Monday, January 25, 2010

Vendors are coming, cool!

With a change in our Simi Valley abode last year, when we had to find a new condo on short notice, I had to set up a new office for the times I find myself in Southern California. And while I miss the mountains of Colorado, with the weather as cold as it has been of late I welcome any opportunity to spend a few days in the sun. Even though it’s only for a few days, spending time in jeans and t-shirts isn’t hard to take after having to load up with four or five layers! The picture above is of my away-from-home office that I have just set up – with HP equipment in abundance. And in the picture you can just make out, on the screen of the laptop, this opening paragraph!

As I review the data on the blogs written to date, there are some topics that generate a disproportionate amount of readers’ interest. If I add Tandem into the subject line, that spikes readers’ interest, as does anything that includes a reference to ACI be it events, strategy, or product. If I throw in a few negative comments about the BM mainframe, then news quickly spreads, and there’s always email in my inbox the following morning. But if I begin to discuss HP marketing, or NonStop’s potential role in everything from shared infrastructure blade to cloud computing, there seems to be even more interest. Readers certainly bring with them many viewpoints on this topic, and are more than forthcoming with suggestions about what HP marketing should be doing to better promote NonStop’s future!

Leafing through the pages of InformationWeek, a lot of the columns in the January 18, 2010 issue covered the results of the magazine’s survey of more than 300 CIOs. There was commentary on the top ten issues facing CIOs for 2010 and there were concerns that the recession was dulling the enthusiasm for CIO’s to “stay connected with some unconventional vendors whose solutions might help spark a breakthrough.” As the editor went on to reflect, “as innovation and small and midsize vendors get acquired and CIOs reduce the number of vendors they work with in order to cut costs and simplify management, companies aren’t being exposed to the kinds of disruptive technologies and thinking that could truly differentiate them.”

However, it was the words of columnist Art Wittman, in his column “Practical Analysis,” that caught my attention as in it he cautions “but it doesn’t take too many years in the IT trenches to realize that innovation for innovation’s sake won’t win you many friends. Advising steady evolution of systems and processes in collaboration with your business partners will never light up the blogosphere the way a clarion call to the next cool thing will, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sound advice.”

The next cool thing! For as long as I have been writing posts to this blog, I have been interested in cool … and the companies that define “cool.” In the January – February 2007 issue of the ITUG Connection magazine, I opened with “in a promotional piece by Abercrombie and Fitch, it claimed it had the coolest, high quality, lifestyle clothing for everyone! And there, directly penned onto the window, they defined cool as being “the embodiment of well-liked characteristics, such as creativity, intelligence, and leadership.”

For many years, product marketers have paid attention to whether their products gain cool status. While it’s not identified on any product lifecycle “bell curve” I have studied, it exists all the same. It’s that characteristic that spreads through any community that associates a supporter as being “in the know” and ahead of the game. Smart enough to pick the one product that will differentiate them from all others and give them “an edge” in whatever discipline or pursuit they may be engaged. “Mini Coopers” are cool! As are “iPhones,” and the “iPods” before them. Even brands and styles of sneakers are cool!

For the past couple of years, the Gartner Group has gone so far as to track cool vendors and early each year published their “Cool Vendors 20xx” report. “Cool Vendors are small companies offering technologies and products that are innovative, impactful and intriguing,” Gartner suggests, before defining “a Cool Vendor is a company that offers technologies or solutions that are: Innovative, enable users to do things they couldn't do before; Impactful, have, or will have, business impact (not just technology for the sake of technology); Intriguing, have caught Gartner's interest or curiosity in approximately the past six months.”

In the blog posting of February 18, 2009 - Game changers! – I wrote of how cool doesn’t have to be solely a technology or product innovation. As products successfully jump from one technology lifecycle curve to another, what may have been viewed as being close to end-of-life, can suddenly become cool again when included as a new entrant riding the upswing of a new lifecycle. In that post, I wrote of how Sami Akbay, VP of Product Management and Marketing at GoldenGate (now Oracle) suggested “One of the coolest sneakers out there today is the Adidas 'Stan Smith'; it was first introduced in 1971 and it was recently reintroduced. When it was cool the first time around, the innovation was that it was the first fully leather tennis shoe with dimple sole and rubber cup outsole; now it is cool because of simplicity, function, and 'classic' effect.” Sami quite rightly suggested that “cool can also have a timing component and once-cool products can make a come-back!”

But now, almost a year later, I am very much aware of just how many in the NonStop community sense that perhaps NonStop is no longer cool. Perhaps it is time to let it go, and move on to more modern architectures. Some readers have even suggested, if it’s cool again, where’s the HP marketing programs? Why is it that finding application solutions has become so hard, and why are once-committed users considering other alternatives?

In the upcoming issue of TandemWorld (January, ’10) readers will find an article I contributed as part of my ongoing “Real Time View – A Running Commentary” commitment. In the article I look at comments I found posted to the LinkedIn group “Pyalla Technologies” after starting a discussion “Has HP Marketing got more to do for NonStop?” And not surprisingly, as I said in the article, I received comments like:

“Folks it not just about reliability/availability; cost effectiveness … is number one, then reliability. I have compared alternate platforms, when sizing new product opportunities, and Tandem has (been) beating out both AIX and Windows platforms, from a cost and reliability perspective, to meet the business and financial requirements of my company.”

“Do you think it would take much to get permission from their respective companies to use these statements in the marketing of NonStop?”

“I have a presentation on file which does compare NonStop with other platforms in terms of security and - BIG SURPRISE! - NonStop fares rather well. I'd be happy to give that presentation to HP NED marketing at any point in time …”

There seems to be a lot of sentiment in the NonStop community in support of the cup being half empty, while I remain more enthusiastic and view the cup as half full, and looking pretty darn good, from where I sit! When you check out the cause for the concerns, it comes back to an apparent loss of interest in NonStop among the application solutions providers. And this is something I think it’s about time to address – many of us have seen the Product Management roadmap presentations that suggest new vendors are indeed migrating their product(s) to NonStop.

In the coming weeks I plan to cover a number of these new entrants. Last year, I talked of infrastructure vendors such as Erudine and Modius and how pleased I was to welcome these latest additions to the community. This time around, however, I will feature those vendors bringing successful solutions to NonStop, and see if we cannot encourage more positive exchanges across the community as a result! They may be a little unconventional and be much smaller than some others we would like to see involved with NonStop, but they are just as innovative with what they provide as are any other vendor’s in this marketplace.

In the latest edition of Cycle World, the magazine congratulated motorcycle companies on producing some exciting bikes. The feature article began with “cool is inspiring. It’s an idea and an ideal. Cool can be as fleeting as a breeze, as hard to get a grip on as a wet bar of soap … but at the core, cool is about purity of expression, of material objects being infused with human energy, creativity and insight to make them more than just the sum of their parts … cool is unlimited …”

HP marketing does have a lot to do. And it’s not always clear how much support for NonStop exists within HP marketing. Most of us have ideas about what needs to be done and haven’t been at all bashful about telling HP what they should do to better position NonStop. However, what may matter in the end has little to do with what HP marketing does or doesn’t do, as much as how enthusiastic we remain. For in our enthusiasm lies the attraction for solutions vendors to invest their own money in pursuit of our business.

And if what I have been reading in the blogosphere of late is any indication of how evangelical many of us have become, then the NonStop community could easily see the resurrection of NonStop’s once proud cool label! Justifiably so, by every yardstick with which I am familiar! Again, welcome to a new era of cool-ness!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hollow wheels go nowhere!

Winter in Boulder is an adventure. Even when you have weathered the worst of it, you can never take anything for granted and surprises can be waiting for you around every corner. Returning home a few weeks ago, I misjudged the entry to our community, hit the brakes on a patch of ice, and gracefully slid into the gutter surrounding the entrance divider. The speed was minimal, but with it turned at 45 degrees, the impact “de-spoked” the wheel, and the picture at the top of this post shows what I was left with as I stepped out of the SUV. It still looks pretty good on the outside, but everything inside is gone!

I am not sure whether a flaw in the wheels manufacture, or simply its age and its exposure to the elements of winter contributed in any way, but safe to say I became a little concerned about the integrity of the other wheels, so on went a new set of wheels and tires. As much as I dislike the looks of modern SUVs and prefer something a lot sleeker, there’s no denying that with ice and snow accumulating on the roads around our house, after ten years of living where I do today, SUVs provide a degree of comfort and assurance that I can still run errands no matter what!

This post represents the first blog post for the year. And many thanks to those who asked me about the absence of a posting last week, and whether I was going to continue to blog. As in previous years, I decided to take a two week break, but this time the break was pushed back by a week or so. My new career in marketing is beginning to develop “legs” and the time I have for social networking has quickly become an after hours activity but I am committed to providing further commentary and opinions in 2010.

With this post, however, has come another milestone as this post is my 150th posting to the Real Time View blog. Following a flurry of small posts in August and September of 2007, and many questions about what I planned to cover, how regularly I was going to blog, as well as a couple of requests to give readers time to read the postings, I have found the best way to interact with the NonStop community is with a posting every seven to ten days. And I have to admit, with the comments that are posted and the emails that arrive, there’s no shortage of topics to be addressed!

It was shortly after I began blogging that I posted a blog that I simply titled “What did you have in mind, eh?” In this posting, of September 24, 2007 I made the remark “for those of you who have stayed close to this blog and have been reading my postings, you will see that I have thrown together a mix of topics for a very broad audience. Right now, it’s a bit of a dilemma for me, and it could go either way. Whether I engage in a dialogue at the bits and bytes level, or approach from a business perspective still has to be worked out.”

A little deeper into the posing I further remarked “The thought behind the production of this blog is that across today’s community there are different generations of users. Some of us are more comfortable reading a trade publication while we are on a plane, some of us prefer to email our friends, while others like to get information from a number of online sources, including blogs.” The choice I faced was whether to stay objective and perhaps, tackle topics that might be a little dry, or to pursue a subjective style that left no uncertainties about the blogger’s point of view!

More than two years later, it’s become pretty clear that I have ignored the bits and bytes, leaving discussions about the internals of systems and their components to others, and have been providing subjective material that I have usually wrapped within a story of one sort or another, and often at odds with what would develop as the theme. In so doing, I have joined the growing world of social networking, providing the NonStop community with another outlet.

Social networking, and in particular, what is referred to as the “blogosphere,” has proved to be a tool that many of us turn to for information that is both valuable as well as being anchored in real-world experience. Less concerned about the theory of technology, the content provided by bloggers often ties directly to experiences that may be only days, if not hours, old! It is this immediacy that strikes a chord for many within the NonStop community and continues to draw them back to the more active sites.

In the posting of September 24th, 2007 I went on to note how “the creation of this blog is not in competition to any other exchanges that exists within the ITUG community, it is being undertaken to complement other programs … some of us are more comfortable reading a trade publication while we are on a plane, some of us prefer to email our friends, while others like to get information from a number of online sources, including blogs.”

Social networking, as we see it today, has turned many of us into strong advocates for technologies we strongly support. And we are not shy about expressing our opinions or about challenging other’s points of view. A regular reader, who often asks me whether I can develop shorter posts, emailed me a promotional “flyer” for a new book “Social Media Marketing.” The phrase that caught my attention was “the power of the collective!” Another point made in the flyer was that “unlike traditional marketing, promoting your products and services online via social media does not involve interrupting – or irritating an audience.”

Social networking isn’t solely about blogs. There are now many business-oriented social networks operating, with perhaps LinkedIn the best known and most widely supported, and these are proving to be just as important for social networks as blogs. Several months ago I elected to start a group on LinkedIn focused on topics I thought may be of interest to the NonStop community, Real Time View. More recently, I started another LinkedIn group focused on what interested me as I went about building my own business, Pyalla Technologies. And today, the “membership” in both of these groups has astounded me – just check out the discussion on Cloud Computing now under way on Real Time View!

When I started this discussion in Real Time View I simply asked “Is there any role for NonStop in Cloud Computing - running a data base? providing access as a ‘gateway?"’ or even as an Application Server? or could NonStop be considered for all of the above?” I then added “have we progressed to where we depict the network now as a line and the cloud is a reference to the data center itself - and for much the same reason? No one in IT cares any longer about the components needed to make an application work - is this a fair assessment?” In the span of a few short week, some 70 comments have been posted by a community anxious to see NonStop play a role in the world of enterprise cloud computing.

A discussion I started in the LinkedIn group, Pyalla Technologies, returned to the theme of social networking when I asked “Social Networking – do we really need the business network as well?” In raising this topic, I provoked considerable discussion on whether networking will follow other industry trends, where open supersedes proprietary, and whether future interaction with our customers will be front-ended by any one of the many business social networks that already exists. Take a look, as very few readers warmed to this option although they were all prepared to consider the possibility.

As you read the comments, the passion of the community comes through – yes, the power of the collective is apparent as HP employees join in the exchange. When I first started to become active in the social networking world I had to assure many within HP that I wasn’t going to provide a free-for-all site to dump all over HP. I also had to understand that HP wasn’t going to comment on every opinion I expressed. There wasn’t even any assurance that HP would be checking the posts on a regular basis. But as I write the 150th post, so much has changed and the value of social networking has become more widely understood – yes, there’s a lot of value to be gained from allowing “buzz about the platform” coming from as many sources as possible.

In a recent exchange with Randy Meyer, who heads Product Management within HP’s NonStop Enterprise Division ,“NED”, he remarked how that "it's been great to see the huge interest in NonStop discussion in the blogosphere and social networking environments. As the platform has modernized, so too have the ways the community interacts!"

And for me, this is what it has all has been about. While the inside of my wheel was demolished, as good as it looked on the outside, it was useless. And no matter how well we present NonStop, without an active social community these days that provides a lot of substance, all the posturing in the world will appear hollow, with nothing inside.

An active community openly interacting in as public a forum as is today’s social networks speaks volumes about the future of NonStop and, for me, will continue to encourage me to develop another 150 posts!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tandem – the next 35 years?

Over the holiday season I didn’t spend as much time pulling bottles of wine from the cellar as in previous years, yet sadly, I have to admit, the inventory is beginning to thin out. On the other hand, what has been growing has been my collection of model cars and motorcycles and now, spread across the tasting table, they capture quite a bit of history – the picture above includes most of what is on display.

Obviously, there are several model Corvettes in the collection. Among the models are F1 cars – the Ferrari of Schumacher and the Jaguar of Weber – as well as a Yamaha R1 sports bike that’s a constant reminder of the fickleness of youth! Missing from the display is the one car I thought would always find a place in my collection – the mighty Porsche Turbo!

When I returned to Australia in 1977 I took up an assignment with a small software distributor that represented The Computer Software Company (TCSC) of Richmond, Virginia. However, in those early days I was in desperate need of technical support so TCSC assigned a young IBM systems programmer, Brian, to help me out. Business began to go well and I thought an upgrade of my company car may be in order and I began to think the time was right to buy a Porsche Turbo.

Dreaming big was rarely an issue for me, and I had become extremely passionate about Porsches. One evening, on returning home, I found Brian waiting for me - all smiles and looking excited, with a bunch of papers in his hand. “Sign these papers,” he prodded me. “There’s a surprise in the garage for you!” The papers I quickly realized was a car leasing agreement, and Brian cagily hid most of the pages from my view but just once I happened to see a reference to a Porsche Turbo. With the paperwork completed the time had come to head for the and, with the door opened, there in the middle of the garage was a Porsche Turbo – but in miniature. It was a Matchbox model!

“As always you were a ‘voracious’ car enthusiast,” Brian reminded me this week. “Russ, one of your neighbors, had boys with Matchbox model cars, so we ‘borrowed’ the Porsche and placed it in the garage.” Recalling more of the incident, Brian then added “Russ was very good at leading up to the idea that the financing was not really an issue … but your face dropped when you saw the miniature!”

The Porsche Turbo remains the pinnacle of auto engineering, and my passion for the car remains to this day. So you can imagine my surprise when I began reading this month’s car magazines only to learn that the Porsche Turbo is 35 years old! Recognizable worldwide, the Porsche Turbo continues to promise unbelievable performance in the hands of those passionate enough to wring the best from such a supercar!

A new engine? The first upgrade of the engine “form factor” and, a first for this latest iteration, an engine that shares the same construction as the standard 911! With the same direct-fuel-injection system as found in all 911s, this “new engine” is simpler and lighter than any previous engine, with commodity components prevalent everywhere! As I read the specifications I almost forgot I was looking at 35 years of Porsche history and not at 35 years of Tandem history!

Pinnacle? Passion? Promise? The emotions they generate are very similar for both product lines.

Cars have been featured in my past two blog postings on Tandem’s 35th anniversary with references to the late Graham Hill in the posting “Happy 35th, Tandem!” on May 28th, ’09 and to Corvettes in the posting “Is there gas in the tank?” on October 16th, ’09. In both postings I also included a number of quotes from current and former leaders of Tandem.

The two comments however that continue to resonate with me were those of Martin Fink and Winston Prather. “From the introduction of NonStop until today, NonStop has represented the pinnacle of high availability,” Martin had told me. And then, as I exchanged emails with Winston, he talked openly of how he hadn’t “fully understood then was the incredible passion and commitment this team has to our customers, partners and each other!”

In the November / December 2009 issue of the Connection magazine, Winston wrote in his column of how “from our origins as the world’s first fault tolerant server, through mergers and acquisitions, the evolution of IT and its role, processor and form factor changes, the original promise of NonStop has never changed.” He then closed his column with “we are as committed to delivering on this promise today, as we were 35 years ago.”

There has always been passion in the NonStop community. And the NonStop server has remained at the very pinnacle of fault tolerant computing. But what will the next 35 years promise for the NonStop faithful? Will support for NonStop continue to play a major role in HP’s server strategy?

In a blog posting of February, 12, ’08 “’My Wish’ for NS Blades” I described three wished I had for NonStop as it began supporting Blades. My first wish was on seeing a “shared infrastructure” Blades package delivered, while my second wish was to see a hypervisor developed such that NonStop could operate as a guest OS, and where the fault tolerance of NonStop wasn’t compromised in any way. As for my third wish, I was looking to see if a case could be made to support a NonStop that could float and “adjust” automatically whenever business-critical transactions arrived that required the levels of fault tolerance NonStop delivers.

I have been talking of this to many audiences over the past two years, but I was somewhat taken back when I read the latest white paper from The Standish Group “Megaplex – and Odyssey of Innovation.” Jim Johnson and his analysts at Standish talk about the possible emergence of “Megaplex, a collection of server blades acting together as a single system using multiple types of operating systems, databases, and other computer resources.” Standish recalls Tandem’s history and describes a future role for NonStop that is far removed from anything that has found its way onto HP’s roadmaps to date.

Standish was looking at the characteristics of NonStop that would help support the NonStop platform for another 35 years. In perhaps the most remarkable observation in the whole white paper, they propose how “The Standish Group sees the death of operating systems and the advent of operating environments … the operating system of tomorrow will be a lightweight hypervisor that calls on a set of common services,” starts Jim. “In the Megaplex fabric these hypervisors will each have their own persona, such as VMS or the NonStop Kernel, to facilitate applications services,” he then explains before adding “many of the NonStop Kernel functions, such as fault tolerance, will be available to these other personas to increase their functional capabilities.”

When I posted my own observations to the blog in February, ’08 I predicted that, at some time well into the future, NonStop would be available to process any transaction whose attributes qualified it for processing on NonStop. With Megaplex, Standish take NonStop many steps further and suggest that the NonStop kernel, as well as being able to run natively, would pass on critical capabilities that had always been unique to NonStop to other HP operating systems.

I promised myself a Porsche Turbo one day – and perhaps after all these years, it will end up being just a model after all! And the similarity between the history of the Porsche Turbo and the Tandem computer is remarkable. Thirty five years on, they both remain the pinnacle of engineering excellence and performance. And their supporters are enthusiastic and passionate about both platforms. It may be hard to imagine all of what Standish predicts actually coming to fruition, but it would be hard to bet against the folks still working on NonStop.

Jimmy Treybig has always been extremely proud of the people who worked on Tandem. In the post to the blog of May 28, ’09 I included Jimmy’s final email remark to me “I was amazed at the capabilities and drive of our people and very proud of how they met our very aggressive goals while we had great fun!” And the passion for NonStop remains today as strong as it ever has so I will not rule out anything from happening with NonStop in the future.

I don’t think anyone in the NonStop community senses that the commitment to NonStop, within the NonStop development organization, has lessened. But the effort needed to fulfill my own predictions, let alone those of Standish, will require significant investment from HP. But there’s always hope – and in his closing remarks in the most recent issue of the Connection magazine, Winston did state that “we are committed to delivering on the promise today, as we were 35 years ago. With our modern infrastructure that delivers uncommon value through common standards, the future is indeed bright.

Pinnacle! Passion! Promise! No, Porsche doesn’t have a lock on these emotions after all!