Monday, February 1, 2010

From beneath the swirling mists …

After a couple of days of snow the skies cleared over Boulder and I was anticipating clear views of the mountain peaks to the west. As I pulled out of the driveway and headed to The Eye Opener, my local coffee shop, a thick fog had arisen from the shallow valleys and I could barely make out the mountains at all. Only one or two peaks managed to rise above the thick fog cloud and driving through the fog, even though I knew the way, was an eerie experience nonetheless. The picture above shows clearly how some peaks could be seen but as for the rest, they were buried beneath the mists that covered everything.

I have been active in social networks of all types for many years now, ever since my first blog posting which I wrote in August 2007. I have written more than 150 posts to this blog as well as almost as many to online forums of the NonStop community, as well as to those maintained by third-party ISVs active in the NonStop marketplace. I have also developed an active presence on a number of LinkedIn groups that engage the wider HP community.

I have really enjoyed the comments posted to these sites. After a slow start, there are now many more members of the community prepared to share their opinions, and their penchant for all things NonStop is hard to ignore. As with most engagements in social networks that start out with a simple question or issue, the dialog often develops a life of its own and the original premise soon slips beneath the swirling mists.

In the commentary that followed the subject of Cloud Computing (check out the Real Time View group on LinkedIn, Cloud Computing, for the complete chain of posted comments) what has emerged as a reoccurring theme of the comments submitted has been the subject of HPs ongoing commitment to marketing NonStop, as well as about the dearth of solutions on the NonStop platform. The topic of cloud computing has been pushed into the background.

Sam Ayres, a former ITUG board member and a current Connect board member, suggested in a recent comment that “it is true that HP has all the raw capability to pull off this same kind of architecture (for cloud computing) - and with much, much higher quality hardware. And with NonStop at the core. Java, middleware, development tools, transaction processing monitor, databases, open source support, mission critical support center, etc. HP has all of those things!

Sam then changes-up a gear or two and concludes with “HP just needs to pull all of this together into an integrated, supported, documented and MARKETED framework. We need more applications, we need better software development tools, we need the inherent capabilities of NonStop (such as Transaction Processing Monitor) integrated across HP's entire server line. Lastly, we need a strong public statement.”

In my previous post on January 25th, ‘10, “Vendors are coming, cool!” I wrote of how “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.” Is this really what’s happening? Or is this simply a case of misreporting, where the full story isn’t making it into the community. Perhaps the news of solutions-providers, like ACI Worldwide, switching allegiances from HP to IBM has fuelled the misconception that the NonStop platform is not as well thought of as in previous years.

There’s a lot more activity, however, in the solutions-providers space than may have been previously reported. Tucked away in various HP roadmap presentations have been a number of casual references to new entrants bringing modern solutions to the NonStop marketplace. I started paying attention to these references at user events in Canada and Germany last year, and in raising the subject with HP BCS marketing, there appears to be more good news here than I had first thought. And perhaps the increase in ISV activity in the financial payments marketplace is coming as the biggest surprise of all – wasn’t the reason for ACI switching to IBM the lack of opportunity with NonStop?

I first heard about AJB Canada at CTUG, when Randy Meyer included a reference to them in a roadmap presentation. AJB’s flagship product is their Retail Transaction Switch (RTS) and it’s being ported to NonStop. The project is expected to be completed by Q3, 2010 – but early customers can be expected well before that date. Operating in the retail marketplace and supporting more than 85,000 locations, stretching well beyond North America, for 135+ customers, AJB has become a major global solutions provider. The industries they support include everything from apparel vendors to bookshops, to department stores and supermarkets. If a merchant has more than 50 locations then, with their products they provide AJB is proving to be a good fit.

What attracted AJB to the HP NonStop server? According to Aleem Ulla, Vice President of Business Development, “this came about as a result of AJB attempting to land the business at a very large US retailer. During the process it became obvious that they were fond of their NonStop system, and if AJB were to continue with this account we had to eventually support NonStop. We think highly of HP and the NonStop product, (and) the team at HP has been easy to work with and they have been extremely supportive from both a development and marketing standpoint.”

What is the view of AJB’s management now having worked with HP NonStop? What are their expectations as they wrap-up the port to NonStop? According to Aleem Ulla, “in a word, (we are) extremely excited! We think there is outstanding opportunity out there. We have already worked with HP on six large “Tier 1” retail accounts, and there is more to come. We expect to land three to five accounts per year with HP. Given the size of the NonStop user community this could be a conservative estimate. We expect sales of AJB's RTS on NonStop to be a significant contributor to our revenue growth.”

The port of RTS is not just another routine port – the history of AJB is strongly tied to Microsoft, and the RTS product has been developed using .Net tools and services. Migrating a product suite of this complexity, implemented in the C# Language supported by .Net, required a new run-time environment on NonStop. To provide this kind of support required considerable help from the HP NonStop engineering teams which, working with the field team supporting AJB, are now supporting the underpinnings of .Net required by AJB.

"Our investments to make NonStop a modern and standards-based platform,” Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manger of the NonStop Enterprise Division at HP told me, and it’s “coming to fruition with a wider partner network.” Winston then told me how “AJB software has used the new capabilities of the platform, and has easily ported a .Net financial application to NonStop. We will continue to work with AJB and other new partners to bring innovation and open applications onto NonStop, and continue to deliver the business value of NonStop on blades in a converged infrastructure of HP solutions."

AJB will be watching to see how well received their RTS product becomes, as there are plans to migrate additional product offerings - perhaps even their Retail Polling Module (RPM) “depending upon the settlement requirements,” as someone close to the project told me. “AJB is creating a best-of-breed infrastructure that greatly improves application development agility for these retail authorization system deployments. This will be a key differentiator for AJB as they deploy on NonStop,” they suggested.

The infrastructure that exists today in support of Java applications on NonStop is impressive and as we have frequently read of late, on NonStop “Java rocks!” Introducing capabilities that support the execution of .Net applications will only further enhance the reputation of NonStop as a modern and standards-based platform. Too often when we look at NonStop, we fail to see through the mist and it’s just the peaks of WinTel, OraSun, and IBM catch our attention. As prominent a position as HP occupies, its lengthy mountain range often lies buried within the fog.

And it can be to our detriment if we fail to recognize the value that continues to be unlocked from NonStop – HP’s commitment to marketing may be difficult to see, but that’s not saying that it’s lying dormant! Adding .Net support to Java has the potential of attracting new solutions to NonStop, given the right encouragement from the NonStop community – and isn’t this what we all would like to see developed?

There’s still much to be done at AJB, and I will be waiting to see what transpires by the time the annual HPTF event comes around. But at this stage, I have to say I share in Aleem Ulla’s excitement as this combination of infrastructure and solution could just be that extra “layer” that helps HP NonStop break through the fog and swirling mists!

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