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.

1 comment:

Al Hoss said...


The comments about simplicity in both the architecture discpline and the data centre resonated greatly with me. I think we are truly seeing a return to that philosophy. One interesting perspective (although I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion that the answer is 'more open source'):

I'm definitely going to start spreading the 'enterprisey' meme!