Friday, June 20, 2008

The last dance, at Mandalay Bay …

This years HP Technical Conference and Expo (HPTF&E) went out with a big bang and while the prospect of a big bang is something none of us would support in the real world with any enthusiasm, in Vegas it’s completely different! As I entered the auditorium for the last time yesterday evening, “air movement” pushed me around as the floor “swayed” underneath me – no one was pushing the button on a warhead test, and it wasn’t an earthquake either. It was Matchbox 20 entertaining the community late into the night, and I have included a picture here taken from alongside the stage. We lasted for a set of two or three songs, before the sheer physical impact of the sound “encouraged” us to leave. No, we aren’t 20 anymore …with or without matchboxes!

HP has to be congratulated for the support they provided throughout the event, and with the quality of everything they did for the community. But as we slowly awake this Friday morning, it’s now all behind us and we face the trip home with some of us even back behind our desks by mid afternoon.

Yesterday morning had started slowly for me. I joined my work colleagues early for the usual Starbucks latte but, after the twenty minute wait to place the orders and another twenty minutes before the coffee was made, the staff had somehow misplaced my order. All week, the service had been pretty tardy at best – but being told that my cup of coffee was now back at the end of the line was too much.

So I walked out, letting them do with my coffee as they please. I know that there were a number of attendees standing in the line, and so let me apologize right up front and I sure hope my expression of irritation didn’t upset you too much. Mornings are not the best of times for me. As a T-Shirt I recently ran across said “Just hand over the coffee, and no one will get hurt!” Over the years, service in Las Vegas hasn’t come all that far, and for any patrons that aren’t leaving behind $100 chips, the level of service being provided can be pretty poor.

But across it, service is becoming a very important aspect of our implementations with Service-Oriented Architectures gaining in popularity. I know a number of users are still a little uncertain about the move to SOA and I know some within the vendor community thought that perhaps the interest in SOA would be a lot higher. However, I am not sure that it is as much a product for users as it is for other Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and System Integrators (SIs). Purchasing a new application today that does not support SOA, or contracting an SI who custom-builds the delivery and presentation, may not be the wisest of choices.

Externalizing interfaces as services is absolutely crucial today in order to have a heterogeneous environment present itself consistently to the outside world. In many ways, SOA is at the very core of application integration and has become the standard way suppliers, partners and customers would prefer to have their data delivered. And it is absolutely essential for the NonStop user as it masks so much of the underlying technology, unique to the fault tolerant architecture of NonStop.

In part, this broad acceptance as an “integration-technology” has come about because of the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, and of Browser interfaces, but it also has a lot to do with the development frameworks and run-time environments we are relying on. And with new IT professionals coming out of our universities every year, the adoption of SOA will become even more widespread. We have come a long way from the old 4GLs and report writers!

As the event headed into Thursday afternoon and the ITUG closing session began, Dr. Christoph Boehm, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the ActiveBilling GmbH & Co. and a key business unit within Deutsche Telekom AG, gave a presentation on “Six Sigma production and cost reduction: how SOA helps achieve both at Deutsche Telekom”. Central to the presentation was the view that they had adopted where everything was described in terms of services. Not applications, but services. And services sat atop transaction management that in turn represented another level of abstraction before getting to the applications and hardware / operating systems and were behind the products Deutsche Telekom supported.

Services were any interaction with customers, management, and suppliers and pulled their data from any mix of complete or partial application deployments in place. Re-combining applications externalized via SOA allowed new products to be developed quickly, and allowed a very large corporation, such as Deutsche Telekom to remain competitive with new entrants into the marketplace – a key concern to all in management.

There was also a direct connection between services and quality that I found particularly interesting. Every service has a cost, including the services provided by the call center. So, one key objective, for Deutsche Telekom, was to minimize the usage of that “service”. And from the quality statistics provided (e.g. invoice quality >99.9%; timeliness >99.8%; etc.) they seemed to be delivering on their commitment.

Following the presentation by Dr. Boehm, the traditional ITUG Q & A panel session began. And as I listened to the interaction between the audience and the panel made up of senior HP managers from all regions, I couldn’t get the thoughts of service and quality far from my mind. Is there a commitment to NonStop? Yes, with certainty! Continuing to work with ACI? Yes, and absolutely – since the announcement, for instance, there have been six new customer wins in EMEA! Are new applications coming to NonStop? Now a growing list – the latest an application offloaded from the IBM mainframe and onto NonStop in Japan! Will there be an ongoing support for older systems? Just ask us, and tell us what you need!

Just being on stage, these managers were providing the community with an incredibly important service! For years, it has been an accepted protocol within the ITUG community and the NonStop management team always enjoyed the opportunity to be on stage and to hear first-hand what are the current issues of the day. And over the years, while some tactical issues are raised, and there were a couple raised again this year, the issues began to have much further horizons. Users are becoming more interested in the bigger picture for NonStop within HP. And I find this very important. As Connect develops its own style, and as the Connect community extends its reach across many platforms and countries, there is a commitment not to loose the identity that is NonStop.

And perhaps the best example of all is the closing Q&A session – a historically high-point of every event going back more than a decade. Someone in the audience expressed concern about how the traditional “Corvette” club was now being thrown into the “Chevy” club and whether the special characteristics of the car will be lost in a sea of everyday drivers. As a Corvette owner the image struck an immediate chord! But then the new Vice President of Connect, Margo Holen, made the observation “perhaps the comparison between Corvette and Chevy clubs isn’t the right image – rather than looking at the clubs, perhaps we should be looking at the distribution channels. Dealers would be seriously impacted if they didn’t have the rest of the Chevy lineup to sell! I would imagine GM wants its dealers to serve all customers, and some folks would have a Chevy pick-up, in addition to the ‘Vette, so even the boys in the club could be happy to go to the one-stop-shop model.”

The HP NonStop managers, we all anticipate, will continue to provide the community with their attention and this service for many years to come. Winston Prather, VP and General Manager of the NonStop Enterprise Division has assured the group that, going forward, “there will be a uniquely NonStop-centered track in the Conference, as well as the NonStop General Sessions, like the one we are enjoying now”!

As he introduced the panel, Connect director, Jay McLaughlin, gave a promo boost to that night’s function featuring Matchbox 20 and quoted the lyrics of one of their songs “… let’s see how far we’ve come! let’s see how far we’ve come! … Oh well I guess we’re gonna find out … let’s see how far we’ve come ..”

And I have to agree with Jay, looking at the direction we are now headed with Connect, that we have come a long way and as long as the service from the HP NonStop Management Team remains at the levels we saw yesterday, we may be singing this song for many years to come! And as some of the attendees were dancing their last dance at the evening party, I was thinking that perhaps, if I’ve switched to decaf, I could become a nicer person in the morning.

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