Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adding tow hooks?

Last week I returned to A&A Corvette Performance to have prerequisite hardware added to the car - not to improve the safety of the Corvette, but to enable it to be pulled out of the dirt should I drive off-track. While some tracks provide lots of run-off area, and returning to the track is not all that hard, drop a wheel off the pavement at other circuits and you can very easily get caught in a gravel pit that’s impossible to drive out of. The installation process took much longer that I thought, but I kept reminding myself of the important role the “tow hooks” would play! The picture above is of the car with the rear tow hook painted bright red, of course, already installed, and waiting for access to a lift in order for the front tow hook to be installed.

This year I have benefited from the support of Pyalla Technologies as the company has offset some of the costs associated with driving a street car on a circuit. Perishables, such as filters, brake pads, tires, as well as all the car’s fluids require changing on a regular basis and it is imperative that the car is well looked after. Incidents do happen, of course, and readers who follow my weekends at the track on the web site “Buckle-Up” will be familiar with the number of times I have failed to keep the big Corvette headed where it’s supposed to. While not a serious sponsorship, as other cars attract, it’s all part of the marketing budget of Pyalla Technologies. The support is valuable all the same, as being able to install the towhooks goes a long way to protect the Corvette’s body work from damage, should tow tracks arrive and begin throwing out lines.

The circuit that necessitates the installation of a tow hook, is the famous Laguna Seca circuit down by Monterey, and perhaps the track I have most wanted to drive since taking up the sport. I not only follow motor car races but motorcycle races as well, and Laguna Seca hosts a round of the MotoGP championship – the Formula One of Motor Cycles. The gravel trips that surround the circuit and that mandate the installation of tow hooks, have been created to lessen serious injuries to the motorcycle racers as they have found barrels and guardrails a lot less forgiving.

Just thinking about Laguna Seca takes me back to my days at Tandem Computers, Cupertino. While working in the NonStop Software group, Margo Holen was given tickets for a one day outing on the Laguna Seca circuit and she gave them to a manager who worked for her at the time, Jim Nolan, a fellow Australian; I was so jealous of Jim! In the late 1980s, a number of Tandem employees from the Australian offices made the move to Cupertino – Ray Whiteside, Steve Bailey, Jim Nolan, Aldo Adriaan, John Donelan and myself all worked out of Tandem offices along the Australian East Coast. Over the years we have traded emails fairly regularly. I never did hear back from Jim about the day’s outing, but I have to believe it was a blast! I don’t even know what car he drove!

Jim and I worked for a while in the Comms building, Building 200 as I recall. While I was toiling away on DSM, Jim had become an advocate for standards, and was one of the first to work on implementing the OSI stack on Tandem. I am not entirely sure but I think Jim was also involved in some of the work associated with the implementation of CORBA. Jim has since moved on to other endeavors and checking LinkedIn recently, find he is now at Cisco and that comes as no surprise. Getting the opportunity to drive at Laguna Seca however will be how I best remember Jim.

It’s been hard to miss the press releases and news headlines about HP – it’s been one of the busiest periods that I can recall. With the purchase of 3Com completed, HP executives have wasted little time moving to the next big thing, and for many HP watchers, the proposed purchase of Palm was the highlight of the week. Earlier this week, however, HP unveiled upgrades to its high-end servers and talked of delivering “the industry’s first mission-critical converged infrastructure in one platform,” as BusinessWire reported the occasion. The electronic publication then went on to add of how this was a significant announcement “representing the first major architectural upgrade for Integrity Superdome in a decade.”

From my perspective, this announcement had been in the works for some time, as it was the first HP servers to utilize the Intel “Tukwila” 4-core chips. For some time, Intel has been telling us that Tukwila will be “the world's first 2-billion transistor microprocessor!” with Intel pointing out how Tukwila has been “designed to provide highly scalable and reliable performance for mission-critical enterprise server solutions.”

These Intel messages haven’t been lost on HP as, positioning this next generation of servers, HP has elected to trumpet loudly the value proposition of HP Integrity servers to enterprises running mission critical applications. As Reuters reported late on Monday, April 26th, 201 0, “HP’s new Integrity servers are targeted at industries such as financial services, manufacturing, telecommunications, and healthcare for so-called ‘mission critical’ functions where system failure can cost millions of dollars”. The more I poured over the material the more I had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading about NonStop as the language HP used to describe the new HP Integrity server offerings looked very similar.

There’s much that’s admirable about the new Superdome 2 – and in demonstrating the converged infrastructure, HP again points to another first when it says “businesses will be able to support a shared-service model with a common pool of adaptive, virtualized resources based on standards that can be can be optimized for all types of enterprise, cloud, and (high-performance computing) HPC applications.” Digging deeper, HP suggests that a common pool of adaptive … resources means businesses can “plug and play” and mix any combination of Linux, Unix, and Windows in the same bladed infrastructure. The “cloud in a box”, or “Megaplex”, as The Standish Group described earlier this year, is rapidly becoming a reality.

Perhaps the language most familiar to the NonStop community that I came across was in reference to the crossbar fabric that’s now part of the Superdome 2. Implemented, so that the Superdome 2 could scale-up and do so such that I/O, memory and processors could scale independently, HP made the decision to beef-up the redundancy and resiliency of the cross-bar fabric. NonStop users will recognize that this is exactly what ServerNet provides today. However, improving redundancy and reliability doesn’t create a fault tolerant system! (If you aren’t sure what constitutes a fault tolerant system then check out the discussion “What does fault tolerant mean to you?” underway in the LinkedIn group, Continuous Availability Forum.)

While the redundancy and resilience of the cross-bar fabric will play a role in getting you healthy again should something happen, for the NonStop community it looks a lot like a brightly painted tow hook; something you never really want to have to use, but which presence is welcomed when the time of need arises. The difference between redundancy and resilience, to the fault tolerance NonStop provides, is similar to comparing a tow hook to the electronic aids of a modern car. Stability control! Traction Control! Anti-Lock Braking Systems! All designed to intervene on your behalf and to keep you from ever leaving the track!

So, where was NonStop in this week’s announcement and why weren’t there any references made to NonStop in the press release? The announcement was barely hours old before I began getting emails, many that suggested that, with the absence of NonStop from the press release, it may further weaken the message of NonStop within HP. But in talking with those within HP familiar with the project and familiar with NonStop, the message I received was clear. NonStop will be supporting the new blades – the two sockets package housing two 4-core Intel Itanium 9300 series processors, still requires considerable testing.

When it comes to converged infrastructure and to a shared infrastructure blade chassis, I was reminded by Martin Fink, HP’s Sr. Vice-President and General Manager, Business Critical Systems, of how “the latest Nonstop blades are part of the same overall BladeSystem infrastructure that we use for the entire HP server line, including the Integrity line. That was the point all along. The entire BCS portfolio is now bladed from the entry 2-socket Integrity blades to Superdome and all the way up to Nonstop.” Martin then addressed the subject of NonStop more directly, adding “the innovation focus, for NSK, has been bolting our SMP environment underneath the MPP NSK kernel so that we can better take advantage of multi-core performance.”

It’s probably extremely unfair to compare all the work that went into the new HP Integrity solutions as nothing more than adding a tow hook, just as it’s probably a little too complementary to the HP Integrity NonStop in suggesting that the NonStop servers come equipped with something akin to a modern car’s electronic control systems. It’s also unwise to decline hardware advances that add redundancy and improve resilience, as the new blades packages provide, so NonStop will be sporting tow hooks as well in the near future.

However, the images do hold true in one respect; while there are times at different tracks where I elect to cancel out the electronic intervention and “manage the car” myself, the Corvette will not let me switch off everything and the car will continue to work at keeping me on the road, despite my best efforts. And for that, I am thankful I have a lot more than just the new, bright red, tow hooks!

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's in your container?

I had the good fortune of spending the weekend at Long Beach. I have only been there a couple of times; the first time I walked the streets of Long Beach was in March, 1977. I was midway through a three-week drive that took me from Edmonton, Alberta where I was living at the time, to Dallas, Texas, across to San Diego, and then all the way up the West Coast to Seattle before turning inland and heading back to Edmonton via Hope, British Columbia. The picture above is from an inside passageway on the Queen Mary, anchored just across from the foreshore streets of Long Beach.

It was by accident that I had found my way to Long Beach for the weekend of the 1977 Formula One (F1) Grand Prix that was being held on the streets of Long Beach. Last weekend, the outing was pre-planned, and I had tickets to see the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach which featured Indy, and Indy Lights, races as well as a round in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

As a passionate Corvette owner who routinely takes the car onto the track, this year’s ALMS event was going to be exciting as Corvettes would be battling fiercely with Ferraris, BMWs, and Porsches. I was joining other Corvette owners in the Corvette Corral that’s a combination hospitality suite, car show, and a place to hang out with ALMS execs and former Corvette racers. This allowed us to drive right to the track and to park alongside grandstands flanking the main straight.

So much has changed since 1977, and today it’s a less safe world we live in and of course, any popular attraction that draws large crowds always comes under scrutiny. Before I left the hotel I had to hang a blue card from my rear vision mirror that would allow me to pass through the many security checkpoints and make it through to the Corvette Corral. After parking next to the track, and looking up at the grandstands, the first thing that caught my eye were the cameras atop police vehicles transmitting live feeds of everyone who entered the footbridges which gave access to the grandstands and infield attractions. Long Beach’s true nature cannot be hidden for long and from my seat I had a good view of the massive cranes arrayed alongside the many terminals, standing as patient as herons as though looking to spear errant containers.

The size of the facility is impressive and as the deepest port on the US Pacific Coast it handles the largest container vessels in operation today. It is a less safe world today, and this is especially the case when it comes to protecting any country’s borders. This is particularly apparent when it comes to coastlines such as those that line each side of the continental United States. While the spectator facilities at Long Beach were surrounded by fences and cameras, looking across at the container port facilities, there were miles of high chain-link fences and manned barriers visible everywhere! None of us would welcome an empty container, for instance, that wasn’t really empty!

While port authorities often are the owners of the facilities, they service many tenants who each have fleets of ships and supporting ground transportation infrastructure. Ships manifests have to be checked, cargo screened for unwanted or hazardous materials, the crew screened for possible unwanted visitors, and all the personnel working on the docks need to be checked to make sure they are who they are supposed to be and are present on the docks when they are required. Securing ports today involves many local and national agencies and the interactions between them can ill afford to be delayed, or the information communicated end up in the wrong hands.

This requires enormous cooperation between local, regional, and national authorities including police forces, the coast guard, and even the navy. Multi-national information sharing is also a necessity as the majority of ships sailing along the coastline are flying the flags of foreign countries. It is against this background that EDS, before it was acquired by HP, had been developing considerable expertise in freight logistics and cargo security. It was during a brainstorming session around a white board in Plano, Texas in the months following 2001, where EDS consultants looked to revitalize the company’s freight logistics market strategy that the idea of transitioning to securing cargos and critical global infrastructures first emerged. Leveraging the knowledge of others within EDS and the work underway addressing the security concerns of other clients, what was to become the Virtual Operation Center (VOC) first appeared.

VOC, a .Net based solution, provides an integrated, single view of Maritime terminal and infrastructure operations. As the discussions in Plano progressed, it became clear that with VOC, EDS had a comprehensive framework as well as a highly flexible and powerful client “front-end” and that adding even more “situational awareness” data, in real time, would involve adding an operational data store. EDS was subsequently acquired by HP and, in the months that followed, was merged with the former HP consulting services to become the HP Enterprise Services (HPES).

In the information exchanges that followed, the newly formed HPES team became aware of the Zero Latency Enterprise initiative and of the capabilities of the HP NonStop Server and of the NonStop SQL data base. Mary Kwan of HP Business Critical Server (BCS) marketing, responsible for worldwide Public Sector business, began to provide HPES with the information, and indeed, the “enthusiastic support” that they were looking for. Today, the Maritime Domain Awareness initiative that has taken shape out of the first whiteboard sessions in Plano offers tremendous value to port authorities worldwide.

“Our initial focus was on the critical business issues in Freight Logistics and the Government Supply Chain,” Barry Ptashkin, of HPES Global Government Industry told me. Barry then added, “Zero Latency was not our focus in 2005 but has become another important value added component in resolving the needs for decision support in critical operations and we are working to formalize our integrated and converged platform point-of-view.” The roll-out of this new solution involving the HP NonStop Servers is just getting under way and it’s still very early days for the project, but already I can see it proving to be valuable.

"We are very excited to work in the Maritime Domain Awareness initiative with HPES. This is exactly the type of synergies that the HP/EDS merger was seeking, and it is excellent to see it happen within NonStop, Winston Prather, Vice President & General Manager emailed me. He then added, “HPES readily recognized the value that NonStop's database could bring to this initiative and we of course are very positive about the joint opportunities brought by this new solution area."

Earlier in my career I had worked for a container shipping company and readers may recall the post of March 2008, “The need for standardization!” However, working with HPES this past week reminded me of how, in the mid 1970s, I just walked onto the docks of the container terminal in Sydney Harbor as a giant floating crane lifted three yachts onto the deck of an Overseas Container Line (OCL) ship bound for the U.K. No Ids were checked, no challenges issued, and the only longshoreman who glanced my way seemed satisfied when I told him I worked for OCL!

The amount of information being shared between ports nationally, as well as internationally, requires exceptional cooperation in order to be effective. Ports can no longer operate independently as “silos”, isolated from the activities of other ports. The Maritime Domain Awareness initiative continues to evolve and there’s now an additional layer present in the solution. Patriot Data Solutions Group (PDSG) has integrated its highly successful Crossflo DataExchange® (CDX) product with the solution from HP, enabling the direct interface into numerous government agencies with interests in ensuring the countries coastlines are secure.

I had first heard of PDSG when at the last HPTF & Expo event in Las Vegas, where PDSG talked of their participation in an information sharing project in Montana in the healthcare marketplace. Today, CDX is turning out to be an invaluable “layer” integrated with the rest of the Maritime Domain Awareness solution that hooks it into the many government agencies required. Networking with these agencies requires understanding of the many new government protocols and standards as much of the information is sensitive and subject to government legislation when it comes to revealing the data on file. However, PDSG has become one of the few companies to have successfully navigated this potential landmine, and the runtime environment in support of CDX today runs on NonStop!

“PDSG's CDX product on HP NonStop is a key component of the Maritime Domain Awareness solution to enable information sharing across departments or law enforcement agencies in real-time because national or local security requires 24 X 7,” explained Mary Kwan of HP worldwide BCS marketing who is responsible for Public Sector business. Mary went on to explain that it is not a toolkit or a loose collection of products and components, adding “HP is bringing all these components together for the customers as an end-to-end integrated Maritime Domain Awareness /Port Security solution ‘from HP’”.

In previous posts to this blog I have looked at a number of new applications in the Financial Services marketplace but I am often asked about the applications in other markets and this one has the potential to develop a significant market presence, as no country can operate in isolation. The Maritime Awareness initiative’s engagement with the NonStop division is a very positive development for all who belong to the NonStop community.

I couldn’t imagine the safety of the nation’s coastlines entrusted to anything other than a solution with 24 X 7, reliable availability! True, I will always want my ATM’s to be available and full of cash, of course, but somehow, making sure empty containers are really empty containers with no chance of dispensing anything else, warrants all that NonStop can deliver!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Differences? Not so big, anymore!

While I am sitting at my desk putting this post together, my thoughts are many miles away. This morning I received a reminder that EBUG is starting in just 2 weeks – by the time you read this, it may be as soon as next week – and it will only be the second time in more than a decade that I have missed this annual event. The picture at the top of this page is from last year’s event, the closing evening’s fun-filled outing in Prague – what a different atmosphere from that of the conference and exhibition! And good to see Keith enjoying himself!

For more years than I care to recount I have participated in user events. My first memories of any user event go back to March 1976, when I drove from Edmonton, Alberta, all the way down to Dallas, Texas, to participate in one of the earliest gatherings of the user event sponsored by Insyte Datacom Corporation (IDC), the company behind the Datacom/DB product. In 1979 I made the even longer trip from Sydney to Richmond, Virginia to attend the user event sponsored by The Computer Software Company (TCSC), the company behind the third-party IBM operating system, EDOS.

The user conferences in support of BASE24, especially those held in Europe, were always times when you had the chance to connect with “real” users; more so than at other platform events, with their focus on systems managers and developers, participants at the BASE24 conferences were usually drawn from the business units directly responsible for supporting revenue-generating operations. While I was working for Insession EBUG gave me great insight into the needs of these business users, and I certainly came to appreciate their needs and concerns.

In many respects, the same appreciation of the needs of the business user that we had at Insession lives on today, within Infrasoft. A start-up focused on infrastructure for the NonStop platform it seems appropriate to acknowledge the arrival of Infrasoft’s first product, uLinga as we talk of EBUG. uLinga provides the services and protocols needed to unplug from the need for SNA, and allows for a pretty easy switch to TCP/IP. Requiring only configuration changes on either platforms, it will give users a less expensive solution for connecting applications on NonStop with those on the IBM mainframe.

Although this post isn’t just about EBUG or Infrasoft, they do provide a good way to return to the topic of new development on NonStop. Recent exchanges posted to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, on the discussion “NonStop; HP's ‘halo product’ ...” continues to highlight how much emotion persists across the community over how much better NonStop could be doing in the marketplace. Visit this discussion on LinkedIn, referenced above, and you will read where one commentator suggested that “it might be possible to get HPers to consider NonStop as a 'halo' product, but IMO it would require a smoother migration strategy.”

Smoother migration strategy? Now there’s a thought, and I’m sure it’s going to be the center of a lot of different points of view in the coming week. If EBUG events in Vienna and Prague are any guide to what may eventuate in Madrid, migration strategies will be a very popular topic, smooth or otherwise. There will also be many different opinions about the merits or otherwise, of leaving NonStop for something that is today probably one of best known symbols of all that’s considered legacy, the IBM mainframe. Just as there have been many different opinions over the years about leaving IBM’s mainframe in favor of NonStop.

NonStop provides a different architecture from anything else in the marketplace. This has helped NonStop systems to provide far better availability and (linear) scalability than anything else on offer. Much of this architecture, however, is being pushed into the background today and hidden behind middleware designed to better bring NonStop into the “modern world”, usually equated to the Unix-like or even Windows-like environments. Indeed, a later comment posted to the same LinkedIn group’s discussion noted how today, when it comes to open systems and NonStop, “I don't think the difference is as big as it used to be.”

To be more precise, the comment then went on to add “there is the target database, SQL/MX that is much closer to what is used elsewhere than SQL/MP used to be …
people nowadays know what a cluster is: it is very common in the industry. What (HP) NED does not stress enough, IMHO, is that the NonStop server is a cluster, but does not have the complexity of managing one.”

Clusters, without the complexity? How did I miss that! With this simple observation, I realized that, given my own background and all the time I have spent working with mainframes, perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree! Perhaps the success of NonStop has no connection whatsoever to mainframes. Perhaps I needed to move on and look at NonStop differently!

New solutions are coming to NonStop, and they are coming from the Unix and Windows marketplace. Historically, NonStop has proven to be an excellent choice for offloading some mainframe functions and it never seriously challenged the mainframe outright, although today there’s nothing really prohibiting consideration of that possibility. However, a modern NonStop Blades System can certainly displace the need for a Unix or Windows server – particularly when applications reach a size (and visibility) where clusters become a consideration.

When I wrote the post “Game changers!” in February 2009, I reviewed the work Modius was doing in porting a data center environment monitoring application to NonStop. The team at Modius had been deploying their product on low cost commodity servers, but over time they had found it necessary to utilize clusters. The complexity this added to the application was considerable, so much so that I was told that a NonStop’s architecture became beneficial to Modius. “No more issues with configuring a network of servers to ensure high availability – the inherent N+1 redundant architecture at the core of NonStop makes a very persuasive argument – an absolutely mandatory requirement where the ‘availability’ of the whole data center is at stake.”

In the past couple of weeks I have written about AJB Canada, Opus, and Lusis who have all successfully migrated their product offerings to NonStop, and even though it is still early days for each of them, Opus already has successfully deployed its electraSWITCH product on NonStop servers for the State Bank of India! Looking further ahead, I can only see more successful deployments ahead for all three. and each has committed sizeable resources behind these projects. It is not just the migration of applications that we see of late and referenced above, as Infrasoft has built its offering from scratch on the NonStop platform, but these latest application migrations from “open systems” is beginning to put the NonStop server in a different light!

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with NonStop and with Unix, and indeed with what has been happening all over the Internet, to read the latest comments posted to the LinkedIn group on Real Time View. “NonStop is a self-managing cluster (albeit with a few unusual interfaces), and should be positioned as such. As I recollect, most of the positioning that was done with NonStop was in terms of comparisons with IBM mainframes, which I think just aren't really that likely to be sources of new customers.”

To be fair, some 35 years ago, when NonStop was born, nobody viewed Unix as a candidate for the deployment of a business application: these were servers mostly used within the academic world - inexpensive, not secure, and not stable enough to use for the serious stuff! Fair enough, but probably of more interest are the comments that immediately followed. “NonStop can compete favorably with UNIX clusters (the Google, Facebook and Yahoo models; loosely-coupled, cheapo, Linux servers are tougher to compete with price-wise, but it takes a lot of interns, late nights and non-standard programming (i.e. no sql) to make those things work at scale) … It's certainly possible to go from a cluster like this to a NonStop cluster …”

EBUG Madrid will generate a lot of discussions. Migrations will be among the most animated, I suspect – the clock continues to wind down to November 2011. From the time that I first heard of this date, during EBUG in Vienna, there are so many differences in opinion as to what should be done and yet, through it all, the choice for NonStop continues to prevail. A future life on the IBM mainframe? I don’t think so! Perhaps a potential move to a Unix cluster? Then think again!

Many within HP may remain perplexed about the future of NonStop (and perhaps they should spend more time at user gatherings), while others may be dismayed about focusing too much attention to how much better than traditional, packaged open systems, NonStop - the “cluster within the box” - has become. True, for many NonStop is still different, but the gap has narrowed appreciatively!

In a parting shot at Oracle and Sun, the exchange on LinkedIn closed with “the opportunity is not significantly different from when Bill Heil (a former head of NonStop under Compaq) said NonStop was a get-well hospital for successful Sun customers.” When balanced with the commentary from partners porting products to NonStop this is a vastly different perspective than had been developed early on, when NonStop was compared to the IBM mainframe. Indeed, when compared to platforms like Unix and Windows, and to paraphrase the earlier comment “the difference (isn’t) as big as it used to be!”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

HP's halo product?

The past six months have flown by in a blur. There was Christmas and the New Year. There were trips to user events in Canada and Germany. All the while I was attending to the development of my own company, Pyalla Technologies, and on the lookout for opportunities to write articles and to provide consultations and commentary on marketing and business development needs. Yes, I made time to continue posting to the Real Time View blog and to the various groups on LinkedIn. For the past two weeks I have been in Boulder and the picture above is of me at the local Boulder Chop House enjoying an Apple-tini, celebrating 6 months in business on my own!

Arriving back in Simi Valley I have been able to catch up on a lot of reading; technology and financial newsletters, as well as car and motorcycle magazines that seem to accumulate in the mail box while I am away. Somehow I have managed to organize my travels so that these publications only ever arrive when I am absent. Flipping through the pages I lost count of the number of times I saw references to “halo products”, as writers talked of one product or another as being a manufacturers’ halo product. It was only recently that I first heard this term, but today it seems difficult to read any article without a reference to it, or to the equally flamboyant expression “the halo effect.”

There has been a lot of attention focused on Apple these days as it launches the iPad. Sure enough, tucked away in one of the early reports was a reference to the iPod and to how the iPod has been Apple’s halo product having had a remarkably positive effect on the perceptions about Apple’s other products. “In brand marketing,” according to one description I ran across on the web, “a halo effect is one where the perceived positive feature of a particular item extend to a broader brand.”

In the automotive industry, where the term is widely used and “where a manufacturer may produce an exceptional ‘halo vehicle’ in order to promote sales of an entire marque,” there are several readily-recognized halo products. For many years now Ford has exploited the “technology showcase” provided by the short production run of the updated and thoroughly modern Ford GT. The halo effect it generated across the complete Ford product line couldn’t be missed – the general assumption of all who stepped into a Ford dealership was that, whatever the car on display, it too would embody the spirit of the famous Le Mans car of the late 1960s. When FIAT completed its purchase of Chrysler, the first vehicle assembly line to restart following months of lying idle was the Dodge Viper, Chrysler’s halo product.

Returning to the Web, and to the Wikipedia, I read of how “the halo effect refers to a cognitive bias,” and this didn’t come as a surprise, nor did the rest of the reference contain anything I hadn’t already begun to recognize when it added “whereby the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations.” Anyone watching television in America will recognize the new commercials for Nissan, famous for producing affordable, sporting cars where silhouetted behind the familiar econo-boxes is the legendary Nissan GT-R, one of the few recent Japanese vehicles to have achieved “supercar” status and indeed, perhaps the best example of a halo product of any car manufacturer!

Halo products are present across IT and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with any history in IT. For as long as I can recall, for instance, the IBM mainframe symbolized all that was IBM. Who will argue that Oracle’s fortune today rests on anything other than on its Oracle data base! Likewise, few people would know where to find Carey, North Carolina, if it wasn’t for the success of the SAS analytic products.

Earlier this week, I started a discussion on the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, under the title of “NonStop; HP's ‘halo product’ ...” and the comments posted have been rather enlightening. Apart from the quick recognition that HP has a product branded as Halo, a reference to the tele-presence and video conferencing solutions HP launched in early March, 2008, the first comment posted made the observation of how “it would be good for HP (and all supporters of HP) to sing loud and long the successes of the NonStop architecture.” I liked this response as it made the connection between halo products and success. As I looked back at the list of products recognized as being a company’s, or marque’s, halo products it is clear that the recognition owes a lot to these products being successful.

Success, however, comes in many flavors – success can be achieved on the playing field or race track but it can also be a measure of the sales a product achieves in its marketplace. Even when it may be a niche, a successful product simply outperforms the competition! The writer of the above comment went on to add “NonStop has been at the top of the availability index for a long time now, and the IBM mainframe is only just catching up. The longevity of the NonStop's expertise in this area must also carry some weight.” HP’s product lines embrace many different architectures, and support numerous technologies, but when it comes to providing the most available offering, right out of the box, NonStop remains unmatched. Certainly, in the context of unrivaled levels of availability, the success NonStop has enjoyed through the decades, and the challenges it has seen off the playing field, elevates it to the position of being a halo product.

On another LinkedIn group, Pyalla Technologies, I have maintained a running commentary of my times spent driving cars on race tracks. I have titled the discussion “Time in the Pitts!” and have drawn comparisons between my observations on track days with what I see taking place in business. Recently I wrote that “I am in discussion with several solutions vendors who are quite excited to be porting their product to NonStop and I have to look back at those vendors who just stopped supporting the platform.” I then go on to add “but now, there's not a more modern platform than NonStop and, as the premier, halo product when it comes to availability, I am expecting to see even more choice in solutions offerings for ‘the box we have’!"

However, some of the comments posted have expressed caution over positioning NonStop as a halo product. “Yes, NonStop has an impressive list of Global Fortune 100+ customers, but it represents only a fraction of one percent of HP gross revenue; that forces it to be very careful when it comes to making waves (like wanting more recognition and support),” was the message of a comment added shortly after I made the posting. However the same author then went on to add “I cannot think of any other reason why the advantages and characteristics of NonStop don’t get ‘shouted from the roof tops’.”

In parts of the former British Empire including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, as well as the UK and Ireland, there is a well-known term – the “tall poppy syndrome.” It describes a social phenomenon, as one web site explained, “in which people of genuine merit are … cut down, or criticized because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.” On reflection, almost the complete opposite to the halo effect where the merits of a product reflect well on the entire product family. Yet, in the years that have followed HP’s acquisition of Compaq and with that, the acquisition of Tandem, along with being perceived as a halo product, could NonStop have become a tall poppy?

Reviewing many of the comments made by HP leaders, like Martin Fink and Winston Prather, I find little evidence that tall poppy syndrome exists within HP. Martin’s observations about the future potential from polymorphic computing speaks volumes about a successful future for NonStop and in his messages of a converged infrastructure Winston is a strong proponent of NonStop. Readers who have seen the latest White Paper from The Standish Group, Megaplex, are left in no doubt of the central role NonStop will play in any future shared infrastructure product lines.

Arguments will continue about the importance of NonStop to the rest of HP’s brands. With all the product rationalization that has occurred since the acquisition, I for one am very pleased to see the sizable investments that continues to be made in the NonStop platform. But perhaps the biggest attribute of halo products is their exclusivity – halo products usually aren’t high-volume items. They are the models that are highly specialized and have been developed to dominate a niche.

Against this background, I have no reservations – NonStop continues to be an HP halo product, and of that I am more than proud to be associated with the NonStop community. The last author referenced above went on to add something I particular relate to when he said “to me it still makes sense to position a NonStop system in the center and surround it with all the other HP hardware to get the best leverage across the entire datacenter.” With a sentiment as strong as that, I think I will pour myself another Apple-tini and toast again, the success of NonStop! After all, on the playing field that is IT, after a hard fought 35 years, it continues to have no peers!