Thursday, March 25, 2010

More new engines for NonStop!

There are conversions and then there are conversions! Barely a day passes when I don’t see a car or motorcycle that has been extensively modified. Perhaps the most extreme cross-over, or “hybrid”, motorcycle I had ever read about was the Chrysler Tomahawk where the V10 engine of a Dodge Viper was mounted in a futuristic motorcycle frame. Conversions on this scale were never meant for use on the public road, however, that didn’t stop the adventurous from pushing the limits. The picture above is of a pair of road-going motorcycles converted for a Midwest customer and clearly sporting the very same Dodge Viper V10 engines!

The existence of such extreme machines was brought to my attention by my good friend Aldo Adriaan who, being somewhat more conservative, owns a Boss Hoss motorcycle, another manufactured custom but this time, sporting only a V8 as its power-plant. Aldo manages education and training for the NonStop Enterprise Division, and is well known to many of us. A quick check of Aldo’s LinkedIn profile reveals how his “primary hobby is touring the U.S. on a Chevy V8 motorcycle.” I shouldn’t be too quick to comment mind you, as I spent several years converting my first motorcycle to a replica cafĂ© racer!

Conversions often have their roots in necessity. I converted my motorcycle as it was no longer in production and upgrading to more current, easier to support components, made some sense. For anyone working in IT the story takes on quite a different tone as change is a constant and pursuing conversions a regular activity involving nearly everyone working with computers. Vendors pursuing aggressive timetables as they change hardware or infrastructure will often necessitate conversions, but unlike the glamorous results produced by today’s metal sculptors working with two and four wheeled vehicles, conversions and customization of computer applications rarely generate any emotion other than a relief!

For anyone working with NonStop it’s been hard not to notice all the excitement that has followed the surprise announcement by ACI Worldwide in December, ’07, that they would be forging a new alliance with IBM and the NonStop platform would no longer be a part of their strategy in the years to come. At the 2008 European BASE24 User Group meeting in Vienna, ACI’s product management announced that the sun-setting of BASE24 would take place in November 2011 and that all existing users need to plan on converting to BASE24eps. However, BASE24eps wasn’t merely an upgrade, but a completely new product optimized for hardware and infrastructure alien to the NonStop community.

The first reports from industry analysts that followed the ACI announcement were quick to highlight the challenge that would lie ahead for existing BASE24 users, suggesting that perhaps the time was right to more formally evaluate alternative payment engines. As 2008 and 2009 went by, few BASE24 users elected to move to the new BASE24eps and their continued allegiance to the NonStop platform was clearly in evidence as one after the other, they upgraded to the new NonStop Blades servers in preference to any purchase of IBM’s System z mainframe. As we progress further into 2010 the first viable alternatives to converting to BASE24eps are beginning to surface and one such alternative is a new payments solution created by the French company Lusis.

The first I heard of Lusis was in presentations made by Neil Pringle at the user group event late last year in Darmstadt, Germany. Highlighting vendors committing to support the NonStop platform Neil introduced Lusis as a new entrant in the payments platform space, and told the audience how this company was pursuing a deep port to NonStop of their current product offering on Unix. At the heart of the Lusis offering is the Tango “engine” – and the Tango-based offering provides a competitive EFT Switch alternative.

“I was really impressed by three things - the comprehensive business functionality, the professionalism and technical skills of the management and staff, and the complete belief that NonStop was THE platform for this type of application,” Dave McLeod, Director, Financial Services Industry, HP was quick to point out when I raised the subject of Lusis with him recently. It only took a couple of briefings to convince David, and then Neil, to commit resources to help with the port of Lusis.

“Porting Tango was one of the easiest non-Java ports I have encountered; primarily because it had a well-implemented modular architecture capable of flexible deployment across multiple processors,” HP’s Moore Ewing then told me in a follow-up email exchange. Developed mostly in C++ with some Java for scripting, and using the NonStop SQL/MX data base, it lends itself well to running on NonStop.

Lusis may be a bit of a surprise for many NonStop users, but the company has a solid heritage behind it. The founders include many from ATOS, perhaps the biggest software company in France with experience in many banks. For a period of time, ATOS was even the distributor for the S2 payment platform, prior to the time ACI purchased S2. This background certainly equips Lusis with the experience to extend its reach into banks and other financial institutions particularly now that its products support NonStop.


“It is very clear that HP Non-Stop remains the preferred platform for retail payments, and that clients need a flexible, modern payment engine to support their ongoing business strategy on that platform. Tango from Lusis gives Non-Stop clients exactly that, but, at lower cost and less risk than a typical BASE24-eps migration strategy,” according to Lusis CEO Philippe Preval. In all the exchanges I have had with NonStop users of late very few of them are contemplating leaving the platform given the path ACI is pursuing.

In fact, while many of these users aren’t absolutely certain about what they will do, the arrival of alternate offerings certainly will set many of them at ease. Conversions certainly do have their roots in necessity and this time, no matter what path is pursued there’s a conversion in store for all ACI customers. So it is encouraging to all associated with NonStop that Lusis is stepping up to support NonStop. Among the executives of Lusis is a familiar name, Richard Launder, now a member of the Lusis board of directors.

“Knowing many of these customers for nearly twenty years I knew very well how important the Non-Stop platform was to them. It was also clear that with the sunset announcement for BASE24 many of these customers would want an alternative solution to run on Non-Stop. The Lusis technology made the Tango solution an obvious choice,” was how Richard explained it to me in another email exchange.

Lusis has put together a solid customer reference base with the existing Tango implementation and I think there will be a number of tier 2 and tier 3 financial institutions that will find their offerings attractive. While Lusis was being coy about landing a tier one bank, just yet, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to read of one such bank succumbing to the opportunity to pursue a Lusis conversion.

Over the past couple of months I have chronicled a number of companies that are porting their products to NonStop. Lusis is another such vendor with a product initially developed for the Unix marketplace who has experienced little difficulty converting to NonStop. As I remarked in earlier posts “NonStop customers clamor for more solutions, more ways to exploit the NonStop investments they have made, and if their favorite Unix or Window application can be easily supported on NonStop, then the opportunities for NonStop become limitless.”

For those concerned about this message making into the mainstream marketplace, I also remarked on how “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!” To listen to Neil, David, and Moore as excited as they have become certainly bodes well for vendors like Lusis.

“The NonStop team is excited to add Lusis to its ecosystem of payment solutions. As the premier platform for payments world-wide, NonStop is pleased to be working with this leading European software company. Additionally, the Lusis-HP NonStop partnership is a significant proof point that our efforts to modernize the software environment in NonStop are paying off; the Tango application port went smoothly and quickly. We look forward to continuing this strong partnership and to delivering our joint value to many customers in the months to come" was the response from Steve Saltwick, Director NonStop Marketing and Vertical Solutions, Business Critical Systems

The coming summer may bring a number of conversions alright – the IT ones will not be visible along streets or outside cafes and bars. Within data centers however, where the glamour from conversions is less likely to be noticed, the excitement levels might be just as high. After all, for the members of the IT community, the engines driving financial institutions will be every bit as impressive as anything to be found in a custom car or bike!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Software glitches!

In my posting of last week I depicted a fuse box that had been reworked to bypass those pesky fuses that kept popping. In that last post I observed how frustrating it can be when services fail and we can no longer do what we had planned on doing. However, while I could sympathize with whoever it was that eliminated the need for fuses, I also suggested that this was not one of the finest examples of thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, there are other times where we just need a temporary fix, and the photo above is of just one example – the collapsing awning held in place by two appropriately positioned crutches!

This picture was taken by the same contractor who came across the fuse box and was kept as a reminder of poor decision making. The symbolism of propping up something with crutches didn’t escape me either. There has been many times where I would have gladly accepted a pair of crutches to help me rectify a deteriorating circumstance irrespective of the foolishness that it may have represented. Also symbolic is the real estate agent’s lock box attached to the right side railing – I have to wonder how enthusiastic any prospective buyer would be to enter the dwelling once they had noticed this quick fix!

This weekend saw me back on the race track in the Corvette, continuing with my driver education and laying down laps. The venue was the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Only a few weeks before NASCAR had held its second event of the year on this track, and it is, without doubt, the premier circuit we visit each year. It’s high banking, long straights, and a demanding infield road course thrown in for good measure, make the track quite challenging. It is a circuit that puts very high demands on any car and it’s not for the weak-of-heart to roll out of the pits and stand on the gas pedal. Speed rapidly builds on this track and with concrete barriers everywhere it’s not all that forgiving.

Three laps into my first session the automatic gearbox elected to stop shifting. It’s happened a couple of times before and I can usually free it by returning the selector to the full automatic position and forego using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Not this time – the car remained firmly stuck in third gear. Exactly the same thing happened during the second session and I was very frustrated. Unlike previous occasions, however, the dreaded “check engine” light didn’t come on and there were no codes generated for later analysis.

“Gremlins!” I was told by Dave, my local GM service manager. “We checked the data base and there are no reported symptoms, and without any error codes stored away in the car’s computer, there’s nothing to look at.” Repeating the first observation, Dave then added, “I would suggest you have an intermittent gremlin, and that there’s likely a bug in the transmission software!” The fix for this, and it’s been done twice before, is to flush the memory and reload the base program, so next time the car is back for a service we will have to go through the process one more time. Unfortunately, the temporary fix is to just drive the car in full automatic mode – and for a track-ready Corvette, that’s pretty close to having it hobble around on a pair of wooden crutches.

Software glitches?

When I came to Tandem Cupertino as a Program Manager it was my first time on a major computer vendor’s campus, and the number of development teams working on Tandem hardware and software was a real eye-opener. Coming from much smaller companies with less than a hundred employees, seeing literally thousands of developers engaged in implementing everything from operating systems to compilers to data base and transaction processing infrastructure software was a little overwhelming at first. Cross-functional core teams kept a semblance of order through all the chaos, and attending beer busts on Friday was always as instrumental in ensuring visibility for your program as it was about the beer and popcorn!

The fault tolerant Tandem was not a product anyone wanted to see crash. A “downed” Tandem was cause for immediate executive concern, and Tandem’s Critical Account team had been established to monitor any customer situation where the Tandem systems were experiencing difficulties. Providing a work around or a temporary fix wasn’t unheard of and many a time I witnessed the frenetic activity surrounding the quick generation of such a fix. Unlike other systems, Tandem was designed to fail-over whenever it suspected any individual processor was experiencing difficulties and for most situations, this worked very well. In talking with field engineers I often heard how customers had been running with a processor offline, its workload picked up by other processors, without the customer aware of any problems.

The Quality Assurance (QA) teams within Tandem development were among the most diligent technical staff on campus and they delighted in doing nothing more than beating the very stuffing out of any newly developed product. They took a lot of pride in ensuring that products that made it out of QA rarely generated failures in the field. But with so many products, Tandem still needed a way to ensure conflicts and incompatibilities didn’t arise among combinations of these products. Particularly when layered they formed complete stacks – did a Tandem stack of SNAX, with Pathway, TMF and NS SQL all worked as specified and could EMS events generated out of each layer in the stack provide the necessary insight as to what was happening above and below the layer. Did it all hang together and worked in harmony?

To ensure quality across the whole system Tandem invested in building the Gremlin Test Center. Under the management of John Merrick, I recall, this included a number of Tandem systems configured with different releases of the OS and stacks – some SNAX, other’s TCP/IP, some WAN-centric, some LAN-centric, and each with different combinations of Enscribe, SQL, etc. The test center represented a sizeable investment for Tandem and it had been provided with a number of working solutions to further ensure the OS, infrastructure, middleware, and all the supporting management tools worked well together. There was little that ever frightened any Program Manager more than being advised that his program was scheduled next for tests on Gremlin!

In today’s heavily consumer-focused technology marketplace this level of testing has proved too expensive to maintain, and younger generations have grown up completely at ease with situations like the dreaded blue screen of death, a la Microsoft. Modern development tools have certainly cut down on the number of deterministic bugs that make it through the development cycle. Test tools have become very sophisticated and as the adoption of industry-standard components increases, so too does the access to multiple test tools.

Forward-thinking software houses these days don’t leave the responsibility of catching every bug with the QA group – just as with Gremlin in the past, I am seeing these companies pass tested, and proclaimed “QA OKed” solutions to support organizations for a period of intense “thrashing!” Off-the-wall usage scenarios can often uncover some of the hardest-to-find non-deterministic bugs! Maybe not quite as regimented as was the case with testing on Gremlin, but effective all the same. Anything at all that can be done to ensure bugs do not make it into releases and onto customer’s production systems is aggressively pursued and customers are quick to recognize those companies that take these extra steps.

Even the best software houses will never find every bug in a complex software offering. And customers will never receive the “bug-free” release that they may believe is only one or two releases away! In the late ‘90s a customer did go so far as to suggest that they would prefer to wait for the bug-free release, and I was called upon to go into detail that this was unlikely to ever happen. But today, a decade and a half later, even as software houses have become more proficient in weeding out troublesome bugs before they ever make it into a release, many customers harbor a dimly-lit hope that bugs are now a thing of the past.

It’s a testament of the effort exerted by the development teams at Tandem that the quality of NonStop products was as high as it was. With thousands of systems deployed, there were only ever a handful that experienced difficulties at any given time – mostly, a combination of new solutions as well as untried interfaces as well as variations in regional networking protocols. It was reassuring to know that when such failure occurred Tandem’s Critical Accounts team would get together to find a way to provide a quick fix or workaround that would at least prop up the customer’s system “with crutches” until a permanent solution was ready.

I’m not all that sure that I will be able to shake loose the gremlin in my car’s transmission, or be free from worrying about having just one gear. Thank goodness that driving an American car, all I have to remember is that there is essentially an , , sequence for restarting my transmission’s processor and that can make me mobile in no time at all! Well, sort of … and, with no disrespect of other car manufacturers, at least the gremlins left my gas peddle and brakes alone!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Outside the box ...

A good friend of mine who runs a construction business received a set of photos from contractors who work with him. The photos, actually taken at the work sites, depict extraordinary examples of poor decision-making. Imagine nailing wood to a perimeter fence with nails 3” too long, so that rows of sharp-pointed nails protruded from the supporting rails surrounding a play-area for children or mounting a light fitting, with a regular light bulb, in a bathroom and placing it six inches above a functioning shower-head! But perhaps the best picture was from someone upset over regular power outages from circuit-breakers that kept tripping. Pulling all out the wires from behind each breaker and bypassing the fuses seems to have done the trick – and the photo above is of the newly re-configured fuse box.

There’s definitely a strong case to be made for those who take the initiative and can do things themselves. I am in awe of neighbors who can fix leaking faucets and can wire a house for speakers. I also look favorably on anyone who can get a lawnmower (or snow blower) working after months of neglect, and I hold in high regard anyone who can fix a water heater or furnace. At the time these skills were being handed out, I must have been elsewhere and I have had to live a poorer life as a result. I am getting now into it, very slowly, I have to admit, and I am enjoying every opportunity of late to roll a jack under the car and changing all four wheels.

The bypassed fuse box, however, reminds me of how frustrating it can be when services fail and we can no longer do what we had planned on doing. This week, Californians once again had to live through a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) computer crash – the second such crash this year. Newspapers and television stations quickly picked up on the developing story as long lines began to form outside many DMV’s branches. While there is no immediate news about what caused the current problem, the incident earlier this year was reported to have been caused by a major router failure.

I do not know what servers are installed at California DMV, and I am not certain about the network equipment deployed, but all I can visualize is someone inside the data center, agitated by a troublesome router, pulling out all the lines and twisting them together. See, it works! Just as the fuse box above most likely succumbed to the heat and caught fire, I can imagine a whole bundle of communications lines just shorting out! Probably didn’t happen, but the results had to be the same – no power, again, in the home, and long lines outside the DMV. Availability, or in this case, the lack of availability, remains as big an issue as it ever has and it’s not going to be fixed by someone who likes to do things by himself!

I have just finished writing a column for the March, ’10 issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld. It’s been six months since I began working for myself to develop white papers and articles for other companies. As I looked at the value that comes with active participation in social networks, and the head-start this gave me as I launched my company, I thanked the companies that really helped me out. While I sounded a bit like a NASCAR driver after winning a big race, as I thanked all my sponsors, I am encouraged by the work that continues to come my way from the NonStop community. I am starting to diversify but even as I work with companies on platforms other than NonStop, I often see the potential for more business if only the product ran on NonStop!

The value proposition that comes from running solutions on NonStop continues to center on availability. It is a byproduct of the architecture supporting continuous availability that brings with it the levels of scalability we see today. There are many within our community who would like to see more emphasis given to the security attributes of NonStop and for sure, they make a strong case; but it is the superior levels of availability that separates NonStop from all other computer architectures. In working with NonStop vendors, there’s never any backing away from, or discounting the value of, the continuous availability inherent with running NonStop!

I frequently engage with other commentators on the merits of the NonStop architecture, starting out as it did in support of transaction processing where the typical user was the company’s customer. Nothing flusters any customer more than not being able to complete a transaction they had waited some time to perform. No question about it, as the TV crews began interviewing the public, lined up as they were outside the DMV offices this week, it was the frustration from not being able to complete the simple transaction of renewing a license, registering a car, obtaining titles, and so forth that was so easily recognized.

Of late, IBM is pursuing a strategy of downplaying the importance of availability. When HP began talking about the number of “nines” that could be reached when using NonStop, one IBM executive dismissed such categorization out of hand with the remark “leave the number nine to the Beatles,” a reference to their Revolution 9 on the White Album. More recently, analysts working closely with IBM have acknowledged that “7 nines” is achievable (3.15 seconds of downtime per year) using NonStop, and that no System z configuration can reach this level of continuous availability, only to suggest that commercial IT systems rarely achieve 7 nines, or need it.

However, many users of NonStop will readily testify to reaching these levels – and are doing it routinely. Just look at recent winners of NED’s availability awards, handed out at the yearly show! For them, the value of having such servers underpinning critical business applications is that it allows them to differentiate their “products” from those of competitors with less reliable deployments. It never ceases to amaze me how so many users think that by doubling up on hardware and duplicating processes and designing abstraction layers that hide where the work is actually done, improvements can be made to just how many 9s of availability can be achieved.

Many years ago, an engineering friend of mine reminded me that for units with a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of five years helps little should you have 60 units. In a modern house these days, when you add up all the kitchen appliances, audio / video equipment and their remote controllers, heaters and air conditioning units, garage door openers and basic security system components, it’s pretty easy to accumulate 60 units. With five years MTBF I should expect something failing every month – and I should be planning accordingly.

I only raise this as on so many occasions, I hear perfectly reasonable CIOs talk of how adding additional components into their IT environment is improving the overall availability when really, it only improves when you strip things away! The beauty of NonStop is in its simplicity. For decades, NonStop engineers have catalogued all the problems that bedevil computer systems and the product we see today reflects the recognition of all that had to be considered. The simple reason why NonStop has little competition and why it alone sits atop the table of 9s is that the bar has been set so high that the entry price for new participants is just so prohibitively expensive, no one is prepared to take the risk.

In talking with one of my clients who has just ported his solution to NonStop, one of the reasons it was done was to reduce the costs – and this took me by surprise. But in reality, this too is a byproduct of a good architecture. “When it comes to the IBM mainframe, the solutions IBM provides to improve availability are extremely expensive and require substantial investments in fostering and retaining in-house expertise. Implementing comparative levels of availability to that of NonStop Server requires a Parallel Sysplex configuration with additional mainframe systems,” I was advised.

“Achieving uptime comparable to NonStop is just as problematic for users of Unix systems as well. In order to support the highly-available system financial institutions demand, the costs not only include the UNIX hardware and related operating system, but also that of data base, clustering software, and transaction processing middleware, and the related annual product support fees over a 5 year period can amount to as much as the cost of the acquisition of the payment solution,” my client then explained.

It is observations like this from vendors investing in ports to NonStop that I find so encouraging. There will never be a competitive architecture matching the attributes of NonStop. In today’s intensely competitive marketplace, I am sure HP recognizes the product they now have and the satisfaction so many NonStop users have in never having to face the press or be captured on TV following the unavailability of a service.

The contractor who found the fuse box, shown above, must have been really alarmed with what he saw, but I can sympathize with the client. Up to a point! In this instance, the results were pretty scary – who can say for sure how long it would have been before the surrounding structure caught fire. I have to admit though – he was definitely thinking outside the box! Just like this fuse box, however, thinking outside the box will prove of little value when it comes to availability, that’s for sure!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

No services, next exit!

I continue to squeeze in quick trips back to Simi Valley as the weather and road conditions allow. At this time of year, it can prove to be challenging with arterial highways frequently closed, blocked by wind-blown snow. These stretches of interstate highways, this far west of the Rockies, are likely to include lengthy dead-zones for travelers carrying mobile phones, so it’s always a little nerve-wracking heading out fully aware that the weather will be bad. The picture above is of an exit I frequently pass and, for one reason or another, I felt compelled this time to click off a shot. At the bottom of the sign, in blue, you can see the words, "No Srvices!"

There are two exits to the township of Cisco – and this is the western exit. I have never taken the exit but I understand Cisco lies close to the Colorado River, a little east of its junction with the Green River. To see a sign directing me to Cisco and then informing me that I would find “no services” has always generated a chuckle each time I pass it.. I wonder if the executives at Cisco are even aware of this exit sign and the warning it carries – and my amusement is not directed specifically at Cisco, but at the need to specifically advise travelers that no services will be provided. The implication being that today, every interchange on the interstate network provides one form of service or another. After all, it is this density of offerings that keeps prices low, generates competition, and allows me to select a potential service based on previous experiences.

For road warriors frequenting these lengthy stretches of the western interstate network, the sight of a MacDonald’s or Burger King, fast-food convenience shop, a Chevron or Shell gas station, and even the mighty Starbucks that have sprung up around nearly every major freeway interchange, represent the chance to enjoy a break from driving. As much as I like to drive there’s rarely a time where I pass on the opportunity to enjoy a quick break. However, it is the ubiquitous nature of these businesses that has caught my attention of late.

Other than at Starbucks, it’s the same dreadful coffee at every gas station. It’s the same unremarkable hamburger packaged in the same non-descript cardboard container at every fast-food chain outlet. And, of late, it looks to be the same staff serving me at every stop along the way. It would appear that if you can learn to pack a ‘burger, or pour a coffee, there’s an element of job security implied as you easily transition from one vendor to another! I wonder if there’s a web site somewhere that simply schedules rotations through all of these remote shops!

The town of Cisco may not have any services on offer, and the thought of the company Cisco ever hanging out a billboard saying, “sorry, no services” is unimaginable. But within IT, there’s as much ubiquity these days as can be found at any fast-food shop. As unfortunate as it became, major IT vendors destroyed any form of company and brand loyalty in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, as industry realignments brought with it thousands of lay-offs from even the best vendors. Should any vendor’s services deteriorate for any reason, I have come to observe, the standardization that has blossomed across IT allows other vendors to easily and quickly step in and fill the void.

Lower prices? Competition? Choice of service? Industry-standard hamburgers? All a byproduct of the standardization that has transformed the fast food and beverage industry! Participating in the IT vendor community for more than three decades has taught me that being able to reference a standard when selling an IT product certainly made for an easier first call to any prospect. Product positioning becomes a lot easier when the prospect is informed of how the product on offer conforms to the standards of that market segment. Now every coffee shop offers a sleeve rather than a second cup to protect us from a hot container! And every viable server alternative, including NonStop these days, supports a standard run-time environment for Unix and .Net!

Unfortunately, we are living in times where there seem to be too many standards, and where it’s proving difficult to sort through vendors’ collateral to determine exactly what standard is supported. Industry standards! Marketplace standards! De-facto standards! It’s evolving so quickly that I am sure if I look hard enough I will find “standards-de-jour”. (It so happened that I didn’t have to try all that hard; when I “googled” standards de jour, I was directed to a page on www.w3.org web site that described Web Services Standards de Jour!)

Years ago, different countries placed different emphasis on standards. Living in Australia in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I saw first-hand how IBM operating systems became de-facto industry standard just by the sheer market presence it enjoyed and, overnight, the Japanese IT industry began supplying Plug Compatible Mainframes (PCM) that could run IBM’s VM, MVS and even DOS operating systems. Fujitsu, Hitachi, even Mitsubishi all pursued this industry-standard only to implode rapidly when the global industry swung behind a new, reputedly marketplace standard, operating system - Unix.

While the Japanese IT industry suffered as a result, in Europe it was all about X.25 – a communications technology used by the phone companies that was defined by CCITT – the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee and “finalized” in 1976 with the publication of the “Orange Book!” X.25 arrived before the OSI reference model appeared, but for a while it caused consternation among users of the other, well known communications marketplace standard, SNA.

Across North America and countries like Japan, Britain, and Australia, IBM had developed a substantial body of work behind Systems Network Architecture, and for several years it was unclear whether a vendor standard or one from such an august body as CCITT would win! Eventually, it was a tie as SNA supported SNA services over X.25 but in the end, both standards are falling victims to a less complex architecture fueling the new industry standard – the Internet Protocol, IP!

It has been my experience living in the U.S. that many vendors in this region look suspiciously at the arrival of any standard – industry, government, or de jour. For the most part this suspicion is fueled from a sense of how, yet again, another barrier to selling products has arrived. The emergence of standards today, however, is less an issue of successful work by committees, industry bodies, or even government agencies meeting twice a year, and many times not even that frequently, as it is by market acceptance. Not a barrier any more, but a signpost to what’s going to stick around! Whether we like it or not, how often do we pick up a PC to see what the chip is – Intel? AMD? And just as frequently, does the PC have a Windows “capable” sticker as well?

Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, SAP, Cisco are all names we now associate with standards, with former industry and government backed standards providing not much more than policies. How often do we hear the expression “policy conformance” for material that in former years would have simply been acknowledged as a standard? There may be nothing wrong with these developments and they may be all headed in the right direction, but I am not so sure, and I am a little bothered by some of the actions I have seen of late from those who we see “owning” a standard.

The goal of standards had always included the prospect of more “plug-and-play” options, of being able to shop for services from a variety of vendors. Standards promoted the prospect of being able to walk down aisles full of vendor offerings and simply throw any mix into a cart with the assurance they would all interoperate. There can be a downside, of course. In 1999, IBM sold its then-SNA communications business to Cisco for $2 billion. IBM sold to Cisco all their patents, products, and customers. But today, try getting Token Ring products in Cisco’s router offerings, or call them for support for Token Ring! Just as the sign at the top of the post promotes: “Cisco? No services!”,
I guess SNA really is close to being “finished” as a standard, and I am sure there are many more standards that we will just have to figure out how to live without, eventually.

For the NonStop community, nothing is as important as the NonStop Enterprise Division’s (NED) pursuit of standards. Particularly as it applies to middleware and infrastructure – a topic I have addressed in previous posts. It is very important that NED continues to recognize the value that comes with casting the net a lot wider than they may have in the past. Without revisiting comments made in those previous posts, the Java and .Net run time environments available on NonStop definitely represent a net that have been cast very wide indeed. To have applications developed for Unix, and even Windows, that can be easily ported to NonStop, is a reflection of how good a job NED development is doing – NonStop has become an option for all solutions providers, no matter the heritage!

In the end, it really is up to all of us within the NonStop community to ensure the prioritization of projects within NED continues to provide the flexible infrastructure and middleware which is so crucial to running today’s modern applications. Whether it’s strictly the implementation of a simple standard, or stretching that extra inch to ensure a well-known suite of components needed by a popular product is built, it will all depend on the calls we make.

And if I were in competition with HP NonStop today, and really understood their resurgent commitment to ensuring that broad set of workable standards were supported, then I certainly would be very cautious about how many customers I inconvenienced. After all, we are all watching for the “no services” signs to appear at any time and in any place! For any vendor!