Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let the good times roll ...

Back in the mid ‘90s, a couple of us from Tandem were in Sydney participating in meetings with our Australian-based development partner. Our partner had just been sold to a large US-based corporation and the reduced emphasis on Tandem wasn’t what we were expecting, and it visibly saddened us all. On the last weekend of that visit, three of us found ourselves having dinner in the popular tourist area known as “the Rocks”. As the night wound down we stopped by a popular pub, the Orient Hotel, and listened to the band playing in front of a small audience. As the band was wrapping up a set, they concluded with the Rolling Stones anthem “Well, this could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don’t know …”

And I thought about this as I was packing and preparing to return home from the SATUG user event last week. The picture I have included here is of Neil Pringle and I deep in thought although over what, I cannot recall. But it does capture the way in which senior HP management went out of their way to make themselves accessible to us all. Neil and I were aboard the river cruise on the final evening and I was experiencing similar feelings, about the likelihood of my return to South Africa, as I had had that night back in the Orient Hotel.

SATUG 2008 went off without any visible hitches with Mike Clark and his wife Jean, Anton Lessing, and Pieter Rostoll all doing a terrific job, putting together one of the better user events I have attended for some time. The enthusiasm of the vendors was apparent, and the attitude and openness of the users, was very encouraging. I happened to catch up with Patty Fennel, a recent immigrant to Cape Town. During my time as Chairman of ITUG, Patty was the HP liaison to the board and I have always respected her opinions. “The SATUG board, with the help of a few volunteers, does all the hard work in making the event a success - I've been to 4 of 8, I believe - and they now have a template that works like clockwork. The venue is ideal for a group this size, the food is delicious, the entertainment is always unique and varied (and local), the goodies are incredible... how DO they do all that?” she told me.

The SATUG event follows a pretty slick and impressive formula developed over many years. It opens with a dinner for senior managers and executives of the user community and it is one of the few events that has developed a following among C-Level executives with a number of CIOs putting in appearances over the years. This year, the dinner was held safari-style in a tent following a safari tour through the adjacent wildlife sanctuary. While there are no carnivores roaming the park, there were a couple of rhino’s.

To everyone’s surprise as we filed into the tent, the two rhinos, right on cue, lined up to follow us – coming to about 20 feet from the door. Apparently we weren’t their type! Either that or they had forgotten their invitations. After giving us the once-over, they sauntered back into the bush.

The next two days were devoted to the formal part of the event and following presentations by HP senior management, it was back-to-back vendor presentations. Patty agreed with me and told me later that she “saw the vendor community step up to the plate with some pretty interesting - and not all product-oriented - presentations.” But the presentation that gave me the most to think about was that given by Randy Meyer with his Product Roadmap update that filled in a number of blanks for me.

It has been a couple of months since I sat through a complete hardware and software update but what really impressed me was how quickly HP was moving to standards – components, parts, racks, chips, etc. Throughout his presentation, the emphasis on standardization came through time and again. He explained that there were two valuable elements to standardization – it makes the leveraging of the supply chain, within HP, possible (even for NonStop), and it makes support so much easier. Randy then described a three layer software and infrastructure stack with open access at the top, scalability and availability in the middle, and manageability and compliance at the lowest level.

He positioned the typical development environments and frameworks expected by today’s application community within the open access layer, and how they were available to NonStop users. For the scalability and availability layer, the focus was on what was being done with SQL/MX, and how important the NonStop data base was for the future. And tying it all together, at the manageability and compliance layer, was the gradual introduction of a cross-platform security and manageability product suite.

Later in the program, I was very interested in the presentation on the Integrity product line where HP-UX 11i v4 (now in development) was going to include “Zero Downtime Virtualization”, and where HP-UX 11i v5 (just in the early planning stages) was going to anchor the “Next Wave of Enterprise Computing”. Buried within this presentation was the expected arrival, in 2009, of HP Integrity Virtual Machine (HPVM). I sincerely hope that over time, element of this HPVM, or a derivative, will support NonStop as well. I am very interested to see where this leads and whether what’s happening in the HP-UX development group is applicable to the NonStop group.

Perhaps the presentation that set the event apart from those of the previous years, was the presentation by Michael Eisa, Intel’s EMEA Strategic Initiatives Manager. Now that the “Montvale” chip is shipping – and for a change, NonStop users received it ahead of the rest of the industry – he talked excitedly about the upcoming “Tukwila” and “Poulson” chips that Intel will be shipping before the end of the decade.

Changes are coming to the user community as progress continues to be made toward creating a whole new user community. And when I exchanged emails with Scott Healy, the ITUG Chairman, concerning my experiences at this SATUG event, he responded “SATUG is a forward thinking group and being a bit “off the beaten path”, are showing a lot of innovation in positioning themselves for the future. By using their strength and organization to extend services beyond NonStop to Unix and Linux technologies and business solutions, they are filling a need where there is no HP User Group presence. It is also bringing value to their members' companies, as UNIX and Linux applications typically run in their datacenters along side of NonStop.”

Patty had told me something similar when she had said to me that she “saw a vibrant organization - one that's passionate about bringing valuable information and knowledge to what can be thought of as a 'remote' area of the world.” She then confirmed Scott’s observations, adding “at the regional level, I heard that the South African user community was optimistic about opening up events to all enterprise-level customers/vendors.”

Finally, Anton Lessing, the incoming Chairman of SATUG, provided perhaps the best feedback of all when he told me “Our relationship with HP in these parts of the woods is great. Yet, we believe that we need to spread our wings and involve the greater HP community in South Africa. We have our members support for that, as we have been talking about this for a long time. SATUG 2008 saw the first of the steps on that road with the participation of Intel”

As I was getting ready to leave South Africa, and with the words of the Rolling Stones song going through my mind, I did wonder whether this was going to be the last time I would enjoy the company of the SATUG community. Thinking back to that weekend in Sydney, while we were somewhat depressed, what we didn’t know was that by the late ‘90s all three of us would be working at InSession, where meetings with the development team in Sydney saw us returning to Sydney on a regular basis for the next ten years!

While we never can be certain of the outcome of any changes, I have to admit I am no longer as anxious about the future of HPs user groups as I had been a few years back. The focus of the various boards on looking at “the whole being greater than the sum of the parts” is just the right thing to be doing – and has the interests of all us at heart. With my packing complete and time to board the flight home, perhaps I should have been thinking about the song by the Cars “let the good times roll … let the good times roll!”


Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Let me firstly say how grateful I am that you yet again came all this way to support us.

Looking over the event just finished, the highlight was probably Randy's presentation and the roadmap. However, the delegates were pleased that we had so many vendors, in particular the new ones and the different products. Overall, the attendees were happy about the way our community is supporting the South African users, and they appreciate the efforts you guys make on their behalf.

As for the influence the SATUG user group is having on the bigger HP and BCS scene, then for sure, one big influence we had this year (although I had prompted Joe Androlowicz previously) was the surprising result of discussions held around the HP response to requests for NonStop education over the last 3 years – basically, SATUG was the only organization giving any sort of education. We now have a very positive outcome from HP for Europe, including South Africa, whereby NED is more or less going to take back the training materials and that the training will be offered as a service (which is what I was doing and almost got sacked for 3 years ago). So that is a very positive result. As for BCS, well we didn't get enough buy in this year, but Intel were very impressed by the professional organization of the event and have said they will be happy to work with us going forward.

Looking ahead, the signals I was getting from the users was mostly very positive
about our "endeavour" plans addressing the formation of a new users group across the BCS product line. They want to be part of a larger group and gain experience of the other platforms, and I am hopeful we can push things forward over the next year. SATUG is the only User community in South Africa so it isn't just going to be merging existing groups down here. We're going to have to meet with the BCS users around the country, put on regional meetings and hope to solicit their interest/involvement.

All the best,
Mike Clark,

Richard Buckle said...


Many thanks for this - and let me go on record here and thank you for the work you put into making the event successful. It's always a pleasure to join the SATUG participants each year - the content of the event, the networking opportunities, the education you provide, and the overall quality of the evening activities always make this one of the "must-attend" events of the year.

Keep it up - and let's see what the future brings. Again, the team in South Africa really do need to be congratulated!