Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Continuing to Innovate in 09!

It’s Christmas Eve and at our house Christmas always begins with this evening. It will be the time to open presents and to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner – and a turkey will be involved, of course. The picture above is of me, in the kitchen, as preparations continued indoors this year, of course, as the weather outside remains bitterly cold.

Last Sunday, I went to the garage to check out the motorcycles. This time of year is when I become concerned about not “winterizing” the bikes as it’s always a gamble. For the past ten years, there’s always been at least one break in the weather that has allowed me to go for a ride. But this December it’s just been so cold that there has been little opportunity to ride – and I was starting to come down with cabin-fever.

As I looked at the bikes and even though it was only 20 Fahrenheit, I decided to throw on a couple more woolen sweaters, pull on the leather chaps, and get out the winter gloves - but I was unprepared for the sheer physical shock that comes with exposure to temperatures this low. The cold pierced right through the winter gloves – wind chill at 20 below, riding at 70 mph, had to produce something equivalent to -90 Fahrenheit! And the tips of my fingers lost all feeling.

I curtailed the adventure and headed home and through nothing but good luck, made it back up the driveway and into the garage. Four days later, the tips of my fingers are still not right, but I had to go out and experience it for myself. I didn’t want to have bikes, come spring, that require serious attention so I continued to argue the importance of maintaining the traditional winter ride!

And in the spirit of maintaining traditions, I looked back at the December 29, ’07 posting “Grading HP? Need to do much better ...” that I wrote at the end of last year and what caught my attention were the four topics I elected to address. HP investments in NonStop, the first customer deployments of Neoview, the announcement of the partnership between IBM and ACI as they forged a global strategic alliance, and the anticipated user group convergence were covered. And looking at the analytics Google provides, whenever I broached these topics readership spiked-upwards noticeably.

The culmination of many years of development saw NonStop supported by HP’s bladed architecture and in June, during the week of HPTF&E, the HP Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem was announced and on display at the HP booth. I had been anticipating this announcement for many months and had included speculative slides on the system in presentations I had been making to the community since late ’07 – taking NonStop to blades is a very positive sign on the future of NonStop within HP’s product roadmaps.

But in all the excitement, perhaps the best lines I saw written on the announcement were those in the June 16, ’08 issue of The Register where it opened with “when HP talks about ‘blade everything’, it means freaking everything. The hardware maker has pumped out a blade server running its NonStop operating system and software of all things.” Stories published that same week included a quote from Ken Cayton, IDC's research manager for enterprise platforms, where he said "HP's fault tolerant systems are frequently used in mainframe environments …the new blade systems will have the same capabilities in a new form factor that should be more cost-effective and modular than previous systems while also being more energy efficient."

Yes, I remain excited by the availability of NonStop on Blades and see this as the beginning of a new era for NonStop, with much of the hardware premium, often associated with NonStop, eroding in time as industry-standard packaging is used. And given today’s economy, driving out costs has become so important.

As for Neoview, I am still watching it closely. Only a few weeks ago, major reorganizations of the Neoview team were undertaken and I am hoping to see a lot more progress – and some early indications are that there’s a new recognition of the need for urgency surrounding Neoview. HP’s server consolidation project, under the guidance of HP’s CIO Randy Mott, has Neoview at the very heart of the transformation and by all indications it’s doing the job.

But the pressure is really on to not only keep-up with the competition, but to look for ways to leapfrog it, and ’09 will be challenging for the Neoview team. I am very hopeful for the success of Neoview and know of a number of significant users in the retail market, but relying solely on organic growth as has been done to date, may not prove viable over the longer term. Something more may need to be done to ensure longer term success.

The IBM and ACI global alliance announcement came as the surprise of ‘08. Even though ACI has made it very difficult for its own sales force to continue selling payment engine solutions on NonStop, the acceptance of BASE24 on NonStop by financial institutions remains strong. In EMEA where the financial community is a lot more conservative and risk-averse, the acceptance of the alliance has been lukewarm. Banks in Europe are using the IBM option as another card to play in negotiating the price of additional NonStop hardware – not exactly what IBM and ACI had been expecting, but welcome news to the NonStop team nonetheless.

While some groups within HP have been encouraging competitors so as to fill a potential solutions void, I am getting the sense that this could all blow-over in ’09 and I could easily see NonStop technology once more being addressed by solutions from ACI.

The different user groups did finally come together and Connect was launched in June, ’08. The community held its first user group event in Mannheim, Germany and while there were some early suggestions that it would fail, in the end a typical regional user event ran its course. There’s more I would like to say on this topic but I will leave for a separate post early in ’09. This is a highly complex and emotive issue and it will take time for all the pieces to mesh properly.

But with ’08 came a major new announcement from HP’s executives. In a blog entry I posted on May 12, ’08, “The Clouds in Spain” I referenced Martin Fink’s presentation at the Technology@Work event held in Barcelona a few weeks earlier. Under the banner of Monolithic to Polymorphic computing Martin introduced the community to his views on Cloud Computing, and since that event Martin has continued to heavily promote the concept and the innovative products that will thrive as cloud computing takes hold.

And I see the evolution of cloud computing as proving a highly fertile environment for NonStop at the front-end connecting, from within the cloud, to the network as well as potentially the back-end and still within the cloud, supporting the enterprise database warehouses. I can see the potential for many solutions being developed for NonStop that add tremendous value to cloud computing.

As I continue to write this blog, I still have very little feeling in the tips of my fingers. I have had to go back and correct many typo’s. But maintaining traditions is important, and I have always enjoyed my winter rides, although now I will be a lot more aware of just how cold it is and will probably argue a lot less about needing to ride.

But as for what ’09 holds for the future of NonStop I can only hope that in a chilling business climate, CIOs will welcome the innovation possible from the technology and solutions that are a lot more visible today.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a great New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still the need for something special!

I drove this past weekend from the West Coast back to my Boulder, Colorado home. For me, driving is not a chore and on a recent company conference call, I talked of my preference for driving, much to the amusement of my colleagues. Time permitting, if I need to attend a meeting and it’s less than 1,500 miles away, I would rather drive. Even with yesterday’s gas prices, staying away from airline travel had its upside and I am happy to report that it cost me a third of what it did a month ago to fill the SUVs tank. It was still nearly twice as expensive as if I had taken my daily-drive for this ride!

However, I can’t always count on the weather – and this time, it hit with a vengeance and the picture above is of the SUV the morning after I arrived home. I started the homeward leg early Saturday morning, in San Jose, with the hope that it would be an uneventful trip and that the weather would hold off for a few days. I also hoped that taking time out to visit friends just past Sacramento wouldn’t hurt.And then the adventure really began!

As I drove west on Interstate 80 (I80), there were signs warning of deteriorating road conditions and to be prepared for winter driving in the Sierras. Chains would be required except on All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) vehicles fitted with snow tires on all four wheels. I dialed in the local radio station for further updates, and it looked like it was going to get nasty. So I made sure I left my friends place before lunch – I had planned on driving all the way to Elko, Nevada.

Readers of this blog will know that my favorite cars are those with two seats, a big V8 up front, and power delivered through the rear wheels only! But for this adventure, I was glad I had an SUV with good winter tires on all four wheels. The drive over the Sierra’s presented no immediate problems but the temperature plummeted and by the time I checked into the hotel in Elko, air temperatures were already hovering around zero Fahrenheit.

But Saturday was just an introduction and did little to prepare me for Sunday’s drive!

Only an hour or so out of Elko, on Sunday morning, and warning signs were flashing alongside I80. Tuning into a weather channel, I found the road was closed the other side of Salt Lake City, just as it crossed into Wyoming. Temperatures were now -10 Fahrenheit. I have never “bonded” with the SUV – more or less putting up with it as I lived in Colorado - but I was beginning to welcome its capabilities as I turned off I80 and headed south on I15.

By late Sunday it was looking bleak. The drive home was deteriorating rapidly as now, having turned East onto I70, and heading into the heart of the Rockies, I encountered snow covered highways with temperatures steadily dropping. At one point, I saw -35 Fahrenheit as I crested one of the summits. The roads were slick and traffic had slowed to a crawl. Big-rigs were off the road, and those attempting to make it through the passes were heavily chained. It was a time for specialized AWD vehicles and no place for the regular daily-drive family car.

Finally, after 14 hours behind the wheel and with 850 miles covered that day, I turned into my driveway.

Rising early Monday morning, I was catching up on email and checking the latest postings on a number of community sites, when I came across an exchange that reminded me of the weekend’s drive home. Posted on the Connect Community web site was the question “NonStop: Do you think, that new object oriented, modern systems can run on HP-NonStop by using java?” that generated a number of exchanges between a couple of very active members from the NonStop Java SIG.

And buried within the exchanges were three observations that brought driving the SUV into focus.

The first item was “often new projects start on other hardware systems and not on HP-NonStop. And this is the problem of HP-NonStop. We have to tell them, that the new HP-NonStop is modern, too. With the new NonStop hardware, you can start to modernize your old systems. This means, not only the client dialogs. The server side can also be object oriented.”

A little later I read “if I see the German TV spots of IBM, they tell all people how good and modern they are in a funny way. Only very rare and seldom you see, if you have luck, a HP-NonStop advertising in some special IT magazines. We need more and better marketing to get the interest of young people and CEOs to get new customers and java projects.”

Finally, I saw this short piece “what do you think about the HP-NonStop marketing concept? How can we reach the young people? When I finished my diploma at university, I never heard from Tandem (now NonStop). Until now, I believe that this situation doesn't change. Our German students never heard from NonStop, but they know many of the other unix systems and works with them at university. There comes a time, when these young people will be decision maker and they will decide to use their known hardware.”

Evangelizing? Advertizing? Educating?

We need to be careful when evangelizing NonStop, as it’s not always the most appropriate option. While SUVs are viewed as excessive and wasteful, there are situations where they prove to be valuable, and they can work well in getting you home safely. But as regular daily-drives? Not a smart choice! And isn’t this the same with NonStop? Should we even be considering NonStop as a regular general-purpose computer? Isn’t it better suited for solutions that need the NonStop advantages?

And its “popularity” has nothing to do with HP’s marketing efforts or lack of educational support at our universities. Consider IBM’s System z where there continues to be a lot of advertising supporting the platform, and a major push into universities, but when it comes to deploying “modern applications” it’s rarely considered, other than in combination with zLinux. It’s not at all clear to me whether the efforts exerted to date have produced any results at all!

There’s no dissention on my part when it comes to evangelizing NonStop. Just as I have no issues with including NonStop in advertising and education programs. There should be no elements within the broader IT community unaware of how “modern” the NonStop platform has become, and how easy it is to deploy modern solutions on NonStop. But where in today’s IT architecture does NonStop truly fit – and shouldn’t we only advocate when we do see a fit?

This is a really important issue for me, as it cuts to the very core of why NonStop! I contend that it’s premier role remains deeply rooted in transaction processing, and in all my years in IT, I have never encountered a platform better suited to transaction processing. The ease with which online transaction processing solutions can be implemented is still unmatched by any other platform – and this should not be ignored as we architect solutions for the next decade. And I am pleased to see Pathway making a comeback in the 21st century – even if just to underpin other key subsystems like Java containers and SOAP. With so many discussions being centered on cloud computing, and treating all the resources within the cloud transparently, surely the NonStop platform’s attributes position it as an ideal front-end. Once again!

Let me not be misunderstood here – and I have been accused of holding my punches on some occasions – transaction volumes will only continue to go up, and with increasing reliance on the web as the connection fabric there really can be no limits set for how many transactions any application will face. Nothing is as available as NonStop. Nothing scales like NonStop. And there’s no place more suited for this than front-ending today’s business logic and data.

NonStop is not a general purpose computer and never will be – the current hardware packaging still comes with a premium. Will “blades” change the economics? Potentially – but only if the major operating systems targeting blades agree on a single piece of real estate, including the choice of interconnect technology. ServerNet needs to be replaced with something more universally accepted by the industry. The price will only reach parity when the basic blade hardware is completely standard for all of NonStop, HP–UX, and Linux. However, I do see this all happening in the not too-distant future.

As I drove over the snow-swept Rockies and battled through the poor visibility I encountered, it was good to be in a car built for the conditions. However, I never did loose sight of its drawbacks and was happy to know I had another car as my daily-drive. And this is the message of NonStop – no matter how evangelic we become, or how big our education and marketing budgets grow, we need to pick our fights carefully and approach new opportunities for NonStop with caution.

After all, there are many circumstances where ignoring the general purpose, and going for something more specialized that you can count on, certainly brings with it piece of mind!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Legacy, left behind ...

I had the pleasure of spending my lunchtime at another software company this week – and was asked to be a judge in a “gingerbread house building” game that pitted developers against QA, support, sales, and management. The gingerbread houses were pretty impressive, and the photo I have included here is of me digging into a gift bag I was given after the results were announced.

And it wasn’t long before we began reminiscing about the old days, and about the applications we wrote many decades ago. Remember PL/1, I was asked? Remember teletype protocols and paper tape? Remember memory drums? While I have spent the last two years working remotely, and have enjoyed the flexibility it provides, I sure do miss times spent around the water cooler!

I wrote earlier this week an article for the upcoming December issue of the electronic newsletter, TandemWorld. In it I referred to an advertisement by IBM in the November 28, ’08 issue of the Fortune magazine. IBM, under a large-type headline “Decrease costs. Increase growth” opened with “Legacy apps. Faulty data. Redundant silos. In banks all around the world, millions of dollars are tied up in outdated, patchworked systems.” Without revisiting the topic and covering the same material, it is the reference to “legacy apps” in the above context that I find amusing, particularly coming from IBM.

Last year, in a posting I wrote while in Singapore What do you mean, legacy?” (November 27, ’07) I recalled how “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!” The Gartner analyst may have been over-dramatizing, but in a recent email exchange with Jim Johnson, Chairman of the Standish Group, he followed with a similar line, remarking how “there was the old joke that a legacy system is one that is working!”

And then Jim took it a little further, suggesting “the term’s roots were used in a more derogatory fashion and it meant that the legacy applications were running on outdated hardware and software, most meaning IBM mainframes. People promoting the use of open systems mostly used it.” Legacy applications, it would seem, have as much to do with which platform was chosen to deploy them, and the infrastructure supporting them, as anything else and typically, this means dependence on much older proprietary Operating Systems (OS) and utilities. Jim then added “a truer definition might be a legacy system is a system handed down from a predecessor.”

In other words, the reference to legacy when talking about platforms started with the arrival of Unix and open systems as they gained momentum in the late ‘80s. I suspect that it was Sun, and most likely someone like Bill Joy, who first threw down the gauntlet to the more traditional vendors admonishing their user communities over maintaining legacy applications and holding onto their legacy equipment and infrastructure.

HP was certainly among the front-runners in adopting Unix and the HP-UX that appeared in the early ‘80s had it’s roots deep in the early releases of Unix – System III and later System V – and some three years before IBM released AIX/6000. I recall attending early presentations given by HP in ’84 where it was clear that they were making Unix their main operating system, and that it heralded a break from other vendors going down the IBM Plug Compatible Manufacturer (PCM) path that was in full swing at the time. The legacy net, cast as it was over the IBM and IBM PCM community, caught a lot of vendors!

But the legacy label is still a hard label to shake off. For companies that have been successful for many years, and with product roots going back to the ‘70s or even earlier, it is particularly hard to distance the modern architecture they have today with what preceded it. Nowhere is this more recognizable than with the enterprise class of systems now being shipped by IBM and HP.

While it’s hard to consider an IBM System z running mainframe Linux or HP’s NonStop running on industry-standard blades packages and supporting an open-source infrastructure stack as legacy, many CIOs continue to overlook the contributions these platforms can make. Because these vendors have striven hard to make sure that everything developed in the past can continue running (and further entrenching the thought of legacy) – should this then penalize their current product lines in any way? And the emergence of a service-oriented architecture in support of users scattered across the globe really does beg for servers as available as NonStop.

As I talk to the vendors, it has been my observation that as we move from distributed computing to grid computing, and onto cloud computing, having systems such as these protecting our data bases, for instance, wouldn’t be all that bad an option. Moreover, when the time comes for rationalization or consolidation following inorganic business growth, after an acquisition for instance, which is happening a lot these days, anchoring key business data on a system of this type becomes a serious consideration.

The December 1st, ’08 issue of InformationWeek features an in-depth article on HPs CIO Randy Mott, and the transformation of HP’s IT that he has overseen. While the author was impressed with the accomplishments of Mott, he asked him how concerned he had been about this far-flung network of legacy applications? According to the author “Mott points, as an example, to HP’s networking and telecom costs, which were driven by having to connect those 85 data centers around the world and hundreds of data marts to share information. ‘A miracle had to occur every day’, (Mott) says of the complexity. ‘The bad news was that a miracle never occurred.’”

I wrote about Mott’s transformation project a year ago, and in the posting of November 11th, ’07 “We all just wanna be big rock stars!” I included a quote from the Financial Times of November 7th, ’07. Under the headline “Techie rock star’ sets a cracking pace”, the author reported “Randy Mott’s trail-blazing project to overhaul HP’s technology could set the standard that other companies need to follow …” I then added “just as successful rock stars have changed the course of music and carved out highly lucrative careers, so do some CIO’s as they press ahead with innovative ideas.

Having the data base at the very heart of Mott’s new architecture running on NonStop certainly doesn’t appear to be a backward step for HP and certainly doesn’t appear to suggest that the platform was considered legacy. According to the author of the InformationWeek article, “Mott insists he wasn't forced to use Neoview, but let's assume the corporate pressure was at least implicit. He says the technology team was told to evaluate whether HP had a marketable, scalable product, and it worked with the development team to fix any bugs. The result is a product built around the Tandem NonStop OS and database. Mott says HP's will be one of the largest data warehouses in terms of size and number of users, and one that will ‘not go down.’”

In a recent email exchange with a senior NonStop development manager, who agreed with the sentiment behind the earlier definitions of legacy, explained to me how “we have worked very hard over the years to provide forward compatibility, including completely re-implementing the preexisting Guardian callable procedures so they would continue to function correctly within existing limits when we did the Exceed version of the operating system 15+ years ago. (There’s) a vague recollection that we made an incompatible change (for at least some programs) to the object file format somewhere back in the early 1980s, but other than that I don’t know of any reason why an ancient object file wouldn’t run on an Integrity BladeSystem.”

It was a lot of fun joining a software development company this week – and in talking revisiting our exploits from the past. There’s still no substitute for experience and just being able to talk about the history of technology with passion was enjoyable. And it gave me time to appreciate the distance we have come with NonStop and to realize that if it continues to leverage modern hardware packaging and support current development environments, it’s as valuable today as it’s ever been.

If you ever thought about what legacy your grandparents left behind … you probably did not think about it in derogatory terms, eh? Perhaps Jim Johnson in is final email exchange with me has it right after all “in today’s complex and service oriented environment the word “Legacy” is more of a legacy than a current term with any real meaning!”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Think? I don’t think so!

I have just returned from spending the Thanksgiving weekend in London. For those returning to this blog on a regular basis, you may recall that I was in Singapore for last year’s Thanksgiving and posted a blog entry at that time (“What do you mean, legacy?” November 27th, ’07). This is not the first time that I have been out of the country for the holiday, and it has given me a little down time from blogging. The picture I have included here is of me settling in for the long flight across the Atlantic.

One of the benefits that come with regular air travel is that the airlines still look after their frequent flyers – and upgrades are often made available. And as much as I enjoy the additional space that the upgrades provides, it is the ability to “fast-track” security, and even immigration services, that I have come to appreciate. Anytime I can get out of the airport without breaking stride makes the trip a little more bearable. Even if it does mean passing long lines of bedraggled passengers slowly snaking their way to the thinly-staffed counters poorly set up to handle the crowds that stream from today’s jumbo jets.

The availability of fast-track services, whether in support of pre-boarding security screening or post-arrival flight arrival, recognizes that extending services to higher-value customers is not just limited to their time on the plane. And it is greatly appreciated by those with jobs that mandate frequent travel – the “road warriors” on whose support the airline industry depends so much for simple survival in these hard times.

While I am among the first to appreciate the investments airlines have made in simplifying web access and navigation that help me book flights, and in making it easy to print boarding passes from my hotel anywhere in the world, being directed to the front of the line is a service that continues to be appreciated as much as anything else the airline provides! And airlines that maintain a close dialogue with their customers ensure a lengthy partnership develops that is beneficial for both of them. Communicating with their customers is so often downplayed or even overlooked entirely – watching the antics of the leaders of America’s automobile industry is a clear example of the failures than can occur when communication ceases – but it remains the most important aspect in business today.

I was reminded of this as I read the International Herald Tribune (December 2nd, ’08) on the flight back. There was a full page advertisement by Thomson Reuters that led with the statement “The end of think. The beginning of know.” Reading this advertisement made me wonder – have we really progressed beyond the need to think and can we just now know what’s required of us? Has our considerable experience gained over many years of open dialogues with our customers truly brought us closer to knowing what we need to do in every customer situation?

We are increasingly being driven to a service orientation as we develop more services, and these services are often the only differentiations that matters in the end. Customers often remember the service provided long after the product involved has been forgotten, or even when associated with different products entirely. Part of the attraction of embracing a service-orientation is the ability to easily plug and play with the products beneath the covers of services.

The picture I have added here is of me on the London Eye looking down on the British Houses of Parliament alongside the Thames River. British Airways (BA) has been running the London Eye since 2006 – the biggest Ferris-wheel in Europe, and still the worlds’ tallest cantilevered observation wheel, according to BA. And now trips on the wheel are being called “flights” and individual capsules can be reserved for private functions with first class service. What BA provides for its airline passengers is now being offered to the casual, sight-seeing, public. Well-established services are being reused in new and attractive ways.

In a posting I made earlier this year (“Wake up call!” January 18th, ‘08) I made the observation “in the NonStop space we are beginning to see very serious deployments of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) … we may not all enjoy the same degree of comfort undertaking application integration and not take to it as easily as we did integrating hardware, but there will be integration architects and managers within our companies aggressively pursuing integration.”

And last year, I wrote a blog posting (“Don’t change my toys!” October 6th, ’07) where I saw how “There is much anticipation that with web services and increased support of Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) the interface into any application, even those running on NonStop, will be greatly simplified. The ease with which we navigate the web, and retrieve data today, should be replicated across all business environments and in so doing, help dummies like me get to what I need to see.”

In their exuberance to present the tremendous power and flexibility that can come with SOA, some vendors have overwhelmed their prospects. When viewed from a very high level, not every component defined within SOA is needed first up – it’s an architecture that really does lend itself to an incremental, baby-steps, approach. Often times, it’s just a case of settling on which library contains the Web Services Definition Language (WSDL) “contract” information that a client developer may need. But externalizing applications as services, and pursuing integration through the interconnection of these services, gives businesses their first insight into knowing what they can do!

And vendors should be clearly pointing them in the right direction and lighten-up with the complex rhetoric! After all, vendors that develop a close relationship with businesses and maintain an open dialogue, are more likely to be responsive to the opportunities their business customers identify. And these vendors will better communicate their products’ benefits as a result, and be less likely to overwhelm them when they need help the most.

Reservations, ticket purchases, and seat assignments are exactly the same processes you would find for any other BA flight – the London Eye has become an integral part of BA’s operations and is a clear example of how a service can be extended to embrace non-traditional products. Could we see the airline business embrace the theater business with the same services? possibly restaurants as well? With what they support today, airlines know what they can do from the services already being provided, so why not? Perhaps we are getting to the end of think and into the era of knowing after all.

I have been taking my car out on to the race track this year, and one of the first things you learn in any High Performance Driving Education (HPDE) program is how to communicate. You need to know what all the flags used by the trackside flag-marshals mean, and whether it’s a F1, a NASCAR, or just a local club race, their meaning is consistent worldwide. You also need to know how to communicate with your fellow drivers –particularly in passing situations – and communication develops camaraderie between the drivers. Who will stay left and who goes right – every action on the track has to be weighed against risk and communicating your intent is extremely important.

Over the years, the courteous driver in front always signals a point-by to the faster driver behind – extending a hand out of the car and signaling which side the faster driver should pass on. And the picture above, taken earlier this year, shows our Corvette being given a point by from the driver in front - nothing ambiguous or confusing, the faster driver being given a clear directive as to where to pass. As comradeship develops among the drivers, the level of communications increases even more, and the skill levels of all drivers improves significantly.

Coming to terms with passing is only one aspect of communication. Developing a working knowledge of any track, and coming to terms with it depends a lot on a free and open dialogue with your peers. Sharing information learnt, while laying down laps, is the best way to know what to expect around each corner – what to be aware of and what to take advantage of. There’s nothing better than picking up tips from those who have more experience with the track and there’s nothing worse than being left to think it all through on your own.

Communications – whether between businesses and their customers, vendors and their business customers, or even among your peers, has never been more important than it is today. No more so than when the topic is services and the integrations of processes to be offered as services – customer engagement is crucial at every turn. Many watching the performance of the leaders of America’s automobile industry can’t escape wondering what were these men thinking?

And as we move to computing models and architectures heavily services focused, we would err appreciatively if we didn’t enjoy open communication with out customers and peers. Maybe, as Thomson Reuters advertised, we are at the beginning of know!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prospects? Looking good ....

I made the trip downtown to the LA Auto Show this weekend. A few years ago I had been at HP World, but had stayed nearby and had missed the opportunity of driving into the city and to experience the “pleasures” of LA’s freeways. The LA Auto Show is a much bigger spectacle than the Orange County event I attended in early October (check out the posting of October 10, ‘08 “This one’s a keeper?”) and the car manufacturers used this one to showcase their new cars as well as displaying futuristic concept cars. The picture above is of the Lamborghini stand where a large crowd had gathered to take a look at a bevy of beautiful models on display – along with the usual “booth candy.”

As is typical these days, many of the up-market manufacturers had their cars roped off behind barriers. Whether this is done to create an air of exclusivity, or because the cars were just too fragile to stand up to the heavy volume of visitors eager to get in behind the wheel, I am not all that sure. But it does bring out my competitive nature, and I work hard to get invited inside the ropes. Yes, I could visit the manufacturer’s showrooms, but this is always a lot more fun.

This year, I started with Maserati and after a brief exchange with the salesman I was invited to view the cars more closely. Yes, I sat behind the wheel, and yes, I talked the salesman into giving me one of their magnificent brochures – more a book than a pamphlet. Armed with the glossy Maserati book I then headed for the Aston Martin stand! After a brief exchange with the booth staff I was once again invited back behind the ropes to look over the new DBS, as featured in the latest James Bond movie. Even though it was under lock and key, even for invited guests, I was still able to spend time behind the wheel of the V8 Vantage. Not as much room inside as in the just-released Maserati GT-S, but I managed to talk Aston Martin out of a “boxed” book on the DB9 / DBS. Now clutching both the Aston Martin and Maserati brochures ,easily recognizable even from a distance , I found my way to the Ferrari stand.

This turned out to be more challenging, as I overheard one of the Ferrari attendants turn down a request with the very curt response “I am sorry, but only current Ferrari customers are being invited to view the cars.” Time to change strategy! I am a prospect and I am comparing the Maserati GT-S with the new Ferrari California - don’t they share the same engine, transmission and brakes?” I enquired with as much fervor as I could muster. And then, maintaining eye contact, I added very quickly “if you don’t mind, and if there aren’t too many current Ferrari customers on the stand, could I take a look?”

“Come back in ten minutes and I will see if you can come inside the ropes,” was the formal response. After ten minutes, I caught the salesman’s eye and he nodded to the staff to let me in. I enjoyed a good twenty minutes sitting inside the various Ferrari’s on display, and the Ferrari California and the Maserati GT-S were indeed very similar mechanically, targeting the same audience, but they do not share the same engine and drive-train! For me, the Maserati looked the more appealing car and definitely the best price-performance offering at the auto show.

For as long as I have been on the vendor side of the community, I have always been interested in the balance that is needed between servicing customers and attracting prospects. With so much written today about becoming customer centric and for putting the customer first, do we forget about attracting new customers? Are prospects being given little opportunity to step inside the ropes, to better present their requirements and explain their business issues, or are we simply reserving time for our established customers? While there is understandable downside from ignoring your customers, isn’t there just as much downside – perhaps even more – from missing an opportunity to listening to prospects.

Recently I was in Campbell, California and, arriving early, I took a walk up the main street. I have to admit I was very surprised to run into the Golden Gate Showroom! I have included a picture of it here but no, Transactional Data Management (TDM) software wasn’t on display or being sold from this shop.

Showrooms, particularly those of car manufacturers, have played a significant role in attracting prospects over the years. While we still have far to go before we see major infrastructure software components for sale at the local corner shop, watching the crowds drawn to Apple’s stores suggests that the next generation of IT executives may find this an attractive option for them. But I am not holding my breath in anticipation that this will be something GoldenGate pursues any time soon!

Building the business model that strikes the right balance between the needs of the customer and the need of the prospects, shouldn’t be all that difficult. As I found it pretty easy to communicate the right message to the Ferrari salesman, and to strike up a dialogue with him – yes, I did have him open the hood of the new Ferrari California so that I could examine the new 4.7 liter engine in more detail - good companies will always be quick to respond to prospect inquiries. And these good companies will also be quick to recognize opportunities for their products and be able to easily steer the dialogue into an open exchange on their suitability and value proposition. Sami Akbay, VP of Marketing and Product Management at GoldenGate, suggested “companies that fail to find the balance between supporting customers and servicing prospects, will always run the grave risk of missing that one opportunity that can catapult the company to the next level! The vehicle for growth can only be fueled from successfully attracting a broad community of prospects.”

In the blog posting of October 10th, ’08 “This one’s a keeper?” I looked at how the economy was impacting the introduction of new technology and how the pool of prospects for new products was shrinking with each quarter I wrote of how … technology and product roadmaps are no longer the full story and holding tightly onto soon-to-be-legacy equipment has nothing to do with emotions but rather, non-existent cash flow.” The context for this observation was the declining availability of older systems from third-party leasing companies. In other words, prospects for additional major hardware components, including complete servers, were having a tough time getting what they wanted as more customers held on tightly to what they already had! With no lessening in transaction growth, what were they really going to do?

And I am beginning to wonder – will this generate another sea-change in system and server usage? As the transaction volume continues to climb, will this simply push customers into offloading less important transactions to more readily available platforms like Linux and Windows? Not as part of a grand vision or major strategy shift, but out of necessity and have we overlooked the prospects for this simply because we remained tightly focused on the customers of our current product set? Can we say we remain confident in our business model if we miss talking to these prospects?

I am a huge supporter of all things NonStop – from the first time I encountered the architecture I became hooked – but I see it now as a part of a bigger picture. Not as a return to application silos but as an integral part in our support of a “mixed workload” of transactions. Some transactions have to be processed, no matter what the circumstances. Whether I am an existing NonStop user offloading less significant transactions to commodity platforms, or simply an existing user of commodity platforms wrestling with how to “harden” the environment to better support a select group of transactions and a prospect for NonStop,, I really could benefit from stepping inside the ropes and looking at the options. But will I have to clutch on tight to my IBM and Microsoft brochures before anyone pays me any attention? And will my business questions find an audience?

For me, gaining access to roped-off areas in the exhibition hall is a game. I have done it many times before, and my intentions have not been completely honorable. But even as I continued with the game last weekend, I did see something I liked and will probably pursue the Maserati next year. And this is what bothers me the most when it comes to technology companies – without finding the right balance between customers and prospects, could we miss that opportunity that lifts us to that next level? Even for a company the size of HP, attracting prospects and working with them is not only just as critical, but potentially is all that separates them from stumbling and missing that one big opportunity!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Losing my connection!

It’s been hard to escape the news of the fires as they rage, wind-driven, down through the canyons surrounding greater Los Angeles. While is the fires are now subsiding, the past week or so has seen so much destruction and tragedy that it’s hard to imagine the city soon forgetting this year’s fires. Again, it has been the Santa Ana winds that have contributed to the fires’ spread and there has been little let-up in the ferocity over the past month. In October, it was the Porter Ranch fire that had brought similar tragedy right to our doorstep and the picture I have included here is from my condo looking east towards California Highway 118 as it climbs out of Simi Valley.

Television networks gave us continuous coverage of the efforts being made by the fire brigade, police, and service providers like telephone and power companies. With mandatory evacuations, the empty streets could be seen, grid like, alive with activity as crews rushed to hot spots with a freedom of movement rarely seen before on the streets of Los Angeles. As reporters brought us live video feeds from ground level, you could often see fire chiefs alongside of fire engines studying topology maps and looking for the best access routes that would give the fire fighters an opportunity to combat the worst outbreaks.

It’s never easy to reflect on developing tragedies of this scope, or to compare the actions of the emergency services teams with anything we experience in our business lives. After watching house after house burning to the ground, the scale of the damage quickly overwhelming the senses, I was reminded of the fire-fights that can break out within the operation center. And the anxieties emergency personnel fighting the flames faced did remind me of scenes I have witnessed inside data centers as potential business catastrophes were avoided by well-disciplined and smart network managers.

In a blog posting back on November 8, ’07 “The artists among us ...” I asked the question “is the operator who instinctively knows what actions to take, at precisely the right time, and pursuing a sequence of commands many of us struggle to comprehend, any less an artist than the conductor of our best symphonies?” I then went on to observe “as I have looked at some of today’s data center schematics describing in minute detail the complexities of the interfaces between servers, storage, and communications paths – I can’t imagine how much time would be involved if ever we had to pour over them to figure out what we had to do next to fix a problem.”

Of all the technicians monitoring today’s IT operations, it is the network manager who faces the biggest, and often the most visible challenges. It only has to happen to the CEO once, and everyone in the company soon knows that the company’s most senior executive couldn’t get access to information from his laptop or PDA at a crucial time – and with the investments made in IT technology - why couldn’t he keep connected!

Integrated within IT’s operation centers, the network center can be just a few screens managing a small number of phone lines, or highly complex control rooms dedicated to supporting a global enterprise. The picture below is of AT&T’s network operations center on the US east coast which is probably among the larger facilities managing a network, although I do recall seeing pictures of the EDS facility in Plano that was of similar size. Extremely costly to set up and operate, and just as likely to be in Bangalore as anywhere else these days, they are nevertheless extremely necessary and an integral part in supporting today’s mission critical applications.

In a recent conversation with Peter Shell, a former OzTUG President who has a long association with networks and network management, I asked him what he saw as the role of network managers today. “The network world is changing - look at where Cisco is going! With TCP being the ubiquitous protocol to deliver all kinds of services such as voice (VoIP), video-on-demand, messaging, etc the communications ‘pipes’ keep getting bigger and the network becomes more complex. Quality of Service (QoS) is important, as is redundancy, backup paths, as is negotiating with multiple carriers.”

“Can you afford to lose your network connection now?” Peter asked, and then explained how “the role of network managers has changed to where they are looking after a number of networking specialists - routers, switches, firewalls, security appliances, etc. Where it used to be a series of protocols that needed to be supported - SNA, TCP/IP, X.25, Netware, XNS, Appletalk, etc. these days you really only need to worry about TCP/IP. But above IP are the many routing protocols, IGRP, OSPF, RIP etc. that are important to the data center’s operations. More recently, there are the application-specific protocols such as SIP, VOIP, etc. that need to be managed. And just to add to the confusion, there is QOS and SSL/IPSEC. In former times, you could partition the network by protocol relatively easily but today, with it all being IP, it becomes more complex.”

The critical nature of the work performed by network managers often requires them to step in at times of disasters – hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, fires, etc. And the measures some IT groups take to make sure they can continue providing the service demanded of them, including redundant connections to phone networks, power grids, and even water supplies further adds to the cost and the complexity. As I tour these facilities I like to check out the back-up power generation capabilities, and the picture here is of two 750 kilowatt Caterpillar generators that are typical of what many have built into these facilities.

Watching the firefighters battle the outbreaks around Los Angeles these past weeks, it looked like little has changed with the years. There are now more planes and helicopters dropping fire-retardant materials to douse the flames at some of the worst hot spots, but it still comes down to the skills and experience of the fire fighters face to face with the flames. Each fire had to be battled separately, and extinguished, in order to get control over the “front” fanned by the Santa Ana winds. And so it is too that the actions of experienced network managers, using all the tools available to them, keeps the applications we depend upon from crashing down on top of us.

When it comes to NonStop, I have held the belief for many years that the platform is among the most ideal on which to run key network management monitoring and control applications. For years, the cost to do so has been prohibitive when compared to off-the-shelf “wintel server” platforms, but with the arrival of blades and the BladeSystem, could we see this all changing?

So much of what NonStop provides could even help keep the staffing levels manageable – a key component of any network center. Just as we purchase power from more than one grid and still install dual power generation capacity, and just as we lease redundant communications pipes and still replicate to a second DR site – surely the inherent architecture of NonStop has a role to play in the oversight of these operations centers?

The platform continues to become more open, and the ability to port applications has been greatly simplified – I wonder how long it will be before an innovative vendor realizes that significant product differentiation could be achieved by providing support for NonStop? When I look back at AT&Ts network operations center, I could easily see a NonStop configuration supporting it all. And so many automated routines could be reliably launched from the NonStop platform and simplify any recovery steps.

In Martin Fink’s blog posting of November 4th ’08 “The Unix Paradox – Innovation” he makes an observation as applicable to NonStop as to Unix, that “labor costs are one of the biggest expenses in the data center. As a result, vendors truly need to focus and innovate around automating as much as possible and that which isn’t automated needs to be made simple.” And in pursuing this, Martin suggests “automate the system (redeploy operations staff to higher payback projects that are no longer required to maintain the environment); reduce the amount of planned downtime; and make it simpler/easier to deploy and manage!” Automate, zero downtime, and simple – surely, a NonStop Martin!

It’s very easy to make comparisons between fire fighters battling the real fires and the actions of our network managers in times of crises – but the tragedy we watched unfold as families lost their homes is heart-wrenching with implications way beyond what IT faces on a routine basis. And it’s something that doesn’t warrant any trivialization at times like this.

But it did remind me of the many IT fires I was involved with early on in my career and it does reinforce the value-add we have today with NonStop. Will we ever see NonStop in the heart of tomorrow’s IT operations centers – I wouldn’t rule it out, nor would I too quickly dismiss vendors giving it a second look with the new blades packages.

Vendors will continue to innovate and for some of them – battling the current mix of offerings from IBM, HP, and CA – this could be a real opportunity to break from the pack! Furthermore, network management can be considered as nothing more than infrastructure “application-ized” and infrastructure offerings on NonStop are bountiful. And perhaps, better equip tomorrow’s network managers with a platform that will make sure their CEO never again complains about losing his connection! Well connected CEO… hmm… that’s scary indeed!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Innovation – simply put!

I am still working from my Simi Valley office, where I will remain until the Thanksgiving weekend. I am still an early riser and have drifted into a pattern of heading to the Starbucks next door, joining other early rises, for the first coffee for the day. But now the days have grown shorter, and it’s always dark. The picture above I snapped this morning, as the full moon above the corner coffee shop was quite a sight.

And as much as I dislike many technologies on offer these days, to be able to simply pull out the blackberry and check all that is going on back east, or in Europe, is something I really find very beneficial. Twenty five years ago, if you had suggested that I would be able to do my email from a small, handheld device, while sitting in a coffee shop, I would have found it pretty hard to believe. But today, it’s all about these small devices that we have become so dependent on.

Looking back twenty five years, IBM and Microsoft were still sorting out the first consumer PC and now many of us are relegating it to play a secondary role – something we turn to only when we are back in the office. More often these days, business people who travel on a regular basis stand more chance of interacting with a PC when they use an ATM, print a boarding pass at an airline kiosk, or simply check-in at a hotel using a touch-screen terminal. For the rest of the time, it’s a quick check of the PDA and perhaps a couple of lines responses or two, and a few short phone calls.

The way we work continues to evolve and today, looking back at the time we spent around the water-cooler, the coffee machine, and just hanging out in break rooms before heading to our office or cube, it’s hard to imagine anything productive or creative being done. It’s now a case where, irrespective of where we are physically, we can be working and participating in a more productive environment than any of us thought possible. And our dependence upon these small devices has seen their global adoption skyrocket.

But what we have become so accustomed to has had a huge impact on the technology in support of it all – not quite as magical as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz - but sometimes, not too far removed. A reoccurring theme of my postings has been Innovation, and for me, while the number of hand-held devices deployed worldwide attracts a lot of media attention, I have a lot more interest in what’s going on behind the curtain. There are many levers being pulled and a lot of strings being manipulated. And for the most part, it all works.

Earlier this year (February 4, ’08), I posted the blog “Disruptive technologies and radical innovation ...” where I wrote “HP bladed architecture with its support of any number of operating systems including NonStop, has the potential to become another disruptive technology. By leveraging a very inexpensive building blocks … HP customers will be able to focus on buying the best application for a given business issue with little need to consider the mix of hardware and operating systems required.” I went on to comment about how this will represent a very important milestone in the history of Tandem – this time, with the use of commodity packaging, the old argument of relying on expensive hardware will be finally put to bed.

If what’s behind the curtain truly is important and what we depend upon for much of what is communicated across our companies, surely having the option to run the most critical components of our business logic on NonStop with minimal pricing penalty will be welcomed by many businesses. Already proven in support of ATM, POS, and Mobile Phone networks globally, NonStop is a key participant behind the curtain. But even as we commoditize the hardware and simplify it down to just a few unique packages – are we doing enough in support of the business logic? Can we move it around as easily as we plug blades into today’s BladeSystem? Even solutions not originally designed to run on NonStop could really benefit today from leveraging the NonStop technology.

Just a few weeks ago (November 5, ’08), in another blog “It’s up there, in the clouds!” I remarked that “for me there will always be a collection of key infrastructure components – we need to secure and protect our business logic and data, we need to have a standard way to describe the interfaces between the applications embracing our business logic (and as services, this seems the easiest way to me) since we are constantly upgrading and changing the applications, and we need to ensure our data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365!”

A little later in the same posting, I went on to add “as we see cloud computing gain broader appeal … those tasked with putting it all together will find no lessening of their responsibilities to secure, interconnect, and make available business logic and data.” Again, a reference to what I believe will be a time where the underlying infrastructure will attain a level of sophistication that the business logic will be free to be deployed on any of the commoditized hardware packages. By simply pulling a few leavers, the wizard now within the cloud, will be able to respond to changes and move critical components in support of business logic onto more reliable platforms, such as NonStop.

Recently, Starbucks introduced one of the cleverest and simplest pieces of technology to the stores. As is the case with everything in America, we absolutely have to be able to buy our lattes from a drive through window. But we also want the cups filled to the brim. But as soon we have deposited the cups into one of the 12 or 15 cup holders provided by the car manufacturers we come off the break and pull away from the window. And through the small opening in the lid coffee flies out and into areas we all find impossible to clean.

Solution? A slender small “stopper” - not much different from the swizzle sticks spearing the olives we find in our martini glasses, it has a shaped end that completely fills the small opening in the lid. Brilliant! For those unfamiliar with this innovation in car cleanliness, I have included a photo. And I refer to this as I am often reminded that it’s the simplest solutions, or designs, that prove the most effective.

At GoldenGate, so much of our support these days is directed at migrations – one time platform changes that are typically associated with moving away from a platform, as well as ongoing multi-data center support where change is constant and keeping data synchronized becomes crucial. The shift from strictly replication to complete Transaction Data Management (TDM) has seen the company more actively involved providing the key infrastructure component that ensures the data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365!

The ability to play such a leadership role came about when the original architect of GoldenGate created the any-to-any, decoupled, asynchronous architecture that anchors the product to this day. With this capability, Sabre was able to deploy one of the first successful look-and-book infrastructures that since was emulated by many others. And creating innovative infrastructure that broadens our options, can only be beneficial to us all.

In one of my earliest postings (November 25, ‘07), “Preventer of Information Services?”, I made the observation “for me, innovation is always about the interactions between individuals, not about dependence on the creativity of a single individual. It is the free flow of information and the presentation of different points of view that triggers an innovative idea.” And I have to believe that wizards are out there, and the support for any application to run on NonStop as easily as it runs on Linux or Unix may only be a “small ‘stopper’” away.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize this as my 100th posting, and I think it’s fitting that in this post I continue to link NonStop and Innovation. Of all the reoccurring themes in the postings I have made, this is the one that interests me the most. And I have to wonder, what will be changing most in the next twenty five years – the devices we rely on or the infrastructure behind it all?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is it time we folded our (big) tent?

It is with a lot of sadness that I write this blog. As I sit back with a coffee here in Simi Valley, I can’t keep my thoughts from wandering to Mannheim, Germany where, in a few days time, the HP NonStop community will be gathering for the first ever Community Connect Europe (CCE) user event. This will be only the second European user event that I have missed since the early ‘90s and even though our company, GoldenGate. will be well represented, I have elected to skip this one. So here I am in Simi Valley and the photo you see is of me enjoying coffee at my local Starbucks!

My first opportunity to attend the European ITUG event came in 1991 when it was held in Munich, Germany. I was working for Tandem Computers in Cupertino, as the program manager for NonStop NET/MASTER, and had stopped by Amsterdam on the way over. But I didn’t make it to Munich that year as I had to return to Cupertino for personal reasons, and it wasn’t until the following year, when the event was held in Nice, before I finally made it to my first European ITUG user event.

I was reminded of this yesterday in a conversation I had with Bill Honaker, a former ITUG Chairman. For the Tandem party, on our last night in Nice, Bill lent me his “official” ITUG Board Member badge, and I wore it for the remainder of the evening with no inkling that years later I would be elected to the ITUG Board.

Throughout the ‘90s and into this decade the community enjoyed enormous support from Tandem and, with the acquisitions, from Compaq and HP. As Chairman of ITUG, I would always find time to walk through the exhibition floor before the opening sessions and I would always stop by the support desks manned by Tandem – Jack, Jimmy C, Todd, John – they were always first to show up and slaved for days to make sure the demos could be supported and the vendors had access to the latest NonStop servers.

Last night I received an email from Nigel Baker, relaxing on Sydney harbor, and observing “thought you might like to know that I have spent the late afternoon (after having spent the early afternoon on HMAS Vampire) in hot sunshine, drinking a few beers, at Cockle Bay – a delightful, 80 degrees!” Nigel has been associated with ITUG events for as long as I can recall and I caught up with him, by chance, at “the Duke” in Cupertino only a week ago. His passion for all things NonStop continues to remain strong, and we reminisced about the work that went into setting up the exhibition hall and how the excitement built with the every stand that went up, and how you could just feel the buzz growing in the final hours before the first sessions started.

I have talked often and enthusiastically about ITUG events, including the many regional events. A few days ago I was in an email exchange with Steve Bailey, formerly of Tandem Australia. Steve had moved to Cupertino about the same time I did, in late ’89. Steve put together the Tandem Australia operation in Sydney, in the late ‘80s, to support Tandem customers in Australia’s northern states. And it was Steve who encouraged me to actively pursue the creation of an ITUG regional group in Australia – igniting the enthusiasm that remains with me to this day. Over many lunches, and numerous bottles of wine, we somehow came up with the name OzTUG, which was quickly accepted by the community.

Steve has returned to Sydney and is back in the software solution business and his email update brought so many memories flooding back. And I can just see his passion and enthusiasm still burning deep and am looking forward to catching up with him again shortly. Steve, as does Nigel and Bill, highly values the user community and he is a constant reminder to me that grass-roots organizations, as we saw flourish with OzTUG, often develop the strongest “networking” ties and foster the most open and supportive dialogues.

But I will skip this year’s CCE as I am concerned about where the new Connect organization is headed. I am starting to question the value of user run events of this magnitude being held, as they often are in competition to HP’s own “big tent” marketing events. Regular readers of this blog know that for the past year, I have been predicting changes for the user groups and have been party to the formation of the new, unified community. With the arrival of the BladeSystem, with it’s NonStop Backplane and the opportunity to mix and match different physical blades (as we saw with the prototype Fred Laccabue and Randy Meyer unveiled on the HP stand at HPTF&E) a single hardware “package” can now support any mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, and Windows. But are we now running the risk of diluting the intensity and perhaps reducing everyone’s enthusiasm, by holding too many events?

HP is evolving the products very quickly today and it has become obvious to many of us that the technology that used to separate the different groups is fast becoming a commodity, made up of almost identical components. There really is little difference these days between the server families and it is almost ridiculous to continue to think strictly in unique hardware terms when talking about the NonStop, Unix, or Windows product families. But there was a lot more going on within the user communities that fueled the interest in getting together, apart from this understanding of where the products were headed. It had become apparent with the new millennium, that the business model adopted by user groups was broken and unsustainable.

Sources for education could be found elsewhere. Major users would simply come to Cupertino and engage in direct dialogue with NonStop management – there were few surprises in the product roadmaps for the majority of users. End-users were finding it increasingly difficult to talk about their own usage of NonStop – a “hole” in the program that simply widened with time. Today, just “googling” phrases can unearth material on a scale that user events could never hope to cover. And events began to compete for shrinking HP marketing dollars at a time when HP marketing really wanted more direct control over the content, messages, and format.

With an unsustainable business model and competing HP events, pursuing a joint undertaking, seemed to make a lot of sense to me. But I no longer feel at ease with the direction it appears to be taking. Increasingly, Connect is emerging as just another event, and not a community of the type we were looking for. While there are the Chapter Leaders calls, and the Connection magazine - encouraging signs, for sure - there is very little evidence that customers are thinking about themselves as Connect users rather than users of the individual platforms they remain extremely loyal to. Yes, a little Unix and Windows trickles into NonStop sites and yes, Linux is making inroads into the world of OpenVMS – but it is these mainstay operating systems that still determine the “tribal” allegiances.

The demands on volunteer’s time is overwhelming many of them – and the pool for qualified “talent” is drying up. As I look back at the time I was ITUG Chairman, for 2004 – 2005, with the support of my employer, I was giving up two days a week in support of the business of ITUG. Throw in all the days traveling and the weekends devoted to meetings, it really does add up – but today, very few companies put any value on this level of participation and seriously question the return on the investment in time that it involves. Increasingly, the volunteer base has shifted to where it’s become liberally populated with vendors as they can justify the time and the travel given that their businesses encourages close ties with the community. While at the regional levels such vendor support is good to see – at the big events, it can lessen HP’s enthusiasm!

The Connect by-laws apparently support the “perpetual leadership” model, and I have to believe that it is a hole in the bylaws, and not in any way an intentional provision allowing the president to step into vice presidency over and over again? Regurgitating the same old group of volunteers is simply not an answer – and can only lead to the formation of a “club” model where we all end up in deeply padded, comfortable, wingback chairs reminiscing about the good old days over a warm brandy! Eventually, HP will move on and invest more deeply in its own events as they watch the community turn-out drop off. But I am not writing to tell you that I am giving up – that I am throwing in the towel.

I will continue to watch and track these events – and the performance of the volunteer board. For now, I will remain independent – user groups remain incredibly valuable and I have seen solid growth in those communities that are very tightly focused. And I will participate, as best as I can, in regional groups and look at what develops, closer to the grass-roots level I feel at ease with. The recent meteoric rise in user participation at GoldenGate’s events, for instance, is just one pointer to how well-run user events can still attract a sizeable participation.

As for Mannheim, I will miss the networking with good friends and the early morning walks through the exhibition halls. I will miss the final night’s party as I will miss all the sidebar chats over coffee. And I will miss the opportunity for impromptu “brainstorming” with HP developers and product management that I enjoy so much.

Is the future of a user-run organization going to return to the hands of regional communities? I am beginning to believe that it may … and I don’t find such an outcome all that difficult to accommodate. After all, finding the time to meet locally and to enjoy regular meetings develops a much stronger affinity for the platform and solutions – and isn’t that what’s really all about?

And I continue to wonder – have we done the right thing? Should the big tent events be left to HP and is it OK to let them go down that path. After all, I liked listening to Matchbox Twenty this year!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It’s up there, in the clouds!

I am back in Simi Valley after spending a week in Boulder. The temperatures continue to remain mild across Colorado, with no sign yet of winter. Mornings can be cool but the trees still carry residual colors from the fall. The picture I have included here is of a popular walking trail where I live – and the cannels remain full as water is drained from the nearby dams in preparation for the snowfalls that will eventually arrive.

There are two cannels that flow alongside the walking trails and they date back to the era of steam, when steam trains first pushed through from the east coast. The land on which the houses were built was originally owned by Union Pacific Railway, and the cannels that spread out from the front ranges were part of a complex water-delivery system that filled the water tanks by the railway lines. The train drivers never knew how it all worked or what was involved in getting the water track-side, and they didn’t need to. But today, these original infrastructure components are still in use, but now being utilized in different ways – to deliver water to the farms of Boulder county, as well as to decorative ponds at the top of our development.

As the land around us was developed, my local community retained access to these cannels and today water is pumped up to the ponds with a network of pipes allowing gravity to supply water to common-area sprinkler systems. No matter how dry the land becomes at the height of summer, this mix of old and new infrastructure insures our walkways and parks remain green and lush!

Complex infrastructures from the past are usually not reusable. More often something better comes along, and once-dependable infrastructure is quickly abandoned, becoming nothing more than a historical footnote. When it comes to the IT industry we have shown scant interest in preserving older technologies, preferring to jump on every new technology that brings with it the promise of lower costs and improved productivity.

I have written a number of pieces this year about “cloud computing” including a posting on the topic on May 12th, ’08 that I called “The Clouds in Spain” where I referred to a presentation given earlier in the year by Martin Fink, Senior VP and General Manager of HP’s Business Critical Server organization. Martin talked about the move from monolithic to polymorphic computing, a reference to what we could expect from future cloud computing configurations. By way of explanation of what he meant, Martin then proposed “what if you went to the store and you purchased a generic vehicle … (and) every time you go out, your vehicle morphs to your need at the specific moment. This is the power of polymorphism.” And I remembered this when I came across a couple of recent publications as I was writing my recent article for the Tandemworld electronic newsletter – http://www.tandemworld.net/

InformationWeek has a white paper on this topic “A Walk In The Clouds: Cloud Computing Analytics Report” that can be downloaded from http://www.cloudcomputing.informationweek.com/?cid=nl_wp_bi_IKRnwsl110408 . This white paper contains a number of observations on how we have reached the point where cloud computing looks an attractive option, and it starts out by recalling the good old days! “Consider that many CIOs remember when everyone sat behind dumb terminals and connected to all-omniscient mainframes … Users didn't care about operating systems or hardware, just the application.” It then goes on to suggest how “many enterprise users possess two or three different devices, and frustration is rampant as they attempt to synchronize information across disparate form factors and OSes. They just want to get to the applications and data they need, when they need them … Those old days are looking pretty good.”

It seems to me that over-exposure to the infrastructure may be the issue!

In his Newsweek column of November 10th, ’08 “Technology Shifts”, columnist Daniel Lyons comes up with perhaps one of the simplest descriptions of cloud computing I have seen of late. “The basic idea is simple enough. Instead of storing your data on your PC, you store it on a server on the Internet. You don’t know, or care, where that server is located. Your data might, in fact, be scattered across a bunch of different servers. It’s just all up in the sky someplace (hence the name ‘cloud’).”

As I read the complete article, I was reminded of how complex we have made IT and how difficult it has become to address basic business issues with simple and elegant solutions. Have we layered so much infrastructure that addressing pressing business issues in any reasonable timeframe has become next to impossible? And is this now stifling any chance we may have had of remaining innovative?

But what about grid computing? On-demand computing? Software as a Service? Isn’t cloud computing just another competing model? Not exactly – as the InformationWeek white paper goes on to explain. “A few years ago it seemed grid computing, where resources could be allocated on the fly and IT managers needn't worry about capacity, might save us. Grid computing never quite materialized, however, and vendors began to develop software as a service offerings that promoted the idea of applications delivered on demand, without the need to manage and deploy infrastructure … Now, SaaS and grid computing have evolved and coalesced with concepts like virtualization, collocation, and outsourced Web hosting to form a concept called ‘cloud computing.’”

Looks more like an evolutionary step and an attempt at putting some distance between us and the infrastructure we’ve never been all that keen about!

There’s rarely something really brand new or extraordinary, technology-wise, appearing on our IT landscape. It’s not as if we are throwing away generations of technology and replacing it with something totally new. As Dr Don Norman, of Northwestern University, wrote on his web site recently, “Our technology is cumulative, each new one adding to the ones previously acquired … The automobile is a continual source of maintenance. And of course our electronic gadgets continually require attention. I must constantly update my virus checker, install software updates, reboot the computer, the cable modem box, the WiFi connection and transmitter. If every device only needed attention once a year, I would still be fixing, maintaining, or adjusting something every day.”

For me there will always be a collection of key infrastructure components – we need to secure and protect our business logic and data, we need to have a standard way to describe the interfaces between the applications embracing our business logic (and as services, this seems the easiest way to me) since we are constantly upgrading and changing the applications, and we need to ensure our data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365! These continue to be among the more critical infrastructure components but even within these components, there remains an evolutionary process with many basic elements being reused. At the lowest level, for instance, event monitoring and processing has changed very little from the time it first appeared.

As we see cloud computing gain broader appeal - and here I see HP on the forefront of this development and the new HP Integrity BladeSystem (including support of NonStop) a critical building block well-suited to the assembling of clouds – those tasked with putting it all together will find no lessening of their responsibilities to secure, interconnect, and make available business logic and data. Those working inside the cloud will continue to face the accumulation of more and more technology.

And these technicians will take over much of what concerns folks like Dr. Norman who concluded “all the backup equipment adds to the burden - we have to back up the backups and worry about whether they really work, and test them. I seem to spend more of my time being a mechanic and maintenance person than doing my work - or for that matter, just relaxing … Just doing things is getting harder and harder.”

Perhaps infrastructure itself is destined for the clouds – unseen by any user!

Cloud computing certainly holds out the hope of a far more flexible future where accessing information at any time from anywhere in the world becomes a lot easier to achieve. But complexity will always be with us – it’s just the nature of our industry. We may mask it, and even bury it far from sight, but it will always be with us. While it is very early days still and has yet to be embraced by the HP NonStop community, the very nature of an “always-on” cloud screams NonStop to me, and with its new found openness and ease of integration with other applications, NonStop has to be viewed very seriously.

Just as cannels were dug to pipe water to where state-of-the-art steam trains needed it, will we become, just as those steam train drivers of yesterday, unaware of the infrastructure deployed in support of our applications? And will this free us to become more innovative in our approach to problem solving?

For the most part, I expect much of what we have today will just sink back into the landscape but then again, I have to believe some of it will find a new use and be revisited in ways we had never thought of – up there, in the sky somewhere! Among the clouds!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reserve some "Whoa"!

Picking up a newspaper from under my hotel door the other week, I saw an advertisement by Hertz promoting their latest car offering – a bright “velocity-yellow” Corvette. Under the picture (shown above) was the caption: Reserve some Whoa! As most readers know by now, anything with a picture of a ‘Vette will always catch my attention, and later that same day, as I passed by the Hertz lot, there were five of them lined up waiting for customers to pick them up.

Hertz is a GoldenGate user, with GoldenGate supporting their mission critical applications on NonStop, and over the years I have seen Hertz’ folks attending user conferences and events. While I can only guess at the types of the applications running on NonStop, I have to believe that each time I reserve a car some part of the transaction passes through a NonStop.

However, what did surprise me was, that as I was paging through earlier postings researching items for this post, I came across the May 31, 2008 posting “Heading for the exit!” where one of the photo’s I included was of my ‘Vette leading a bright velocity yellow ‘Vette at Willow Springs raceway. This outing was on the weekend of May 24 – 25, 2008, and on that Sunday I recall seeing this car pull into the pit area and it puzzled me as I didn’t recognize the badge on its fender – HZH!

Hertz had launched this “Reserve some Whoa” program only a few days before the event at Willow Springs, but a participant had managed to pick one up. I have seen racing drivers looking for an edge, and working hard to close any competitive gap, but turning to a rental car company was not an approach I had expected. Talk about reserving some Whoa! Hertz certainly had the mortgage on that theme, and the car performed well out on the big track - even for an automatic.

These days it has become very difficult gaining any kind of competitive edge – and whenever a gap develops, it’s often difficult maintaining it no matter how many years go by. As a youth, living close to Sydney harbor, I developed an interest in sailing and when Australia first challenged the United States for the America’s Cup, the excitement it generated was unlike anything seen before. Back in the late ‘50s, Australia’s then newspaper-baron, Sir Frank Packer, put together a challenge and in 1962 his yacht, “Gretel”, arrived in Newport, Rhode Island.

At the time, very few yachtsmen in Sydney even knew of the America’s Cup or of the tradition behind it. None of us truly appreciated what Sir Frank was going up against – almost 150 years of exclusive ownership of the revered “auld mug”! And once Gretel was in the waters off Newport, she had the audacity to win a race – the first win for team sailing against the US under the then-current 12 meter formula. However, the US went on to win the series.

In 1983, Australia II was launched and it went on to win 48 of the 55 races it sailed that year, including the finals of the America’s Cup, ending the longest winning streak in sporting history. Probably the smallest 12 meter yacht ever built, Australia II simply “out-technologied” the incumbents – a feat thought impossible by everyone in the yachting community. And it came back to win from being down 3-1 (very reminiscent of the modern-day Red Sox) in a best-of -even final. Australia II’s secret “winged keel” gave it an uncanny maneuverability “edge” that the skills of the American skipper Dennis Conner simply couldn’t overcome. And across Australia that early Monday morning, the nation woke to the unexpected and surprising news - and exhaled a collective “whoa!”

It was with this in mind that I read a short update in the electronic newsletter “5 Minute Briefing: Data Center” published by the good folks at SHARE – the IBM Users Group, and with whom I continue to maintain good relations. I was particularly intrigued by the story filed under the heading “Mainframes Brightest Spot in IBM Server Line with 25 Percent Sales Jump” that reported “revenues from System z mainframe server products increased 25 percent compared with the year-ago period … (and) total delivery of System z computing power, which is measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second), increased 49 percent.”

This comment was then followed by “aside from System z, overall revenues from the Systems and Technology segment were sluggish, totaling $4.4 billion for the quarter, down 10 percent (11 percent, adjusting for currency) … Revenues from the converged System p server products increased seven percent compared with the 2007 period.” And then came the real zinger “Revenues from the System x servers decreased 18 percent, and revenues from the System i servers decreased 82 percent. Revenues from System Storage decreased three percent, and revenues from Retail Store Solutions decreased 24 percent. Revenues from Microelectronics OEM decreased 27 percent.”

In other words, apart from System z and System p, the revenues for all other servers lost ground. And what intrigued me here was that, comparing System z sales to a year-ago, glosses over the fact that twelve months ago the figures for System z were very low. All the smart CIOs, fully aware that the new z10 would be announced early in 2008 (see the posting on March 1, 2008 “Thirty years on - a new generation!” for more information on the z10 announcement) had held back the purchase of additional mainframe MIPS, depressing sales figures in the process. The reports that IBM has now seen a significant increase shouldn’t be a surprise at all, as these same CIOs rushed to make up for the shortfall in computing power that they had let develop over this timeframe. And it’s hardly a story I would be promoting as a return to growth in mainframe MIPS!

As for the bigger picture, this attention paid to the System z is even more interesting as it signals that the gap IBM has held over other competitors, is rapidly diminishing. And the speed with which this gap is eroding is somewhat staggering to me – I just didn’t think other technology companies would find the tools to advance as quickly as they have. And just as Hertz advertised for its stylish velocity-yellow ‘Vette, I had to “reserve some whoa!” as I ask myself: isn’t the revenue from the sale of systems less relevant these days and, anyway, isn’t IBM transforming itself into a Software and Services business?

If only that were the case! In the same report, the reporter went on to add “revenues from the Software segment were $5.2 billion, an increase of 12 percent (eight percent, adjusting for currency) compared with the third quarter of 2007. Revenues from IBM's total middleware products, which primarily include WebSphere, Information Management, Tivoli, Lotus and Rational products, were $4.1 billion, up 12 percent versus the third quarter of 2007.”

If you flatten the spike associated with the uptick in System z sales you would expect to see additional revenues flow to products like WebSphere (application and transaction services), Information Management (data base), and Tivoli (manageability)! Shouldn’t we have seen a much bigger jump in Software revenues? But I just can’t see it in the figures here, and neither do a lot of financial analysts. Has the competition rented the Hertz ‘Vette’ and driven clean past IBM? Have they started to “out-technology” IBM?

Whether it is cars or yachts, and whether it’s just a competition at the local level or a major international event, everyone looks for the edge that separates them from the rest. Now I am not suggesting turning to a corporation like Hertz and commandeering one of their most competitive products is an appropriate or relevant approach when it comes to technology. What I am suggesting is that if all IBM can point to these days is the return to routine mainframe MIPS numbers, plus some growth in System p sales, as their bright spots, then they really are in trouble.

The recent moves by HP – leveraging the Intel roadmap and delivering a comprehensive blades offering, partnering with Oracle and jointly launching a data base machine, as well as completing the acquisition of EDS suggests that HP has not just closed the gap to IBM, but is happily bowing right past it. All of these HP technology decisions made over the period of just a few quarters, is as rapid a transformation inside any technology company as I have ever witnessed. And I have no doubts whatsoever that there’s the potential for even more wise choices in the works.

Out on the track the appearance of the rented yellow Corvette certainly was a surprise. It was a bold move for sure, and attracted a lot of attention. Arriving at Newport with the smallest yacht, but capable of changing direction better than the competition, was just as bold a move. Has the technology leadership role IBM enjoyed for more than half a century slipped away, and is it IBM now that has “reserved some whoa” as it watches HP slip on by.

I have opinions and express them often in the postings on this blog, but I think the facts support my observations, and yes, I find reading press releases of the financial results fascinating sometimes…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who you gonna trust?

For more than a year now, I have been travelling between Boulder, Colorado and Simi Valley, California. Symptomatic of the changes taking place across our industry, where companies have become more interested in the skills and knowledge you can provide, than where you live. However, some executive positions still require a hands-on approach, and this is what has happened in our family. Frequent travel between the two cities has become an integral part of our life these days.

There’s always a downside of course – I was looking for tools the other day that I thought were in the garage, until I remembered that they were in the other garage. And when I went to the refrigerator, I remembered too late that what I wanted was in the other refrigerator. And then there are the usual household expenses that need to be attended to, along with the frustration that follows when you realize you are paying for services you can’t actually use!

The climate in Colorado means that you need to turn to contractors for tasks you would normally take care of yourself. As winter approaches, all outdoor plumbing needs to be “blown”, including all irrigation systems turned on for the summer, as water cannot be left to accumulate when the temperatures head south. Coordination between the many vendors now contracted for lawn-mowing, gardening, the plumbers, etc. becomes a highly critical task we found, as is establishing your guidelines.

And this year, I had a wake-up call about relying on one contractor looking after it all. After much higher water bills last year, and with no real idea as to the cause, I had our gardener program the sprinkler system this year. And he understood the “budget” I had for water knowing full well I wouldn’t be at home to enjoy the gardens and lawns for much of the year but just as aware I didn’t want to see them to die from lack of water. In the late spring, I began to notice the lawns were a little browner than in previous years – and that was OK. I understood. As long as nothing died!

The picture above is of the front yard with everything looking really green and very plush. At about the same time the lawn-mowing service bills began to really climb. And then I saw two months of water bills – whoa! About as much as we had paid in rent, only a few years ago! A quick phone call to the lawn-mowing service and yes, he had changed the irrigation programs – now water was coming on every evening and for a longer period. Didn’t I like how green the lawns looked?

“Never let the lawn-mowing service look after your irrigation!” was the response from our gardening contractor. “Of course they will increase the amount of water irrigating your lawns! There’ll just be more lawn to mow and they will need to mow it more often. Trust me!” So we are having the amount of irrigation dialed back as we head into the fall, and no longer relying on the services of just one vendor.

And it reminded me – how much attention are we paying to the industry consolidation going on, and how attentive are we to the mix of infrastructure and middleware software they now control? In particular, the most recent moves by the very large software vendors to flesh out their offerings so as to provide the user community with more or less a one-stop shopping experience?

Momentum first swung away from the hardware -, and operating system -, centric models of the late 60s, and has never swung back. It is very much an application-centric model today, and we acknowledge that business issues continue to determine the applications we deploy. It is the application that dictates the middleware and infrastructure requirements, and ultimately, mandates the hardware and operating systems.

Should an application only support Oracle, then there’s no point in investing in DB2 or MySQL as these middleware offerings will hold little interest for any application vendor tied to Oracle’s products! And now we watch as Oracle integrates applications, like Siebel, with former BEA infrastructure, as well as to Oracle’s data base – as it owns all the pieces and can provide a complete “mega-stack”! Likewise, as Microsoft continues to incorporate more of the DATAllegro technology (via an acquisition) into future releases of SQL Server, do we seriously expect Microsoft applications to support a raft of system platforms other that Windows / Intel? From Microsoft applications, to .NET infrastructure, to data base middleware – they too have their own software mega-stack.

Is this necessarily a good thing for a user community? Such tight integration is quickly reducing the number of vendors we can turn to for solutions and that always has to be worrying in terms of maintaining innovation, particularly where data base products are involved. Could we be handing everything over to the lawn-mowing service, trusting them not to overdo watering the lawns?

This past year, we have seen the sizes of data bases explode as the applications are capturing more data than ever before, as operational systems push deeper into corporations, that in turn, provides companies with the ability to reach out to more markets and capture even more customers. In a recent article in InformationWeek, Scaling the Data Warehouse (October 13, 2008), writer Richard Winter talks about one client where “the data warehouse keeps more than a petabyte of disks spinning and has grown by a factor of 10 during the last four years. It's expected to at least double in the coming year.” The importance of data base vendors “capturing” these applications providers, as they are now doing, becomes a lot clearer as well as a little worrisome.

And what does this mean for NonStop? I have been a very strong supporter of NonStop SQL (NS SQL) but market-penetration has been very slow to develop and now, twenty years on, I am concerned about its future. Without HP buying a very big vendor with broad market appeal, like SAP for instance, and integrating key NonStop middleware and infrastructure components such as NS SQL into these applications, maybe time is running out for NonStop!

On the other hand, many view Neoview as potentially a really big application, and its use of the NonStop data base as well as the NonStop hardware and operating systems, is a step in the right direction. In the Telco marketplace, there are significant applications from HP’s own software organization that remain very closely tied to NonStop. And some of the news I am hearing about Logica, following its acquisition of the Swedish company, WM-Card, pushing hard and fast with its NonStop “Global Payment System”, is encouraging as well. And this is what it will take for NonStop to remain relevant – many more large application vendors tied intimately to NonStop!

But should we be relying on the major vendors like HP, IBM, Sun to solve our business issues? Are we running the risk of compromising parts of the solution by ignoring better implementations for the sake of having just one vendor as our contractor? Again, are we prepared to pay the higher bills for software that will follow any deeper industry consolidation?

In Richard Winter’s article in InformationWeek, referenced above, he asks a number of very good questions:

“Do we have the right architecture? Is it on the right platform? Is the warehouse about to run out of headroom? What will it take to service new users? How do we move from batch loading to continuous update? And with technology changing so rapidly, how do we know we're on the right system?”

And then Richard responds with:

“All the answers loop back to managing scalability. Getting control of scalability might mean embracing the highly parallel processing and scale-out architectures long offered by Teradata and IBM, and elements of which are now emerging in new products from Oracle and Microsoft.”

Without doubt, it’s puzzling to read statements like this and not to read anything about NonStop and for me, the short answer to all of the questions above continues to be NonStop! But the lack of support for a HP mega-stack remains a worry for some in the user community. Or does it?

Perhaps the recent decision by HP to partner with Oracle with the just-announced Exadata Storage Server, represents the extent to which HP is prepared to go at this time. And perhaps HP is aware of the pitfalls from pursuing a mega-stack, extending from the application all the way to the metal, and understands that for many in the user community this could position HP as the lawn-mowing service that also regulates the irrigation system!

Furthermore, could heading down this path be leading back to application silos, with no options to select from best-of-breed solutions and no easy integration with competing vendor’s applications? HP, with its messages around industry standard and open solutions, surely has to be sensitive to the downside of this, and must be approaching the emergence of these essentially proprietary mega-stacks with some concern.

Yet application silos are definitely beginning to re-appear. And perhaps the die has been cast, and this will be the technology landscape for the next decade! In the work I am doing at GoldenGate, I see a huge business developing for my company in the real time as companies begin to rely more on the data as the point of integration between deployed mega-stacks.

But just as I was shocked to see the price I was paying for water – and found no easy way out of my predicament, so too, will many in the user community recognize too late the dangers from reliance upon mega-stack silos. Much as we enjoy the separation of power generation from power distribution, and the lower prices that followed, we need to be careful about not having access to the wisdom of a gardener when dealing with a lawn-mover service. It may be a grave mistake! Who do we really want to turn to? And who do we really trust?