Friday, August 14, 2009

A dedicated follower of fashion ...

It was good to find time to just take it easy last weekend, and once again I relaxed by driving on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). On Saturday I had driven along four of the canyon byways that connect the valley to the coast, while on Sunday a more leisurely approach was adopted as, once again, I found myself briefly on Mulholland Drive before crossing to the coast and then heading up Sunset Boulevard. And the picture above was taken of me on Rodeo Drive, where time was found to do a little shopping and to have a late lunch.

Walking Rodeo Drive and wandering through the stores is always entertaining – but at this time of year, tourists pretty much take over the place. I thought I heard as many languages as I had on my recent trip to the Baltic region! But it wasn’t the tourists that interested me as much as number of empty stores we passed. No, it wasn’t as though every second shop had closed down but rather, I only came across three shop-fronts devoid of goods. Compared with what I have seen of late in the local suburban mall, where many retailers have gone out of business, I was surprised by just how minimal an impact from the economic downturn there had been on perhaps the most material street in the world.

This is where fashion shops of Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ralph Lauren, and Christian Dior and the jewelry of Tiffany and Bulgari can be found; and where watches by Ulysse Nardin, Breguet, and Frank Muller tempt those already adorned in the latest styles and merely wearing Rolex’s. And the cars – nowhere else can you see Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, and Aston Martins all competing for the same parking spot, and Bentleys have become so common that they simply garner no second glances. An hour’s stroll down Rodeo Drive is a material “sensory overload” unlike any other I know.

It’s also somewhat surprising to see what has come back into fashion. Lamborghini had lost a lot of it’s sheen a decade ago, but with the oversight of VW it is once again stealing the limelight. Very orange Gallardo’s never go unnoticed! And likewise, the turn-around in popularity of Jaguar and even Rolls Royce have been remarkable – but not everything works, as Mercedes Benz is struggling with it’s luxury (and really, seriously over-priced) Maybach brand. What to drive, and be seen driving, is just as difficult a a choice as is deciding between a Dior or a Prada!

But it’s not just about clothes, or cars. This week, sports reporters talked of how for the 2016 Olympic Games there would be competitions for Golf and Rugby (and yes, Rugby for both men’s and women’s teams - but of the seven-a-side variety)! Long forgotten by most sports fans, on the last two occasions Rugby was part of the Olympics (in 1920 and again in 1924) it was the U.S. who took the gold, fielding a team made up of Collegiate players from Cal-Berkley, Stanford, and Santa Clara. France won the initial gold in 1900 while a full strength Australian “Wallabies” national team defeated the local county team from Cornwell representing Great Britain, and the only other team to participate, with a run-away score-line of 37–3. It’s a shame, really, but New Zealand hasn’t won an Olympic medal of any color in the Rugby competitions – and I have to believe they have been lobbying hard to have the sport reinstated!

Clothes, watches, cars, and sports events all follow cycles and not all of them will hang around long enough to make a comeback. With many, they arrive as a fad, perhaps finding niche-appeal with a small crowd, only to disappear and never be heard of again. But others, track to a different cycle, and remain with us for many years. And this can be said about computer technologies and products – like luxury goods and sporting competitions, all of us in IT can recall products we once embraced that few others can remember.

Anyone still using the database management system, Model 204? Anyone remember developing HIPO charts? And can anyone remember the Interdata 32-bit minicomputer? Great machines … history has been unkind to so many products that it’s often difficult to remember all the ones we thought so highly of, only a decade or so ago. And that’s without thinking of all the national brands that were heavily supported, and subsidized, by the governments of the day.

I was checking my email this week when a story in zJournal, a publication for the IBM mainframe community, caught my attention. In this issue there was an article by Denise Kalm, and under the heading of “The Kinder, Gentler Dinosaur” it begins with the observation “you know the mainframe is the leader in reliability, availability, scalability, secure-ability and it is even ‘green,’ offering a reasonable floor space, power and cooling proposition. The mainframe would be the front-runner in many platform decisions based on cost and performance as well …”

The writer then goes on to say “ (but) many CIOs share a concern – where can they get the trained and talented expertise to run it long term? Casting a glance over the cubicles, you see how close people are to retirement. You remember the years of training and experience needed to unleash the power of the platform. Maybe you were even one of those experts, back in the day … The great news is that as the mainframe has begun to appear ‘sexier,’ and young talent is increasingly attracted to it.”

I have been enjoying an exchange on the LinkedIn user group, Real Time View, after I started the discussion “Computer ‘fashions’ - does technology follow popular trends?” Without repeating all that has been written (and I do suggest readers with LinkedIn profiles check it out), one observation I want to make is of how the discussion had “got me thinking about this whole topic of cool, fads, trends, and popularity - I recall a colleague of mine telling me how cool it had been, in his college days, to have authority to ‘access the mainframe’ - essentially a badge of superiority back then ... but then, the IBM mainframe keeps on ebbing and flowing in the trend / fashion-ability stakes … so, is its long term popularity at risk? Is its trendiness sustainable over time ...”

A kinder, gentler dinosaur? Cubicles populated with people about to retire? The mainframe has begun to appear ‘sexier’?” For those of us who have been around large systems for several decades, cringe at the thought of these boxes ever becoming sexy! But the IBM mainframe and, just as importantly after 35 years, the NonStop (it never did attract the label dinosaur, thanks goodness) have remained popular with those who needed to anchor their business solutions to technology well-architected for reliability. Yes, clever system designers have mirrored the internal “special sauce”, peculiar to NonStop, on clusters of Unix and Windows in a pursuit of greater availability, but the long term maintainability (let alone scalability) has always been questionable.

Is this all a case of NonStop being recognized very soon after its introduction to the market as being cool, and later as a trend-setting “disruptive technology” that changed the game, fueling a popularity that sustained it for all this time? Has such popularity of these products blinded us to potential weaknesses, whether price, access to qualified staff, or software offerings, as we embraced each new model upgrade? Do our IT peers view our loyalty simply, as the Kinks used to sing, “’cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.”

Trends, popularity, fashion, fads, whatever – when blindly followed can lead to disaster. When it comes to technology, some solutions have proven to have lives that outlive the lifecycle where they first belonged. As the pendulum swings endlessly, or so it seems, between centralized and distributed computing solutions (is cloud computing nothing more than a return to centralized, once again?), does each swing generate a new lifecycle and are the products enjoying such long lives simply because they more adept at jumping to the new lifecycle?

Is the longevity of NonStop nothing more than an acknowledgement of how successful it has been in making those jumps? If this is the case then, by their very ability to jump, is their age relevant any more? Have we seen them as cool products many times – has each new generation of IT professionals been exposed anew to the special attributes that make NonStop so enduring? Do we breed new evangelists with every swing of the pendulum?

With continued HP support, and with no new disruptive technologies on the horizon, NonStop could be around for decades to come. And should that happen, there’s every chance IT professionals will continue to rely on NonStop at the core of whatever technology model for computing emerges next. Yes, NonStop is still cool, and is more than just a passing fad, or even a short-lived trend - it has stepped beyond being fashionable. Yes, NonStop is proving to be sustainable over time!

At the very least, when Tiger Woods walks out onto the first tee at the 2016 Olympic games, all of us who bought tickets will have likely touched NonStop somewhere along the transaction path. Again. And that’s probably a safer, surer bet than thinking the US team will win the Rugby gold medal. Again. Probably, even safer than betting on New Zealand!


Robert said...

Model 204 was a standard database in the Army bought by a big contract.

Interdata was a great machine, I had one connected to an Adage graphics box.

And zNextGen is growing all the time so I think there will be mainframers in the future too.

What's sad is does anyone really care about all those old, cool, technologies/companies (e.g., Interdata, Adage)? Will anyone remember them when we're gone? Ah, a subject for another post.

Richard Buckle said...

Where are you going, Robert?

History, so far, suggests that very few parties are interested in preserving the past (of IT) - yes, there's exceptions with a couple of places up and running in Silicon Valley – but generally, a lot of interesting stuff now lies buried under piles of trash. Or has been “mined” for precious metals … There was a time where the lowliest IBM 630/30 provided more value from the materials it used than it could from processing data. Oh well …

But yes, so many good companies have slipped away. CA did a good job of accelerating many into the great void – but they aren’t the only ones to blame. In the end, I think we all did a poor job, caught up as we were in the excitement of what was coming next week!

When I sold my home in Sydney, I left behind the consoles of a 360/65 and a 370/138 – from QANTAS and 3M – don’t know what the new owner thought of them; they anchored both ends of library shelves I had installed. But now I look back with some sadness – perhaps I was too hasty in letting them go. Multiply this by all the IT folks who simply walked away from old systems as they lay in docks awaiting disposal and so much history simply passed through our hands.

And we will never get it back – I sure hope the next generation exhibits a little more reverence to what is being replaced than we did as I sure would like to see much more of it preserved. But I am not sure that will happen – and all I can do is sigh!

Oh well …. I guess I have to admit that I was much a part of the problem as was anyone else!