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.

1 comment:

Aviator said...

Always good to hear of your travels.