition to the Intel Itanium chip is certainly bestowing a new modern look on an incredible technology.” A vendor such as HP wouldn’t have included the NonStop platform in the migration to Intel if it’s future wasn’t seen as being extremely bright – too much money is involved in switches like this to just let any old platform participate. And this is my second litmus test that I apply to any technology being considered legacy. If you can’t see the primary vendor investing in it – and keeping it current with the latest components, then you are going to see big problems sooner rather than later.

In a blog posting on October 2nd, I challenged us all when I wrote “Is it any coincidence that HP and IBM are electing to collapse their hundreds of servers down to a much smaller number? Is it any coincidence that the platform of choice for both vendors happens to be servers that many in the industry sometimes refer to as legacy?” My third and final litmus test is then pretty obvious. If your vendor isn’t deploying the platform in support of its own applications and taking advantage of its value-proposition, then why should you be taking a risk he does not want to take?

There are many who think that if you are not on the latest Windows NT, Unix, or Linux operating system, then you are on a legacy platform. But I am not so sure – I think it’s all about the applications we run. In looking back at my earlier comments, what I failed to cover was the applications these servers were to run, and this is a very important consideration. Building Enterprise Data Warehouses (EDW) with data being integrated in real-time, and applying business intelligence to solving thousands of daily operational questions, is about as modern an application as you can get. I am less inclined to label a platform as legacy when it is supporting applications like this!

NonStop brings real value to today’s modern applications and I am not surprised to see open source running on NonStop, nor am I surprised to find the latest Java code executing on NonStop. The increased usage of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) with its SOAP, XML, HTTP protocols directly leveraged from the explosion in Internet and Web connectivity, further highlight how modern the NonStop platform has become. Bill Highleyman, a former ITUG Chairman recently observed that “if HP could start making a big pitch, not about the underlying platform, but that it brings fault tolerance and scalability to the everyday world of SOA, SOAP, and all the other commonly accepted open standards of today, HP might make a go of it!” In other words, Bill is championing the exact same thought – for goodness sake, look at theses new applications that NonStop supports. They are as new as anything you will find on any other platform! With NonStop we do have the “diamond in the rough” – isn’t it time we polished it?

Recently I had an exchange with Chris Rooke, formerly of NonStop Marketing, on this very topic, and he observed “I have been using the word legacy in reference to ANY application that has been around for a while, rather than a particular platform per se. I have never received any direct push-back when doing this - the market tends to use (legacy) in a disparaging manner and in regard to mainframes and other OS’s that are not more modern and ‘sexy’ by some measure.”

Chris wrapped up this exchange with a very interesting observation “any legacy of life can certainly be classed as good or bad when looked at more dispassionately. So, as grey-haired marketers, it is our DUTY to make sure the less-than-grey-haired market base understands that …”

I don’t think NonStop can be considered legacy by any serious student of technology – it passes the three critical litmus tests I run. But my voice is barely a whisper across the industry, and so it’s up to all of us to be more forthcoming whenever we see NonStop misrepresented as legacy. It is true that a disproportionate number of users still run a mix of Guardian-based Cobol applications, and it’s just as true that the average HP salesman in BCS, as Bill Honaker, another former ITUG Chairman tells me, “just doesn’t want to learn what the NonStop box is – so it doesn’t get sold as an option, even if it’s the best solution.”

Again, you may still think I am a little crazy. You may think that my renegade pirate spirit distorts my view on technology, but I do believe that, as a platform, NonStop will be perceived as modern platform, with a bright future! And I fully believe that HP executives see this bright future as well, and do not side with those who too quickly mislabel NonStop.

And, the Pink Floyd anthem playing on the radio channel I switched to that night? Of course, “Shine on you crazy diamond!”

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