Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Starting with a blank …

This morning I went to the local shopping center to have a duplicate door key cut. The process was simple; the shop assistant took my key and selected a similar one from an array of blanks hanging from a pegboard and then inserted both my door key and the blank in a cutting machine. Within seconds my unique door key had been duplicated, the blank “shaped” to meet my access needs!

I can remember as a child paying visits to locksmiths and how it took a long time to get a duplicate key made, as locksmith searched for a similar blank – the variety of locks in the marketplace all those years ago made the process difficult. Today, there doesn’t seem to be any fewer lock manufacturers, but the standardization that has taken place has reduced the time to produce a copy and kept the prices competitive – for less than $2.00 today, I walked away with a working duplicate key. Looking this morning at the shop assistant scanning the pegboard for the appropriate blank I couldn’t help noticing that I was in the hardware section of the store.

I just attended this year’s HP Technical Forum (HPTF), a major showcase for the latest technology offerings from Hewlett Packard. While HP has grown into a diversified technology company, I still spend a lot of my time in their hardware section. Focused on the needs of enterprise business users, this years HPTF was held only a short time after HP had announced its mission critical “converged infrastructure” initiative and taken the wraps off its Superdome 2 servers. These new servers feature the first deployment of the Intel quad-core “Tukwila” chip, which gives HP a standard “blade” offering that meets user demands across a very broad spectrum of application scenarios, irrespective of the choice of operating systems.

It’s not surprising that the session that attracted me the most was one featuring this new hardware! Held late in the day, as a “Supersession,” it was called “New Integrity systems optimized for your mission critical converged infrastructure” and featured Martin Fink, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Critical Systems (BCS), as the speaker. It was a repeat of a demonstration that Martin had provided to key HP executives and managers only a few weeks earlier. The picture at the top of this page is of Martin standing alongside of a Superdome 2 with an agile photographer behind the system making sure everyone in the audience had the opportunity to keep up with Martin as he pulled at different elements from the back as well as the front of the cabinet.

LinkedIn users who are members of the Real Time View group may have already seen a discussion I started as HPTF came to a close that I labeled “HPTF wrap-up!” In that early post I described much of what Martin demonstrated during the session, including the observation of how “standing in front of a regular rack, he showed off the new Superdome 2!” I then described of how “running in the regular chassis were older form factor blades including Proliant, Linux, and NonStop … pulling out the new blades with the taller form factor from the new chassis didn’t prevent Martin from swapping in older Proliant and Linux blades” from the older chassis located at the top of the Superdome 2 cabinet. Are blades only taking on “shape” following the loading of an operating system? As with keys, are today’s blades nothing more the blanks which we then shape in order to provide business solutions? Have we really advanced this far towards commoditization?

It was easy to spot the presence of NonStop blades in the Superdome 2 cabinet. Martin even pointed directly to them during his presentation. Their presence from what I could tell, and as reflected in the many conversations that followed, clearly demonstrated a future for NonStop. In the presentation earlier that day by Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manager, NonStop Enterprise Division, “It's a Nonstop ... Not a Tandem,” he added the interesting tag line “The difference is real. The fundamentals remain.” The subtlety of this didn’t escape the audience – yes, the hardware that NonStop relies on today is almost identical to the hardware used by other packages, whether Linux, Uinx, or Windows. It’s different from what was used in the past most assuredly, but in NonStop servers utilizing blade package, “the fundamentals remain!”

With budgets for events extremely tight everywhere, I had initially thought of skipping HPTF and only going to the NonStop Symposium to be held in San Jose – two events in the one year just didn’t sound viable. However, following a couple of calls with Steve Saltwick of HP BCS marketing I thought I should attend HPTF, after all. As it turned out, the support by executives from the NonStop vendor community came as a reminder that whenever HP executives are showcased at an event en-masse, as was the case with this years HPTF, there will always be those in the NonStop community prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

"At first, I wasn't sure about the value the conference would provide for a solutions vendor like ECS. However, after discussing it further with HP, we decided to participate and to take a look for ourselves," explained Ramesh Mengawade CEO, Opus Software and Electracard Services. Present at HPTF were Chetan Naik, President, Sales & Marketing and COO as well as Paresh Banerjee, Senior Vice President, US Operations. Both executives took time to meet with HP one-on-one, and Paresh was given the opportunity to share the stage with Arun Gaur of HP BCS Marketing for the presentation “NonStop Solutions for the Financial Services Industry.” As best as I can tell, one of the better examples of HP NonStop demonstrating the degree of cooperation that has emerged of late between HP and key industry solutions providers.

In a later exchange with Ramesh, he best summed up the opportunities to meet with HP execs when he commented on how “perhaps the value for us came with the warm and open access we had to HP executives as well as to the CEO's of other NonStop partners. This certainly gave us the opportunity to promote the core message of ECS and to help develop broader support for our new offering on NonStop. While we will also be supporting the NonStop Symposium later this year, we think HPTF will continue to develop its own presence within the HP community and will be hard to ignore in the future.”

Chetan Naik had flown in from India but then again, he wasn’t the only long-distance attendee. The CEO of Integrated Research had been in Las Vegas only two weeks earlier for the ACE gathering of BASE24 users and, following a meeting with Steve Saltwick during the ACE event, had elected to turn right around and fly back for HPTF. Joining Mark was Andre Cuenin, President, Global Sales. I happened to run into them on several occasions and Mark was with me for Martin’s presentation. Seeing NonStop as part of the bigger HP and getting first-hand insight into the strategy of “Converge! Transform! Innovate!” proved to be well-worth the effort these executives made in order to participate.

I am often asked about which event a user or vendor should elect to attend just as I am often asked about my insight into the future of different HP platforms. And what I have found over the years is that listening to HP executives talk about the industry, the marketplace, customer deployments, and then having them walk through product roadmaps and directions often removes any uncertainty I may have entertained. There’s really no substitute for hearing specifics from those directly responsible.

“I did like the information about NonStop very much, especially being put into the overall HP strategy. I also do think that a focus on high-level presentations and where the story of openness and standards is laid out, and the good TCO that this then provides, can bring the business people from existing customers to the event. It should also attract the attention of other HP customers apart from NonStop users,” Dr Michael Rossbach, CEO of comForte, expressed to me as the event began to wind down.

In what can be clearly seen as a complement to those who worked hard to put on the event, Dr Rossbach then told me “I can easily see how this could become a good event again, even for NonStop - a more technical focused NonStop day would perfectly round up the conference for NED. The right focus has to be set, and the time has to be right so people will come to Las Vegas again. After all, three weeks earlier the BASE24 community came together for ACE, and there were some 50 banks present!” Perhaps aware of this sentiment, Winston Prather didn’t miss a beat as he wrapped up his presentation with the closing remark “the heart of Nonstop is, and will always be, ‘the Tandem fundamentals.’”

NonStop enjoys a long history of providing solutions to those users who really appreciate the “continuity critical” properties originating in Tandem some 35 years ago. But NonStop today is no longer flying solo – its part of a much bigger picture within HP’s converged infrastructure initiative. It leverages new technology at a pace that was unthinkable a decade ago, and it reaps the financial benefits that come with using the same industry-standard “blanks” as all other BCS platforms.

Considering the technology that goes into today’s blades as little more than provisioning a blank may not fully describe the real value that comes with commodity blades, and I have to believe there could be some resistance to this image, but no one can escape leaving HPTF aware that they now need to think about picking up on the blades story more aggressively. Having now attended HPTF, and seeing the value of participating in this event, I can easily see how those of us in the NonStop community will be giving serious consideration to going back to a “Symposium at HPTF” model, perhaps modified to include a dedicated day of in-depth technical sessions on NonStop, as Dr Rossbach suggested. After all blades, running NonStop, push the continuity critical message unlike anything else in HP’s hardware store!

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