Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feeling rejuvenated!

This past weekend I was thinking about Monte Carlo. It was during my first term as ITUG Chairman, in 2004, that I took a Mediterranean cruise, spent the weekend in Monte Carlo and watched the Formula One (F1) Grand Prix. My brother’s wife is related to the Australian F1 racer Mark Weber, and I was quick to tell anyone prepared to listen of my strong ties to the F1 community. The picture above is of me on the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend as I stand above the pit area, looking across the circuit towards the inner harbor.

Australians everywhere are immediately drawn to sporting events whenever there’s a fellow Australian competing. The first time I had even heard of Mark Weber was in 1999 during an evening news broadcast when film of him spectacularly taking his Mercedes-Benz CLR sports car prototype airborne in the lead-up to the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. Weber was later exonerated from all blame, fortunately, when the same fate befell German teammate Peter Dumbreck five hours into the race! Now settled in as an F1 racer, those days in sports cars were a distant memory for Weber and he was determined to show the value he was bringing to his team.

On the Monday morning, following the 2004 Monte Carlo F1 Grand Prix, I was checking into a nearby hotel and as I walked to reception, Sir Frank Williams and an associate were checking out. During the weekend the papers had been speculating about who would be driving for the Williams team in 2005 as Williams was pretty upset over the performance of both of his drivers, Montoya and Ralph Schumacher. Among the possible candidates for a ride with Williams had been Weber and I had to be restrained from rushing over to let Sir Frank know of my strong family connections!

Unfortunately, the day before, Weber’s Jaguar had suffered an electronics failure after only half a dozen laps! The picture to the left is from 2004 and is of the view I had from my grandstand seat opposite Monte Carlo’s famous casino and adjacent to the Hotel de Paris where Ferrari owners had filled the balconies to cheer on Michael Schumacher. What a difference a further six years can make, as Weber, driving for Red Bull won this weekend’s Monte Carlo F1 Grand Prix, following a win of the previous weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya, Spain, is now atop the driver standings.

Weber had been very fast the weekend before in Spain where, following the qualifying session, The Guardian newspaper had proclaimed “'Crazy quick' Mark Webber on pole at the Spanish Grand Prix” But it wasn’t the headlines about Weber’s changing fortunes that caught my attention as much as it was the following paragraph about the former F1 champion, Michael Schumacher, who had returned to F1. The paragraph recounted the fortunes of the other drivers that day and remarked of how “the rejuvenated Michael Schumacher, who qualified ahead of his Mercedes-Benz team-mate Nico Rosberg for the first time this season.”

Schumacher’s return to F1 racing followed a brief period of retirement. After winning the F1 championship seven times, Schumacher at first became a special adviser to Ferrari before trying his hand at motorcycle racing - campaigning a Ducati briefly in the German National Championship (IDM Superbike). However, his heart clearly remained attached to F1 racing and so watching a rejuvenated Schumacher out on the track surprised very few close to the sport! Walking around his new car for the first time, I have to wonder whether he took a special interest in how the Mercedes-Benz engineers had installed the wing!

For the past couple of months I have been writing about new solutions coming to the NonStop server platform. From new solutions in payments to new solutions in homeland security and healthcare, it’s been refreshing to see renewed enthusiasm for the NonStop platform. The NonStop community is aware of the many solutions and infrastructure vendors that have supported the NonStop platform for many years so it should come as no surprise that a long-standing partner is electing to rejuvenate its presence in the NonStop marketplace.

Integrated Research (IR), an Australian public corporation has been competing successfully in the NonStop server marketplace for many years and I have followed their growth with as keen an eye as I would have for Grand Prix, a Rugby match, or a game of Cricket! Several years ago, IR successfully ported their PROGNOSIS product to platforms other than NonStop and as a result became successful in the telco marketplace, having specialized in the performance monitoring of Voice over IP (VoIP) including support for large vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, and Nortel.

All the while, IR had been continuing to enhance PROGNOSIS for NonStop users where today, according to the IR Product Manager for NonStop, Shaun Clowes, from the time PROGNOSIS first came onto the NonStop marketplace in the early 1990’s, “there have been at least ten separate releases of the complete product, the product is now over 1 million lines of code and PROGNOSIS has developed from a basic green screen interface to where, today with the latest release, it supports over twenty six different functional modules accessible through both a graphical user interface or a functionally identical web interface.”

When it comes to monitoring the performance of a NonStop server so much has changed in what businesses expect today. In a white paper that I just completed for IR I noted how upset corporate executives can become when they “only find out about their banks’ branch office network being down after receiving a call from a family member who had tried, unsuccessfully, to withdraw money from the bank.” Likewise how “busy CEOs en route to an important business meeting have little patience with their IT department when an unexpected rise in transaction volumes locks them out of their own network at a time when access to their company’s financial statements is critical!” What they are demanding is better insight into the performance of the business services supported by IT.

In this white paper I explained that we have moved on and how “IT operations can inform management that a critical server controller has failed, or a phone line has degraded, but this type of response is of little value to most corporate executives,” as some explanations make little sense to them. In talking with NonStop users it’s pretty obvious that trying to discuss system errors and component failures with senior management often generates blank stares and an immediate eagerness on their part to be somewhere else, whereas having the ability to aggregate and present information about systems and components in business terms and in real time, quickly gets their attention.

After all, “we’re losing 2.5 million dollars right now” carries a lot more weight than the detailed explanation from the data center that it has two routers offline which are supporting an important north-east network corridor! Readers who would like to download the white paper “Discover the power of HP NonStop Business Service Insight” can do so from: http://www.prognosis.com/white_papers/it_infrastructure/resource_center/page__2750.aspx According to Shaun Clowes this transition by PROGNOSIS to better support the demands of business leaders has resulted in the support of real-time Business Services Insight (BSI) that “is central to our strategy as we continually improve and extend our products to provide real-time monitoring for high performance systems.”

This week I had the opportunity to talk about this with IR’s CEO, Mark Brayan, who reiterated that the ability of NonStop to scale-up was proving to be increasingly important and relevant for IR, adding how “one of the advantages of a NonStop system is its ability to scale linearly. Customers use this point of differentiation to reliably predict systems performance at peak times.” Brayan then suggested that “NonStop users should also consider the ecosystem around their NonStops, such as management tools, databases, reporting etc. For example, we have a customer, in payments, that is putting close to 1500 Transactions per Second through their NonStop.”

As IR CEO Brayan discussed the performance achieved with PROGNOSIS on the payments customer’s NonStop platform, he finished with a challenge “they are happy that they are using PROGNOSIS which can handle that scale easily. I am not sure if other management tools would be able to handle that scale without unnatural architectural gymnastics.” It is just so important to the health of the NonStop community that there’s always choices when it comes to product offerings on NonStop. It’s also just as important to know that not only are new solutions being ported to NonStop but that vendors with a long tradition supporting NonStop are taking a renewed interest in the NonStop server and are becoming rejuvenated by HP visible commitment to the NonStop server. I see the same rejuvenation I observed in Michael Schumacher, returning after a period away from the circuit.

Weber did get his ride with Williams in 2005, and among the major sponsors who invested in the Williams team was HP. As the 2005 ITUG Summit was being prepared I gave serious consideration to asking HP to check into getting Weber as a after-lunch speaker – perhaps I could even help, you know, with my family connections. Nobody took me up on my offer to help, and Mark wasn’t invited. That could have been for the better as I hear his own mother needs to make any appointments with Mark well in advance…

Investment dollars within any technology company are eagerly snapped up and among software vendors with products for different platforms it is extremely encouraging to see these dollars continuing to flow to NonStop programs. After all, crazy quick on NonStop is something every NonStop user can relate to and, with choices in products and vendors growing, it seems as though the competition is only just beginning!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Social media - part of everyday life?

Returning to my coffee shop this morning for one more latte before I start writing, I took a quick look around the tables and noticed that everyone was heads-down working on one PDA or another. There were several tables where Blackberries and iPhones were being put to good use, and there were even a couple of new iPads to be seen. Perhaps the most novel set-up was that of my friend Mark who has been bringing his iPad to the coffee shop for some time, but this morning, he proudly showed off his latest addition. Pictured above is his iPad with a regular Bluetooth keyboard, propped up with a very inexpensive yet innovative plastic “commemorative” plate stand, of the type I routinely see in gift shops around the world!

The iPad can be optioned with an iPad keyboard dock, but seeing Mark’s iPad resting on the plate stand, caused quite a stir and comments came thick and fast! Mark was even advised that he should post his latest creation on eBay as the iStand, promoting the inexpensive plate stand as a sophisticated “adjustable” iPad accessory! A few tweets and a couple of blog posts, and the world would hear about it by the end of the day! Surely he would make a financial killing from his innovative creation!

This morning I was also given a pointer to a story in The Guardian newspaper that came out late last year. It was about the social networking and how quickly ideas spread via online messages and “tweets”. Under the heading of “The trouble with Twitter” writer James Harkin wrote of how most “new ideas took their cue from the time we've been spending online. At a time of rapid change in the way we're communicating, that's hardly surprising.” What caught my eye was Harkin’s observation that “online is a fantastically efficient way of sending a message out, and taking a pop at established industry authorities.”

I have been active with social media and in social networking for several years, and in the short time I have been providing commentary and opinions across a range of topics, I have seen the number of sites explode. This is particularly the case among NonStop vendors where many of them have begun to get involved. Gabrielle Guerrera, Marketing Director of NuWave Technologies is among the early adopters and explained how “establishing a social media presence has proved to be more and more important to our business strategy. It is an almost free way to connect with potential customers and extend your brand. For example, our company Twitter page and our IT Project Blog have been extremely successful, together bringing multiple times our previous traffic to the NuWave website." NuWave Technologies wanted an inexpensive way to spread its name outside the NonStop world, and this has proved to be an ideal vehicle for that purpose.

In the article Harkin published in The Guardian, however, he also noted that there were the earliest rumblings of complaints about the benefits of social media participation. He observed how “there are now the first stirrings of a backlash against the cult of social media. In his forthcoming book, You Are Not a Gadget, the American computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality Jaron Lanier will defend authorship and individual creativity against the deafening banality of the online crowd.” Perhaps a little savage, and probably not directed at myself, of course, yet to many of my business colleagues here’s the rub – sorting out the sites worth visiting and finding the time to stay current with the posts, is consuming more of their daily routine. However, by the very nature of their immediacy, this pursuit plays an important role all the same, and the better sites are places that retain a substantial readership.

Twitter came under harsh criticism recently when popular recording artist John Mayer, perhaps “Hollywood’s most prolific Twitterer,” told an interviewer how he was giving up on this form of social networking. “Within the last couple weeks, every night I think about canceling my Twitter account because I think it’s pretty much done,” Mayer said. He then added “I just think Twitter as a form of communication, I think it’s over to be honest with you.” John Mayer has now turned to blogging, and has opened an account with Tumblr. “It’s the future of social networking if your image of the future features intelligent discourse,” Mayer writes in an early post to his blog. He than remarked of how “this post is an experiment in itself … I’ll follow you back. Agree or disagree, lionize or demonize, but for God’s sake, be original. You’ll have all the room in the world to do it now.”

Mark Whitfield of Insider Technology, who is a regular blogger and frequent commentator on sites I visit, emailed me recently about the value of social networking, suggesting “for the company, possible technical insights, possibly an access point to our website and business.” Mark then told me “it is another useful back-link to increase prominence,” before commenting of how “sometimes too much activity can be hard to read and so I ignore really large groups but smaller groups of say less than 3000 members make for less pollution ... of course comments on Tandem Groups don't happen too often and so are always interesting!”

On the home page of the Insider Technology web site, there’s a link that takes you to the LinkedIn group of Insider technology, and Mark is a strong advocate for having a network of connections that bring readers to their web site. Mark also explained how he participates as “the owner and joint moderator for the EPS and EBUG groups (on LinkedIn) so he can get access to an audience he wouldn't normally have. I run LinkedIn groups which enable me to seek advice, generate discussion and occasionally announce company or product news.”

I have been providing opinions and commentary through social media channels for nearly three years, and I was reminded of why this had worked its way into my business life when I read the column of automotive journalist Peter Egan. Some readers may recall that in one of my earliest blogs, back in late September 2007 in the posting “What did you have in mind, eh?” I suggested that when it comes to “the style of writing you will find in this blog – consider … Peter Egan’s columns in Road and Track (Side Glances) and Cycle World (Leanings) …” In his latest column, Egan explained how he was to be a judge at an auto show where he wasn’t familiar with the cars on display, and of how, when advised there would be others on hand to provide technical assistance, he was greatly relieved, adding “Perfect! Uninformed but passionate opinions are a big specialty of mine.”

Twitter may not disappear as quickly as John Mayer suggests, or for the reasons he expresses. Perhaps, as others have observed, we are beginning to cringe at the “deafening banality of the online crowd” and this is what John Mayer is experiencing. If we can develop a future around blogs that feature intelligent discourse, as John Mayer predicts, then I am all for it! Yet the transition to blogs may not be the panacea John Mayer expects. From the time of my earliest posts, some readers have been concerned by the proliferation of blogs and online forums, and have told me how much easier it would be if all discussions could take place on just one site. Wouldn’t that help ensure the NonStop community would know where to turn for well thought-out opinions and commentary?

As attractive as this may sound, in reality this flies in the face of everything that is happening with social media and in social networking – the very impromptu and topical nature of their content is what generates interest. In all the time I have worked with the media, the creation of a central body no matter how good the intentions, only slows down the process and brings with it regulations and eventually fosters the rise of censorship. Almost every question I raise with HP executives today is answered in a timely and open manner – yes, I’m still passionate but today, I’ve become a lot less uninformed than when I first started. I am not all that sure I would be able to say this if I had to work through more traditional channels and the size of the readership this blog now enjoys is a testament to just how open and frank the HP organization has become!

A few days ago I exchanged emails with HP’s Steve Saltwick, Director, Vertical Solutions, BCS, who observed how social media is now “becoming a tool of communication, person to person and organization to person, and good communications is always a high value activity.” Steve continued with “it is just amazing to see who reads, and who responds, to posts! I do not think the true value has been crystallized - kind of like the iPad. We will only know in the future, when it is just part of everyday life.”

For many, it may just be as simple as getting the chance to “taking a pop at established industry authorities” while for others, it may just be a case of demonstrating how for them “uninformed but passionate opinions are a big specialty!” It may even be “the future of social networking, if your image of the future features intelligent discourse,” or more simply “another useful back-link to increase prominence.” However you view it, you shouldn’t ignore it and even when time is at a premium, none of us can afford to miss the “pulse” of the NonStop community. After all, for most of us, social media and social networking already has become “a part of everyday life!”