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!

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