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'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 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!

No comments: