Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vienna Dialogue!

In a couple of hours I will be heading for the airport to fly home. I’ve spent five days in one of the most “classic” cities in all of Europe. Everywhere I turned, there were reminders of the glory days of the Austrian – Hungarian empire. Unfortunately, for most of the time I was captive of the hotel and the picture I have included here is from the lobby coffee shop, as I put down a few thoughts on paper.

I hadn’t penned more than a few lines when the words of a Billy Joel song, “Vienna”, came back to me. Over the decades I have been a huge fan of Billy Joel and his “Piano Man” is a song that just brings back so many memories – of ITUG events in Amsterdam, for instance, where many nights ended at the Piano Bar. And I can just hear the emotion in Billy Joel’s voice as he gets into Vienna: “You've got your passion, you've got your pride. But don't you know that only fools are satisfied? Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true. When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?”

As a captive in the hotel, all I can see from the windows are cranes. I can’t recall any previous occasion when there was as much construction going on – particularly in the streets around St Stephan’s Square in Old Vienna. I am not sure if this has anything to do with the 2008 European Football Championship, but the old town is certainly getting a thorough work over! Building facades are being refreshed, with old exteriors being incorporated into new structures, ensuring that a balance between old and new is maintained.

All week the European BASE24 User Group (EBUG) meeting has been about the need to maintain a balance. Both IBM and HP have been strongly represented at the conference, with each vendor outlining their plans for support of the new ACI products. The newly announced IBM Alliance was at the heart of many of the discussions with the community anxious about the ramifications for their companies. One of the better presentations came from Christine Dryden, a technical specialist with the Royal Bank of Canada, who described how the bank migrated many BASE24 applications from an older S-Series to a new Itanium-based Integrity NonStop server with TMR. It included an older BASE24 POS application (Release 5.1.2 - a release that’s been around since the days of the Y2K initiatives), that supports more than 500,000 POS devices on three separate logical networks. Mixing the old with the new hadn’t presented any problems to the bank’s staff.

Some of the performance gains achieved were quite remarkable with the internal response time of BASE24 reduced by 71% - from 31ms to 9ms. “We may have bought a bit more system than we needed, as we now have a little more headroom,” Christine observed, “but processing the Christmas peak this year, wasn’t as stressful as in previous years!”

Walking through the parks that surrounded the hotel you are never far from reminders of the past – and adjacent to my hotel is the Stadtpark with its golden stature of Johann Strauss. But directly across the stature is a Ferrari dealership and the juxtaposition is quite remarkable if not extreme! The city’s artistic past facing one of the most beautiful examples of modern technology. Yet only a few steps away at a construction site, in the rubble at the base of a crane, there was a PC monitor that had been thrown from the building as trash. Clearly, no longer viewed as having any further value!

The IBM Alliance has had an impact on HP. One of the oldest NonStop alliance partners, ACI had been working

with the NonStop platform for more than 30 years, and so their decision to switch allegiances caught many of us completely by surprise. But HP has decided to return to the basics, and has begun selling NonStop once more. There were many options open to HP – they could have simply elected to skip the event. In a very calm and measured presentation, Steve Saltwick, of HP BCS, started with the observation that “it is ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Steve then went on to present HP’s vision of the future and how payments are viewed by HP as a change agent, and that HP was taking clear, low-risk, short term steps with an eye on comprehensive long-term options. In other words, it wasn’t panic stations or a call to arms, over at HP. Changing gears quickly however, Steve introduced the bladed architecture and how “a ‘bladed environment’ has absolutely a compelling argument …” and that, in the end “what really matters? Trust the machine!” Don’t be too hasty here - NonStop would not be destined for the trash heap after all, I could read between the lines.

The words of Billy Joel’s “Vienna” came back almost immediately: “Slow down, you crazy child, And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile. It's all right, you can afford to lose a day or two, When will you realize,..Vienna waits for you?”

In a city of music, art, and architecture perhaps the song is right. At the cocktail reception, HP hosted, there was an increased sense that perhaps everything was going to be all right. The mantra of “the Customer if King!” could be heard and while there were concerns over the amount of time remaining before old BASE24 Classic would be sunsetted, the arrival of the IBM System z was beginning to be viewed as an additive, or complementary, offering and not as a replacement! But it would be the customer that would be making theis call. It would be the customer weighing the options and making the final decision.

For many years, and following a series of acquisitions, ACI had been struggling to support eight different retail payment engines. The decision to support just one retail payment engine was a business necessity – and ACI now believes it has demonstrated that it is a superior product offering, having responded to the user community requests for an open implementation, that gave them hardware options as well as removing the need to retain TAL programmers.

The architecture of Vienna is wonderful – from the lace-like stonework of St Stephan’s Cathedral, to the soaring domed entrance to the Palace, to the quirky use of glass and steel in some of the new buildings, it all works and gives Vienna a remarkable presence. Looking at what ACI has done, in pulling the key applications together into just three solutions, and to architect them such that they are completely independent of the underlying infrastructure and middleware stacks so that the XPNET on Integrity NonStop and the Enterprise Server Bus on System z, is only adding to the choices available to financial institutions.

“We’ve added a platform, and (the support for this platform) has been accelerated because of the alliance with IBM!” Tucked inside each of the three applications is the support of a layer of abstraction that hides the different infrastructure “stacks” such that the each of the three applications can run on any of the supported platforms transparently. But again, ACI management reminded us that not all of the three applications would run on NonStop. According to Bob Cronin of ACI, “while the System z will be our reference platform and be the platform where all three applications Retail, Wholesale, and Risk Management, will run this does not mean we will stop selling the three applications separately”. “The ability to partition a System z via LPARs and to have “support for both zOS and zLinux was very attractive”, according to Rainier Brueren, of ACI’s Retail Payments Solution.

I asked the ACI panel, during the Q&A session with the community, “seeing the HP roadmap and now aware of the ‘Shared Infrastructure Blades’ with its promise to support any mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, etc. – could an existing NonStop BASE24 user ‘assemble’ all three applications themselves?” In other words, was there any barrier or restriction by ACI to any user deploying the applications on a mix of NonStop and Linux just like on a System z? “Yes, you could do that”, answered Bob Cronin.

As I listened to the exchanges between ACI and the community over dates, support options, compliance, I became less concerned over platform issues and more engaged in the dialogue. Bob then added to me in private, “and this is what we are looking for – right now, it’s the dialogue with you all that is important for ACI. Users, ISVs, the whole ecosystem around BASE24eps – all of us need to be talking!”

For the last couple of years I have grown a little weary of defending the performance of the NonStop sales organization. Wherever I go I am asked about new NonStop deals – even within GoldenGate, I get emails asking about recent wins. But for the last year I have begun to see a renewed enthusiasm for the platform across HP, and to see HP NonStop management electing to fight back and aggressively selling the business value proposition of NonStop. This may not be the response ACI was anticipating, but I have started to wonder if this wasn’t part of the strategy of ACI. No matter how you view it, ACI has both IBM and HP aggressively competing in the marketplace - and isn’t this what we all have been waiting for?

In the last verse of Billy Joel’s song, “Vienna” you hear the words: “And you know that when the truth is told, that you can get what you want or you can just get old! You're gonna kick off before you even get half through - Why don't you realize, Vienna waits for you!”


Anonymous said...

I have very fond memories of Vienna and the ETUG I attended there. It instantly became my favorite European city.
I assume that the blade architecture that HP has embarked on will accelereate NonStop sales as they begin to abstract the hardware layer from the applications.
I have been doing a lot of re-reading Jim Gray's technical work (published on the HP website). The "new" direction for HP seems like a logical extension of his thinking.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's what we've been waiting for, now maybe HP will be motivated to push this (to coin a phrase HP has been parroting) "crown jewel" to the the market. Afterall, we who have been working on this platform already know if can beat the pants off IBM. Best wishes to ACI...I hope they know what they're doing.


Mark Whitfield said...

...or as they say in the Matrix Reloaded...'the Problem is Choice!'... as I recall in the end, Neo chooses 'Love' of Trinity over going back to the 'Source' as suggested by the 'Architect'... the Trinity here could be construed as Saltwick's Bladed vision of the future, NonStop, HP-UX, Linux (etc.)... a tenuous link, my apologies but I always did like that movie... I wonder if the fight set pieces of that movie will resemble the marketing blows between HP and IBM in the next few months... or will the Customer (Neo in this analogy) just let 'Love' of the current platform choice win over regardless of the Architect's wishes...the customers after all, are not the 'anomalies' in this equation... they are the 'Source' of payment which feeds the ACI business vision and strategy... man can't live without the machine and vice-versa, they are tied in (literally in the case of the movie)...

Richard Buckle said...

Sometimes I wrestle to get the image just right - but I have to admit (and even as a huge fan of the Matrix films), I missed the association! Many thanks for this - you raise a good point and as far as battles looming, you are absolutely right. I am planning on fueling the fire on this topic a little later tonight. Stay tuned!