Wednesday, June 24, 2009

HPTF - picking up good vibrations!

I arrived for this year’s HP Technology Forum and Expo (HPTF) Sunday afternoon – well before the official start of the program - to get my first look at the expo. For me, the signs that a major event is about to happen is best reinforced with the activity on the exhibition floor and amid the rubble and chaos, I came across the stand of QLogic Corporation that stopped me dead in my tracks. The picture above shows the prize, a Ducati 1198 sports bike that attendees registering at their stand could win! And Mike Geroche of QLogic assured me that I would be the winner – so I spent a little time making sure no one scratched “my bike!”

Early Sunday evening, as I had walked towards the hotel elevators, I ran into Daryl Ragan standing in the lobby of the Mandalay Bay. For as long as I have been involved with NonStop user events, Daryl had been extremely helpful to me when I was Summit chair from 2000 to 2002. Shortly after exchanging pleasantries, Daryl was joined by Janice Reeder-Highleyman, ITUG’s Chairman in 2001, and the two of them were off for an evening on the town.

It was Janice who strongly encouraged me to get involved with Regional User Groups (RUGs) and who suggested that I participate in one of the early SATUG meetings in South Africa – a commitment that was to lead to many more trips to South Africa over the following years. Leaving the hotel a few hours later, I headed up to my now-favorite “balcony” bar at the Bellagio, the Fontana, to enjoy its view of the hotel’s famous fountains. Margo joined me and we caught up with Stan Prushik. During the time I was on the ITUG board, Stan was the Finance Chair and later, the Vice Chairman and it was good to see him again

And for me, these early encounters with colleagues and friends reminded me of why I keep returning to the “big tent” event each year. Networking, and having eye-to-eye contact with community members is just so important to me and the only way, that I know of, to check the pulse of all those with a passion for NonStop. It was Chris Palombi, VP of Sales and Service at Modius, who made the observation in a post to a discussion on the Real Time View user group (on LinkedIn), of after “having checked-out from the NonStop community for the last 20 years until recently, (but now returned) with a new NonStop application, I was impressed at how much of a community it still is … my observation is that it's these human connections more than anything else that have kept NonStop so durable.”

When it comes to durability and the value from human connections, what was planned as a small reception for NonStop users, organized by the NonStop vendor community, quickly mushroomed into one of the better-attended NonStop gatherings of the week. And the picture above is of Alan Dick “networking” with Margo Holen and myself, engaging us in a discussion on the NonStop community and on the value of face-to-face meetings. I have known Alan for many years and our paths had first crossed back in Lisbon (or was it Vienna?) when the ITUG Board met with the former Chapter heads of Digital’s user community. And through the years I have always enjoyed talking with Alan – his even-handedness, and awareness of the needs of the NonStop community, is something I have always appreciated and it is encouraging to see leaders like Alan on the board of Connect.

But more importantly, the question that came up most often at the reception was what do NonStop business users themselves consider a community to be? Is it really all about the need to meet face-to-face, and to have at least one major event? In a comment that Sam Ayres, a NonStop user and very active in the SIGs and Advocacy, posted to the same discussion on the Real Time View user group as had Chris, he observed how, “nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting … of experts gathered from around the entire world!”

It has been my own observation that one of the key ingredients for the success of the events across the decades has in fact been the opportunity to meet with experts. At a vendor reception on the Expo floor, GoldenGate Software, the company I work for, had a bar set up within the booth and very quickly, a number of bar stools appeared. No sooner had I sat down than I was joined by Fred Laccabue, VP of NSD at HP, and then by Wendy Bartlett and Daryl Ragan. The picture here is of all four of us enjoying the hospitality being provided by GoldenGate Software that evening.

In the lead-up to the reception on the Expo floor, there had been a number of keynote presentations involving HP executives and where we heard Paul Miller talk of blade architectures and of “where others see a form factor, we see convergence to deliver everything as a service.” This was followed by a NonStop “general session” the following morning. Winston Prather, who heads the NonStop team, did a great job kicking it off and then introducing Product Management as well as NonStop users – more of that will follow in a later blog posting.

However, it was the final Q&A session that caught my attention as one attendant asked the panel “what was being done to educate a new generation of participants in NonStop” as he swept his hand across the audience and pointed out how old we had all become. Randy Meyer jumped right in on this topic and in a few short sentences summarized the fundamental shift in the focus of NonStop development.

“One day, I want to be able to walk into a data center and ask the CIO where are the NonStop servers? Only to be told by the CIO, as he points to rows of blades ‘there here somewhere!’ And one day,” Randy continued, “I want to be able to talk to project managers and ask their leaders where are the NonStop programmers? Only to be told that they too are ‘in one of the teams!’ One day, too I want to be able to enter an operations center and ask the manager where are the NonStop operators? Only to be told as he looks down rows of administrative console attendants that he’s not sure ‘but the business solutions on NonStop are totally integrated into the system and network management tools!’”

While it may be impressive to read of vendors giving financial support to a University program, what Randy suggested was that it’s not a case anymore of equipping the students to work with the technology as much as evolving the technology in support of the students! And for me, this is absolutely the right answer and all the work being done in support of “develop open; deploy NonStop!” But Randy also implies we may face a potential paradox in time - should HP be successful in making NonStop transparent to those developing open and deploying NonStop, will users continue to flock to events on products and technology that are no longer visible?

As the event wound down the attendees were treated to a party that included a performance from the Beach Boys – Brian Wilson, Mike Love, together with John Stamos of the TV Sitcom Full House – by the wave pool at Mandalay Bay that draw a large crowd. And the picture here is of the band continuing to perform late into the evening as attendees waded into the pool for a closer look at the aging stars!

It was back at the 1993 ITUG event in Orlando where I first did booth duty on the Tandem stand – I was covering the unveiling of Tandem’s fault-tolerant LAN connection support, an undertaking that included Ungermann-Bass (UB) engineers, and a convergence of sorts between Tandem and UB products. Later that week, I joined a group that included Michael Ladam of UB that went shopping and in a store, with western attire, we came across a rack of belts with fancy buckles each engraved with a message. Suddenly, Michael pulled one from the rack and to the amusement of the group he exclaimed “look, I have found a buckle that says nothing at all!”

“Convergence, to deliver everything as a service” and “develop open; deploy NonStop” suggests a future landscape foreign to most of us tasked with looking after NonStop today. However, from everything I heard at HPTF&E this year, the need for community ties is as strong as it has ever been and shows no signs of lessening. “Big tent” events that anchor the NonStop community and that give us the opportunity to meet with developers, to spend time face-to-face with other users, and where networking opportunities are endless, will continue to play an important role for all who share in the passion of NonStop.

Scott Healy, a past Chair of ITUG and now a member of the Connect board, recently posted to the Real Time View user group of how “you absolutely can't replace meeting in person, whether it be with colleagues, customers, partners, or with HP engineers and product managers. The community is very interdependent and at the center is the person that employs technology to conduct their business, the business user. Where those people are, other IT professionals will gather around to exchange ideas; HP will be there to educate, learn, and market; partners will be there to meet with their customers, HP engineers, and each other.”

And whether symbolic or not, I have come away from HPTF&E with mild, flu-like symptoms that have given me laryngitis and I am finding it difficult to talk. But perhaps that is as it should be, given that for most of us invested in the support of the NonStop community, it is more important now to hear the views of NonStop business users themselves!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HPTF - Heading for Vegas!

Whenever I return from spending time in Boulder, there’s a serious pile of magazines waiting for me. As I empty the mail box it feels a lot like Christmas, as the mix of business, motorcycle, and automobile literature spills into my hands. Glancing at the covers can often stop me dead in my tracks, forcing me to pull one of two of them out for a quick spot check. Anything new always gets my attention!

Boulder weather was a little unseasonable last week. I had to check the calendar to make sure it was late May as the weather was more like late fall or even early winter – chilly, with light rain. The mountains were shrouded in mist from the low clouds, reminiscent of a Led Zeppelin song, or a page from Lord of the Rings. I took the opportunity to blow the cobwebs out of the Boulder coupe, and the picture above is of me by the side of Carter Lake, a popular boating destination nestled into the front ranges, a little to the North of Boulder.

For the moment, sports are very much in the news and television commentary is falling over itself describing the mounting tension. In America we are watching Ice Hockey finals that are going down to the very last game, and the momentum that Los Angeles Lakers took into the Basketball finals ebbed away last night, ensuring that there will be a real struggle for the trophy after all, and reminding the television audience that it’s too soon to count out Orlando.

In England, the ICC World Twenty 20 Cricket championship that, I am sad to say, has seen the Australian juggernaut derailed in the first round, departing without a single win. Summer hasn’t truly arrived and with “the Ashes” to be contested, it’s too soon to count the Aussies out either! Unlike their cricket counterparts, and as the Rugby as the international fixtures commence in earnest, the Australian Wallabies tore apart the Barbarian Rugby side – although, that team’s name bothers me a tad as surely barbarian rugby sounds a lot like tautology.

When it comes to language, I have to give the editors of this month’s car magazines a pat on the back as they simply outdid themselves in these most recent issues. When it came to describing the new Bentley Continental GTC Speed, the reporter began with “(it) utters an ominous bass rumble, like the first slab of an avalanche cracking off a mountain, and then the muffler bypass flaps kick in to unleash the sound track of a World War II dogfight over the English Channel.” Warming to his subject, he then adds “birds scatter and OPEC sheiks smile as 5500 pounds of Bentley hurtles down the road with the unrelenting force that only a truly bonkers motor can provide.”

Putting it to one side, I flipped quickly through another magazine before stopping at an article on the new Maserati Granturismo Sport (or, GT-S). The reporter had just finished comparing the car to a BMW M3, a Mitsubishi Evo MR, and the new Nissan GT-R and declared that the GT-S provided the most satisfaction. He explains how “plainly put, the GT-S possesses the intangibles the others can’t begin to grasp. Like a Ferrari-built wet-sump 4.7 liter V-8 whose wail under wide-open throttle fills the sumptuous cabin as if Pavarotti were in the back seat belting out ‘Turandot’ and swigging grappa.” Later, and after he had turned off the electronic assists and started to really drive the GT-S hard, the reporter exclaims “and Pavarotti suddenly appears in the rearview, belting and swigging with every beat of your right foot …. (as you go) finger dancing with the large, biscotti-shaped shift paddles!”

All week I have been thinking about this year’s user event in Las Vegas, the HP Technology Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) and it’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement and anticipation as the week approaches. After all, this is the HP event we wait for all year. But after watching the sporting events, and reading the magazines, I am not sure anything I post here can match what’s already been said.

HPTF&E 2009 will no doubt feature a number of NonStop configurations at the Expo that will demonstrate how open the solution has become, and how easy it is to run modern applications. The support for Java, and the ease with which the NonStop server participates in Java and .NET frameworks and while inheriting the traditional Tandem properties of Availability, Scalability and Data Integrity, has sealed the deal with many CIO’s!

Last year, NonStop on Blades was the highlight of the show and this year I am expecting to hear a lot more from the user side about the stability, ease of conversion, and performance gains as they now have the experience with the new NonStop Blades packaging. However, given the current economic circumstances, and the obvious impact it’s had on many of our travel budgets, I remain a little concerned about who will actually show up for the occasion. But hey, after Train and Matchbox 20 – we have the Beach Boys! Now that’s more like it.

Before I leave the magazines, there was one editorial that did catch my eye. The reporter, Arthur St. Antoine has been a source for quotes in many of my presentations and in this latest issue he talks about the sacrifices some car enthusiasts are prepared to make for their cars, observing how “if you had to, you’d sell your house and put a doorbell on your Corvette … (and) are the new high-performance summer tires worth a sacrifice elsewhere (yes)?” And then he concludes with an observation on one popular car of how it “is simply a nice transport appliance.”

Only a small minority of drivers fall into the category of car enthusiasts, and consider every car as an engineering work of art, while the rest view cars as nothing more than a tool that gets them from point A to B. And for many of us in technology, there is a minority that values a computer’s attributes, and recognizes its value proposition to them, while others remain unaware of what’s inside the box and consider the computer nothing more than a tool. Every problem we encounter in today’s business world can be addressed with a cluster of Windows boxes and, if we can add enough redundancy, the configuration should be able to address all of our requirements after a fashion.

But the tide is turning – the need to use energy more efficiently, the need to protect and secure confidential customer information, and the need to seamlessly scale as the business grows, all contribute to the type of technology we select. Can we view technology solely as a computing appliance any longer? Can we simply shrug our shoulders and ignore the potential downside risks that come with ignoring the choice of platforms?

Now, I don’t want to discourage the use of appliances – in the data warehouse marketplace there has been a considerable success by vendors selling data warehouse appliances. By packaging servers, storage, operating systems, and the data base software as a single, well-integrated solution that can be easily deployed, these appliances are helping many companies and vendors like Netezza and Greenplum enjoy considerable success.

But in general, and apart from these special cases, computing appliances have gained little traction with most companies. Just as in any major sporting contest however, no one wants to count out these appliances. And while the number of different platforms available today is way down from what it used to be, and declining with each merger and acquisition and changing business model, it remains a strong testament to the original designers of NonStop that, after 35 years, the platform no one would ever mistake for an appliance is still with us today.

Nice computer appliances, just as nice transport appliances, may appeal to the mass consumer marketplace – but when has solving business problems for Global 1000 companies ever been considered a part of this market segment? When did we ever think the vendors in this space would provide the type of global support (and investment in the future) that purveyors of today’s top-end servers routinely deliver? None of us really expect to provoke the same degree of excitement with a server that a Bentley or a Maserati may engender, but within most big companies the value that comes from systems like NonStop is just as real, and “driver’s commitment” often no less enthusiastic. Just talk to the folks who run these servers!

It would be remiss of me not to pass on the communities thanks to Scott Stallard who only recently has decided to retire as head of HP’s Enterprise Storage and Servers (ESS) division. I once thought I had seen Scott driving a Bentley Continental GT along California’s Pacific Coast Highway but no, he told me that it wasn’t him. Scott has been a huge support of user groups while I have known him and I will always remember the time I shared the stage with him at the European ITUG event in Madrid. Speaking on behalf of the community I wish him all the best – and now the rumor has it that while it wasn’t him in the Bentley, he may be seen in something perhaps not as comfortable but easily just as quick!

There will always be a thriving marketplace for the type of servers HP provides today in NonStop. And never have I seen times when competition has been tougher. There will be those who view the market as one for the computer enthusiasts – but what really separates enthusiasts from those that are content with appliances is the knowledge that today’s 24 X 7 business needs to be served with the best tools. And at this year’s HPTF&E, for those of us attending, better tools will be on display and they will be NonStop.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Opinions and Fragmentation Aplenty!

Last weekend we drove through Las Vegas on our way home to Boulder and I couldn’t help but think of this year’s upcoming HPTF event – now only two weeks away. And I couldn’t help thinking how quickly a year has passed. And the picture here is of the old town hall in Prague and its astronomical clock; a clock that has been keeping time since the early 15th century!

Yes, time “passes more quickly these days” is a cliché – but it seems only a short time ago when we first heard the news at last year’s event of NonStop supporting HP’s Blades. In the latest issue (May – June, ’09) of the Connection magazine Winston Prather, VP and GM of the NonStop Enterprise Division, reflects on the theme of Blades. Sounding very much like a NASCAR driver in the winner’s circle, Winston manages to thank all the parties contributing to the success of NonStop on Blades and admits “it’s hard to believe that it was just one year ago that we launched the Integrity NonStop BladeSystem, leveraging HP’s industry-leading blades portfolio and multi-core Intel Itanium processors.”

I have already posted a blog on the week spent in Prague, but as I was sitting in United’s lounge at Los Angeles airport, waiting for the flight to Europe, I saw a poster for the Intercontinental Hotel chain that asked "do you live an Intercontinental life?" And my first thought was of how I am an Australian, married to a US citizen, but of Polish origin, I’m a resident of Colorado but living in California, and I’m about to depart for Prague. Living an intercontinental life - oh yeah? Well dah!

For most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and into the early part of this century, airline timetables governed many of my actions and swamped my calendar. Checking airline upgrade lists become a constant distraction. And for those of us who pursue careers in marketing, product management, or business development there had been little choice other than to embrace the intercontinental life. After all, networking and building ties with companies and individuals, is a very critical aspect of these jobs. Or so it used to be!

These days, and with time appearing to accelerate as each year passes, networking is fast moving to the electronic medium, and social networking is playing a greater role in how we continue to network. The picture here is of me taking in Prague with the old town hall and clock behind me, soaking up the late afternoon sun. These days I am spending my time on the road participating in user events where I get a chance to meet with many who read this blog, and to speak on the material I cover here. And that’s about it – I have cut way back on my travel and on my time away from the office.

Can social networking in the electronic world, whether blogs, online forums, e-“user groups”, and the like really substitute for time well spent on the road? Can I readily let go of living the intercontinental life? And can sitting at a screen and banging away at a keyboard, as I do regularly most nights, provide the same experience as face to face meetings? In most respects I am not yet at the point where I can say any of these communication channels completely eliminate the need to meet and to “network” in the real world, but they are certainly cutting down on any justifiable need to travel. Yet I am reminded that there are issues with social networking, and caution is still required. It’s far from being the perfect solution for all of us.

Perhaps the most obvious issue with social networking is that what we read is simply opinions. And what we also find is that there is a wealth of opinions on just about every topic. Back on April 21st, ’08 I posted “We all have opinions!” where I observed how “social networking has made enormous inroads to the way most of us maintain our awareness of what’s happening across the industry. There’s no shortage of writers willing to express their opinion on a wide variety of topics.”

I also remarked on an exchange that I had with an industry analyst from the Gartner Group, who I was travelling with, after suggesting that the explosion in social networking might have an impact on companies like Gartner. The analyst responded “companies like Gartner are not really in the opinion business as much as they are in the analysis business.” I then added in that post of how “I have to agree with him on this point – opinions can be pretty easy to provide but good analysis is always a premium commodity.” And then I followed with “but does that make the information exchanged in social networks any less important? Can the opinions expressed be discounted because they are made in a social setting?

For the past two months I have been actively engaged in a new user group I started on LinkedIn – the Real Time View user group. Readers with LinkedIn profiles may want to take a look at the discussions taking place on this site. In one discussion the exchanges between readers developed rapidly, and there was more than one reader who emailed me privately saying these were just opinions – and we know that everyone has one! However, I was reminded of the comments from the Gartner analyst who added that “there will always be a need for companies like Gartner when we need to see more detail analysis of a market segment or a developing technology … opinions can be pretty easy to provide but good analysis is always a premium commodity.”

And then there is the other problem – given that there are so many opinions, it’s not that easy to find them all. The ease with which a global audience can be addressed has lead to a rapid increase in the number of places you can turn to for opinions – and there’s no certainty that any of us has a handle on them all (for any specific topic). I was reminded of this when comments were posted to the Real Time View user group, as well as to the Connect online community that lamented, possibly out of frustration from it all, of how perhaps now “we need to do a moderate amount of consolidation of our discussion channels, so the discussions do not become so fragmented as to be useless.”

This last comment was provided in a discussion that followed me asking the question: “User Groups and Social Networking - too much of a good thing?” What followed from one community leader really struck home as he made the observation “the ease with which anyone can start anything - a blog for example - can be / is a direct cause of the fragmentation (it's not meeting my requirements, I can do it better by doing it this way). I guess I would argue that whilst I don't want to constrain anyone, I value the ability to network, the ability to meet face to face and explore the nuances (and go down rat-holes) of how products are used.”

So perhaps social networking is far from being the perfect channel for communication. Perhaps it does suffer from being “just opinions, not analysis” and is leading to fragmentation with no certainty that any of the opinions expressed are anything more than those of a vocal minority and far removed from the sentiments of the majority. But my own experience is suggesting that, for many of us, this is becoming a valuable tool for checking current information about the platforms and vendors we so depend on. It is also confirmation that, in the end, we vote with our keyboard and mouse – we simply do not return to those sites where there’s little activity and likewise, are drawn back to those that are frequently updated. After all, poor judgment and badly expressed opinions will not hold our attention for long, and there are always many other sites we can visit.

The community leader I referenced above went on to add “and with that, I accept that a user group is our best way of doing it to date. That means there will be some programs I use, some that I don't, and many that I will work to improve and evolve. I'll try new methods, dump them if they are not working, grab the good things from programs that have failed and put them into others etc.”

This I fully agree with – even as time flies past us, and continues to surprise us with the rapidity of its progress, there are a couple of times a year where getting together remains very valuable. But am I eager to get back on the plane? Am I eager to leave the keyboard and the access it provides to those in the community that do not have the same opportunities? I don’t think so …

Social networking may not completely eliminate our need to travel, and there will always be situations best handled face to face, but the paths between the real and electronic worlds are very much on a collision course and the only question that remains is when those paths will collide. As for me, I have already begun gravitating to the electronic world and anticipate seeing many more of you taking up residence.

For those of you making plans to participate in this year’s HPTF event in Las Vegas, I will be only too happy to find time to have coffee or to share a drink … unlike in previous years where my duties compelled me to be away from the exhibition floor, this year you should be able to easily find me in and around the GoldenGate booth. But in the meantime, there are a couple of new postings I need to respond to, a few more opinions to share, and I look forward to reading your comments, as always! See you soon!