Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beautiful sunsets, aren't they?

I have just spent an enjoyable weekend in La Jolla – a little north of San Diego. I attended a wedding Friday afternoon on the beach at Del Mar, an adjacent beachside community to La Jolla. The picture here is with the seascape behind me, as the sun begins to set.

The young couple getting married had developed a playbook for the wedding, and had scripted the ceremony and the “readings” given by the various participants. Adapting to the seaside location called for a different type of ceremony and they did the right thing, as far as I was concerned, in putting traditional approaches to one side.

Being back in San Diego for a few days gave me the opportunity for some serious downtime. So I took a harbor cruise on San Diego Bay – both the northern and southern loops. The boat took us past the many military establishments that dot the bay’s foreshore, and the skipper, a former Navy man, gave us the full treatment. I now know more about naval vessels than I ever wanted to know, but what did catch my eye was the lifecycle of these fleets as new technology is introduced and their missions continue to evolve.

What particularly caught my attention was my first sighting of a new class of naval vessel – the LPD-17 “San Antonio” class of amphibious transport dock ships that represents the Navy and Marine Corps' future in amphibious warfare. Sailing under the Coronado Bridge, and pictured below, was the second ship in this class – the LPD-18 “New Orleans.” This ship represented the third generation of amphibious warfare vessels and looked like something straight out of a James Bond movie. It had been built to be as “stealthy” as possible - for a ship the size of an aircraft carrier.

The Navy was finding itself having to adapt to new missions – with the need to frequently place significant naval presence directly “in harms way.” Gone were the days of the old cold war, tactics that called for massive, missile launch capabilities, that could reach any corner on the globe. As I followed the New Orleans into port, I was able to watch another sunset and, looking back at the city skyline across the docks, it was very clear that the Navy’s new playbook was calling for a much different, self-contained and multi-purpose vessel that could safely anchor in any “hot spot” on the globe.

Watching theses sunsets had me thinking of conversations I had last week at the ACI Customer Event (ACE) conference in Scottsdale. Much of the coffee-time discussions among the attendees had been around the imminent sun-setting of the classic BASE24 product. And while many were still having a lot of difficulty coping with this, I really didn’t see the same degree of outrage as I had witnessed earlier this year at the European BASE24 User Group (EBUG) conference in Vienna.

During my time at Tandem Computers in the early ‘90s, when I was the product manager for communications products, I had to sunset a number of products. Yes, maintaining support for Burroughs Poll/Select and Honeywell VIP protocols was tough to justify when the development dollars were hard to find. And this was 1994 / 1995 – and we were talking about protocols that had passed their 25th anniversary! But technology lifecycles do not encourage or foster close attachment to any one solution for any period of time – new ways to solve business problems while exploiting the latest in hardware, operating systems, and middleware, continue to appear. Sun-setting of one solution is nearly always accompanied by the sunrise of another …

Perhaps it was just mirroring the mix of the users present at ACE, but I sensed that there is a growing consensus within the BASE24 community that the clock can never be wound back, and that it was time to really consider their options. And with the apparent easing of any pressure to migrate to IBM’s System z platform and steps being taken to assure the ACE community that, contrary to everything else that had been said, the System z was now to be viewed as an additional platform and not as a replacement, a little less adrenalin was flowing. This being the case, as it now seems, it does beg the question of why some executives were so determined to burn all the bridges between ACI and HP when the need to do so was pure nonsense! And I frequently asked them – what is your game-plan now, and how do you expect to be received by HP?

It’s not only products that fade into the sunset, but so too do business units, divisions, and even complete companies. For many years I was part of Insession Inc., from its earliest days on through to its purchase by ACI, and I stayed with it as it reappeared when ACI created the larger business unit it called Insession Technologies. Two years ago, ACI pursued a tighter integration of Insession with the rest of ACI and reigned in its independent operations. Following ACI’s new strategic direction with IBM and the commitment to IBM’s infrastructure and software “stacks”, the need for a separate infrastructure development group came under serious scrutiny.

Now, with ACI’s recent axing of a number of groups, it has finally pulled the trigger on Insession effectively sun-setting it in just the same way as we would see for any product. I still wonder how ACI imagine to support its customer base having axed the whole QA group down in Sydney – the folks who knew how to build and release the product … whatever! Someone in their wisdom thought that the likes of a Lloyds or a BofA would not care about getting a prompt fix should a problem arise.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise as we watch the shake-out of the financial services industry. Banks are buying trading companies, investment houses are becoming banks, and the governments want to become mortgage companies. With this as a background, is it any surprise that technology companies follow similar lifecycles as do products? Sometimes there is a “Phoenix” phenomenon where new organizations would simply rise up from the ashes of old. But more often these days the vacuum left behind, with the demise of an IT technology company, is just as rapidly filled by a more fleet-footed competitor energized by the disappearance of a former foe as they follow business plans quickly pulled from their playbook.

And what about user communities – do they too share the same fate as products and companies? Do they follow a similar lifecycle? I often look at the state of a community and begin to wonder whether they too, will follow a similar path?

My experiences with different user group boards for the past ten years always brings me back to a simple observation – user groups just have to evolve and adapt to an ever-changing set of community-vendor dynamics to remain relevant and be of value to their stakeholders. But very few game-plans have been developed for user groups that address changes like this and the playbook has very few calls guaranteeing successful engagement among the parties during any transition.

As I packed to leave San Diego, the New York Jets NFL team arrived and I found myself surrounded by the players as they begun to prepare for a Monday night game against the local team. As I passed the players I could see each of them carrying a ubiquitous white three-ring binder – the playbook with the game-plan for the upcoming match. Clearly, the coaching team had spent a lot of time pulling together all the information they felt the team needed to defeat San Diego. On Monday night I turned on the game – and what a disaster. After only two quarters, New York was being thrashed. As the second half started, one commentator remarked “what happened to the Jets? They are just being run over …”

Having a playbook detailing the game-plan didn’t bring the Jets any close to success, and I am not sure having a playbook for a user community would fair any better. But user groups change as surely as products and companies do, and sometimes they are subject to sun-setting no differently than we witness today with products.

Will user communities look the same as in the past? Will the formats continue to follow tried-and-true formulas? I don’t think so – face-to-face meetings will continue to be important to me but from here on out, I am finding more value across the electronic medium than I ever imagined, and I will continue to provide my viewpoint on all that I see.

I am anxious about the future of user groups – as I am anxious about the value proposition they represent in their current form. So many more options exist today, than ever before, all competing for our budget dollars. And so we do have to adapt – the conditions we face are changing, and we have no option other than to look forward. If you know what I mean …

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Blues!

I have just returned from spending a couple of days at the ACI Customer Exchange (ACE) event in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the theme had been “The Next Horizon”. A number of participants had wondered whether the picture selected, as the symbol of such a next horizon, was depicting a sunset or a sunrise. Perhaps the implications, of one over the other, with respect to the fortunes of ACI Worldwide, could become the subject of another blog posting, but it did remind me of another picture – The Blues Brothers.

For readers who may not recall, in that movie Jake and Elwood Blues wanted to get their band back together and perform once more. Having convinced the band members to return, Jake promised them a “gig” for the evening, but as they drove out of Chicago and the afternoon turned into evening, out of desperation, Jake pulls into a bar that was promoting the appearance that night of a band called the “Good ol’ Boys” and passes off the band as the group. When he asked the publican’s wife what music their patrons preferred, she responded “only two types, country and western!”

The picture I have included here is of me outside the meeting rooms at the open fire-pit where, each evening, conference attendees gathered for a last nightcap to discuss the presentations heard that day. These memories of The Blues Brothers film came to mind after one of the keynote presentations at ACE – this time from Big Blue!

The presentation, given by a senior manager from IBM’s Payment Team, made reference to the recently published survey IBM had undertaken of Global CEO’s. The results are on the IBM web site and is called “The Enterprise of the Future”. In his introduction, the IBM CEO Sam Palmisano remarks “our clients’ experience is consistent: a focus on innovation works… those of you who are making the boldest plays … and (pursuing) disruptive business model innovation – are outperforming your peers.”

The report goes on to describe what the enterprise of the future will look like, based on the surveys results, and how “the enterprise of the future establishes processes and structures that promote innovation and transformation”. Innovation and transformation that, according to IBM, will be via disruptive technologies - like the iPhone, etc. How long did it take IBM to figure this all out? And I can’t help but see the parallel to the response Jake received from the publican’s wife. And many of us in the audience this week, I have to believe, sighed as heavily as Jake.

Martin Fink, in his latest blog posting on September 15, 2008 - The UNIX Paradox - Stability - wrote:

“I completely understand the desire for stability in one’s production environment … Don’t, however, be mistaken that by focusing on stabilization I am neglecting innovation. Innovation is key to the future of our operating environments …”

In a blog posting I made back on November 25th, 2007 - Preventer of Information Services? – I suggested:

“The ability to innovate, and than adapt, is critical for any business today. There is little potential for remaining in business if we just stand still … Innovation is important – it’s what puts distance between those individuals and corporations that are successful and those that fail.”

In the film, the Blues Brothers tried to ignore the advice of the publican’s wife and suffered the consequences: they had to regroup and play the music the audience came to hear. It wasn’t quite the same with the ACE audience, but pretty close. After all, this was an audience made up of predominantly BASE24 users, with years of experience running HP NonStop servers – and had been at the forefront of innovation for decades.

In my last days at Tandem, I had the opportunity to participate in a product roadshow through South-East Asia as part of the launch of the latest version of the NonStop operating system, and where the support of Unix APIs was being provided for the first time. In Bangkok, I gave a presentation to twenty or so participants in the event, and I went into excruciating details about the NonStop Kernel and all that it could now support. I thought it was one of my better presentations and I presented for an hour.

However, when the next presenter of the detailed NonStop plans, Margo Holen, took to the stage, she politely asked “how many of you are familiar with Tandem and with the NonStop operating system?” and to my surprise, not a single hand went up. “Well then,” she added, “perhaps we should all adjourn to the bar!” It turned out that the participants were all Unix developers and were simply interested in a high level snapshot of what was now supported and sitting through a presentation on Pathway, NS SQL, TMF, etc came as a bit of a surprise, and pretty boring and irrelevant, to this audience. Fortunately for me, there was no culture of throwing rotting fruit or beer bottles at the stage to express displeasure, but I have to believe their next visit to the dentist didn’t seem to be as painful as listening to my hour-long presentation.

Attempting to build on the theme of innovation and transformation, the IBM presenter at the ACE conference went on to talk about the IBM System z platform. Again, the majority of the participants at ACE were from the financial services and retailing industries, with years of knowledge of NonStop, and those were the folks who had made the decision to use the NonStop server after looking at all of the alternatives, and they were not all that familiar with IBM and IBM terminology. All was going along quite well and it was getting close to the break, so a little fidgeting among the audience was apparent when the IBM presenter came out with “Availability? Twenty years ago, Tandem built a box that was ahead of all other products but today, the System z is now clearly on top when it comes to availability!”

So much for thoughts about coffee! Quick sideways glances showed many amused faces – did the speaker really not understand the background of the attendees? We all know what ACI is pursuing the alliance with IBM but to this group of users? IBM is a great company, with a wonderful history, and has demonstrated time and time again how to change the playing field when up against a tough competitor. But to try and promote the prospect that NonStop wasn’t as available as the System z, and to this particular audience, has to rank as one of its all time boldest moves. Or something far removed from being bold!

I have had a short email exchange with Jim Johnson, Chairman of the Standish Group, and asked him about this remarks on availability by IBM. Jim responded that it really depends on the “sampling” these days, as the gap between NonStop and System z has closed appreciatively. Referring to his latest survey, he noted that from the “numbers … in this report … as you can see they are neck and neck. Any change to sample could easily put them ahead.”

But out-of-the-box, can you simply deploy a System z, and drop in an application, and get the same level of availability as you would get out-of-the-box with NonStop? Is availability built right into the hardware and operating systems, the middleware and common services as is the case with NonStop, and is availability measured in terms of application availability?

IBM has come along way with Parallel Sysplex, and with Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS), but out-of the-box? And at what cost? And with what complexity? I remain unconvinced and I have been around IBM mainframes since the early seventies.

This will be a topic I will explore further in the coming months as it is central to why any of us continues to rely on NonStop. But it does take me back to my presentation in Bangkok – do the predominantly NonStop users of ACI products care about IBM and the System z? Is there any real interest in something so alien to them and so fraught with risk?

IBM talks a lot about innovation and transformation and about the use of disruptive technologies – but NonStop is THE benchmark when it comes to a disruptive technology and nothing I have seen from IBM, as much as I really do love the folks I know there, suggests anything has changed and I am looking forward to diving deeper into this topic.

And talking of NonStop’s availability and the future postings I will develop, also takes me back to the Blues Brothers, THE benchmark movie and to their famous line:

“It's 106 miles to Chicago. We've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses - Hit it!”

Monday, September 15, 2008

ACE is the place!

It’s very early Monday morning and I am about to head across to the ACI Customer Exchange (ACE), the annual meeting of America’s users of ACI products. The picture I have included here is of me at the hotel with my first coffee of the day. ACI customers have a very long history of using BASE24 products on NonStop. This will be the first America’s conference following ACI’s decision, late last year, to switch allegiances from HP to IBM, and I have to admit, I am very curious to how it will go.

While at the European event in Vienna, in the early Spring of this year, I saw many at ACI in high spirits and looking forward to a new IBM-centric world, but I’m not all that sure it’s panned out quite as they expected. Many key members of the management team are no longer with ACI, and ACE would give me the first chance to look at many of their replacements. It would also give me the opportunity to see how the ACE community responds, and I will be particularly interested in the questions that come from the floor following the early presentations.

And the ACI user community plans on proposing changes as well – and there will be motions before the community asking them to vote on a restructure. The Executive Committee will play more of an “advisory role”, charged with oversight of a number of committees that will focus on Retail Banking / Payments, Merchants (retailers), and Fraud and Risk products. These changes will be subject to a community vote later in the week – and will probably pass. But for me, it’s interesting to see that behind the scenes, ACI appears to be reigning-in the various user groups it now supports, and to tighten up (through event rationalization) the messages communicated. I am not sure that, where this leads, really qualifies as a user group, but I will hold further comments until after I see how it all turns out.

I recently wrote a piece in the TandemWorld Newsletter where I made a couple of observations and raised a key question:

“In other words, all the excitement around the decision by ACI to develop a strategic relationship with IBM it’s likely, when all is said and done, that just two existing System z customers became new ACI customers. When you also consider Mr. Heasley’s ongoing concerns about how long these deals take – and how they are trying to shorten the “time-to-close cycle” that continues to lengthen – and how this quarter he reported that “lengthened, traditional selling cycle … in the last year and a half to two years, we’ve been in the 9 to 12 month cycle, we’re probably in the 15 – 19 month closing cycle right now.”

“Put even more bluntly, almost two years to develop a pipeline yielding two new customers per quarter on probably existing System z platforms. Pretty spectacular stuff, all up, you reckon? How long will IBM stay excited about figures like that? And how long will it be before the System p folks begin to realize that, perhaps, they have an equal or bigger opportunity?”

For the complete story, go to http://www.tandemworld.net/ and click on: Please see our Previous Newsletters HERE . Then select the September, 2008 issue. And the key question for me is really, how long will IBM put up with only one or two wins? And will they take more direct control of the company to push ahead more firmly with their agenda – to unhook BASE24 from all NonStop server deployment?

Perhaps IBM Payment teams will return to the System z installed-base, and look at migrating many of the home-grown applications running on these platforms. For some time I have heard ACI executives telling me that the System z represents an additional platform, complementing the existing NonStop server, and that providing a standard, industry-leading solution to this System z community would be a real boost to the fortunes of ACI. However, while IBM consolidates its mainframe position at these sites, and picks up revenue (not all that inconsiderable, these days) for the added MIPS required, it doesn’t help them in their NonStop replacement program.

I want to hold back on any further commentary here until after I have attended the event. But the bigger question for me now, and with more immediacy, is what plans have HP under way to plug this gap? Surely, they cannot be sitting around with their fingers crossed hoping it all goes away, or waiting and hoping that ACI sees the error in their ways and returns to NonStop. You would have to think something a little more proactive is being undertaken.

At this year’s HPTF&E in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the folks out of the AsiaPac / Japan office in Singapore. The senior management team hosted a pretty good breakfast – as they have for a number of years – and I always find the openness of the exchanges round the breakfast tables to be very encouraging. This year, Herbert Zwenger, VP and General Manager Business Critical Servers (BCS) HP Asia Pacific and Japan, said that for his market, they were already looking at their options.

So it came as no surprise to me when I received an email from the region directing me to a press announcement they made late in July and found at: http://h50025.www5.hp.com/ENP5/Public/Content.aspx?contentID=24934&portalID=377&pageID=1

Under the heading of “HP and Opus Software Solutions today announced an integrated payments solution to help financial institutions minimize operational costs and risks of real-time transactions” there was the following news update:

“HP and Opus Software Solutions today announced an integrated payments solution to help financial institutions minimize operational costs and risks of real-time transactions. The collaboration combines the availability and scalability of HP servers with Opus' proven electronic payments platform by porting Opus' Electra EFT Switch on HP Integrity NonStop servers. The open architecture of HP Integrity NonStop servers will allow the Electra EFT Switch, Opus' integrated payments solution, to authenticate and route financial transactions from multiple channels including ATMs, POS systems, web services and mobile devices.

“‘Companies whose payment applications are the lifeblood of their operations can greatly minimize business risk by leveraging HP NonStop technology,’ said Herbert Zwenger, vice president and general manager, Business Critical Systems, HP Asia Pacific and Japan. ‘HP's NonStop platform supports the majority of ATM and credit card transactions globally. Together with Opus, we deliver a robust infrastructure that is ideally suited for the financial services industry.’"

Back in the late ‘70s I could remember a couple of major vendors – MSA, McCormack and Dodge, etc. - building general ledger, accounts payable ledgers, etc., applications for the mainframe and as these packages expanded into manufacturing and elsewhere, we saw the emergence of manufacturing resource planning packages from other less-known vendors. These then went on to become the forerunners of the popular enterprise resource planning packages we have today with Miscrosoft, SAP, etc. all at the fore. Whatever happened to MSA? To McCormack and Dodge? They failed to respond in a timely fashion to newer, more agile vendors coming at them using different tools and supporting different platforms.

And this is the concern I have for ACI – they may have prematurely burnt their bridges to the NonStop community, and they may find it hard to convince the community that they still have its interests at heart. And should IBM walk away for any reason, they may not have the time to rebuild all the relationships they used to enjoy with the NonStop community. And in the meantime, smaller vendors may begin to offer new products at entry points way beneath the price points ACI have enjoyed for decades, and which they really require to sustain any return to the NonStop platform.

Now I will be the first to admit that the news above about HP and Opus, and of them coming to market with anything close to the comprehensive breadth of BASE24 will be highly unlikely, at least in the short term, but it does raise the specter that HP wants to compete. The marketplace for the product may be very regional as well and lack all the certification and compliance agreements BASE24 comes with. But it has to be viewed as a start – and pretty much anticipated.

As I said, this will be a very interesting user event and I will be listening to everything that is said and watching all the keynote presentations. And I wonder how much of enthusiasm exhibited in Vienna, less than six months ago, has been tempered from the results of the past two quarters and I wonder, how much patience persists among the customers that ACI has served for all this time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An era ends!

I have just spent a couple of days back on the old Tandem Computers Cupertino campus. Staying at a nearby hotel, this offered me an opportunity to take an early morning walk around the streets once so densely populated with Tandem Computers buildings – and it was kind of sad to see so many of them empty. It was also a little amusing to see many of them now adorned with Apple tombstone markers and with the Apple logo splashed liberally around. The photo at the top of this posting is of Tandem Way – the exit off Tantau Avenue that leads to what was once Jimmy’s headquarters building. I looked for the Tandem flag flying from the flagpole – but that one has been absent for many years now.

When I arrived at Tandem in late ’88 I have just missed the “Billion Dollar Party” but everyone continued to talk about it. There was hardly an employee on the campus not wearing the black sweatshirt given to everyone at the party. And it wasn’t too long before the obelisk, with every employee’s signature embedded into it, was in the lobby – first over in the Customer Conference Center (CCC) in building 2, I believe, before taking up more permanent residence in Jimmy’s headquarters building. In ’89 when the big earthquake hit, it was toppled and among the first actions of all in the building was to race over to it to see if it had been damaged. It had fallen, as I recall - but only a minor scratch!

I moved to Cupertino full-time at the end of ’89 and after a short stay at the Comm Building – Building 201 – I moved to a new refurbished DSM Building, Building 247, where I remained for a good part of the time I was in Cupertino. When I finally joined Product Management in ’94, it was just as the group was moving out of the Pumpkin Patch , Building 250 / 251, and back into a refurbished Building 4, where I took up residence in an office barely a hundred feet from where I first met with Tandem staff back in ’86 when I was working for Netlink!

People moved frequently from one building to another as new positions opened up and as teams expanded. There were times when you would find a team working in a building that didn’t even have a Tandem Computers tombstone outside it identifying the group. The City of Cupertino had strict rules about building signage, and so it was the erection of these tombstones that were the only evidence of which company was residing on the premises. Somehow, I always had an uneasy feeling whenever the term “tombstone” was used in this way – initially, completely uncertain about what was being discussed as my colleagues told me to meet them next to the tombstone marking Building 55!

I was meeting with people in the old Building 2 last Thursday – and this was an interesting day to show up for a meeting. There were trucks outside stacking paper marked for confidential storage. There were trolleys being wheeled back and forth. NonStop development was moving across to HP buildings on a campus stretching between Pruneridge and Homestead. I am not sure how many HP buildings are located on the block – but I saw buildings 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47 –it’s substantial and I was led to believe that NonStop would become the latest residents in a part of HP building 42.

With NonStop development out of the buildings, it would then be the turn, in a few weeks time, for the Neoview teams to move out and by the end of next month, old Tandem Buildings 1, 2, and 3 would be empty and up for lease. With this move, there would no longer be any Tandem Computers buildings on the Cupertino campus occupied by anyone working on NonStop. The end of an era – and it was pretty sad to be around the folks packing up and relocating to their fancy new cubicles.

But then again, this had been anticipated for quite some time. HP has executed so well on the “merger” with Compaq, and the product lines are benefitting enormously from being part of the bigger HP family. The recently announced NonStop on Blades couldn’t possibly have happened without Tandem being closely aligned with the HP hardware roadmaps. Early indications suggest that this will be an incredibly successful NonStop platform with the lower product prices opening up many new opportunities and giving the HP sales force a competitive edge over other vendors – IBM still is to support any blade center options for its mainframe, although all other product lines are now supporting blades. Sometime, contrarian marketing can have its downside – but I don’t think IBM is about to make any changes any time soon!

However, I am still left asking the question – is this the end of NonStop’s independence? Will the much-heralded entrepreneurial spirit, for so long associated with everything Tandem, be consumed within the greater HP?

Will we ever again see the big tent parties alongside the Cupertino campus like we did back in the late ‘80s. Will the renegade spirit – that love for tilting at windmills – go the way of donuts on payday, Friday beer-busts, first Friday live satellite broadcasts, and Derek’s model train days! Will we ever see the ratty tie-die T-shirts, famous throughout the Cupertino campus, being handed out to everyone who wanted one? Will we ever see the astronomy enthusiasts lined up behind the Comm Building with their telescopes pointing skyward? Will we ever see posters, like the one above, again? Will we ever hear the sound of the ham radio operators, with Jimmy being one of the biggest supporters of all, practicing their earthquake drills?

In the words of Maroon 5, “I don’t think so!”

Just as we have product and technology lifecycles so too, we have corporate lifecycles. And companies founded by evangelists, driving a unique product offering into the marketplace,. often against all odds and predicated on them simultaneously defining a market segment , really do face an uphill battle. But Tandem Computers does stand as one of the all-time great innovators. At a time when applications were beginning to appear that put the computer squarely in front of consumers, there was little patience with systems that routinely failed or needed to be taken offline in order to keep running. The whole “special sauce”, the breakthrough “radical innovation” that was unleashed, that made a Tandem Computer a Tandem Computer, and kept it elevated as one of the all-time disruptive technologies “greats”.

When Tandem Computers first started shipping the NonStop I, there was a landscape littered with minicomputer vendors – Wang, Prime, Data General, Digital, Nixdorf, NEC, as well as the minicomputer business units of Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell (collectively referred to as the BUNCH), and former contenders for the title of largest computer manufacturer, but they have all gone. Some of them still exist, but not to the same extent that they did in that period stretching from the late ‘70s through to the mid ‘80s.

However, the original Tandem Computers operating system is still as viable today as it ever was, and there’s little evidence of any wholesale desertion from the platform by the user community, even if some of the major ISVs are developing product for competing platforms. But with the planned moves underway and with even closer working relationships with the rest of HP, I have to start wondering how much of NonStop will work its way into the rest of the company?

We have seen some leverage being made by the hardware developers and the BladeSYSTEM now sports a NonStop mid-plane – and I am sure even more leverage is underway. ServerNet? InfinBand? And whatever comes next – I can’t see this not being rolled out without an opportunity to exploit the dual fabrics we find today in every NonStop server. The networking and communications support, as is storage, are all now industry-standard offerings but at the core, remains NonStop. And I don’t see this going away anytime soon.

The picture I have included here is of the lobby in the old Tandem Building 2 – the one every prospect and customer would have seen as the entered the premises for corporate presentations and potentially, a lunch with Jimmy himself. Probably the last photo ever taken of this lobby. It’s pretty sad to know that soon, it will lay empty with the trappings of Tandem and NonStop stripped from the walls.

The entrepreneurial drive and the innovative spirit, so deeply rooted in Tandem and NonStop, live on. And as sad as I am to see the people moving out, I am still left to wonder, will Tandem and NonStop truly live on within HP? Will the end of one era simply be the start of a new one? And will the technology truly remain as exciting as Jimmy always made it out to be!

So, as I walk through Tandem Computers Cupertino campus, with ghosts greeting me at every corner, I am thinking about the “good old days”…. Just like my father never got the newspaper business out of his system, I don’t think I can ever get the Tandem out of mine… Some say I “wear Tandem under-ware” – so what, I wear it with pride!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blood and corpses everywhere! Really?

I have been spending a lot of time lately inside car garages. And I don’t mind admitting that it’s not all been as a happy observer, but the picture here is of the C6 Corvette having its exhaust system improved for better performance. But I have been fascinated by the auto industry all my life and find the subject of cars, whether covered in films, books, or magazines, to be endlessly fascinating. As a youngster, my greatest joy at Christmas would be to get a model car, and I watched the film Grand Prix six times over one Christmas holiday period.

Readers who have been reading this blog on a routine basis have watched as I took my first steps at driving school and the enjoyment that spending a weekend on a race track brought. Readers who have also read my social blog http://www.buckle-up-travel.blogspot.com/ will have caught up with the news that I have now Supercharged the C6 Corvette and begun the process of learning how to drive, all over again. After all, if General Motors is adding a Supercharger to their latest iteration of the C6 Corvette, why not go ahead and do the same myself?

It’s all about performance, and it’s a bit of a paradox that at a time when gas prices are going through the roof, many major car manufacturers are producing newer, more powerful models. In fact, there seems to be a power war raging as manufacturer after manufacturer up the ante. Anyone following the fortunes of MercedesBenz will have read by now that a special edition of their popular SL sportscar, will be available in 2009, as the SL65 AMG Black Series, and where, for the princely sum of US$235,775, you can get a two-seat roadster with 660 bhp (and 738 lb.-ft of torque). Personally, I view anything much over 650 bhp a tad excessive. Just a tad.

Performance, and the drive by manufacturers to give us more power, has been an essential part of the auto industry for decades now. And it’s not just MercedesBenz, the new Corvette General Motors is releasing shortly, has been restricted. Not an uncommon practice for German manufacturers where speeds have been limited to 155mph, but unheard of in America.

And the new, restricted, speed-limit on the Corvette? After due deliberation, the Chevrolet division, and owner of the Corvette brand, has decided to limit top speed, and issued a public statement on their decision. According to this month’s issue (October, 2008) of Road and Track, they reported “it must be noted that for ‘social responsibility’ said Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter, there is an electronic limiter set for 210 mph!”

Without proper instruction, and the patience to progress in degrees and to take time correlating speed and distances, this has to be an invitation to disaster! You could suggest that these speeds can only be attained on a race track – but which race track? I have driven on a few race tracks and without exception, getting past 120 mph on these tracks does take considerable skill. But on public roads, and for anyone to drive, will we be seeing the return of blood and corpses everywhere as recklessness takes over?

On this last point, I was paging through a recent issue of Fortune magazine (September 1, 2008) and looking at the stories in the Technology section – and the lead story, “A Chip too Far?” caught my eye. The writer comments “but the latest generation of chips, known as multicore, are so complex and so qualitatively different from their predecessors that they have flummoxed software developers.” He goes on to suggest that “if they want to get the full oomph out of multicore chips, their applications need to break tasks apart into chunks for each core to work on, a process known as parallel computing.” And then he looks back to 2000 when "the videogame industry faced a similar challenge when Sony's then-dominant PlayStstion shifted to chips with multiple, different processors for the PS2 (and) the result, according to Neal Robison, Director of Software Vendor Relations at AMD, was 'blood and corpses everywhere!'"

Dah? So here we have it – the opening shot in the campaign to stop the development of fast chips! Are we going to see blood and corpses on development floors? “But programming in parallel is simply too complex for the average code writer, who has been trained in a very linear fashion,” added Fortune magazine. Kunle Olukotun, a computer science professor at Stanford’s Pervasive Parallelism Lab, told Fortune that “if I were the computer industry, I would be panicked, because it’s not obvious what the solution is going to look like and whether we will get there in time for these new machines!”

Oh really? By now, most readers can see that this article is aimed at the broader client industry where Microsoft resides. Perhaps developing a new game for a single user is going to present challenges for the developer but even here, I am not all that sure. There will be new generation of applications appear that fully tap into the power of multicore chip technology. However, as we move up the food chain and look at the server side of the industry, this technology becomes extremely compelling.

New Integrity servers, with dual-core chips (and with quad and multicore just on the horizon as Intel continues with its’ roadmap for Itanium) are already shipping. And as I talk with users – not much has changed since the first Tandem Computer began shipping in the late ‘70s. For anyone living with NonStop for any period of time, getting the best from many processors, or CPUs, operating in parallel became an issue for the infrastructure, and with the right infrastructure, processes could be cloned and let execute as many times as you need and the ability to scale up become a significant advantage.

For those attending HPTF&E in June, you may have seen the stand on one corner that was simply labeled “Pathway is thriving in the 21st Century”. I have included a picture of it here – as I found it remarkable to run into Pathway after all this time. But it holds a key to how much advantage you may be able to take of multicore chip technology arriving on HP Integrity NonStop servers. While other manufacturers are calling for Virtualization down to the metal, or chip, this is beginning to appear unnecessary for the NonStop user.

“NonStop is already fully virtualized,” one senior manager pointed out to me recently, “from the bottom up.” You are shielded from what’s actually going on at the metal and OS interaction level. Indeed, it was another executive who told me that “putting a virtual machine (VM) under a Massively Parallel Processor (MPP) machine (as we have with NonStop), is actually not helpful. You start creating havoc with the definition of fault zones tied to a logical processor.”

And here’s the advantage for everyone with NonStop server – programming it doesn’t change. We can benefit from this technology quickly and transparently at the application level. The same executive went on to suggest that at HP, “we view the definition of virtualization in the Nonstop context as "Application Virtualization", which is somewhat the reverse of machine virtualization traditionally associated with (other approaches, such as with) Integrity VM and VMWare.”

Typically, VM implementations span all the hardware and hide how many processors may be pooled under its management. In so doing, they can then “fire up” as many OS’s – one per Virtual Machine – and so exploit the power of all the pooled processing resources. But this is what the NonStop Kernel (NSK) does today and interacting with something like Pathway, it fully delivers on the promise of Application Virtualization!

And in case you think the programming model supported by Pathway may be antiquated, take a look at the technology being deployed within Pathway. As I was to find out at HPTF&E this year, “Pathway will continue to play a large role in the future as a strategic part of the NonStop application infrastructure, and not just for customer’s applications since it's Pathway that also provides much of the "NonStop-ness" for some of our other middleware products (iTPWS, NSSOAP, NSJSP, NSCORBA, NSTuxedo, ...).”

There will never be a time when chip researchers announce that they have reached the limits of computing power! The graphs tracing Moore’s Law don’t top out anywhere! And there’s no emerging social discontent with computing that has chip manufacturers planning some voluntarily limits to their performance. Virtualization will be part of the new landscape on NonStop. It will be at a different level, and achieved through different infrastructure, but the benefits from virtualization will be real enough for every NonStop user.

For me, there are many parallels between my interest in cars and my history with NonStop. When Fortune interviewed Sean Maloney, Intel’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, he said “I accept parallel computing is a big problem. He then asserts the problem will be solved “because economic benefits are huge,” adding “whoever figures out how to take advantage of multicore first could wreak some serious economic damage on their competition.”

Performance, and the harnessing of performance, remains as important to the field of computing as it always been for cars. It’s just great to realize that with NonStop, there are not the problems others have to deal with. The infrastructure is all in place, and NonStop user have been taking advantage of it for years! No blood on the floor! No bodies scattered around the data center! No recklessness visible at all, just businesses quietly imposing damage on the competition.