Monday, November 30, 2009

I want to see some passion!

It’s been a couple of busy weeks and this has been my first chance to write in some time. I was in Germany for the Connect Germany / GTUG IT Symposium that attracted NonStop users from all over Europe. The picture above was captured during an evening event at GTUG and is clear evidence of the tradition of Tandem continuing even after 35 years, and I was able to enjoy a few down nights with some great German hospitality.

I had the opportunity to participate in the event moderating a short, but well attended session towards the end of the first day on the upcoming 35th anniversary of Tandem. The interest, the enthusiasm, and the passion for Tandem and now, NonStop, platforms has not lessened with the years. Everyone associated with the early days were quick to recall stories and to share amusing anecdotes and the history of the company generates interest no matter the occasion.

Returning to California from GTUG, within hours I was repacking for the weekend drive to Boulder for the Thanksgiving holiday. I continue to be amused by the folks who ask me how Thanksgiving is celebrated in Australia, completely unaware of how uniquely American this celebration of the harvest has become. No, we didn’t grow corn and no we didn’t hunt turkeys and no, the local indigenous native population didn’t help us out – American Indians, after all, never did quite make it to Australia’s shores. But like every “New American” I have adapted and grown to enjoy the festivities at this time of year.

Our eldest daughter brought pumpkin pie but, as anyone from Australia will tell you, you don’t make pies from pumpkins! Where we come from, the majestic Queensland Blue was best served baked, with roast lamb. And no matter how much I was “encouraged to try” I just couldn’t bring myself to having a wedge. Mind you, I eventually did take a small bite, but just to be polite. And to keep the freshly whipped cream off of my fingers! When Australians celebrate important occasions, it’s best to leave vegetables with the main course as the king of desserts is the mighty Pavlova.

A combination of meringue and marshmallow, topped with fresh “real” whipped-cream, and best finished with slices of banana drizzled with the pulp and juice from a passion fruit, this is a treat everyone who visits Australia needs to sample. And no, I can’t accept that this wonderful creation came from New Zealand! Up there with Vegemite, Weet bix, Tim Tams, the mighty Pavlova has become a true Aussie icon and no celebration would be complete without a serving of Pavlova.

That evening we adjourned to watch the local football team, the Denver Bronco’s take on visitors from New York. It was only a couple of years ago that the New York Giants had won the Superbowl, and the Denver team, after a strong opening to the season - winning the first six games - were in a slump having lost their last four games. But the young coach, in only his first season with the Denver team, wasn’t going to let the situation deteriorate further. As the game developed, his enthusiastic support for the team and his passion for his players, became highly contagious. With each change of possession the new combatants literally raced onto the field anxious for another opportunity to attack the opposition.

And the lowly Denver team just beat up on the visitors and never gave them a chance to find a rhythm. Event the hardened television commentators found the impact the coach had on the players was the difference that separated the two teams! As we left Boulder and headed through the western suburbs of Denver and on up through the front ranges, we drove past a billboard promoting the Denver football team - “Welcome to Bronco Country: Passion!”

Clearly, the events of the previous night had involved passion in all its guises. From our vocation, to our foods to our sports teams, what really engages us is when we are in the company of folks who are genuinely passionate about what they do. As the sports commentators broadcasting from the Thursday night game observed so openly, passion is contagious and the actions of a few passionate leaders can alter the course of any event.

Last week, Nigel Baker emailed me a short report from a participant at an IBM data base show, their Information on Demand (IoD) event. Blogger Robert Catterall had posted a short piece on November 22, ’09 “Mainframe DB2 Data Serving: Vision Becomes Reality” where he described a presentation on a “reference implementation” of IBM’s System z mainframe deployed as a data base server.

Interested, I read further “you're not going to beat the uptime delivered by that configuration: formerly planned outages for maintenance purposes are virtually eliminated (… software components can be updated, and server hardware can be upgraded, with no - I mean zero - interruption of application access to the database), and the impact of an unplanned failure of a DB2 member or a z/OS LPAR or a server is greatly diminished … And scalability? Up to 32 DB2 subsystems (which could be running on 32 different mainframe servers) can be configured in one data sharing group.”

Nigel finished his email to me with “at least IBM users still have a passion about the mainframe and DB2. What have HP done lately to promote passion amongst … NonStop users and ISVs?” While the remarks made in the blog posting above may not be news to many in the NonStop community, and I am not underestimating the work needed to make the IBM mainframe almost as good as a HP NonStop server, it still serves as a reminder that passionate users (and vendors) within the NonStop community are a crucial ingredient in ensuring the NonStop platform remains relevant.

But are we seeing enough passion being communicated? There’s so much to be excited about – the support of NonStop on Blades, for instance, is changing much of the traditional “price baggage” that for so long has dogged the NonStop message – and the rate of customer take-up of Blades should be fuelling even more excitement. But passion truly does filter down from the top. And this is where I am on the same page as many others across the NonStop community – surely, we should be seeing a lot more passion today? How could you miss any opportunity to showcase NonStop on Blades!

At the final Q & A session at GTUG, Werner Alexis asked the executive panel about innovation – and in what innovative solutions NonStop was engaging. It brought a very passionate response from Winston Prather, VP and General Manager, HP NED, as he talked about the innovation associated with the move of NonStop to support industry-standard commodity hardware.

But there was more to Werner’s question and one we all need to recognize. Werner was looking for more excitement, more passion, over the application of NonStop to solving business problems in new and innovative ways. It’s certainly good news to hear about what HP is doing for the platform, but what is the platform doing for business? For the data center? And in support of new cool applications we tend to associate with the web and the Internet?

As Nigel reminded me – other platforms certainly attract their evangelists whose passion certainly comes through. No one should be left uncertain or unsure of how important the NonStop platform continues to be for HP. And no one should be left wondering about the support for the platform particularly by those who are its “coaches” – it should be visible to everyone in the community that the coaches are 100% committed to the success of the team!

Looking further afield, it was Shaun Clowes, Product Manager NonStop and Payments at Integrated Research who reminded me recently of how “the NonStop forms the centerpiece of important business operations … (for us to) provide insight about the value of the existing systems helps justify the investment in those systems. Having a system for insight that allows you to also see into the processes that surround NonStop (and the eventual merging of the NonStop into an enterprise cloud) is critical to managing the complexity and delivering the service levels and ROI that is demanded.”

Clouds, SaaS, ever-greater use of client-side mashups, all steer technology discussions to systems that are available and scalable. Are we just going to let IBM take the leadership mantle away from HP and NonStop? Or do we see the value that comes from being passionate about NonStop and are prepared to speak up?

I think we would all like to see a lot more passion coming from HP and the NonStop team – but should we be relying solely on their fervent zeal? Could it be that the group of writers, bloggers, community agitators, user group leaders, online forum participants will prove to be a much larger source of the passion for the platform?

Perhaps, the passion will even see new uses for NonStop materialize – every change inside a data center today has to only add to the opportunities open to leverage and to further engage the NonStop platform! After all, there was no shortage of passion at GTUG and I have no reason to consider others within the NonStop community any less passionate. And I for one will feed off it at every opportunity as I am sure everyone else will as well!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A good glass of Aussie Shiraz!

Following the last posting where I talked of how I enjoyed riding my motorcycle along the Colorado front ranges in the cool of autumn, I found myself this week relegated to doing chores. One item I had to complete was the smog-testing of our faithful old-world, heavy-weight, gas guzzling Cadillac SUV. It passed without any issues and I then drove to the county offices to renew the tags, and I came across something so completely different from my SUV: a brand new Tesla! And the picture above is of the Cadillac SUV parked behind this rather photogenic battery-powered coupe!

For those not familiar with the Tesla, it pretty much is the polar opposite of the Cadillac – powered by batteries with no emissions, and helped out by the folks at Lotus, wrapped in a very attractive package. But as tempted as I was (after all, it was the season to look at what the auto industry was bringing to market and to think about change), I really have grown fond of the old SUV. It would take a lot of extra mileage from a new car to offset the high prices demanded by today’s efficient hybrids. Every time I turn the ignition key in my Cadillac it starts, and it’s proven to be highly reliable. And it size is a serious consideration: I am still old-school and feel so much safer on the long cross-country drives than I do in a small car.

That night, after a quiet dinner at the local eatery, I pulled the cork from a 2001 Penfolds’ Magill Estate shiraz. An occasion I noted in a network update I posted to LinkedIn. If it ever came to a situation where I could only drink the wines from one producer I would be hard pressed to think of anyone other than Penfolds. My first exposure to the Magill Estate came while I was visiting Sydney, back in 1992, when I was a Program Manager with Tandem Computers and in the Distributed Systems Management (DSM) group. I was managing the NonStop NET/MASTER program and it necessitated frequent trips back to Sydney.

The history of NonStop NET/MASTER, I am the first to admit, certainly proved to be anything but spectacular. When I joined the project I was coming off a background that had been exclusively IBM, and IBM plug-compatible (PCM), mainframes. I had been successful introducing a line of small plug-compatible mainframes for Nixdorf as I had funded the porting of NET/MASTER from MVS to DOS/VS, a version that ran exclusively on the Nixdorf mainframe. In a single deal, Nixdorf sold twelve PCM mainframes to the Australian Federal Government. The deal clincher was that the IBM mainframe operators could monitor and manage the Nixdorf PCM mainframes using the network management tools they were already familiar with as they appeared as just another networked SNA device.

Talking with the executives of the company that developed NET/MASTER, the one system in an IBM SNA network that they struggled to manage was the Tandem. NET/MASTER was just a VTAM application and it was proving to be a big hit with bankers and retailers, and nearly every one of them had a Tandem front-ending their ATM and POS networks. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to all if some NET/MASTER components could be run on the Tandem, and surely, it wouldn’t be any more difficult than the port to DOS/VS undertaken for Nixdorf?

The senior Tandem technical folks from Cupertino took a trip to Sydney in late ’88 to consider the opportunity - a number of large banking customers were working behind the scenes to make NET/MASTER on Tandem a reality. And as I recall, following many glasses of good Australian red wine, a decision was taken to deploy NET/MASTER on Tandem. But then it all fell apart – for one reason or another, what was considered at the time as the world’s best network management implementation, was not ported, but re-implemented and not as a network management aid, but as a new system management subsystem!

It proved to be a classic “overkill,” and for the Tandem systems of the mid ‘90s, there just wasn’t the capacity available (as was routinely exploited on an IBM mainframe of the day) and the solutions struggled to perform. Although the NET/MASTER solution proved to be less than stellar by any account – but the problem it addressed remained. In a heterogeneous environment, where Tandem systems were a part of the solution, there were demands not only for Tandem to be well managed, but to be easily integrated into the enterprise management tool of choice. Visibility of the systems, the networks, and the applications being run, from a central “flight deck” became a necessity.

But the circumstances did change and the explosion in server populations changed the nature of the problem for good. As these servers were racked higher and higher, and spread deeper and deeper, the human factor took over and simple errors from missed messages often brought down critical applications, and as the pressure increased to protect private information many of these outages made it onto the front pages of major newspapers and into the evening news broadcasts on the major television networks.

The data center had to be automated and the servers charged with the oversight of the data center quickly became the most important servers of all. Across many installations, the trusted IBM mainframe became the central management hub filtering every event message and routing it to the appropriate application. Surely, just as we had seen upon the arrival of ATM and POS networks where 7 X 24 operations were mandated, the NonStop would become central to any data center managers plans!

It never happened! And the innovation I thought it would trigger, didn't appear! Not up until now, it hadn’t. In the feature I wrote some time back, on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 and posted as “Game changers!”, I reflected on how “NonStop servers can be deployed as critical components to monitor everything to do with a data center facility – whether a single building, or just part of the facility, or the entire global enterprise. Every major data center in the world, and the count of these facilities climbs quickly into the thousands and tens of thousands, could witness a NonStop server overseeing it all.”

A small start-up company, Modius, was porting their environment management application to NonStop. I added that “every time a customer took me on a visit of their ‘flight deck’ where the applications, systems, and networks were managed, I wondered why there hadn’t been an innovative engineer front-ending everything with a NonStop.” And then I concluded with the bold prediction “NonStop is poised for a new era of cool-ness! … a NonStop in every data center!

It hasn’t turned out to be quite this explosive and Modius continues to look for the best channel to work with - the typical HVAC salesman isn’t quite up to the challenge of a NonStop, it would appear. In recognition of this, I have just read where Modius has recruited Ed Sterbenc a former Tandem executive and well known to many of us. Particularly for those of us with roots in the old ICON division of Tandem Computers, and this “addition” bodes well for Modius. But the basic premise remains – for key manageability solutions the NonStop server remains an ideal platform. And it is the coming changes in the data center that may just fuel the interest once again.

As we move to cloud computing, particularly within the enterprise as we deploy the clouds ourselves behind the firewall, the expectation is that the cloud will always be available. Transactions are routed around downed servers, those experiencing peak loads will have secondary transactions routed to less stressed servers, and the same application may run on different platform / OS combinations when their SLA’s don’t mandate specific response times.

Relying on something other than NonStop for this level of oversight may prove extremely short-sighted and become a risky proposition for many data center managers. For many of these managers, the NonStop has almost been forgotten; running for many years without an outage of any kind. These same data center managers can be hard-pressed to even identify which of their servers is the NonStop - it’s in there somewhere – and no, I can’t recall what it looks like! The time may be right to re-evaluate the role of NonStop, and with so many of them deployed in critical situations it may surprise data center managers how effective a “tool” these servers have become!

I didn’t buy a new motorcycle, and I didn’t buy a new car. And no, I didn’t open an exotic-car dealership, either. Readers of the last blog may have been left speculating about the outcome. It’s going to take a lot for me to move away from my SUV – perhaps I will replace it with a more energy efficient hybrid as my green-side continues to develop. But the role the SUV fills, and the requirements I have for it, haven’t changed. I still need to navigate the winter roads of Colorado and make it through to sunny Southern California no matter what!.

As I enjoyed my glass of shiraz, and thought back on earlier projects, I couldn’t help but think about a future of NonStop with respect to manageability and the potential for NonStop to play an even bigger role. It still makes so much sense, to me even after all that was done with NonStop NET/MASTER. Isn’t it about time we revisited the very attributes that make NonStop so valuable to our business units and, as we contemplate moving to a different computing model, use it to keep everything operating reliably?

I am confident that some data center managers will recognize the value proposition as I am confident solutions providers will renew their interest in NonStop. After all, the server has been in our data center for decades in support of transactions – isn’t the stream of management events just another transaction stream? Perhaps we will see a NonStop in every data center after all!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fall, a time to buy?

I just stepped back indoors after taking the motorcycle out for a 75 miles late-Fall jaunt. With the continental divide well covered by early season snow, and plenty of evidence that there had been recent snowfalls along the Colorado front ranges, with loose grit in many of the corner apexes, it was good to catch a break in the weather. Just to enjoy the autumn colors, still present, framing many of the deserted back-roads that I ride, provided a pleasant change from the routines of the past few weeks. And the picture above is of looking back at a new line of "snow clouds" descending. Oh well!

Cutting across some of the main roads to get to my favorite highway, I passed a number of motorcycle and car showrooms. I thought that it may be a good idea to stop by and walk the deserted lots on my way back – after all, there’s nothing better to do on quiet days then to check out the new models.

I subscribe to many car and bike magazines and generally read them from cover to cover. I am not sure how my mind functions, but even the smallest details on even the obscurest model I somehow seem to be able to recall. Much of what goes on in my daily life, I seem to be having a tough time recalling accurately, mind you, but knowing that the cylinders inside a Honda motorcycle cruiser are now much bigger than those lying in the engine of a Dodge Viper, for instance, is something I read somewhere. Many years ago! So, with the new model year now in full swing and show rooms beginning to fill up with the ‘10s, it is always a great way to idle away a late autumn afternoon.

I have always been puzzled why the new models always start arriving in the Fall. It so happens that this is a byproduct of the impact of the July – August summer factory shut-downs that take place each year. As they restart, the factories begin cranking out the new models. Something a city boy from the Southern Hemisphere could never figure out. But in the run-up to Christmas many suburban driveways begin to display the latest offering from the more popular manufacturers.

It’s been a while since I bought a car. And it’s been much longer since I bought a new motorcycle. The current motorcycles are both ’03 models and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, it’s kind of un-American not to be seriously considering replacements. With a couple of ’08 cars in the garage, perhaps it’s not as urgent a situation – but I may have to get the oil changed, again, on the bikes and this would be a first!

Seriously, I really like riding motorcycles and driving cars and regular readers of this blog would not be surprised to know this – rarely a month goes by when I don’t manage to work into my blog something about bikes and cars. And the motorcycles and cars I own are not “garage queens” (for the most part) as they are ridden and driven on a regular basis. But with my new career and its focus on writing, I have little need or use for them to commute to work. No, I often take to the road simply to enjoy a break from the routine. And styling aside, whether a bike is two years old or ten, these days there’s little difference in how much they cost me to maintain. These things don’t seem to break, ever!

For those of us who have responsibility for the computer systems in our data centers, however, and who have the responsibility for matching user requirements to a budget, holding on to a server for more than two years can often prove to be a liability! In the months following the beginning of this century, and with all the clean-up work that went in to ensuring the Y2K “bug” didn’t put us all out of operation, I thought we would see a slowing in technology lifecycles and a fall-off in the pace of new product developments. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

The impact of the Internet, even with the bursting of the DOT.COM bubble, and the explosion in networking bandwidth; the need to comply with all sorts of government regulations from security to reporting “down systems;” and the continued gains being made in the power of chips and the shrinking of storage have all made systems we bought this century close to being obsolete! The “greening” of the data center and with it, a much greater appreciation for how much heat is being generated, has also made systems installed only a few years ago “too expensive” to continue to be supported.

As I listen to product roadmap updates provided by product management executives at user group events, I can’t help but pick up on the reports about the number of new systems being purchased and of the length of the pipeline (for new systems) that’s developed. It’s as though all the data center managers took a look out the window and saw that the season was changing and with it, realized it was time to buy a new model! While car showrooms are crowded with hybrid models and the motorcycle showrooms are catering for a graying population, computer “showrooms” are full of new hardware packages and on the pedestal, bathed in the spotlights, the new models are heavily Blades oriented.

Today’s modern Blade chassis has come a long way from lining the dark hallways inside of telephone exchanges, where I had, in fact, first encountered similar packaging. This past summer I had attended the HPTF&E event in Las Vegas and had walked through the inside of a container full of Blade enclosures (check out the posting of July 2, ’09 Common standards, uncommon advantages!) – what HP was calling the “Performance-Optimized Datacenter” (POD). And it reminded me of the many times I had walked through telco data centers. The beauty of Blades, however, is not in the packaging, or in the choice of chip sets used, but in the way engineers can more beneficially manage the heat being generated. Dealing with “hot spots” and ensuring data center managers do not have to upgrade or reroute their HVAC “plumbing” has many advantages in today’s business climate.

And the prices have come way down. For the NonStop community in particular, the support for Blades by NonStop has changed the pricing dynamics completely. And the product management presentations highlighting the “ramp” Blades purchases have produced, can’t escape noticing how steep the upward angle of the ramp has become! Compared with the inclines of other product lines, the ramp is more akin to looking up at a modern, Olympic sky jump platform!

About the only concern I would express when it comes to considering a transition to Blades is the roadmap for the Blades chassis itself. Blades will continue to be upgraded on a regular basis and in line with the chip manufacturer’s roadmap. In the case of NonStop, this is the Intel Itanium roadmap although, I would like to add, that a complementary x86 program would be nice to see. But regardless, Intel is on a tear with the program it has for the Itanium chip and when you consider the power coming with future Tukwila and Poulson multicore packages, NonStop will be getting access to unbelievable processing power.

The big question continues to be software and, in particular, the pricing of software particularly when it is infrastructure and middleware sosftware. Having a history with ACI / Insession and, more recently, GoldenGate, I have never been far from this debate. What value is reducing the price of the hardware if the cost of the infrastructure in support of the hardware just keeps going up? And does HP decry the cost of ISV-provided software because it’s messing up the value proposition of the deal, or because they would like to be able to keep all the funding budgeted for the upgrade? For the most part, software for NonStop is as expensive as it is today because it really does cost that much to develop and maintain.

Seriously, again. I really like being in the software business. But pricing is influenced by at least two important metrics: the size of the marketplace and the cost of the (human) resources. For the moment, these metrics continue to work against NonStop infrastructure prices coming down, in the short term, at least. Many ISVs in the NonStop marketplace understand this and are pursuing avenues to ensure their products can run on other platforms, in addition to NonStop,. Others yet, are migrating to programming languages where the pool of expertise is much larger. But it will never come down to commodity levels – users have the expectation that they will be supported and that expert services will be available, and how low the pricing for this can go will depend, in the end, of how big the NonStop marketplace becomes.

The ride back home grew much colder than I expected. I never did get the chance to walk around the lots or stop in at the bike shops I knew stayed open. There’s probably a lot I could find to talk about should a salesman come by. As an aside, with my passion for cars and motorcycles and my never failing memory when it comes to the fine details differentiating one car or bike from all others, there are some family members wondering why I wouldn’t open an exotic-car dealership that included a well stacked flower shop: at the end of the day you wouldn’t want to go home with a high-priced exotic without a bunch of yellow roses, now would you?

And I will probably make a visit to the showrooms sometime soon. While there’s so much more I could add to any discussion on software licensing, if a user should ask me, I am sure in the weeks ahead as I participate in even more user events, the topic will never be far away! See you at GTUG!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Real “stayers”

Suddenly, I was caught up in the fever that surrounds the annual running of the Melbourne Cup. A historic horse race held at the Flemington Racecourse, outside of Melbourne, Australia, it’s a long race of 3,200 meters (trimmed a few feet in recent times after the metric system was introduced). And it’s an ancient race, by Australian standards, having had its first running back in 1861. And it truly lives up to its billing as “the race that stops the nation.”

Visitors to the LinkedIn user group, Real Time View, will know of the discussion “Fast Lane” and of my social blog “Buckle-Up-Travel” where I frequently refer to events involving motor cars. And it was only a few weeks ago that “The Great Race” was held for Super V8s around the Mount Panorama circuit to the west of Sydney. On display on that occasion was an over-abundance of horsepower, but this week, it all came down to just a few horses.

While Melbourne enjoyed a public holiday, and the government of Australia was officially “adjourned” for the day so that dutiful members of parliament could all crowd around strategically-placed TV sets, it was a lot less formal in Sydney with business just turning a blind eye to all of their employees taking extended lunch breaks at their local watering holes. And the picture above is of me at sunny Manly Beach where it proved difficult to find a quiet venue for the evening on the day of the Cup.

But there had always been something that had bound the event at Bathurst with the event at Flemington. Both races covered a lot of ground –1000 kilometers for the cars (up from the old 500 miles), and 3.2 kilometers for the horses (down from 2 miles) and tactics and preparation played a very big role in deciding the eventual winner. Not for the fleet-of-foot or for anything lacking stamina, the events were designed to push both sets of contestants to the very limit.

When I first went to watch a running of the Bathurst 1000, back in the early ‘70s, the talk was all about who would lead for the first couple of laps, who would hang around and watch what developed, and who would preserve their car to be in contention for the last half hour! In other words, when it came to cars, running in The Great Race called for patience, and a measure of driver skill, so as to preserve the car for the final laps. But with time, and with the tremendous improvements that have come from technology improvements, watching The Great Race these days suggests it has become nothing more than an extended sprint. Certainly, teams send out two cars and often the lead car drives hard from the first flag fall, with the second car driving a little more conservatively should the team leader encounter any difficulties, but it looks to all watching that the cars are going flat-out for the duration.

Not so, for the horse race down in Flemington. Two miles is still a long way and horses bred for the shorter sprint events that dominate today’s racing calendar, are not up to the challenge. Horses that win the Melbourne Cup are clearly “stayers” and there’s nothing negative about using this word to describe the few horses up to the challenge of racing over this distance. Yes, they leave the gate as eagerly as any car leaving the starting grid, but it’s up to each horse’s jockey to manage the event. Not to get caught out wide for too long, and have to cover even greater distances; not to get caught too far back in the pack and unable to see the leaders; but just back a few and away from the fences. Running with a measured pace to ensure that the horse has enough to finish is the responsibility of the jockey but in the end, as with car races, every winner of the Melbourne Cup needs a small break and a little measure of luck!

It was only a week ago that I wrote about the user event in Canada – CTUG. And in another week’s time I will be off to attend the European event in Germany, an IT Symposium jointly held with GTUG. These events are giving me a new opportunity to look at the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) community that has grown up around the NonStop platform, and the pleasing aspect to this, from my vantage position, is that I recognize so many of them from the ITUG days. So many of the ISVs I knew from my time at Tandem Computers remain very active today, and the ecosystem in support of NonStop is as active as it has ever been.

The solutions providers are not always present at user events, as much as I would like to see more of them participating. For the bigger companies in the solution space, the economics are such that they can afford to hold their own user events and the likes of ACI, GE Healthcare, and those in the telco space have invested heavily in their own, or related vertical, events. The infrastructure and middleware providers, however, still rely on being seen alongside the primary vendor, working closely with NonStop product managers. These are the vendors who have proved, to the NonStop community, that they are “stayers” and have the stamina that the user community demands.

Many of the vendors offer solutions on platforms other than NonStop and a liberal sprinkling of products running on Linux / Unix / Windows (LUW) can be seen. For many products on offer this makes a lot of sense, as the need to use NonStop cycles for some features may be questionable. With the languages and tools underpinning these products, such flexibility is more of a byproduct, as the openness of NonStop today doesn’t preclude anything developed for LUW platforms running on NonStop any more than it precludes anything developed for NonStop from running on your favorite flavor of LUW. And for those vendors who have been part of the NonStop community for many years now, this has come as a huge relief as it not only gives them a bigger marketplace but the opportunity to recruit from among a younger generation of developers.

Managers of today’s NonStop ISVs are acutely aware of the messages coming from HP’s NonStop Enterprise Division (NED). Bringing costs down, pursuing standards, and integrating open “software stacks” with key NonStop middleware, is beginning to bear fruit as new vendors are attracted to the platform. In the presentations provided by HP to the CTUG community, two new solutions providers were identified. These were established companies that NED was working with, to port their offerings to the NonStop platform, and the expectation across the community that there would be new NonStop users as a result.

If the term “stayer” can be applied to the ISV community then it can certainly be applied to NED as well. The business environment has changed so much over the 35 years the NonStop platform has been available and, during that time, there has been times when the platform has faced serious challenges. At first, the competition came from other start-ups with alternate approaches, as the fault tolerant market blossomed. Then there was considerable pressure exerted by those commodity producers who turned to clustering – surely, the solution had to be a cluster of off-the-shelf boxes! More recently, the return of the IBM mainframe has made its presence felt with IBM determined to push the NonStop out of the data center.

But NonStop has truly proved to be a “stayer” and continues to thrive. The world has become even more tightly networked and there’s almost no business that is not connected in some fashion to the internet, and open 24 X 7 X forever. And the original attributes of NonStop are as important today as at any time in the past. Availability? Scalability? Data Integrity? Which of these key attributes has lessened in significance in the “always-on” world we live in today?

There was something historical about this past week as well. I managed to catch up with a good friend that I haven’t seen for many years, Len Rust. As the former head of IDC in Australasia, there wasn’t a trend or industry segment Len didn’t know about and from my early days with EDOS and Nixdorf I had depended on Len for insight into the industry. Len and I had met for coffee in the old Tandem Computers building in North Sydney. The coffee stand was new, but it was outside a restaurant that had been put to good use during my time at Tandem Computers.

Twenty years ago to the day, Steve Bailey and I had met for lunch in the restaurant to celebrate the Melbourne Cup. The horse I picked, in the restaurant’s “sweep” where tickets for horses had been drawn at random, was involved in a photo-finish – but clearly, my horse had! So a good bottle of Champaign was opened just a few minutes before I heard that my horse had finished second! But it did little to curb our enthusiasm. In the weeks that followed, Steve and I left Australia to take up positions with Tandem Computers and we have both remained close to the NonStop ISV community.

Probably too early to call either Steve or I “stayers”, or to think we are winners, but I get the sense that my own involvement with NonStop will continue for many years to come. New vendors! New users! After all, this is why many of us in the NonStop community have stayed in the race and why we have paced ourselves the way we have for so many years. Like good jockeys, we haven't strayed wide, or lost ourselves within the pack!


And if the experiences with the NonStop vendor community over the past few weeks counts for anything at all, this has to be good news for us all!