Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Virtualization? It’s on its way - or is it!

The other day I walked over to our local Starbucks for my usual early morning coffee only to be surprised to see a number of folks standing around a pretty good outdoor kitchen. When I first saw the line I thought there was a small protest forming outside the local supermarket and wondered what was the problem. As I came even closer to the group I began to wonder if it wasn’t a political group assembling for a morning of campaigning door to door.

I am an early riser these days, and it was only a little after 5:00am with only the first signs of dawn visible, as I walked up to the coffee shop. The usual marine fog layer was still blanketing the area and so the atmosphere was a little surreal. But I sat outside to drink my coffee and it was only then that I understood what was going on – Hollywood had come to Simi Valley and to the local Wood Ranch village shopping area. And I have included a picture of the scene as it unfolded early that morning.

It was to be the first day of shooting of a very low budget film, and I was looking at the entire production team – cameramen, sound engineers, actors, make-up artists, the caterers, and the director. I am not familiar with the sport of wiffleball, a form of indoor baseball, but I was told that the film was about the emergence of a wiffleball champion, with the first day’s shoot featuring our local restaurant. The movie was going to be a piece of whimsical fantasy with none of the supporting cast taking it very seriously.

It’s not the first time I have been close by a “location shoot”.

Back in the late 70s the Dallas restaurant to which I took my business associate, quickly turned into an on-location set for the popular TV program Dallas, and as we ate our steaks, we were fortunate enough to see the stars rehearsing their roles. More recently, as I walked across the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge across the Arno River in Florence, I happened upon Anthony Hopkins trying to shoot a scene from one of the follow-on productions to the Silence of the Lambs movie.

As the director tried desperately to transition into the make-believe world required for the movie, he bellowed into a megaphone “Quite please! This is a real take!” the surrounding Italian crowd burst into raucous cheers until eventually the local Police had to be called in to clear the bridge. In Simi Valley, it was a totally diffeent scene - we had no crowds and for most of the time, no director!

The last couple of times I have been in Sydney, I Came across a number of movies being filmed including the most recent Superman movie, as well as Mask 2, which I never saw released. It’s still fascinating, and every time I encounter these film crews I am fascinated by the fantasy and the make-believe world that directors can create out of common, everyday, locations.

As I thought about the world of movies, I couldn’t help thinking about virtualization. While not pursuing quite the same objective as the world of movies does, they both share some things in common. We enjoy going to the movies to be transported into another life, and into another world. For the short time we watch the movie, we witness events and scenes totally disconnected, for the most part, from anything that’s real. There’s a level of abstraction with both that allows everything that’s visible to be layered on top of foundations about which we know very little. One moment, a film can be transporting us to a street in a major city when the very next instance, it’s all a veneer on a film studio’s back lot.

I have addressed the topic of virtualization in a couple of blog postings. Last year, back on September 13th when I was in Sydney, I posted “A taste of Virtualization” where I made the observation about how “I believe … the chip sets and boards, are heading to where there will be no limit to the number of CPUs, or processing engines, that end up occupying just a single socket on a processing board. To take advantage of this new packaging … then, for vendors where any number of Operating Systems (OS) may need to share a basic board package, some level of abstraction between the OS and the metal has advantages.”

Later that year, in the posting of December 19th in “Virtualization? Unreal, mate!,” I referenced an entry in Wikipedia that stated “the common theme of all virtualization technologies is the hiding of technical detail, through encapsulation. Virtualization creates an external interface that hides an underlying implementation.” In that same posting I made the observation that behind the scenes, “For those managing data centers, there is a huge push to consolidate the servers. The economics from simple server consolidation are overwhelming.”

Doesn’t this all sound very similar to the movie industry? Is it just me, or isn’t the challenges facing technology vendors, like HP, similar to those faced everyday by movie directors? “Some level of abstraction” has advantages! “Hiding the underlying implementation” is becoming necessary! None of us would like to see what really was being used to make up a movie set, and none of us would be excited without the special video effects or the audio track being left off … In other words, the final product, an application accessed on a server, or a finished movie viewed in a theater, both benefit equally from being an abstraction and divorced from the mechanics of “what lies beneath”!

The reference to server consolidation cannot be ignored. Moving beyond the comparisons between movie making and deploying an application on a modern, multi-core server, data center managers indeed are one of the key driving forces behind virtualization.

In the articles Dr.Bill Highleyman writes for the Availability Digest newsletter (http://www.availabilitydigest.com/), there was a three part piece (covered in the March, April, and June issues) where he opened with “recent studies have shown that typical servers in a data-center environment that is governed by a one-application, one-server policy are running at only 10% to 15% of capacity. If only we could harness this excess capacity, we could significantly reduce the number of servers in a data center by a factor of two, three, or even more … Virtualization lets one physical server do the work of many.”

Bill added in Part 2 with the comment “The physical layer requests made by the guest operating systems are adjudicated by an intervening layer, the hypervisor …(that) in effect, multiplexes the requests from the operating system and allows only one request at a time to be passed to the physical server.” What Bill is highlighting is that there can be huge advantages for a data center manager, overwhelmed by the sheer scope of servers requiring support, with virtualization, and that the arrival of hypervisors as the layer of abstraction hiding all the metal “on the board” will go a long way in helping with any consolidation.

But as much as I have always been a supporter of virtualization, I am no longer as certain as I once was that there will be real value in the NonStop marketplace. Is such a layer of abstraction really going to help the cause of NonStop and support the level of continuous availability we have come to depend upon?

Coming from a communications and networking background, I was an early witness to the flexibility and power that came with the separation of multiple logical networks running over a single physical network. This year, in my January 14th posting, “Virtualization? A bargain at any price!”, I referenced the early work done with SNA and how it gave “the networking community a way to isolate an ever-changing physical network from the mission critical online applications of the day.” But the NonStop environment really does need to know about the “ever-changing physical” components lying underneath.

In my posting of May 18th, “Virtualization? A testing time” I ask the question “how will we simulate fail-over in a completely virtual world? And will it be worth it? Will we want to see a return to simpler configuration just for reliability?” In simpler terms, will the arrival of virtualization with support for NonStop really work? Will it decrease the levels of availability we need? Indeed, Bill Highleyman goes so far as to suggest that it may reduce the continuous availability characteristics we accept today, down to the high availability characteristics pretty much every other vendor, with some form of clustering support, can provide today.

As I watched the very first take for the whiffleball movie take place, and talked with a number of the crew working on the shoot, how different the real world was from what would finally make it into the projection rooms of local theaters. And there really wasn’t any need for the audience to know about the specifics.

But I can’t say the same for virtualization when it comes to the HP NonStop. While it may not be that important for the application to know what’s going on behind the scene, for the operating system, an incredibly crucial component of NonStop, it is important. But will we have to call in the authorities, and chase away the crowds cheering for virtualization, before we can determine what’s best for NonStop!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Behind the Pit Wall ...

I have enjoyed a busy week in my Simi Valley office, catching up on a lot of correspondence that I have, for the most part, only lightly addressed in the past couple of weeks. Paging back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, and to re-engage in a couple of exchanges I had let slip, how I longed for the simple days when snail mail arrived at my desk a couple of times a week.

There’s a flip side to staying fully engaged with all that’s going on across the community, of course, as each time I do re-engage I run the risk of saying something wrong or sounding foolish. And I was reminded of this as I was paging through pictures that I had taken last week at Willow Springs race track. The picture I have included here is of the car returning to the pits with the words of caution in the background – “EXTREME DANGER STAY BEHIND YELLOW PIT WALL.” How much safer it would be for us if we just stayed inside our cubicle. If only we stayed away from the debates our industry so frequently let percolate to the top.

I will not go into details of last weekend’s activities at Willow Springs – you can read about the progress being made, as High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) continues, at: http://buckle-up-travel.blogspot.com/search/label/NASA%2008’ Read the most current posting “Staying smooth! Making Adjustments!”

Behind the pit wall there was always a lot of activity. During warm-up and qualification sessions some of the better crews were calling in their cars to get tire temperature readings. When driver education was being undertaken, quite often the instructor would leave the car to swap places with the driver so as to show the student the correct racing line. At other times, friends would be anxiously waiting the return of the car so that they could get a ride, as a passenger, in one of the much higher-speed time trial sessions. And then there was the “black flag” cone where drivers had to return to report incidents and to explain what they thought they had been doing at the time. Getting the story wrong was sure to see time on the track significantly curtailed.

In our daily IT lives, much the same goes on. While much of my focus remains centered on email exchanges as I route requests from partners to key members of my company, for almost everyone else in the community there’s a growing sense of urgency around integrating product sub-sets and features, and providing access in a standard way so any authorized user coming in from the web can be supported.

And from where I sit, it’s not all that different from what goes on behind the pit wall, and frequently the chaotic scenes we witness in the IT make any race track’s pits look rather sedated. There is definitely a technology wall that is just as tangible and as prominent within IT as exists at any race track. And coming out from behind it, in pursuit of architectures and models not well thought out, can leave us looking foolish.

While I was catching up on my email I also quickly scanned a couple of IT magazines – among them, InformationWeek, a popular tabloid liberally sprinkled with “sound-bites” from the executives of major corporations. One such quote caught my eye. It was from Kirk Guttmann, the CIO of GM who was talking about the progress GM was making to significantly streamline the IT infrastructure as they try to remain a significant global manufacturer.

“Simplicity brings with it higher uptime and lower costs, and lets you focus on innovation because you have a common backbone to plug into,” Mr. Guttmann remarked. In a case of not being surprised by what was said so much as I was surprised that this was coming as news to a major engineering company like GM. Everyone knows that complexity is a function of how many moving parts you have assembled. Keep it as simple as possible, and it just may run as expected.

GM’s CIO went on to discuss the merits of standardizing on Microsoft Windows for the production floor devices, and rationalizing communications traffic to flow over just IP. He also added that GM was fully leveraging the services of major companies like EDS, Cisco and HP, and even has vendor’s experts present inside critical operations centers helping with problem solving.

None of this would be possible, I believe, without the extraordinary growth in Web services in general, and in Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) specifically. SOA has been embraced by most of the application and solutions vendors and is becoming widely accepted as the most open, standardized way to interface to other vendors products.

You can integrate applications using services, right on the client itself. You can build new products that run on a server that execute similar services integration, but at the server level. You can throw services onto an enterprise bus and let other products extract the data contained within the service as, and when, they like. Enabling this is SOAP, a lightweight XML-based massaging protocol supporting Web services request and response messages. Once an acronym for Simple Object Access Protocol, its deployment of late has made associating it with the acronym, and with the concept of being simple, rather dated and somewhat demeaning (to what it can provide).

According to the reports coming out at the recent HP Technology Forum and Expo (HPTF&E), HP NonStop plans to support “selected open-source frameworks to simplify and ease development of Enterprise Java applications for the Integrity NonStop platform. These frameworks require a runtime, and the value proposition to the customer is to combine the simplicity of the framework-based Development model with the enterprise-scale runtime that is provided by NonStop's scalable and highly-available Tomcat implementation.”

Essentially, HP is committing to begin supporting, in early 2009, a deep port of SASH - open source support for a Java Spring Framework (for business logic and component wire-up), Apache Axis (for SOAP support), Java ServerFaces a specialized UI framework that combines the component model of Swing with the Java ServerFaces (a specialized UI framework that combines the component model of Swing with the Model-View-Controller (MVC) framework of Struts), and Hibernate (for object-relational mapping and data abstraction).

I have been a champion of SOA and Web services for almost a decade. Many members of the former ITUG community have sat through my presentations and can probably recall how enthusiastic I have been. But I have to believe that with the imminent arrival of a deep-port of SASH, the HP NonStop server will be as open and as easy to use as any other platform yet with levels of availability and degrees of scalability unknown outside of NonStop. And just as fervently, I believe with SOA we will break down the application silos that dominated our technology landscapes for years. SOA will allow us to leverage components in new ways, integrating them with other silos to create completely new applications that better meet the needs of the business.

I recently asked a HP product manager who had been close to this technology in the early days about user adoption of SOA and Web services, and his comment back to me “I am outside the buzz these days, but I think it has already tailed off.” Or has it? My suspicion is that this is a technology that has found a home in the vendor community as it makes the requirement to support other vendor’s products a non-issue. And perhaps this is the real story. Its lack of visibility may simply be due to its transparency, as its usage has become ubiquitous. Perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at the application developer to embrace SOA as much as we should be challenging our vendor partners to open up their products as services!

With SOA, how much longer will we heed the signs and stay sheltered “behind the pit wall.”? Is there really “extreme danger” on the other side of the technology wall? Could we really be pursuing something completely at odds with what the rest of IT is pursuing, only to leave us looking foolish? I just don't think so! What are we waiting for – with proven technology and applications running for almost a decade, what more are we looking for? Its protocols are simple to comprehend and its concepts easy to grasp.

As the GM CIO reminded me, if it “lets you focus on innovation” then isn’t this what our business lives are demanding of us? If there is any perceived risk remaining for those of us still undecided, then our reluctance could become a serious impediment to the business we are employed to support and it may be us who end up being tossed over the wall and discarded!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Specialist! Am I still needed?

It is not that often that my lead photo is of an advertisement, but recently I came across the one I have included here. The yacht described in the advertisement was called Tanami, which is the Australian aboriginal word for “never dry”– there have been others who have suggested that the yacht was called Tamami, which is yet another Australian aboriginal word meaning “dry desert” as in Western Australia, there is the Tamami desert. Oh well, who would know an N from an M …

It’s not so much the story of Tanami, and about speculation as to the true interpretation of “never dry” (a reference of course to either the quantity of drinks onboard, or to the water that flowed through the unprotected cockpit in high seas), as it is the reference made of it being the “beautiful sister-ship to Theme and Mistral! All three, fractional-rigged, 40’ sloops, came off the drawing board of Peter Cole and followed many of the lines of the innovative 12 meter America’s Cup yachts of the day – and to me, they each bore a close resemblance to the first Australian challenger, Gretel.

In 1972 the then-owner of Theme, John Hagan, asked if I would like join his crew for a season of racing on Sydney Harbor. Having had no previous experience sailing whatsoever, and with no idea what being a crew member would entail, I quickly responded “Sure!” In the years that followed, I learnt enough to become a for’ard hand, and part of a team responsible for “managing” the sail wardrobe for’ard of the mast. This meant bringing on-deck all the spinnakers, and repacking them after use, as well as changing all the headsails, mostly jibs, as well as the much larger genoas that were called upon when the wind backed off.

In time, I became the sole for’ard hand and developed the special skills this role demanded. Just as sky-divers fold and pack their own parachutes, so I would be the first onto the boat each race day to lay out all the sheets and braces and to make sure nothing would foul or otherwise disrupt our ability to change sails quickly and smoothly.

I came across the advertisement for Tanami as I was going back through previous blog postings, checking out the comments being posted, and “Google-ing” recent press releases. While the memories of my days sailing on Sydney Harbor came rushing back, I was reminded of how racing a yacht demanded similar skills and commitment as building a NonStop server. And what caught my attention, and started this trip down memory lane, were two comments posted by different anonymous readers.

Following the posting “Blades drawn at Mandalay Bay” (June 18, 2008) one reader asked, “there's been talk of the NSVA (NonStop Value Architecture) servers not providing the same levels of hardware fault tolerance as the previous S-series servers, whilst on the other hand NSAA (NonStop Advanced Architecture) - particularly with TMR - provides a greatly increased level of hardware fault tolerance. And how do the new blades servers factor into this discussion?”

In the later posting “It’s Vegas” (June 19, 2008) another reader asked something quite different but interesting all the same “what is this HP Superdomes?? Is it (more) versatile than mainframes???”

Maybe it’s just me, but I found these two questions touch on a re-occurring theme. Is HP building servers that can challenge the mainframe in size, power, and flexibility? And will these servers include NonStop, but possibly today with less “availability” than in the past? As I listen to, and then read about, conversations like this, I continue to wonder about the questions not being asked.

Do we really need to have something comparative to a legacy mainframe, to be viewed as having a “premier server” for today’s modern enterprise? When do we really need a general purpose server (typically how we view the largest server offerings from both IBM or HP), or is the future predicated on our ability to cleverly cluster “specialist” servers ourselves so as to create something more general purpose?

And then what really differentiates the specialist servers – why is one server viewed as better than the other? Is it because of cost? Choice of operating system? Versatility? Or even because of the levels of availability offered? After five decades, why is there still any interest in mainframes, and “almost a mainframe”, types of servers?

When the question of whether the HP Superdome is as flexible as a mainframe is raised, then for many users, the overwhelming answer is yes! If you add a HP NonStop into the mix, working alongside of the HP Superdome, then it becomes an even more compelling alternative. For those companies with the requisite skills in-house, integrating different specialty server / OS / DBMS environments such as Superdome and NonStop into a single homogeneous platform, brings with it considerable advantages.

When the question of whether the NSVA architecture is as available today as has been any previous Tandem, up to and including the Himalaya (both K and S) offerings, then let me be very clear on this point – the answer is an unequivocal yes! For the MIPS based servers, additional steps were taken to maintain the data integrity levels required, but I am not sure that taking this had much to do with making the systems more available. These new servers were always going to be much faster than the previous generation of NonStop servers, but ensuring five nines (999.99% availability) remained the goal.

The move to the MIPS RISC technology for Himalaya made it necessary to take additional steps to ensure the chips themselves were functioning correctly – back in the early ‘90s, this was pretty scary stuff. By comparison, more than a decade later, the need to apply a similar model to accommodate the Intel Itanium technology, proved unnecessary, as the checking and correcting logic you wanted is built into the chip itself. There would be difficulties guaranteeing that arbitration between two independently-functioning chips would provide any additional uptime. NSVA does not represent lesser availability to me but rather, just a smarter way to exploit the true characteristics of the chip.

The picture I have included here is of me alongside a very interesting prototype. It was on display to all HPTF&E attendees who visited the HP stand. There were no attempts to hide it behind a curtain or in other way preclude anyone from giving it a very good look. At the previous event held in 2007, Martin Fink talked openly about his desire to see a hybrid, or clustered specialty servers, functioning with some degree or integration, all housed in the one blade-center. And at this year’s event, there was a fully-functioning embodiment of what Martin had described. Yes, NonStop was running on blades, just as were the other OS’s in the blade-center and NonStop was no less available than any other NSVA servers!

Described at the event as an Engineering Prototype (EP) – not a product, as people were quick to point out, and still requiring considerable input from Product Management before it ever made it into production – it provided generalists with the opportunity to have a cluster of specialty servers delivered to them by HP and functioning right out of the box! All the elements of a “pocket mainframe” with support of a Window’s-based web server, NonStop front-ending transaction processing, and a HP-UX / Oracle data base representing just one possible configuration. Cool! And NonStop at the heart of it all, integrated in a way we have relied on specialists to do in the past. Way Cool, and an incredibly innovative way to exploit the power of blades!

I have to believe that production versions of the EP would be welcome at any development shop and for those users needing a test environment, mirroring their real-world configuration, but for a fraction of the price. Financial institutions that are not yet in the upper ranks with the majors could also benefit from a configuration like this as they leveraged more mature applications for a lot less than their bigger rivals.

Having special skills, whether it’s sailing or building a server, will always be a requirement to make it to the top. There are times where you can really leverage the skills of these people, and these systems, and many companies will highly value the advantage that comes from having such an “edge” despite the cost.

But for others in the community, a highly versatile “out-of-the-box” solution holds many tantalizing advantages and can go a long way to keeping them in the game! I have often written about innovation, and about disruptive technologies that can fuel radical innovation and for me, the productizing of the EP with its support of multiple operating systems can only help push our utilization of NonStop even wider across our companies.

And surely, isn’t this a better answer to the question “what is the future for premier servers?” Adding NonStop alongside of Superdome, for instance, will surely make the resultant server even more versatile than traditional legacy mainframes, and having access to all of this in a single package (utilizing the latest commodity blade technology) just has to appeal to all of us – generalist or specialist. Such a solution will allow us to better focus on the business issues we are so often asked to meet.

I have seen the future, and it’s a bunch of blades slotted into a blade center running NonStop, Unix, Linux and Windows!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Real Thing!

I was reminded recently of my times living in the ‘70s. I was thumbing back through old pictures, and came across this picture taken of me at the Sydney Auto Show back in the early ‘80s.

You can see that I maintained my ‘70s hair style, even then, with not a single grey hair in sight!

The car I am pictured with is the race car, a Mazda RX7, of Canadian/Australian touring car driver Allan Moffat, with which he successfully campaigned against the local V8 cars of Ford and General Motors. My brother, Greg, and I were anxious to take a good look at the real thing, as we had only ever seen it on TV.

I had returned to Sydney in late 1977 as the head of technical support for the local subsidiary of the US-based software company, The Computer Software Company (TCSC). The company had built an alternate, but fully compatible, operating system for the IBM mainframe that it called the Extended Disk Operating System (EDOS).

Working closely with the then-dominant third party mainframe leasing companies, EDOS gave users features that could only be found in the more expensive OS/MFT and OS/MVT variants and supported the attachment of the latest disk drives. This was a time when earlier generations of mainframes still retained residual value and, as new models were introduced into the marketplace, often provided the newer technology with stiff competition.

After only a few months at EDOS (Australia), I became its Managing Director. These were heady days for IT in Australia as by 1979 the IBM Plug Compatible Manufacturers (PCM) really began to flourish. Amdahl, with its 470 line was the first to arrive and found quick success at QANTAS. It was followed by the short-lived offshoot of the leasing company Itel, with its line of Advanced Systems that found a niche among the service bureaus of the day.

Fujitsu, Hitachi, and even Mitsubishi then began building IBM PCM mainframes and the competition between the vendors intensified. A number of European vendors began to re-badge these systems as they too saw an opportunity to enter this market. Business opportunities for a company like EDOS (Australia) looked promising, and we began to validate EDOS on a number of different PCM offerings.

At the height of these PCM wars, Nixdorf Computer bought TCSC and I was given the opportunity to fold the local subsidiary into Nixdorf Computer (Australia). A new business unit was created, and with the full support of Nixdorf’s Managing Director, Dieter Monch, we established out own PCM presence in the Australian marketplace in 1982. Only three years later however, I could see the end of the PCM business as the hardware vendors began to view Unix as the way to go!

I have included a picture here of my own Mazda RX7 that I had built as a copy of Moffat’s racing car. While Moffat was not allowed to modify his engine, my imitation racing car was fitted with a turbocharger and become one of the earliest examples of a Mazda RX7 turbo! I had added an aero kit, and added the same wheels. It wasn’t the real thing, and was never a true race car, but I enjoyed driving it all the same.

It was definitely as fast as Moffat’s race car! And I will always remember the ticket I was given early one Sunday morning as I drove down the freeway from the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, with the Managing Director of Nixdorf Computer, New Zealand. As I talked with the highway patrol officer, my cause wasn’t helped at all when the New Zealand boss asked for a copy of the ticket so that he could prove to his friends just how fast we were going!

While IBM remains just as strong as it was in the ‘70s, the rest of the landscape has changed dramatically. Today IBM is no longer facing the challenges of many vendors imitating their product offerings and flooding the marketplace with copies, but rather, is coming to terms with the world of industry standard and open systems. Furthermore, IBM now has to operate from the position of second place as HP has passed it in revenues and market share for the first time in IBM’s history.

While IBM has shed its PC business, spun off its line of printers, and exited the disk and tape market, HP continues to invest in all of these technologies and continues to gain enormous leverage from them. And for the first time in a long while, I considered the possibility that, once again, we could revisit the glory days of the ‘70s PCM marketplace. Could we see HP supporting the mainframe zOS operating system and would there be HP product offerings that were compatible with IBM?

But the IT landscape is so different these days. In the late ‘70s, it wasn’t just our hair that were long, it was our portfolio’s of custom code. The need for a PCM marketplace reflected the dire straights CIOs were in – they couldn’t walk away from the applications and would only entertain new product offerings if they could simply pick-up their applications and drop them, unchanged, onto the new platform.

Today, we rely on packaged solutions with the software vendors providing support of frameworks that allow portability, and this gives us the option to select a platform from any vendor supporting the framework. If an application is written in Java, for example, and the run-time environment is supported on a variety of platforms, the opportunities are extensive. At this year’s HPTF&E I came across the company, Tmaxsoft, who could re-host a mainframe application, CICS and all, onto HP platforms including the HP Superdome. Samsung Life Insurance talked about how they used Tmaxsoft’s OpenFrame and TJES products to replace not only CICS but the Job Control Language (JCL), IBM’s mainframe scripting language, as well. And isn’t leveraging the investment in the business logic that is important?

Pretty impressive accomplishment and something I have a sense we will see a lot more often. Even at my own company, GoldenGate, where the focus has evolved to embrace real time data integration, I am seeing a lot of activity around data migrations and the desire of CIO’s to move off older systems and onto newer, industry-standard, platforms. As GoldenGate continues to build on its Transactional Data Management (TDM) offerings, I was particularly impressed when I came across a recent analyst report, Bloor Research’s June 2008 “Data Migration – Market Update”, that noted “data migration is a subset of the data integration market … a very large subset!" And again, isn’t protecting the investment we have made in the data the other important consideration?

The need to maintain compatibility with the hardware and operating system would appear to be no longer a real and important requirement. We have the ability to mover the applications and to preserve the data no matter the specifics of the situation. Servers that simply imitate mainframes and that are plug-compatible with mainframe operating systems, aren’t likely to make a come-back given this.

For a while I did think that this may eventuate as I watched the fortunes of one company considering such an opportunity. Readers of the December 19, ’07 blog posting: “Virtualization? Unreal, mate!” will recall the reference I made to the Sunnyvale, CA, company Platform Solutions, Inc (PSI). In that posting I referenced their web site where PSI described their new Open Mainframe Servers as being “Intel Itanium2 based Mainframe servers for z/OS.”

I have included a picture of me alongside just such a product offering where I saw z/OS running on Intel’s Itanium processors. But at the time I took this picture, PSI and IBM were locking horns and had gone to the courts for a resolution of their differences. However, earlier this month, IBM purchased PSI and PSI’s President promises “to collaborate on future offerings and maximize our combined knowledge skills for the benefit of IBM clients globally.”

Not sure what this all means and where it will be headed, but at the end of the announcement, there’s a reference to both IBM and PSI dropping their respective claims against each other. I have been in dialogue with a number of folks from PSI over the years, and believe that they are genuinely happy with the outcome and are looking forward to working with their peers at IBM but I am pretty sure that this puts an end to any speculation that HP may support z/OS on its Intel Itanium-based servers. Perhaps, following the announcement that both the System i and System p would share a blades package, IBM will follow HP’s lead and use the PSI firmware to add support for System z on blades. But I somehow doubt it.

As the ‘70s came to a close I was reminded of a song that appeared at the close of the ‘60s. Australian songwriter Johnny Young wrote the song “The Real Thing”, and local singer Russell Morris made it a hit across the country. The lines from that song that have stayed with me through the years included the catchy phrase:
“There's a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn't really mean a thing.Come and see the real thing! Come and see the real thing!”

The ‘70s saw me leaving the user community and moving over to the vendor side, where I have remained ever since. Having spent the first years in IT writing mainframe applications, it was pretty easy to gravitate to vendors in that marketplace. With the experience I gained at EDOS and at Nixdorf Computers, I was convinced that the mainframe was the real thing. And even today, the mainframe remains a viable option for many users and its supporters are as enthusiastic as I was all those years ago.

But chasing the mainframe and emulating it “doesn’t mean a thing” anymore. The industry has moved on, and it’s the infrastructure and solutions providers who ensure we retain options. After all, it’s our investments in business logic and the data that is important, not the platform. And that, by way of contrast, really does mean a lot!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Turn this ship around!

I am back in Boulder for the July 4th weekend. After nearly four weeks of continuous travel, and from going to one user event after the other, I have really enjoyed the downtime that came with the holiday break. It’s been a while but I took some time out to take my motorcycle up into the mountains once again - and it's pictured here just before I rode off.

The weather in the greater Denver area has been very hot with afternoon thunderstorms and as I pushed the bike out of the garage, it looked like the afternoon was going to be a repeat of those evenings already passed. But I couldn’t see any lightening, so I thought I would take the road up into the mountains where only after a few miles up the road it began to rain heavily. Riding became difficult and I had to change my approach and what came to me were memories from my most recent performance driving classes. For the sake of safety, they were teaching the class to take corners with a relatively late turn-in, waiting until they had a good view of the road ahead. In other words don’t cut the corner, but rather, stay out a little longer before the turn-in and you will have less chance of running off the road.

Adapting to the conditions, and putting into practice what I had learnt from a different form of vehicle control, allowed me to ride safely and gave me an opportunity to be in the mountains at a time when it really is at its freshest and where the air is perfumed with the scent of trees and wild flowers. Even if it meant moving out of my comfort zone and holding my line a little longer than I was used to, it made me ride with a more upright stance and slowed me down considerably.

The flight back to Boulder was once again eventful – the plane out of Burbank was cancelled and the only way to Denver was to take a flight to San Francisco and lay over for a late afternoon flight home. As I wanted to spend the holiday weekend with family, I made the effort but once again, it messed up the whole day. And it reminded me of my previous trip into Denver where the last flight on the Friday night was cancelled and I had to return home and take the Saturday flight. Of course, this meant I had to rent a car to get home and back again.

Riding through the mountains and trying new lines through the corners brought back that early Saturday morning trip to the airport as just as I turned into the road taking me into the airport, the local FM radio-station played a pretty amusing set of three songs, and the compilation has stayed with me through all the user events I have participated in.

“Can't you feel 'em circlin', honey. Can't you feel 'em schoolin' aroundYou got fins to the left, fins to the right. And you're the only bait in town”

This is the chorus from Jimmy Buffett’s famous “Fins” song and it had been only a few hours before that I had finally decided to accompany my eldest daughter, Anna, to the car dealerships to help sort out which car she would buy. Anna has been looking for quite a few months now and I wrote about this in a previous blog posting. Now it got serious and the stakes are high – and the car salesmen seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing this.

Walking around the exhibition hall at this year’s HP Technology Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) gave me a similar feeling. Although a seasoned stroller through exhibitions, I still am anxious about being approached by well-meaning sales folks. And I never seem to have a good response prepared for when I am approached. Perhaps it’s not quite fair to compare computer sales folk to car sales folks but nonetheless, I could sympathize with my daughter and appreciate why I was there.

“New tides surprise - my world it's changing … I built this ship - it is my making!Crazy on a ship of fools! Turn this boat around … ”

A few lines taken from the second song, “Crazy Ship of Fools” sang by Robert Plant. It was back in late ‘60s, when I was riding in my friend Graham’s old Holden station wagon (the local GM product) on a Sunday afternoon and as we were cruising up the Palm Beach Road, on came Led Zeppelin with their first major release “Whole Lotta Love” and as the song began to gain in volume in the opening bars, it was the voice of Robert Plant (long before we appreciated Jimmy Page), that made Graham pull off to the side of the road so that we could listen without disruption.

Many years later I heard another Australian singer / songwriter Richard Clapton chronicle those days in a milestone piece he called Deep Water, but I will leave this for another time. As I listened to Robert Plant singing about being crazy on his own ship I couldn’t help but identify with all the data center managers I have talked to over the past few months.

On the one hand we have HP taking everything to blades, and announcing NonStop support for blades. On the other hand, we have IBM putting even more marketing muscle behind the mainframe message. Even though, only a few weeks earlier, IBM had announced that the IBM BladeCenter would now support System i alongside System p with the blades extending support to IBM i 6.1 (IBM i5/OS V6R1), AIX 5.3 or later, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 for POWER SP1 or later, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux for POWER Version 4.6 or later.

According to the April 2nd, 2008 press release “IBM introduced the first of a new generation of IBM(R) Power Systems that will provide IBM System i and System p clients a single, unified line of servers … i Edition Express for BladeCenter S offers an extremely attractive option for existing AS/400®, iSeries® and System i 515, 520 and 525 customers.” But no mainframe option! No support for z/OS!

I have spent a lot of time in both the HP and the IBM camps. I have a great many friends among the IBM mainframe community as I have many friends using NonStop. There have been times when the issues for both user camps has been very similar – how many times were we been told that these systems were “legacy” and that continuing to invest in them was short-sighted? Why would they be retained as everyone headed for open systems and why all the expense on maintaining their applications? The old retort “Batch is Dead” was recently replaced with “Batch is Dead-er” at one event I recently attended.

But with HP’s blades announcement and the support for NonStop on blades, HP is taking a different approach for its leading transactional system. IBM may be keeping System z outside of blades while HP is welcoming NonStop to blades. Will IBM turn its ship around? For sure, they made the ship and they can pretty much do as they please but will they? I am not so sure and from what I can tell, may even isolate it further. And this, for me, is pretty sad to see.

I still believe, after you have peeled away all of the marketing hype and looked really closely at the System z, IBM has not only a mainframe, but the biggest, bad-ass server in the marketplace. But to change direction, drop the mainframe label, and opt for running it as another configuration on the IBM BladeCenter will become increasingly difficult to do. And it may not prove to be enough if they leave it much longer. And I wonder if they are seeing any fins to the left, fins to the right!

The third song in the set played on the radio? It was that well known anthem by the Rolling Stones – “It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll” with the chorus:
“I said I know it's only rock and roll, but I like it, like it, yes I do.Well I like it oh yes, I like it, I like it ..”

Having been associated with Tandem for more than two decades, and having come from an IBM mainframe world, there have been times where I truly thought NonStop wouldn’t make it. I had given serious thought to the downside of my conviction that the platform was the best choice for supporting mission-critical applications, but had elected to hang in there all the same. Is IBM right in keeping their mainframe offerings above the fray and free of any association with blades and server offerings? Is NonStop headed in the right direction, leveraging the best of HPs technology? Will there be a furious rush to embrace the blades offerings?

I have my own ideas about this and just as I adapted to the wet conditions on the mountain and as I slowed down to take a later turn-in to the corners, so too I suspect many data center managers will wait for better visibility of the road ahead. Adapting to the conditions has been all part and parcel of the “modus operandi” of successful data center managers over the years. But the potential that comes from optimizing around a “standard package” product remains compelling and sure to win over many advocates.

Will this put even more distance between HP and IBM? Will NonStop on blades present data center managers with viable new choices? I don’t want to be drawn into anything controversial just yet as I can see the fins circling and “something’s gotta give.” I am not sure whether any vendor can be considered crazy or not – even at a stretch. But there comes a time when ships do need to be turned around. And after all the years I have spent in IT, I can only echo Mick Jager and say “I like it! I like it! yes I do!”

Footnote: And for Jeff Wilson of HP - who really wanted to know what car Anna bought - it was the Infiniti EX 35!