Monday, June 16, 2008

The path well-trodden – to Mandalay Bay!

Well, we are up and running! No doubt about it, – as groups begin to form around the registration desks and the familiar trademarks of all events become visible. Badges on traditional HP-sponsored lanyards hanging around necks, sizeable agenda books firmly in hand, bags slung over shoulders, we are beginning to look like serious event attendees. And as we begin to cluster at the coffee shops and in quite nooks, the hard work of thumbing through the agenda, looking for the sessions that most want to see, begins in earnest. Some attendees pre-registered for the sessions, but many are still making last minute decisions.

The picture here is of me catching up with incoming Connect Vice President, Margo Holen at the Starbucks, just as the Convention Center forks into separate North and South sections, and one of the best networking places at Mandalay Bay. I hope to catch up with Margo and Scott Healy later this evening and post another blog with their views and comments following the welcome reception tonight.

Yesterday, I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon with Dr. Michael Rossbach, CEO of comForte. Overnight, and timed for maximum impact at HPTF&E, comForte released a press announcement in which they said that “they have entered into an agreement to acquire Unlimited Software Associates, Inc and the Intellectual Property Rights for the security solutions from Baker Street Software, Inc. and Cross-El Software Solutions, Inc.” I will be very interested in “the buzz” this generates on the exhibition floor, and it will be something I will take a look at this evening.

For some time, I have thought that there would be consolidation within the NonStop ISV community. There is a real need for larger ISVs to emerge, and be active in the community, and demonstrate a wider global reach. Users within the ITUG community would like to be able to benefit from some amalgamation, and have the expectation that this could translate into more efficiencies that not only give them more product options but drive down some of the costs!

While I am talking about comForte and their announcement, there was a time when many more companies timed new product announcements with the ITUG Summit. And it brings to mind the long tradition we have developed over many years of ITUG events. The first ITUG event I attended was Nice, in ’92 and I have now participated in more than 25 major events – initially with Tandem, later with InSession Technologies, and then for many years as a volunteer. The past two years, I have been part of the GoldenGate team. This experience has given me the opportunity to see the event from many different perspectives and provided me with the basis whereby I can make comparisons and better assess how it all goes. The blindingly-obvious truth, however, is that the circumstances we face today are just so much different to what we faced in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

I remember the fall of ’89 when the Baseball World Series featured a Bay area contest between San Francisco and Oakland, and where both teams featured batting line-ups that looked more like they were from their NFL football counterparts – the 49ers and the Raiders. They were really very big players. It was also when Tandem Computers unveiled the Cyclone and, at about the same time, IBM began (finally) shipping the ES/3090 mainframe and Digital unveiled the VAX9000 mainframe. These were all very big systems! And yes, it was also the week where Northern California suffered from the tragedy of the “big one”, the Loma Prieta earthquake, and natural phenomena that I don’t want to experience ever again.

I recall writing an article in Computerworld Australia under the headline of “Big is Back” that tied all three occurrences together and how that perhaps, as the pendulum of IT technology swung away from distributed, and back to centralized, computing that I thought having these major vendors all behind big systems would see us return to the heyday of the late ‘70s when powerhouse mainframes dominated. But how wrong I was to become, completely missing the up-tick in interest in TCP/IP, Unix, the early days of open systems, and what evolved to become the Internet. Less than two years later, publications were reporting the considerable fall-off of interest in big systems with companies like IBM, Amdahl, and Hitachi Data Systems all suffering double digit decline in product shipments.

And so today, before the full extent of HP’s announcements can be assessed, I am very cautious about predicting where success will lie – and which products will gain traction with the community. On one hand, I am quietly optimistic that HP will get it all right and we will be witnessing the first days in a major sea-change in the fortunes of NonStop! But making predictions, “especially about the future” as Baseball’s legendary coach Yogi Berra would say, remains as hazardous as it’s always been …

I was recently asked what I thought the major concern of IT executives was these days, and I answered correctly, “Costs!” I was then asked what I thought was their second concern, and I answered again, “Costs!” And I would have kept responding the same way to any other question. Costs, and the further elimination of costs, are the priority for every IT executive I talk to today. And in the early years of the 21st century, what is paramount for most attendees is how to drive out costs yet meet the Service Level Agreement (SLA) levels that they have agreed to. And at the core of these concerns today are the costs of people, of energy requirements, and of the overall hardware and supporting infrastructure, needed to support business.

Looking back at the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, when I first attended ITUG events, the interests centered on data base, system and network management, and the shift to industry-standard components (Cyclone was the last CISC machine with chipsets developed in-house). So it will be very interesting to see what is next on the horizon and how HP, and their supporting ISV and Solutions partners, respond to today’s issues of costs. I have to believe that they are as aware of this as we all are – and I will be watching the remainder of the week with a lot of interest in all that is announced.

The hours to the official opening of the exhibition continue to wind down and the activity out on the floor is no less frenetic as fork-lifts “buzz” through the aisles - one of which I captured in the picture here - with vendors anxiously looking over their shoulders at the clock. I will be spending a lot of time inside the exhibition hall over the next few days and already I have seen some pretty interesting signage on the HP booth!

Not only will I be walking the aisles, but I will be meeting with the leaders of ISVs and with executives from the user group’s board and I will be attending presentations by HP product managers, in order to provide coverage on several key hardware and software announcements. I will be taking time out to talk to many of the attendees who really do hold the key to the success of the event – will they be coming away convinced that HP is addressing the issues of cost? Will they be confident that the ISV and Solutions partners remain firmly in support of HPs products and provide the kind of applications they need? Will they find the solutions that they really need to address the business problems they face?

But most importantly, will we see enough to remain firmly in the HP camp and be enthusiastic over the promise for the future?

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