Thursday, October 2, 2008

Problem Child!

I spent last weekend back in Boulder, and the fall is definitely in full swing across the Rockies. On the flight over Friday night, you could clearly see the Aspen forests reflecting autumn’s golden colors in the early evening sunlight. While there is still a few more days to go before the trees in my garden turn completely gold, changes are already under way. And the picture I have included here is of the view from my driveway looking back at the Aspens at the end of the yard.

On Saturday, a good friend of mine from Texas came over for the weekend. With the colors turning the mountains into a giant green and gold quilt, it was the perfect time to take the motorcycles out of the garage and tackle the peak-to-peak highway. Not being too ambitious, we rode 100+ mile portions on Saturday and Sunday, taking in the northern loop from Estes Park on the Saturday and then riding the southern loop out of Golden on up through Black Hawk on the Sunday.

While we were out riding across the mountains we didn’t escape mother-nature entirely as we ran right into a fierce electrical storm, and we really should have pulled off the road and sought safer ground. For more on this escapade, look for a posting next week on my social blog:

After each ride we relaxed by taking the coupe out for a spin, and dropping by the many coffee shops in the county. But after the weekend, it was a case of dragging out the hoses and buckets and washing the vehicles. I can’t speak for others – but for me, I find washing cars a relaxing activity and something very therapeutic. I suspect nobody starts out with as many messed-up hoses in their garage either! For the last couple of weeks I have been tuned into an XM station playing only songs by the great Australian rock group - AC/DC, and there’s nothing better than listening to their anthems while bent over cleaning brake dust from badly stained wheels. But as I was doing this, I caught the words of one of the better known songs, “Problem Child”:

“Get out of my way; just step aside …Or pay the price;
What I want, I take; what I don't, I break …
But I win they lose;What I need, I like; what I don't, I fight …
Your time is through;
‘Cause I'm a problem child!”

There was a time when I was much younger, that members of my family were concerned that I was a problem child, but I could never figure out what they meant! But it did get me thinking of another, more famous, problem child - Larry Ellison. I don’t think anyone would ever confuse the antics of Ellison with any other industry leader. And when you realize that he is a good friend of Steve Jobs as well – then you do have to accept that problem children sometimes turn out all right!

I don’t think the news coming out of this years Oracle OpenWorld (OOW) event escaped anyone. On the final day Ellison took the stage and dropped a bombshell – and introduced the participants to Oracle – the hardware company! In partnership with HP, he was going to sell his own hardware, infrastructure, and application packages.

Paging through the press reports, I came across the story by Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor for, that he titled “Larry Ellison, database bandwidth problems and a ruddy great big iPod - it's the Oracle OpenWorld big finish!” In the report, Lauchlan opens with “He's built up his own software company. He's taken over other people's software companies. Now Larry Ellison has done what might have been assumed to be unthinkable – he's taking Oracle into the hardware business!” Lauchlan then adds “as a result (Ellison) was in as chirpy a mood, as his counterparts over at Teradata and Netezza presumably were not.

“What I want, I take; what I don't, I break …
But I win they lose …”

And in a passing swipe at his good friend Jobs, Lauchlan reports how “Ellison was unabashed, urging HP CEO Mark Hurd – beamed in on a video link – to get out there and start producing the machines like iPods coming off a conveyor belt! ‘I know you have a burning question. How much music can this hold?’ he chuckled. ‘Well it holds really a lot of songs. We're not talking the iPod nano here, this is 1,400 times larger than Apple's largest iPod.’

In another report, this time a ZDNET blog, reporter Dana Gardner picks up on Ellison’s days spent campaigning for the America’s Cup “’We needed radical new thinking to deliver high performance,’ said Ellison of the new hardware configurations, comparing the effort to the innovative design for his controversial America’s Cup boat. ‘We need much more performance out of databases than what we get.’ The reason for the 10x to 72x performance improvements cited by Ellison are due to bringing the “intelligence” closer to the data, that is, bringing the Exadata Programmable Storage Server appliance into close proximity to the Oracle database servers, and then connecting them through InfiniBand connections.”

Also what caught my eye was the writer’s observation how “Talk about speeds and feeds … But the market driver in these moves is massive data sets that need to be producing near real-time analytics paybacks. We’re seeing more and more data, and varying kinds of data, brought into data warehouses and being banged on by queries of applications and BI servers from a variety of business users across the enterprise.”

As the ZDNET reporter went on to add “‘HP and Oracle share some 150,000 joint customers worldwide’, said HP Executive Vice President, Technology Solutions Group Ann Livermore. That means that these database boxes will have an army of sales and support personnel. HP will support the Machine hardware, Oracle the software. Both will sell it.”

“What I need, I like; what I don't, I fight …
Your time is through …”

The emails have been flying thick and fast around here as we speculated about the implications. But we also had to stop and think about what is happening in the NonStop marketplace and what this really means for NonStop SQL. And is NonStop SQL a problem child as well? And as with the more famous problem children Larry and Steve, will NonStop SQL end up turning out to be all right?

Central to the exchanges we had was how hard it must be for HP to keep NonStop SQL on par with the more open, and industry standard, offerings – such as Oracle. Should HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) be looking at other options, for instance, and could the possibility of replacing NonStop SQL with an open source solution – possibly My SQL or even Ingres - be in their plans?

A few years back, the NonStop organization did pursue porting an industry standard transaction processing (tp) monitor – BEA’s Tuxedo. Over time, this port of what became known as NonStop Tuxedo became very deep, optimized for the NonStop loosely-coupled, shared-nothing, architecture while maintaining full compatibility with Tuxedo’s programming interfaces. Application developers saw no differences between running Tuxedo applications on NonStop or any other platform. But even so, when you look at the most recent roadmaps from NonStop Tuxedo there’s no further releases planned – a clear sign that with all the efforts expended, the marketplace didn’t respond as positively as initially thought. A tremendous effort was put into this program and the results truly didn’t reflect the efforts made, but I have to think it may have been a little too late – application servers, messaging, etc. all stole market-share away from older style tp monitors.

“Get out of my way; just step aside …Or pay the price;”

So, perhaps stepping aside and simply walking away from NonStop SQL, as it stands today, and replacing it with another data base offering, may not be a solution either. And there’s the potential for an even bigger problem developing. As I went to wash the coupes, the tangle of hoses looked hopeless. But I just happened to untangle one knot and all of the other knots and loops simply fell out. The mass of hoses that had balled on the garage floor evaporated right before my eyes. And this is what really bothers me today with NonStop SQL. The tie in between NonStop SQL and NonStop itself may be all that’s keeping the NonStop technology alive!

Perhaps Sami Akbay, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at GoldenGate, summed it up best when he responded to one of my emails and said that if “you tried to separate NonStop SQL from NonStop itself, if NED untied that knot and simply stopped further development of NonStop SQL, then there may not be a NED in 5 years! Without NonStop SQL, some of the key differentiators for keeping NonStop around would simply disappear!” And that would be a price too high to pay, even for a problem child! Just as the seasons change, and we welcome the transformation that comes with springtime, perhaps there is the opportunity for NonStop to likewise transform itself, becoming more tightly integrated within the HP product family, such that we look forward to its adolescence!

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