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!

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