Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thanks for the Memories!

I am in Boulder for a few days. I came back to attend the Rocky Mountain user group (RMTUG) meeting. It wasn’t so much the meeting agenda – it was on security and the impact of standards – as it was an opportunity to catch up with a lot of old friends. Many of them had been with me during my time at Insession, but after ACI elected to dismantle the group, they found new homes across the NonStop vendor community at companies like XYPRO, comForte, and GoldenGate. And it was good to catch up with everyone over drinks and a bite to eat – courtesy of the generosity of a couple of the participants’ companies.

Earlier in the week, I was in Northern California where I met with folks in Cupertino from the NonStop and the Neoview teams. We talked about the user communities and about the referendum now being conducted seeking approval from all constituencies to create a new user community. We are keeping our fingers crossed as we can see a bright future and hope we can announce the new organization at the HP Technology Forum and Expo in Las Vegas.

In stark contrast to this kind of user and vendor engagement, I spent some time inside virtual communities. I have a profile on LinkedIn, and this week I joined Facebook – something I had been meaning to do for some time as I am a huge fan of virtual networks and regularly visit them. The picture I have included here is of me inside Second Life, standing on the stern of the motor-yacht “Palmisano” that is moored alongside one of IBM’s virtual islands. IBM has gone to great lengths in digitizing their facilities, including labs, and to find their CEO Sam Palmisano’s motor-yacht open to all was a lot of fun. As an aside, I have also included a photo of me on the main deck where I came across a picture of the Titanic hanging on a bulkhead. Couldn’t figure out what that was all about, or who came up with that idea, but it had me wondering all the same as if a secret message was being communicated to the IBM hardware team.

But for all the time I spend in virtual worlds, I am becoming a little jaded with it all – I am finding it all pretty boring. There’s certainly a wealth of information – if you are prepared to spend the time looking for it – but it’s still a pretty dull place for us technology and business types. There’s absolutely no sense of community and there’s very few opportunities for spontaneous “networking” as we often refer to this type of socializing. Finding anyone at all can be a confusing undertaking, even when you know they are present, and starting up a conversation can be an extremely painful process. It’s in complete contrast to the type of meetings I have been enjoying in the real world this past week.

User groups are very important, and the opportunity to meet with our peers and to talk about technology and the business problems we face, provides incredible real world value. Conversations tend to be unpredictable and unstructured but in the end, we often hear about situations and opportunities we may have otherwise been oblivious to. And networking has become increasingly important for us all given the current uncertain economic times we all live in. Nina Buik, the Encompass President, wrote in her march 3rd blog posting on the new HP User Group Community Social Networking site - http://hpusercommunity.org/blog_community.aspx how she was observing that “threats to IT jobs … should keep you on your toes when it comes to professional / interpersonal skills,” before adding a little later in that same posting “the cheese is constantly moving. You may have to be prepared or you might find yourself unemployed, or even worse, unemployable!”

I am not trying to evoke panic among the community, but there’s a strong message here. Networking in the virtual world may help us get information into the public domain, but I am not convinced that is as good as developing strong personal relationships among our peers in the real world. Typing lengthy dissertations into popular websites is just no substitute to “working the community.” Networking is how we sustain the message of NonStop and there’s nothing better than hearing stories first hand about the latest solution just deployed on NonStop.

This is very important for all of us, and for many of us it’s the only way we learn of these user experiences. But what about the NonStop platform itself – how’s the networking within HP going? It is all too easy to blame HP sales whenever we see sites moving away from NonStop, or when an industry report fails to include any references to the NonStop server. But perhaps its not all bad news as the message of NonStop is becoming more widely accepted across the HP corporation.

We are all aware that Martin Fink now heads the Business Critical Server (BCS) organization, and has taken with him a lot of enthusiasm for the NonStop platform. The arrival of the NonStop mid-plane in the new c-Class chassis (the BladesSystem c7000 enclosure) that will be used by the upcoming NS Blades system along with Unix and Linux servers, is a great start and a perfect way to infiltrate the bigger HP. And then we have Hal Massey, with years of experience on NonStop hardware and operating systems, heading BCS hardware development. Gary Campbell moved into the office of the CTO and of course, Chris Whitener, the head of Atalla, now leads the HP ESS security strategy. Not forgetting of course, the several hundred developers working for Mike Dowers that are now living in the Software group, as part of the Neoview team. The scattering of NonStop skilled engineering staff throughout the HP organization has led to a very deep transfer of NonStop knowledge into the very heart of HP.

The question I pose to audiences of late is to no longer think of the uniqueness of NonStop but rather, to think in terms of all future HP product lines being capable of supporting NonStop. The NonStop operating system may be running on all future bladed architecture servers – no longer thought of as a specialized server package, but widely accepted and an option for every user! In a recent exchange with a high-ranking NonStop product manager, he intrigued me with his observation that, once you move beyond fault tolerance, scalability, data integrity and so on, what does the NonStop really help us accomplish? He suggested that what we know is that it absolutely guarantees a transaction will be processed – transactions that arrive at the NonStop platform will be processed! I liked this remark and it further suggests that very soon HP will be supporting a “NonStop option” on many platforms.

There are a lot of changes being proposed and the community faces a major sea-change. As I write this posting we are about mid-way through the voting process to support the creation of a new user group representing the users of all HP BCS products. When I last checked, about 10 percent of the ITUG community had cast their votes and the margin was already close to two to one in favor of creating the new user group. In a follow-up email exchange with Scott Healy and Margo Holen, the current Chair and Vice-Chair of ITUG, Margo quickly responded and told me that “if you don’t vote [are] you abdicating your responsibility as a user to define the future of users groups?”

When it comes to the alternative, or to looking at options other than creating the new community, Scott came out with even a stronger message predicting that the “downside, [is] a gradual decline [in ITUG]. The past few years have been saved by the investments of the reserve. That won't be much help this year. Taking action now, while we are strong, seemed preferable to waiting a few years until we were "hat in hand". I could think of nothing more miserable than presiding over a gradual decline.” ITUG will not disappear, should the community elect to stay independent and remain outside of the greater user community, but its effectiveness and its ability to influence HP will be seriously eroded with little chance of mounting any major initiatives. Perhaps the time has come to let go of the memories we all have of the former Tandem-days we all so fondly remember.

The influence of NonStop is pushing deep into HP BCS and future products will include more and more technology we are all familiar with on the NonStop platform. The downside is that we may not see a separate NonStop product line apart from perhaps a very few specialized bespoke models assembled for a couple of major users, but the upside could be NonStop everywhere! And isn’t this a huge breakthrough for all of us, following the dark days of the last year at Tandem and then again in the years under Compaq? There are still a lot of community members who tell me of how they miss the good old days of Tandem but honestly, in the words of the current popular song by the group Fall Out Boys “thanks for the memories, even though they weren’t so great!”

So if you haven’t voted yet for the creation of the new user community – get on with it, and submit your vote. Your colleagues are anxiously waiting for the results and are all counting on your vote!

There’s a great line in the song “Thanks for the Memories” that adds “I’m looking forward to the future, but my eyesight is going bad! And this crystal ball …” And no I don’t have a crystal ball and yes, I am not seeing as well as I used to, but I do have to admit that aiming to be a significant contributor in the new community with a partner committed to driving NonStop into the heart of future server lines, isn’t all that bad! I am really looking forward to moving ahead in this new community, and with a partner in HP that really gets it!

5 comments:

Marty Turner said...

Richard:

Great timing for this topic! Although I’m a member of ITUG through my current employer, I’ve recently joined the Australian Linux User’s Group (www.linux.org.au) and the Sydney Linux User’s Group (www.slug.org.au). Why you might ask, because after leaving HP in 2005 (EER) I remain convinced that no matter what they say, HP NonStop is an afterthought with HP and as such, I want to keep my (developer) bases covered and be as employable as long as possible; and quite frankly speaking, if you take a look at the Seek (http://www.seek.com.au/) websites and their ilk (Monster and such), you see far more Linux, Java, and .NET type jobs than anything that has “NonStop” or “Tandem” in it. And thus, I’d imagine that the rest of the remaining “NonStopers” (NonStop developers/support folks etc.) out there are doing the same.

It’s a real shame that HP continues to de-emphasize the most fault tolerant computing platform out there (and fun to work on/with).

Marty

Richard Buckle said...

Wow Marty, that was quick.

First up, I don't see any evidence of HP de-emphasizing NonStop but rather, see NonStop infiltrating deeper into HP.

And as for career options, I personally don't want to see applications developers requiring any special training (or anything esle that might suggest a closed or proprietary architecture) but rather continue to lobby as best as I can to see better support on NonStop for industry-standard frameworks and utilities.

Cheers ... and did you vote?

Steve Guendert said...

Hi Richard,

I'm not really a big fan of virtual life/second life and those things. I have a hard enough time for everything going on in my first life.

I am starting to wonder if perhaps there are too many users groups or too many conferences? It seems like many of the groups have a hard time getting members to contribute, or to attend functions.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed, what with all the so-called "Social Networking" sites (MySpace, FaceBook, Second Life, etc.) I think we need one or two more new ones: "First Life", or "Get a Life".

The absurdity of "modern life" (first life) is enough to cope with without looking for even more ways to mess up oneself (or show oneself in a bad light).

Richard Buckle said...

Too many user groups? Too many conferences? Good points, Steve and I think that's why I see value in some consolidation and believe some form of cooperation and even amalgamation is coming.

As for "get a life" (Anonymous) - you may be right and this fit's with what Steve says in his comment. With all the options available these days, surely finding the right balance is important and just knowing where to turn for (relevant and current) information unbiased and left un-interpreted for us, is what's most important for us all. We still need avenues apart from those unique to a vendor and that’s what I continue to make sure has a sustainable business model behind it.