Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The changing face of user groups ...

This weekend I drove to San Francisco for the GoldenGate Real-Time 2008 User Conference. Coming as it is the week before HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) it represented the start of an extended period of user and vendor interactions. This year, GoldenGate elected to move away from Las Vegas to the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square. And the photo I have included here shows the American and Australian flags flying over the Powell Street entrance – a complete coincidence, I was to later find out, but nonetheless for me, a reminder of the strong connection that exists between the two countries.

After all, following the successful American war of independence late in the 18th century, England had nowhere to ship its convicts. Between 1716 and 1776, almost 400 convict ships ferried 50,000 convicts to the American colonies as the English cleared their prisons two or three times a year. One day, the ships departed for Maryland or Virginia and the next, for Botany Bay. Without the American Revolution, Australia would have likely remained unsettled for another fifty years and just as likely, would have been French. That’s my theory, and I am sticking to it!

Fortunately for the English, the voyages of Captain Cook and the lands he had discovered and claimed for England, had provided the English authorities with a fall-back plan. Following the turn of events in the new world, the English government quickly transitioned from viewing Australia as an alternate destination to where it became the primary offshore penal colony for the next 100 + years. This was probably the first recorded instance of a nation having a backup plan in place in case of a disaster. And of continuing with the forced migration, with no disruption to the routine prison clearings!
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I have included a second picture here direct from the exhibition floor where the evening reception had been held. With as many user and vendor events that I have attended, the turn out was pretty impressive. And much of the credit for this event lies with Deirdre Mahon, Senior Director of Corporate Marketing, pictured here, whose organization was responsible for overseeing the whole show!

The following morning, the event kicked up a gear and the sessions and panels began in earnest. With the images of the flags very much still in mind, I was less shocked when the general session opened with some very good presentations that referenced history. Perhaps not drawing on experiences as far back as the 18th century, I was encouraged nonetheless that time was given to review how things used to be in IT. And it certainly reminded many of us of how far we have come, and explained why the new hires in our IT shops are approaching business problems with solutions we would never have thought of.

The event opened with a general session and with an introduction by Larry DeBoever. Today, Larry is a member of GoldenGate’s board of directors, but I remember being introduced to Larry back in 1997 at a Meta Group “METAmorphosis West” conference in San Diego. I had been working with another META Group analyst, Nick Gall, who introduced me to Larry and we exchanged a few words. The META Group had purchased Larry’s company the year before and was keen for Larry to launch the Enterprise Architecture Strategies (EAS) service. I didn’t attend his session in 1997, as something else was on at the same time, so when I heard him ten years later at the 2007 GoldenGate event I was determined to be awake in time to hear him again. Larry is a really good source for eye-catching headlines and he’s very quick with synthesizing complex issues down to just a single phrase. Back in 2006 when Garter was talking about “Right-Time” as distinct from “Real Time” and trying hard to convince IT that there were still legitimate cases for not doing something in real time, Larry responded with the remark “Batch is Dead!”

What he really meant by this was that batch, as a design point, is dead – and there’s now no requirement to engineer a batch process. By way of contrast, Larry went on to suggest that all new data integration projects have real-time data streaming as a key design point. Real-Time business operations are now main-stream – no longer just for selected industries like financial services. When asked to revise his remark of 2006, he went on to remark “Batch is Dead–er” and then highlighted that “the rate of change, and the number of cycles associated with change, is being compressed into less time. And this compression is accelerating our ability to innovate as we continue to deliver change in the (new) compressed timeframe!”

Perhaps the one remark from Larry that generated the most conversation during the coffee break, also had its roots in history. “A little over ten years ago, NonStop would cost three times what a batch processor would cost. Many of us have failed to realize that it is now one of the least expensive platforms and continue to live with the hangover from those days!” Finally, before closing, and as part of a discussion about the drivers behind real-time deployments, Larry pointed out how our world is heading towards the “self-service (of) everything!”

A little later in the general session, Donald Feinberg, a Vice President and Distinguished Analyst with Gartner, gave the keynote address on “Continuous Information Availability – Why, How, and When …” Very quickly, Donald asked the audience to think back to our IT programming experiences of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. “Remember how we relied on subroutines? Well objects are just subroutines and SOA is just about even bigger objects!” And remember the early data bases where the talk of the mid to late ‘70s was about fully inverted files – where the fields within a record were indexed to the point where all the fields were indexed and the record thrown away? Well, today we have revisited that and many of the really fast data bases rely on this approach!”

I have to admit I was a programmer throughout the ‘70s and I remember where I was when I wrote my last line of code. I had been working with data base management systems, like IDMS and Datacom, and really liked Datacom as it was an early example of a relational data base and a precursor to the SQL data bases that soon followed. From the hierarchical data bases, to the networked data bases, on through the inverted and relational implementations that finally gave way to the SQL Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) we rely on today – much of our time was spent migrating.

No sooner had we adopted one approach and begun to ship our data to it, then something revolutionary came along and we had to abandon what we were doing and migrate to the new technology. “Through 2012, the predominant model for new, emerging information management technologies will be via extensions to, and evolutions of, the original Relational DBMS model including Open Source DBMSs!” Donald explained.

But migrations are not over … as the price of storage declines and as new types of data materialize, we are constantly facing the need to upgrade. And as Larry pointed out – the cycles are compressing all the time and the opportunity to innovate based on the last change, is decreasing all the time.

From touching on the early days in programming, and how much of the discipline remains with us but with new terminology, to acknowledging change, and how it’s only accelerating, Donald brought up the topic of mission-critical applications. Two of his definitions really hit home when he said “if a service goes down, and you loose money, and have to close down, then it’s a mission critical application! If an outage to a service results in your company’s name being on the front page of a newspaper, then it’s mission critical as well.” In other words, mission critical means different things to different IT shops.

In his wrap up comments, Donald reinforced the model of horizontal scaling that has become more prevalent of late, is the right way to go given today’s technology. While Donald rarely names vendors, or talks about specific offerings, he too called out the NonStop saying for many scenarios covered in his talk, “NonStop is really good!” On the back of that remark, he added, and “Unix is dead!” I cannot overemphasise the buzz in the room from comments like this being made about NonStop, and I just have to remain hopeful that the powers-that-be within HP also embrace a similar message with the same degree of enthusiasm as exhibited by these well-knwon analysts.

Batch is dead – or, dead-er! Unix is dead (invest in Linux)! No new data base model – just continuing evolution of the Relational DBMSs! And through it all, migrations! And no time left to do them – no possibility of taking our systems down! Last year, the theme for the GoldenGate event was “Where Access meets Information” and this year it’s “Where Information meets Innovation!” To those that can keep riding the ever compressing cycles of change, migrating without any impact on their business and without any headlines in the newspaper or exposure on CNN, and innovating from the timely information on hand, will come market leadership!

And as I look at the flags waiving in front of the hotel I can’t stop smiling thinking about a question being asked now of the applicants for the Australian visa: “Do you have a criminal record?”, and the answer that is obvious “I did not know it is still required … " And I have to ask myself another question "are user group meetings offered by vendors, of any less value or of any less importance, than any other regional user group meeting?"


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