Friday, January 30, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

It was another anniversary, this time Margo’s birthday, and I am driving back to Boulder. Friday night was spent in Las Vegas, and I put the first thoughts together as I looked out at night lights of the edifices along its famous strip. It wasn’t until I arrived in Boulder that I finalized the posting and the storyline has been with me for a couple of days, but as I headed out of town I was reminded of how much I associate Las Vegas with the user community. And the picture I have included here was snapped while I was leaving Las Vegas.

The first time I went to Las Vegas was for an ITUG Board Meeting in 2000. Tony Bond was the Chairman of ITUG and had selected Las Vegas as an ideal location for a “winter” gathering, but the hotel we stayed in was far removed from the glamour of the major hotels we associate with the strip today – it was the only hotel in Las Vegas with no slot machines! No way to gamble whatsoever! A far cry from the venues we expect these days.

It was only a few short months after I joined GoldenGate that I had the good fortune of participating in our user event held at the Four Seasons Hotel – a venue at the opposite end of the spectrum to the one that was chosen for the ITUG Board meeting back in 2000. The Four Seasons proved to be such a hit with the GoldenGate community that the ’09 event will be returning to the same location. Of course there were the back-to-back HPTF&E events in ’07 and ’08 – where we all saw the performances by Train and Matchbox 20 … as well as those given by HP executives.

Being back in Las Vegas for an anniversary reminded me of how last years HPTF&E event was the 30th anniversary of ITUG. Actually, it was Scott Healy, former ITUG Chairman and now a Director of Connect, who reminded me of this milestone – but I had been working backwards with the ITUG timeline and had thought the year was about right. I have an ITUG backpack, provided at the annual event in San Jose a couple of years back, that has a collection of badges on it gathered from all the events I have attended - and I found the 20th and 25th Anniversary badges! Last year just had to be the 30th!

Looking at the badges, I saw that in 1993 the ITUG annual event was in Orlando and that was the 15th anniversary – so altogether, I have attended the 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary events. Expressed another way, I have attended half of all ITUG events that have been held and for fifteen years, at these events I developed many friendships as I used these occasions to network relentlessly. Many of the friendships I enjoy today have their origins in ITUG. Last year, we saw no anniversary buttons celebrating the 30 years – and for me that was a bit of a shame. No T-Shirts were handed out at the ITUG party, and no speeches were made. It was as though the milestone simply passed by, completely unnoticed, and without fanfare of any kind!

With the amount of driving Margo and I are doing lately where it seems many weekends finds us on the road heading back to Boulder or returning to Simi Valley, we continue to work. Margo will routinely move to the back seat so she can pull out her laptop, spread out her papers, and keep right on working. And of course there’s the Blackberry we both have become so dependent on. We have really adjusted to the new world of mobile computing – anywhere if there’s power and a signal we are working! The picture here is of Margo, outside a Starbucks, checking email shortly after leaving Las Vegas.

I hadn’t noticed how obvious it was that we both work away on our Blackberries even as walking along the street. We were both in San Jose on January 22nd just as the news came out that President Obama had been cleared to keep his Blackberry, and a local Fox TV reporter came right up to us and asked us a couple of questions about our reliance on Blackberry. Well of course, our comments made the ten o’clock news on the local Fox 2 and a number of readers picked up on the event – at one point, I remarked how if I were President there would be no way anyone would get me to give up my Blackberry! Margo assured me that this silly comment was sure to land us on the news! She was right.

For thirty years, one of the most valuable parts of the annual ITUG event was the way it brought us together to network. It was at these events we talked with one another about the applications we were running, the problems we were encountering and the third-party products we liked or disliked. It was where we went to find out what was going on across the community of NonStop users. These were the days before the Internet, the Web, and the PDA! This is where we worked hard to find time to listen to others and to relate what we were doing at our shops to others with similar interests.

In today’s community, how much of this communicating do we now do electronically? Have Google, Wikipedia, and any number of social networks, transformed the way we share experiences and check up on what others are doing? And is the need for events a generational thing – something the younger generation, coming up through the IT ranks, has little patience for? Already I see many participants huddled over coffee emailing colleagues, writing up notes for others in their company, or even blogging for other communities.

I was reminded of how widespread readership of this blog has become when recently, I received an email from Tom Hebel: “I came across you blog today while looking for NonStop installations in Southern Nevada.” Tom then went to explain that he was at Citibank when they bought the first Tandem, and how he went on to join the first ITUG board of directors and to become the second President of ITUG.

As Tom retells the story “the first Tandem was absolutely sold to Citibank - Bob White, a Senior Vice President at the time, purchased it off the floor at the old NCC held in the old NY Coliseum. It then sat in a warehouse on 7th Avenue for a period of time. I was presenting a proposal to Bob for the purchase of an HP3000 system, (and Bob asked me if we could use a Tandem System. I told him that I had read about Tandem and we could probably use it - at that point he said ‘Case Closed - I have a Tandem for you - it is in our MIS warehouse.’”

As for his experiences with ITUG, which came into being just one year later in 1978 (and as TUG initially), Tom wrote back to say “I was a founder of ITUG and the second President. Jim Barrintine of the Ohio State College Library Center was the first President, I was the first Vice President and I believe we had three other board members - Dr. David Mishelevich of the University of Texas, Bob Strand from Chicago, and the last member slips my mind. The first TUG meeting took place at the LeBaron Hotel in San Jose. The stories are all wrong - the regional groups came into existence way after the start of TUG. I believe they started as SIGs (Special Interest Groups) and eventually evolved into Regional (User) Groups.”

Tom would never had made contact with me, or even known about the community today, without the postings and comments in this blog. And I appreciated Tom’s emails – these days Tom is the President of TCI Systems and he’s searching for contacts in Southern Nevada. For any who may be interested, feel free to contact Tom at NonStop@tcisystems.com.

ITUG didn’t celebrate its 30th anniversary as a much bigger event overshadowed it. Connect was being created and the focus was very much on the future of the user group. But it’s very hard for me to let go of the past, or to loose touch with the folks who contributed so much to laying the foundation for something that energized the community the way ITUG has done. And it’s very hard for me to ignore what the future holds.

Tom mentioned in his emails the NCC – the National Computer Conference. I flew from Australia to attend the NCC in Houston and later, in Anaheim back in the early 80s – and long before COMDEX arrived. But they are no more. HP will always want to hold exhibitions and have a forum to talk about its latest offerings, and IT will find value in attending. But will future generations of IT professionals derive the same value as we did from user run events? Or will they even have the time?

Or, will the future be something very different where all the information we seek, as we work from anywhere we can find a seat, where there’s power and an available network, and where all the contacts we need can be found from blogs, on web sites, and within discussion forums? Will there come a time where our community will share information by simply beaming it to our PDA – and will we, like President Obama, fight hard to retain our Blackberries!


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Apple trees blooming in January ...

... and how NonStop won the Gold!

I was in San Jose on business last week, and that morning I picked up a copy of the San Jose Mercury News that had been left hanging on my room door-handle. Turning to the business section, the lead article was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh.

It’s the stuff of IT legend how Apple aired a single commercial during the third quarter of SuperBowl XVIII, that featured an athlete hurling a hammer at the image of big brother – an unashamed reference to IBM, and in particular to the IBM mainframe. The picture I have included here is me photographing the first flowering apple trees in my Southern California neighborhood as I was leaving for San Jose – trees flowering in January? Surely a sign!

The Macintosh, or Mac, as it became more commonly called, was derived from the Apple Lisa launched the year before, where the wraps came off a personal computer that the first time ever featured a Graphical User Interface (or GUI) supporting icons that helped navigate between applications and data, and it also featured a mouse! And the price dropped from a whopping $9,995 (for the Lisa) to just $2,495 making it accessible to many more users.

My daughter was born in 1983, and she was named Lisa - but contrary to the rumors that developed, she was not named after the Apple computer. On the other hand, IBM had just launched the PCjr, that many in the press had referred to as the “Peanut” and to this day, my daughter asks if I had given any consideration to calling her by that name! Even though I have assured her many times this was not the case I still catch her looking at me, even today, with just a little suspicion that there had been some connection!

Before the Apple commercial aired during the SuperBowl game, the majority of my IT career had revolved around the IBM mainframe. During my days as a cadet trainee, in the early ‘70s, there was an operations manager with a sign on his desk “if I can’t walk through its channels, it’s not a computer!” The mainframe of the day, the IBM System 360, came with external selector any byte multiplexor channels each the size of a very large refrigerator. And I was reminded of this, when the writer of the Mercury News story on the Mac’s anniversary described the actual launch of the Mac two days later.

To a filled auditorium at De Anza College in Cupertino, Steve Jobs pulled the Mac out of a canvass bag, and inserted a floppy disk. “And the small computer began to speak: ‘Hello, I am Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag!’” the writer began, before recalling how the voice of the Macintosh then went on to add “I’d like to share with you a maxim I thought of the first time I met an IBM mainframe: never trust a computer that you can’t lift!”. And the thing for me was that in those fifteen years I had been in the IT business, the computing power I had first encountered in a roomful of boxes around which I could stroll, had been reduced to something I could now easily pick up and sit on my desk.

As a user community we often forget about how far we have come. Reading about the arrival of the Mac 25 years ago and how, as one Silicon Valley futurist of the day was reported as having said, as quoted by the Mercury News writer, “the Macintosh was like this string hanging down from the future,” before adding “in a click of a mouse, the Mac opened up he world of personal computing to hundreds of millions of people.” And as fate would have it, this is likely to be the last blog posting I make from my Windows laptop: next week my new Apple MacBook Air arrives, and I join the many users prepared to give the mighty Mac a try.

They certainly have come a long way, and the Mac’s of today can’t be confused with those of the early ‘80s. Today, the chip at the heart of the MacBook Air laptop is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and, checking the chips used in the top of the line MacPro, are a pair of 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Harpertown” processors – earlier flirtations with IBM’s PowerPC chips now just another part of the Mac’s history. It’s as though the Mac had truly become part of the Intel “ecosystem”, and with it greater assurance of broader acceptance.

The switch to Intel is certainly encouraging for all Mac users – and I was further reminded of how far we have come when I saw a CLX 800 motherboard displayed in another vendor’s conference room today. Depicted here, the CLX 800 board includes a chip in the center, as well as two at the bottom, that were custom built by the Tandem engineering team in Cupertino. As I recall from stories I heard on the campus, these were prototyped on a small chip-fabrication line maintained somewhere in Loc 1.

But just like Apple, the NonStop servers of today have come a long way and now run on the latest blades offering, featuring a pair of Dual-Core Intel Itanium “Montvale” processors. There are a couple of vendors that downplay the viability of the Itanium product family, and of Intel’s commitment to it, and live with the hope that the company will walk away from this investment. And there’s never any shortage of stories on the internet projecting doomsday scenarios, and suggesting that, given today’s economic “new reality” including news of Intel’s most-recent layoffs, the Intel flagship Itanium’s future looks pretty bleak.

I am a big fan of the all-American sports car – the Corvette. And recently, in an editorial in the magazine Vette (February, 2009 – “The King is Not Dead”) was the story of how a news release about a very short, one-week shutdown of the production line, ballooned into stories of the end of Corvette’s new ZR1. “What’s less clear is how this relatively innocuous piece of corporate news metastasized into an explosive rumor that surfaced on the Internet a few weeks later … (the) ZR1 model had been declared fiscally untenable by GM management and slated for cancellation after an abbreviated ’09 production run, broke in early October, and became the subject of much heated debate on Corvette message boards … add in a few supporting comments from ‘unnamed sources’, and the demise of the Corvette flagship was said to be all but certain.”

So I was very pleased to read this week that, in a competition conducted for SearchDataCenter.com's 2008 data center product of the year, the HP Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem topped IBM’s z10 Business Class mainframe and Sun’s SPARC Enterprise T5440 server to win Gold! “The NB50000c BladeSystem caps the transition of NonStop from wholly customized hardware technology to a product line that fully leverages the same HP c-Class blade infrastructure that also includes x86 and Itanium-based products,” the panel of judges reported, before adding “this makes the fault-tolerant and high-performance NonStop architecture far more accessible in terms of both price and accessibility than it has been historically.”

And, you don't need to set aside acres of floor-space either - these are compact, cool-running, boxes! As one marketing manager remarked to me this week, “HP is more than pleased with customer engagement, and purchases, of NonStop blades. Customers are reacting very positively to the clear movement of NonStop systems into the “Standard Ecosystem” of HP – the Blade ecosystem.” Winning the “gold medal” is encouraging, but seeing NonStop making the move into the Blade ecosystem to become part of HP’s “Standard Ecosystem” is the real message here.

This is not just a story about hardware either, as the same marketing manager kept reminding me. “Customers are expressing very positive reactions to the new modern software aspects of the NonStop environment - the software stack now encompasses open source development tools, transaction monitors, and SOA frameworks. This software environment is available now on all Integrity NonStop systems including the NB50000c BladeSystem.” There’s even news circulating now of how performance testing on Base24-eps and NonStop blades has been done by HP and ACI, working together.

I came across a mailer that went out, just before the Christmas holidays, and it said “today we continue the tradition by announcing that ACI has completed functional testing of both their BASE24 and BASE24-eps payment solutions on HP’s recently launched Integrity NonStop BladeSystem. ACI also completed BASE24-eps performance tests on the Integrity NonStop BladeSystem and the results are highly impressive – even exceeding HP’s expectations.” Even more surprising to me was that, in the same mailer, it said “in the last month alone, a major Eastern European Retailer and a Mid-Eastern Bank decided to purchase BASE24-eps on HP Integrity NonStop Systems.”

There were only three categories in the SearchDataCenter.com competition - enterprise server hardware, data center infrastructure, and systems management tools – and the NB50000c BladeSystem won the big prize! It may not be a “string hanging down from the future”, as was the case for the Mac, but the availability of NonStop on the new HP Integrity BladeSystem certainly gives the NonStop community a clear picture of the future for NonStop.

True, the Intel Itanium product had a very slow start and it took many years to convince businesses to buy systems based on this chip. But today, while the BladeSystem may not be a system that you can easily lift up onto your desk, if there ever was such a criteria, it certainly is far removed from the roomful of boxes of the past. Being part of the new standard ecosystem of HP, the fault-tolerant and high-performance NonStop architecture has become far more accessible - and surely that’s just as much a sign of promise of the future as seeing trees blossoming in January!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

HP and IBM? Moving in opposite directions ...

This past weekend was our tenth wedding anniversary, and Margo and I celebrated it at Newport Beach. While it is still bitterly cold across most of North America, and temperatures have dropped below freezing point in many cities, there were no signs of winter in Southern California. We enjoyed temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit, and the photo I have included here is of the two of us with the ocean clearly visible behind us and for sure, in case you were confused by the blog title, we aren't moving in opposite directions!

To celebrate this anniversary, we exchanged gifts of watches. As I was removing them from their boxes, I turned them over only to find, underneath the watchmaker’s name, the engraving “Master of Complications.” While this has significance in the world of watch-making, I was bemused by the reference, and wondered if anyone in IT would welcome such a title.

It also reminded me of a sign Mark Hutchens, one of the founders of InSession, had in his Boulder office: it said “Sophisticated: unnecessarily complex!” How often it is the case within IT that we just get caught up in solutions and implementations that are unnecessarily complicated. While I am not sure of the source for Mark’s sign, it was Leonardo da Vinci who was recorded as having said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!”

So much is being discussed within IT about “server consolidation” – whether it’s about the current projects at HP, or at IBM – with the thought that experienced executives have come up with data centers that reduce the complexity of computing. And how these new, highly sophisticated installations, should be considered as models of what other CIOs may want to embrace. At the heart of these server consolidation projects are combinations of platforms, with different operating systems, that have been tightly integrated – and there will be CIO’s, I have to assume, who will ask if these models are a level of sophistication that borders on being unnecessarily complex? Once again!

I was leaving the apartment of my mother-in-law at Christmas, and taped to the door of the apartment directly opposite from hers, was the quote “what the world needs most are people who can fashion straightforward solutions to complex problems.” I have included a photo of it here as it was taped alongside a photo of Einstein, but I am not certain it should be attributed to him. What can be attributed to Einstein, however, was something similar that he said “any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.”

Businesses today are complex and their many endeavors are complicated. Legislation, financing, sourcing, transportation, all operate at levels of complexity most of us have difficulty comprehending. Within IT, the challenge is to cut through all of this and today this means doing a lot more with less, as well as better integrating what we already have. There still needs to be choice – this is not a call for the support of just one platform, or one operating system, as the scope of today’s applications can best be served when there is choice. I see no lessening of the interest of solution providers to continue offering value based on their exploitation of different platforms and operating systems.

HP remains strongly committed to the NonStop platform. Of this I have no doubt, although what future NonStop platforms will look like could be very different to what we see today. Unlike the IBM mainframe, HP’s largest servers (including NonStop) now support standard blade packaging and have embraced industry-standard interfaces and controllers. While there’s no CIO who would consider the NonStop platform as simple, the simple blades approach has reduced the complexity.

On the other hand, IBM is continuing with its proprietary “book” packaging, completely shunning the blades that are available for the System p and System i user, and the decision to make NonStop available on blades is clearly a “courageous move,” going in the opposite direction to IBM. I have been involved with the IBM mainframe platform for many years, and never write lightly about IBM strategies – but in this instance, maintaining a proprietary approach, with its demand for technicians, I think they are headed down the wrong path. And with the technicians that have to be retained, there’s no lessening of the need for masters of complications, who are still highly valued at these sophisticated IBM mainframe sites!

However, NonStop will rarely be the only platform that a business will depend upon, and HP is working to ensure the future NonStop platforms will remain an integral part of their business solutions. The “unity from blades” that we see today is just the beginning of this evolution. Since HP acquired Tandem, via Compaq, more than $1Billion has been invested in NonStop and it is strategic to HP’s presence in some key market segments.

As one HP executive told me recently “NonStop is continuing to invest strongly in NonStop – ‘cash cow’ tends to be used as a pejorative term, but actually, has positive implications. ‘Milking’ a successful business and ‘milking it dry’ are two completely different strategies. There are long term plans and investments in NonStop.” The investments by customers in the NonStop platform of today, are funding the NonStop of the future – and that’s highly important to the user community.

I posted a blog on July 16, 2008 “Specialist! Am I still needed?” where I wrote about the first appearance of a chassis supporting different blades with different operating systems. “Described at the event as an Engineering Prototype (EP) … 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!” HP supported NonStop together with Linux, Unix, and Windows, running on separate blades, but all within the one blade system chassis. As a prototype it highlighted a future package where the complexity of supporting different platforms has been greatly reduced. As of the posting of this blog, more than six months later, I suspect that there are a number of these very special boxes already in the hands of selected businesses.

Hybrid computers of this type will flourish in the future and with them, middleware and infrastructure that hides the differences behind simple interfaces, will flourish as well. In a recent exchange with Sami Akbay, VP of Product Management and Marketing at GoldenGate, we talked about the growth being experienced by the company’s real time data integration products. According to Sami “as the economy bites deeper, we are seeing a balance develop in customer deployment of GoldenGate products between high availability and real time data integration - the growth in data integration being fueled by the growing needs to better synchronize data bases across disparate platform implementations."

Just one emerging technology aimed at making hybrid computers as transparent as possible, the growth in real time data integration usage confirms that there is a strong push within the business world to further reduce complexity within their data centers. Sami then said “we have been watching HP's development of a hybrid ‘mix of servers’ within the box, as has been demoed at recent HP customer events, and believe this will play into the growing demand for real time data integration. While there may be some apprehension about running hybrids, GoldenGate can play a significant role in simplifying the data base synchronization requirements and will support data being seamlessly shared across all the applications coexisting inside the box."

I usually refrain from including references to GoldenGate as I write these blog postings, but in this instance the experiences of the people I work with suggests that complexity, particularly when it comes to data, is being overcome in a way that will greatly simplify the deployment of hybrids. Businesses will be able to move their applications over to a bladed architecture chassis while retaining the option to choose which operating system will support which solution. And the data will be consistent across each of these applications.

In the July / August 2008 issue of the Connection magazine I wrote in my Real Time View column how “I foresee future releases begin to incorporate more automation, with the likely appearance of a ‘cloud in the box’ (where the actual operating system configurations will alter to better align with the workloads) not too far away. Some ‘models’ are being discussed for clouds reference a services catalogue “front end,” and wouldn’t everyone feel a lot more comfortable if these lists of “supported services” were being managed on a NonStop?”

And in the blog posting referenced earlier, of July 16, 2008, I went on to describe how “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!”

Business will for ever remain complex – there’s little chance that the pursuit of business will be made much simpler any time soon. HP’s continued investment in modern, low-cost blades packaging for NonStop allows it to participate within a hybrid computer. Moving in the opposite direction to IBM may surprise CIOs, but the absence of masters of complications will not be missed! And sophisticated systems will be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The game changes ....

Late last year I was invited to my high-school reunion. In Sydney, no less! Unfortunately, business got in the way and I had no chance to participate. This is the second time I have missed a reunion, but our school captain, Will Jephcott, persists and hopefully I will make it one year. Then again, you have to be careful what you wish for – after all these years will I recognize anyone and will anyone want to see me? The picture above is of me when I was 13 or so – and it was forwarded to me by Graham Maher. Graham who?

In High School, I played Rugby and after a short stint in Rugby Union switched to Rugby League where I didn’t do too badly, playing a little representative League. But there was very little equipment available for fitness training – in Australia, there was never any funding on the scale I see today at the local US high schools – about all we could do was running and participate in ball-handling drills. But I did develop a fondness for long-distance running and enjoyed cross-country running – until the school championships where out of nowhere, Graham Maher powered past us all ….Yes, I do recall Graham very well!

Memories from my days in high school are not times I recall with any degree of fondness - I couldn’t wait to be free of school and to move onto something else. I lasted less than a year at University before I sat for an IBM aptitude test and somehow passed. Be trained as a computer programmer? Sure – but what’s that? In March of the following year I began a two-year “cadet-ship” in the steelworks under the tutelage of some very experienced IBM trainers, the career I have pursued ever since.The IBM System/360 mainframe had arrived and there was an urgent need to train programmers but, at the time, Universities were reluctant to entertain computer science as an academic pursuit. It was up to the industry to kick-start the discipline that was to become information technology, and the IBM System/360 ended up transforming the industry and me as well!

During those last years in high school I just couldn’t wait for it to end - for some reason, I thought that would be the end of any need for further education. And I was reminded of my years at high school this morning when I went for coffee and caught up with Brian, a neighbor who also enjoys taking his Corvette to the track on weekends. He has more lap time and experience than I have, but we enjoy comparing notes and talking about the tracks we have driven – we have driven on the same tracks but at different times. The experiences we have had, though, are pretty similar and we share the same enthusiasm for the sport.

Both of us are acutely aware of what’s happening in the auto industry and with the state of the economy. We both wonder if there will be future for the automobile that will hold any interest for us – will the internal combustion engine go the way of the steam engine? Will the wonderful sounds generated by high-performance automobiles, as their drivers wring every last engine revolution from them in their pursuit of more power, be lost to future generations? Or will we see something appear from within the industry that will simply turn our heads and have us salivating over unbelievable capabilities that we just have to go out and buy?

In the last century, the automobile proved to be a game-changing technology. The days of the horse and buggy obliterated over night. Some carriage manufacturers adjusted while others failed to see the dramatic changes ahead. There’s always been the tale of the buggy-whip manufacturer in Chicago that didn’t realize they were in the transportation industry and watched their business fail.

Likewise, the powerful railroad industry came on hard times as it failed to adjust to the explosion in road transportation in the US following WW II. It should have been the railroads who invested in containerization and who built the handling facilities, invested in other forms of transport including trucks and even ships – this was their business to loose, and they failed to recognize the transformation containerization brought to the transportation industry.

In this morning’s edition of the LA Times (January 13, ’09), there was a story about the recent auto show in Detroit where the writer reported “the auto industry is not unlike the computer business which was once led by hardware makers but now is dominated by software and services.” The reporter than quotes Larry Burns, GM’s head of Research and Development and Strategic Planning, who said “If you look at the major industries that have been transformed … not many of the incumbents came out of that transformation strong.”

What led to these remarks from GM’s Burns was the industry buzz around the expectations arising from the rush to hybrid and electric cars. GM was opening its own 30,000 square foot battery research center and Rick Wagoner, GM’s Chairman and CEO was quoted by the reporter as saying “the supply, design, and construction of batteries must be a core competency of GM!” The executives of GM could foresee a future where at the heart of every automobile was a simple electric motor – either as a hybrid, mated to a very small internal combustion engine, or powered exclusively by battery arrays.

Batteries, heavily leveraging much that has been pioneered in support of the lowly PC, are now to become a game-changing “core competency” within the automobile industry? And “the auto industry is not unlike the computer business … (that is) dominated by software and services!” Yes, I remember my early days with computers, where the hardware was the most critical component - but are today’s hardware choices headed down the same path as the internal combustion engine? Will there just be a simple “electric motor” powering all of IT?

There will be many skeptics I am sure, but the arrival of blades certainly represents one big step towards this potential eventuality. As I consider where blades may lead us, I have to believe the folks at GM are onto something. Subsequent releases of blade packages will see increasingly rationalized “real estate usage” where as few as two different packages will be all that will be needed. Microsoft will always require something a little different, of course. But blades, normalized to support any Unix, Linux, NonStop, zOS, OpenVMS, etc., will be game-changing for the computer business.

And not simply because they would lower the solution price but rather, exert even more pressure on Operating System (OS) pricing. Each OS would have to work hard to justify its price and, as key infrastructure components mask more of the underlying platform, lead to prices declining to commodity levels with everything freely available off the web.

In other words, what will be supporting tomorrows solutions will be determined solely by a very small set of fundamentals considered by solutions vendors as important enough to mandate a specific OS. Security, scalability, manageability implementations will all contribute to the final decisions taken by these vendors. And swapping between OS’s will become routine and be, most probably, transparent to all except for a few tasked with their oversight.

The information technology industry is no longer going to be about vendors like IBM, HP, Sun, etc. as we know them today. It’s not even going to be about Unix, Linux, Windows, or something a little more proprietary. It’s going to be about software and services but even here, it’s going to transform once more and catch many within the industry by surprise and to paraphrase the writer of the LA Times story , “not many of the incumbents (will come) out of that transformation strong.”

With the exception of a few large banks, telcos and government departments, most of us will have no idea where the computing power that we use resides or what vendor provided it. We will only see our desktop, a browser, an icon showing the strength of our wireless connection, and ubiquitous dialogues to goodness-knows-what solutions. And not much else!

Is this bad for the traditional NonStop community? It depends. Well-executed, NonStop could be a part of every HP offering – perhaps tied to clustering and virtualization in ways we haven’t even thought about. Clearly, far removed from what we know today as NonStop. I have worked with IBM mainframes. I have worked with Unix and Windows. And I have worked with NonStop. But I am in the business of information technology and I will continue to watch the industry transform; I am not tied to any one specific implementation!

And I am becoming cautious about blindly repeating the NonStop mantra of Availability! Scalability! Data Integrity! And learning something new? Not a problem either! For sure, I am not a problem child but rather, aware enough to be salivating over unbelievable computing capabilities that I will just want to use! And very soon ….