Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting aligned ...

Many external conditions influence the direction we take. Often it is simply something we have seen in the media or have overhead in a coffee shop. Other times, it’s just a situation or circumstance we may unexpectedly recall. The picture I have included here is from a few years back when NonStop solution architect Gary Stevens arranged for his son to take Margo, Brad Poole, and myself on a hot air balloon flight over Phoenix, Arizona.

This picture reminded me of how the simplest elements can change the direction we are taking. The slightest breath of air can easily push a balloon off course. I always thought landing a balloon would be problematic and so it was with this flight – coming down, as we did, alongside an Ostrich farm during the commercially important egg-laying season! Not a happy farmer.

Closer to ground-level, every little bump and pothole can deflect us from our desired path. While I am ignorant of all that goes into the maintenance of a hot air balloon (and I have to assume that they are far from “maintenance free”), I am a bit better informed when it comes to cars and these days I seem to be spending a lot of time at the service center of the local car dealer. Maintaining cars not only for daily use, but for occasional time at the track as well (under the eyes of expert tutors of course), seems to have increased the frequency of these visits. And on the most recent trip to the shop, I caught up with a good friend who was having a wheel alignment done.

In daily driving, particularly on the freeways of Southern California, the conditions are anything but helpful when it comes to keeping a car’s wheels pointed straight ahead. Even with 65 mph speed limits posted, running over any potholes or roadside junk, can change a wheels alignment by just a few tenths of an inch. But it’s enough – the car looses its ability to go as straight as it may have earlier, and tires begin to deteriorate.

In the case of my friend Brian (and fellow Corvette driver – yes, it’s red!), he was adjusting the angle of the front wheels, adding a little more negative camber. On the big banked-track in Fontana that once a year we share with NASCAR, the car will have more “bite” and turn in more aggressively. And the ever-so-slight change from 1.5 degrees, 2.0 degrees, of negative camber may appear to be very small and probably not even noticeable, this adjustment will make a significant difference to how his car would handle at speed. But it’s all about “hot laps” and for Brian and his red ‘Vette, these ever-so-small adjustments are very important!

Just as the wind can change the course of a hot air balloon with only the gentlest of puffs, so too can the slightest change in angles influence the line a car will take through a corner. External conditions influence so much we do and no matter how small or inconsequential they may appear to be, we are often surprised with the outcome. And so it is with me that, as I paged through the pile of magazines stacked on my desk, I caught the last column of Patrick Bedard, a contributor to the magazine Car and Driver.

Bedard had been providing commentary for more than forty years, and in his last column observed how “time passes, and along with it the urge for hot laps (and), in today’s lingo, I’ve moved on.” The rest of his column reflects on how he never envisaged the complete reversal (of fortune) that’s taken place in the auto industry. But it’s his last comment that caught my eye. “Hey, I’m not the official cheering section of the 130-some-year-old internal-combustion engine. My loyalty is to what works.”

Readers of this blog, and of the discussions I post to the LinkedIn user group, Real Time View, will have seen how I was looking at what comes next for NonStop. I have become a little uncomfortable with NonStop not quite succeeding in reinventing itself. But, then again, and to paraphrase Bedard then perhaps I’m not the official cheering section for the 30-some-year-old NonStop platform. And perhaps my loyalty is to what works!

When it comes to what’s next for NonStop, I recently wrote in the eNewsletter Tandemworld “in talking with a number of ISVs looking into building product for the cloud, the number of times NonStop has come up is beginning to make an impression. No, none of them as best as I can tell, is prototyping a NonStop server under the product banner of ‘Silver Lining’ no matter how tempted they may be! But if ISVs are talking NonStop – somewhere out in the IT user landscape, smart architects must be giving some thought to the possibility.” In writing this, I was thinking of how quickly markets can turn around – how a gentle puff of wind, a well-placed success story, could so easily nudge NonStop into a completely new and more broadly-followed marketplace.

Big changes triggered by a single story are not unknown in our industry. In the Tandemworld article I continued with the thought that all it may take would be for “a highly publicized success story to appear in any trade publication (and) the rest of the CIO / CTO community quickly follows. And should that situation arise, and momentum builds, then we just may see the development of a new product lifecycle where NonStop begins to rapidly ‘take-off’ that more than compensates for any tapering we see with existing product lifecycles.” In developing this thought, I recognized how seductive a good story can be – in today’s risk-averse economy, fiscally-conservative CIOs are even more reluctant to “gamble” on anything unproven than before.

But hey, when something works and generates excitement, the situation can be turned around pretty quickly. Traditional product and technology lifecycles may not tell the full story, should a product be able to leap from one curve to another. And this led to my last observation in Tandemworld where I revisited HP’s success with Blades, and of how it’s “a long-shot still – but definitely something to keep an eye out for and who knows, potentially something many of us familiar with NonStop will have no trouble accommodating in our data center. Returning to the comment about the success HP is having with NonStop on Blades – in many data centers, the CIO / CTO crowd may not even be able to identify the NonStop servers present in the BladeSystem!”

I am not only a reader of car magazines, as I do find time to check out business and IT publications as well. In the June 22nd ’09 issue of InformationWeek, Bob Evens a senior VP of InformationWeek, wrote of how the new Coca Cola “Freestyle” drink dispensers is a case study on how “companies can imagine fresh new approaches and processes that give customers more choices while simultaneously driving more actionable knowledge back to headquarters.”

In other words, with such a minimal change as adding a chip, and a communications link, the old-style Coke dispenser became a new product addressing the needs of an entirely new marketplace. What Evens suggested was that Coke had produced a product that was “truly (a) transformative device that shift(ed) more customization and product-creation power from the seller to the buyer.” Innovation doesn't have to always be revolutionary - sometimes it is the little adjustments, the small additions, that lead to the creation of a product that simply confounds the pundits!

And what I find so tantalizing with the advent of cloud computing, is that it presents an opportunity for NonStop that is little different to what NonStop was called upon to do with the advent of ATM and POS networks – meeting the need for an “always on” gateway to the data center! Penetrating this new and exciting marketplace calls for such a small change. The tiniest of course corrections!

NonStop has already shown how it can accommodate small changes – in the late 90s and with the advent of the web, commercially as well as socially, NonStop sales benefited as the likes of Sabre, AOL, and even a key PC producer entrusted their business to NonStop. At that time, the NonStop fundamentals really shined and it seemed to be a good fit for the technology. And deal by deal, NonStop gained a foothold in the eCommerce marketplace.

As I listen today as other ISVs discuss clustering, and the use of redundant processors and controllers, and about all the code and procedures required to ensure reasonable (and maintainable) uptime levels, the “elegance” of the NonStop approach is inescapable. It just works! And if NonStop gains even a small toehold in cloud computing, case studies will emerge that open the eyes of many of today’s risk-averse CIO’s. And there may just be enough wind to blow NonStop into new marketplaces. I am not a champion of the brand NonStop as I am passionate about the need to solve a problem it so easily solves. Again, it just works!

Coca Cola didn’t change the product all that much – from outside, the “box” still looks much the same. And it’s red. Brian didn’t change all that much with the alignment of his Corvette – it looks the same on the outside. And yes, it’s still red too! Perhaps it will be the little changes to NonStop, and to how it is used in the future as we see continuing interest in gateways and in simplifying / securing access that attracts the bright lights again. And who knows, future packages of NonStop, too, may be red!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Change is everywhere!

Readers of this blog will recall that, in my last post I was aboard a cruise ship anchored in St Petersburg under overcast skies, and not all that enthusiastic about going ashore. There was a sense of moodiness, almost indifference about the city, and walking through its parks and visiting its historic mansions was no longer the priority it had once been. The following day, just after I had posted to the blog, the sun finally came out and we took a tour of the chateaus of the former Czars.

There have been many generations living in the city created by Peter the Great – many more following the rise of the Bolsheviks. The present generation, still reeling from the break-up of the former Soviet Union and a little uncomfortable with their position in the new world order, proved to be somewhat indifferent to visitors. Tolerating them, up to a point, and their cash, but not really welcoming them.

St Petersburg had been built as the Venice of the North – with canals and bridges evident with every turn as we motored across the city. It was interesting to learn of how this new Venice suffered flooding almost as routinely as its Italian cousin. Storms that lashed the Gulf of Finland would frequently push the sea deep inland and the rising waters would simply flood the city. But apart from having canals, there was little else to remind a traveler of the legendary city of Marco Polo! That evening the ship pulled out of the port and headed into the Gulf of Finland, and I kept thinking of the turbulent times that had engulfed generations of St Petersburg’s citizens, and of how much work still needed to be done before anyone could really consider the city as grand a place as Rome or Paris.

And I was leaving with the sense that the residents were in no hurry at all to develop the city further to better reflect the aspirations of a new generation of citizens – a circumstance that didn’t feel right to me as I watched the terminal fall away. Our Russian guide, in his last comments to us before we left the bus, explained how the changes brought about by “perestroika” were perceived very differently by the elderly than by the cities youth and even those of middle age: the government-controlled economy, with its free education and miserable, but free, health-care was suddenly no longer! And the older folks had no time to “retool” while the young ones felt utterly lost. The middle-age group figured out very quickly that corruption was now a part of the new system, and seemed to be coping! I wondered if ages of oppression conditioned the people to actually be confused when there was no strong-man ruling.

The medieval town of Tallinn, Estonia, was our next stop and what a contrast! Coming so soon after leaving St Petersburg, it gave us the opportunity to meet folks who were genuinely pleased to see us! Back in 2007, Estonia was subject to one of the first Denial of Services attacks apparently coming from a foreign country. “Cyber-warfare on an unprecedented scale has hammered Estonian web sites for the last two weeks in the aftermath of the government's controversial decision to relocate a Soviet-era war monument from the center of Tallinn to the suburbs,” was how one paper I read reported the incident. As we continued to explore Tallinn, and spent a short time with the locals, the changes younger generations were bringing about were very apparent.

While in some countries there maybe a reluctance to accommodate change, other communities, separated by only a few hundred miles, shrugged off what had happened in the past and quickly embraced completely new lifestyles. Hot dog stands, coffee shops, and displays of expensive running shoes were all in evidence among those communities in transition. And they derived a lot pride from what they had achieved.

For the past week I have been engaged in an exchange with the participants on the LinkedIn user group, Real Time View. I posted a discussion topic “Does Data Base benefit from NonStop? Or does NonStop benefit from Data Base?” and it generated considerable commentary. While I am not going to go over the same ground – and readers can check out the comments already posted – or even discuss the state of data bases on NonStop, what I have been thinking about is whether we should be even more concerned about the future of NonStop?

Is my appreciation for what NonStop can do, and my understanding of where it can play a role, purely a rose-tinted glasses, “legacy,” thing? Is my way of thinking mired in the way NonStop was used in the past? Is it time we look anew at NonStop, and put some distance between how it could be used today and what it used to do in the past? And if we do not successfully identify new roles for NonStop, does this necessarily mean that NonStop is no longer needed?

Walking through the Baltic port cities, lattes in hand, and observing how not every generation was reacting in the same way or with the same levels of enthusiasm, made me wonder what will become of NonStop. There is a small cadre of supporters around the world that continue to extol the virtues of NonStop – but who among the next generation recognizes the value that comes from a server that continues to run as hardware and software components fail?

Recently, I had heard of the lengths some users go to in order to ensure key business data will be available, and how clusters of clusters are assembled to address the problem. The network interconnecting the clusters is weighed down by enormous volumes of data flooding into the network’s pipes. And the architects are really impressed with what they can achieve using low-cost commodity servers. I sense the pride these technicians have in what they have achieved for a minimal initial outlay.

And then it all breaks! One solution I was made aware of this week and that is actively marketed, simply throws away data in times of stress so that it can catch up - leaving it to later audits, I have to assume, to uncover the loss and undertake corrective measures. There’s no apparent downtime, but the integrity of the data during those times of stress has been completely compromised. And it didn’t appear to bother the architects who were relying on this solution.

Future generations of IT professionals may view technologies like NonStop as legacy, and proprietary, unless today’s IT professionals become a lot more proactive in promoting the value proposition of NonStop. In my previous posting I made the observation of how “today, the emergence of cloud computing is once again opening the doors for NonStop with its strong transactional processing characteristics.”

And since making that observation, I really do believe that the next generation of IT professionals needs to rethink the technology they select as the access point, or gateway, into the cloud. I find it rather ironic that the very server that provided so much value to financial services for so many years, as a gateway between financial devices such as ATMs and POSs, with the back end application and data base servers, is so rarely considered today as a gateway into the Cloud! And yet it is as if the stars are all aligning, once again, behind the perfect fit for NonStop in the new world.

Cloud computing, as currently proposed by the majors - HP, IBM, Sun, Oracle – is being viewed as potentially the dominant technology of the next ten to fifteen years. According to a recent InformationWeek article, IBM was quoted as saying that “the cloud market will grow to $66 billion by 2012” adding that it’s being driven by the affordability it offers. But if it becomes an unreliable technology prone to security breaches and information theft, for instance, its take-up in the commercial realm may become less than stellar. NonStop as a gateway, as an access appliance if you like, makes a lot of sense and should be a consideration by every next-generation IT professional.

As I moved down the Baltic and into Poland and the former East Germany, memorials to Solidarity and to the fall of the Berlin Wall could be easily found. The past was a constant reminder of how far these country’s citizens had come – but even as I spent time viewing some of the better-known sites (the gates to the shipyards in Gdansk, for instance) I overheard one teenager ask “what is Solidarity?” The generation-after-next appears to be even less aware of what laid the foundation for their new prosperity than the generation just coming of age.

Could we be participants in a future “Technology Event” only to hear someone ask “what is NonStop? What is Tandem?” And unless those now entering the IT profession really do see the value in using NonStop in new ways, this may become a reality! I closed my last posting to this blog with a final observation, but it’s worth repeating here “perhaps, for NonStop, a new role will develop as well, only this time the marketplace may be a lot more universal than anything encountered before.”

The final irony with change, and with what we see being embraced by newer generations of IT professionals, is that there really aren’t all that many new requirements. Even with today’s Cloud Computing, many would argue that it is just Time Sharing of the late ‘60s revisited. Or Service Bureaus, of the ‘70s and ‘80s! Or Application Service Providers, of the late ‘90s! Let’s hope that there’s sufficient “critical-mass enthusiasm” to ensure NonStop does not miss being discovered by a new generation!

Friday, July 10, 2009

From Russia, with love …

Today I am in St Petersburg, Russia where the weather is inclement. And with the weather, there’s a sense of moodiness, as the dock where we berthed is unfinished, and the surrounding area in the process of being reclaimed from the sea. I have yet to leave the ship but as I view the foreshore from the deck of the ship I do not get any sense that there will be a warm reception waiting for me as I step ashore. Perhaps that will change over the course of the next few days, but for the moment it looks an unattractive place to visit!

St Petersburg lies at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, and we traversed it neither in daytime nor under evening skies – but rather, something in between. While the sun set around 11:00 pm, the nighttime sky didn’t make an appearance. Instead, a gray twilight will now be with us till dawn – illumination I heard referred to as “white night!”

As a Baltic seaport, there have been many attempts to make St Petersburg a major gateway into Russia. The Czars erected magnificent summer palaces and, for a time, it functioned as the country’s capital. It became the cultural soul of Russia where, the marshes were drained and channels dug that turned the city into the Venice of the north. But the depth of the Gulf is relatively shallow and during the lengthy winters, that the region routinely experiences, it often freezes over marginalizing the cities prospects for being the gateway to Russia.

The picture above is of me with a fuel tender tied-up alongside our ship, and with a small Russian coastal vessel with the distinctive prow of an ice-breaker preparing to depart berthed just alongside of us. In the background are the rows of apartments that have now pushed their way down to the docks. And the moodiness I sense is the sum of all of this – the general grayness of the day under the muted light that makes its way through the clouds, the gray buildings and wharf structures, and the pools of water reflecting the gray sky.

The moodiness I feel may also be influenced by a discussion item Sam Ayres posted to the Real Time View user group on LinkedIn. Sam lives close to the other St Petersburg, just outside of Tampa, Florida, where the weather is anything but gray and where the mood is far different to what I am observing here, half a world away. And the only chill comes from the coolers as glasses are retrieved. As much as I looked, I couldn’t see a “Bahama Breeze” bar anywhere along the foreshore here in Russia, and I sense there’s little interest in fancy umbrella drinks! And forget about coconut shrimp with spicy chili sauce!

Sam has started a discussion to promote the Advocacy group, and the value this channel represents for all NonStop users. For as long as I can remember, including my time as a Tandem Product Manager, the input that comes directly from NonStop users always makes its presence felt within NonStop Development and I see no lessening of this trend today within HP senior management. With all the changes taking place across the many constituencies that make up the HP server community, direct visibility into the pressing issues of today’s users remains as valuable as it ever has been. And once again, Sam is calling for users to provide input on the topics they believe should be pursued more vigorously with NonStop management – topics ranging from requests for new features to the support of new infrastructure and middleware.

But has the role of the NonStop server began to differ from that being supported by NonStop development? Is the message we hear repeatedly from HP executives in support of responsibilities foreign to NonStop users today? And is there technology shift in motion that could seriously benefit from a NonStop that is better aligned with user requirements? Is the pendulum swinging back once again in favor of the traditional strengths of NonStop?

In more recent times, the city of St Petersburg, Russia, took on the additional burden of living up to its new place in history, as Leningrad. The era of the Czars had brought with it such a burden than no sooner were the Czars overthrown then the visible evidence of their excesses were thrown behind a veil of socialism, with many of their residences reassigned to the civil bureaucracy. The role of St Petersburg relegated to nothing more than just another industrial center within the sprawling USSR.

Under the Soviet regime, even though shipbuilding continued, playing a strong role in international trade never did develop, as the country turned in on itself and the Czarists desires for St Petersburg to become a major gateway seemed to ebb away with the tides. But today, the once-great city is beginning to regain some of its former glory slowly, mind you, as far too many gray structures remain and I must be cautious how enthusiastic I become, but along the foreshore, and very visible from the boat, is evidence of a residential architectural revival.

And this reversal of form apparent in St Petersburg, coming at the same time as I read Sam’s new discussion topic posted to the Real Time View user group, reminded me of how for many years St Petersburg pursued one role, as a result of the Soviet revolution, only to swing back to something much closer to it’s former role following the demise of the Soviet era. At a macro level, today’s Russia is far removed from the Czarist days before the Soviet Union came into being, but it’s role as a major trading port bustling with tourists anxious to see the icons of the past suggests the pendulum is indeed swinging back a little to the right of center.

And as Sam solicits feedback on what to take to NonStop management, I can’t help wondering whether the changes that began in the late ‘80s, where the focus shifted to data base implementations and away from transaction processing, has now run its course and whether the role of NonStop in the future will once again capitalize on its transaction processing capabilities. In today’s new world where industry standard and open solutions dominate, the challenge I see ahead for NonStop management is to ensure a future for NonStop where the need for 24 X 7 availability is unquestionable.

As I watch the evening sky turn ghostly gray again, and as the clouds continue to boil above the ship, it’s hard not to think about cloud computing and the messages coming from HP executives. Whether or not we will see universal support of private clouds by most IT shops – many of its characteristics will become evident. It is true that for those of us who have been in IT for many years and have seen something similar (within the capabilities of the technology available at the time), from time sharing, to service bureaus to large scale client-server deployments. The idea of hiding all the resources within a generic “box” has been with us for decades, as IT manager have wrestled with the trade-offs between a centralized and structured approach to managing equipment and the need to be as agile and adaptable as Business managers would like!

But clouds need access points – something that will always be available. Something to interrogate incoming transactions to determine the path to the required resources! Something that understands priorities and can balance the mixed workloads. Something that can work around the failure – finding different paths to the required resources should anything along the path be unavailable. And something that can secure and audit everything that passes through it

Do such processes need good data base technology? Of course they do – but the availability of a data base is just as important as that of any other resource needed. The shift of the pendulum towards data base many years ago came at a time when front-end, or gateway, processing appeared to be a declining marketplace and the need to develop new markets apart from the transaction processing being done at the time, made good business sense. Today, the emergence of cloud computing is once again opening the doors for NonStop with its strong transactional processing characteristics.

I will be very interested to see the comments and responses provide to the Advocacy group. And I will be very curious to see if there’s any early evidence of NonStop finding the role to play in being the entry point into cloud computing. Many of us who have been around NonStop for decades were unsure of a future solely dedicated to data base solutions – the numbers suggest that the market for NonStop in data base has clearly moved on – and perhaps we will see a role for NonStop emerge in a new market that calls for the type of attributes NonStop has demonstrated over all these years.

It may be all in my imagination that gateways will return. But looking over St Petersburg, and the work being done to reshape its future maritime role, it’s hard to imagine it playing any other role. The country is rich in natural resources and the need for greater participation in the international community is abundantly clear. And perhaps, for NonStop, a new role will develop as well, only this time the marketplace may be a lot more universal than anything encountered before.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Common standards, uncommon advantages!

I am still catching up with work following HP’s Technology Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) in Las Vegas. I will be leaving for vacation at the end of this week and that is only adding to the pressure to make sure I meet my commitments. The picture above is of me alongside HP’s “Performance-Optimized Datacenter” (POD) that was on display in a small exhibition space beneath the main expo hall.

Seeing a “standard” container used this way really took me back to my early days in IT. Some readers may remember my post from March 28, ‘08 “The need for standardization!” where I wrote “the time I spent working in the container shipping business really reinforced for me the value that comes from standardization ... (and) when it comes to standardization, we are beginning to see the same revolutionary approach to packaging appear in the computing industry. It is already well on its way when it comes to storage, and now it’s all about blades!”

Back in the early ‘70s I saw first-hand the value that came with embracing standards and if you recall the picture I selected to introduce the post, it featured containers being incorporated in London into structures as prefabricated, fully-equipped, housing modules. I am not sure I would welcome living on such intimate terms with containers, but with housing prices the way they have been in London lately, perhaps all I could afford would be one of these container “homes.”

But the appearance of standardization is not strictly limited to houses made from containers. As I looked out from the MIX, a bar atop THE Hotel, during a vendor reception for the NonStop community, I couldn’t help but see the rows of houses stretching out to the surrounding hills. The pale ochre stucco walls, and matching red tiles of dwellings all looking identical reminded me, quite unfortunately I suspect, of the folk singer Pete Seeger who had a hit back in the ‘60s singing:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

But the rows of houses tailing off into the distance did give the appearance of a city that has standardized (through zoning regulations, of course), appears to be well managed (in terms of services), and with a uniformity that keeps pricing affordable. Well, at least from the vantage point of the MIX, some forty stories above it all. Surrounding a city like Las Vegas, I have no illusions that it supports any more an idyllic lifestyle than any other cosmopolitan city, and any viewer of the TV program CSI will equate this with something more toxic!

Clearly, the POD “boxes” on display at HPTF&E weren’t of the ticky-tacky variety. No stucco visible anywhere. Quite the opposite in fact as these were containers had been the subject of additional reinforcing and bracing – after all, each forty-foot container was equipped with a complement of 22 racks of processor blades and supporting storage. Not quite the kind that blends in with everything else you would typically see at a port or rail terminal – and definitely off-limits to most container fork-lift operators. Heavy-lift cranes only, please. But I like the concept of a data center in a box – and the unique “uncommon” advantages this use of common packaging could provide.

These larger, forty feet containers pack the equivalent computing power to some pretty big data centers. In his most recent blog posting “Sir, Your Data Center Has Arrived” Ron LaPedis wrote that the “POD is HP’s answer to SUN’s Project BlackBox, originally announced in October 2006, which is now sold as the Sun Modular Datacenter S20. However, Sun’s offering is a 20 foot container compared to the HP POD which is a 40 foot container.” He also gave us more details when he described how “the 40 foot HP container can house up to 3,500 compute nodes, or 12,000 LFF (3.5” hot pluggable) hard drives … a 4,000-plus square feet equivalent of a typical data center capacity.” In other words, what may be a 40 X 100 foot data center reduced to just 40 X 8 feet!

Perhaps it was Rackable Systems of Fremont, California, that started all of this when they introduced IT executives to their product MobiRack, an “all-in-one data center (with) capabilities for field deployments.” On the web site, they described how “data center deployments should no longer be limited to the physical confines of fixed, ‘brick and mortar’ facilities.”

While the MobiRack just had wheels underneath the racks, it wasn’t quite what we see today with HP’s POD. However, as Ron pointed out in his blog posting, when Sun introduced its Modular Datacenter all wrapped within an industry-standard twenty foot container, it did raise the ante. But HP’s forty foot container, supporting racks of Blades, is something else again, and really could meet the computing and storage needs of many industries.

Throughout HPTF&E, the message I heard on numerous occasions from NonStop product managers was “common standards, uncommon advantages!” And in reality, nothing reinforced this message more than seeing a data center in a box. A common industry-standard, general-purpose, container offering uncommon advantages with Blades. And in case anyone was wondering – yes, even NonStop is supported!

Capable of being easily and rapidly transported to any corner of the globe, the advantages of the POD should be quickly recognized. Whether part of an emergency response in a time of disaster, or in support of a new branch office in some technology-hostile region of the world, or even playing a role in the support of increasingly more sophisticated military applications. There was a time not that long ago when, worried about loosing its missile launch capabilities, the thought was to have them moving around the countryside on trains. However, with today’s missiles now a commodity item, should we expect to see the control systems charged with their oversight hidden in plain sight on a regular freight train? Just another blue container, right?

Blades are developing into a major success story and the rapidity with which they are finding a home in today’s data centers is creating problems for some IT managers. As one CIO I know posted to the LinkedIn Real Time View user group discussion “Sun-rise? or Sun-set! The latest according to Larry ...” there’s a concern over how “the weight is really a significant problem for more and more people. The floor loading on a fully populated rack of blades can exceed a mainframe's floor loading”

So now we can call our friendly HP sales rep, option up a couple of containers, and have these PODs dropped off in the car park. Maybe better if they were left under cover – whatever. Just bring the power to the PODs, or opt for the separate PowerHouse container from Active Power that provides the complementary power and cooling system to your POD (again, check out Ron’s post for more info), and you have none of the concerns about weight. Haven’t Telco’s been bolting servers to concrete floors for years? Running the cabling overhead in gantries rather than underneath below false floors? Obviously they knew something all those years ago as they “championed” primarily a rack packaging model.

Whether HP’s POD develops any major traction in the marketplace or not – and within my company Goldengate, there are views about PODs that suggests this could be a very limited market – what it visibly reinforces for me is how the march to greater miniaturization continues. Unabated! When I first walked into a data center, the mainframe’s “channels” (selector, and multiplexor) were stand-alone boxes. I even heard of one manager who had a plaque on his desk that simply read “it’s not a computer unless I can walk through its channels!”

But today, the power contained within that data center is barely a fraction of a single Blade package. With common standards becoming even more dominant, will we see today’s POD nothing more that a board we insert into a desk? Or perhaps, a simple package populating future mobile devices? If you had suggested to me in the late ‘60s that everything I could see, within a huge sprawling data center of the day, would shrink to fit inside a game module, and kids everywhere on the planet would be connected, I would have viewed it as ludicrous. So why would it be far-fetched to think of what we see today in a forty-foot container as technology that, in perhaps ten years or thereabouts, occupy nothing more than a drawer?

In the opening session of this year’s HPTF&E, where HP talked so much about a future in which everything in IT is delivered as a service, Ann Livermore, Vice President of HP’s Technology Solutions Group (TSG), and Prith Banerjee, Senior Vice President and Research Director of HP Labs, both talked about the POD. And they were pretty excited by the potential of this usage of a common transportation packaging standard. But I have to believe it’s just one more milestone on the technology lifecycle curve. With miniaturization shrinking the real estate needed for computers and storage to about a quarter or a fifth of what was required a few years ago, as is so often quoted these days, shouldn’t we all be marveling about what’s to come?

One thing is for sure however, like the words Pete Seeger sang, in a decade or so, we will see “little boxes all the same.” Common standards, uncommon advantages, indeed!