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.


Anonymous said...

When your best customers aren't allowed to attend because it's in Las Vegas, it's time to move your show. It's too bad that some of HP's best and brightest customers cannot attend the Tech Forum because of the venue.

Anonymous said...

In agreement with the previous comment, but further when customers are no longer allowed to PRESENT due to concerns of a few corporate gasbags, the spirit of collaboration and sharing is lost.

Richard Buckle said...

Hey, c'mon ... I suspect that this may be the last time to Vegas and probably for the reasons you suggest Anonymous (1), but for user presentations to be disallowed Anonymous (2), tell me more!

That's news to me other than the organizers were overwhelmed by the submissions they received!

And for more on this topic, and for those connected via LinkedIn, check out the User Group "Real Time VIew" and yes, a sister publication to this and follow the discussion "Emphasis on the "user" in User Groups ..."

Anonymous said...

Richard, I imagine anonymous(2) is referring to customer corporate gasbags, not HP corporate gasbags, which your reply sort of seems to assume.

Richard Buckle said...

Yes, Anonymous (1? or 3?) I was leaving the door open on Anonymous 2's comment ...