Friday, July 16, 2010

It's on! Let's network!

I love the California Coastline, particularly the shoreline and nearby hills of Monterey, down by Cannery Row and the Aquarium. I come back to the area time and time again. I can sit along the old piers for hours and watch the Otters feasting on crustaceans pulled from beneath the enormous kelp beds. The weather is always cool, no matter the time of year and more often than not, there’s a marine fog layer masking the surroundings. From out of the mists, yachts and sightseeing vessels make an appearance as they too are drawn to the many tourist attractions lining the blackened piers.

It is not just the natural beauty that attracts me to the area, to be honest. Only a few miles away, twisting through the hills, lies the world famous Laguna Seca racetrack that every year hosts a round of the MotoGP motorcycle world championship. With Formula One no longer run in the United States, MotoGP is all that’s left to attract a global television audience, but I can’t think of a better venue anywhere to showcase the American coastline. As prestigious as the track has become, it’s still open to club events where locals can take their cars onto the track and this past weekend I was one of the lucky drivers to spend time circling the track.

Small car clubs develop their own sense of community. As you show up for events, you begin to recognize more faces and in time your fellow car enthusiasts begin to greet you by name. The car you take to the track becomes recognizable and your own capabilities behind the wheel are soon well understood. Just as in other sporting activities however, there seems to be far more time spent talking with your fellow drivers than is actually spent on the track and, during these down times, there’s always lively discussions about the pros and cons of suspension set-ups, brakes and tires preferences, and how much impact a good “aero” package will have. Whatever you may be thinking of doing to your car – there’s always someone at the event that has already done something similar and is eager to share their experiences.

Friendships develop pretty quickly and often under the most trying of situations. Readers of my social blog, buckle-up can remember of how, only a month ago I had to call upon help from different groups to jump-start the car and get it onto a trailer. I didn’t have to wait long either before someone else came to my rescue and lent me a low-profile car jack so I could change out the tires. It’s been like this from the very first time I participated in a club event – coming off the track tired and worn out from the physical and mental work involved, a good friend of mine simply stepped out of his race car and invited me to drive it back through the paddock to his work area while he cooled down. Only hours at the track and I had been given a real race car to shepherd carefully through the crowd and get it safely back to its garage. Cool!

This past weekend, the community quickly rallied around a good friend. Joe started taking his car to events at the same time we did and has joined the same associations as we have, participating in many of the same events. Unfortunately for Joe, who drives a near-new black Corvette Z06, the rear end pulled off line coming out of the last turn before entering the main straight, and the slight miscue pushed his Z06 into a concrete barrier that pretty much destroyed the car. The photo at the top of the page is of many of the participants all lending a hand to push the once pristine 3,000lb+ car onto Joe’s trailer. Driving a car on a race track remains a high-risk activity.

The advice and camaraderie that forms at track events are well worth the time spent in the sport, and much the same can be said about why so many of us within IT will take time off to participate in user events! I have been going to user events since 1977 when I drove from Edmonton, Alberta all the way down to Dallas, Texas for a three day event that attracted users of the database management system, Datacom/DB! Not knowing how long I would be living in North America, I thought it would be a good way to see the country and over a three week period, I racked up 8,000+ miles. However, the trip was well worth the effort as I heard first-hand from a number of major corporations who were further along the path to deployment than I was. I saw the benefits from tuning indexes and learnt a couple of tricks that greatly reduced recovery times. Swapping stories about the tools and utilities that were being used was undertaken with no less enthusiasm than can be seen at any car club event held today!

For the NonStop community there’s a long tradition of participating in user events. At the time when I first became associated with Tandem, as it was then known, I was working for a start-up networking company and we were told by Tandem management that, as part of building the relationship, we needed to participate in ITUG user event – in New Orleans (yes, it was 1987 as I recall)! Executives from our company elected to participate and upon returning, it was days before we could get them to stop talking about the amazing time they had and of how open and accessible Tandem executives had proved to be – a long-standing tradition well-known to all who have been to user-run events in the past.

For three years I volunteered to take on the responsibility of being the ITUG Summit Chair. It was the start of the new millennium and changes were taking place at a pretty rapid pace – Tandem had been bought by Compaq only a few years earlier and then, with little time to come to terms with the style of the new owner, was acquired by HP. ITUG stopped being an acronym and became a brand and globally, the NonStop community looked forward to the gatherings each year with a major event in Europe in the Spring and the Summit in San Jose in the Fall. For me the value that came from participating was not so much about the presentations and testimonials as it was the networking!

In this case, by networking I don’t as much mean the opportunity to establish new contacts or catching up on old ones. There was always plenty of opportunity for coffee just as evenings always somehow managed to cultivate opportunities to share adult beverages into the wee hours of the morning. For me, networking had more to do with the “applied side” of NonStop – what were my fellow users really doing with the platform and what products, tools, utilities, etc they relied on. What worked for them and what had not! Coming as I do from the vendor side, user events presented a tremendous opportunity to listen to the needs of users “unfiltered” and unfettered by outside influences of any kind.

I have just come away from this year’s HPTF and have written a number of articles on what I observed. It was important for me to see how this event unfolded and what role NonStop played. In the weeks leading up to HPTF I was advised of how HPTF would be the place to go to wear my NonStop badge with pride – HPTF would have a lot to do with promoting the value of NonStop to the wider HP community. And that’s pretty much what happened; HPTF was less about networking with my fellow NonStop colleagues as it was about telling the NonStop story to others. The access to NonStop executives was liberal and I had several opportunities to talk of the future of NonStop with managers and executives at all levels within HP. Based on these exchanges alone, I came away from HPTF impressed with the event and look forward to participating next year, and hopefully, encourage even greater community participation.

The NonStop Symposium, on the other hand, will be a return to what most of us will recognize as a user event. San Jose has certainly seen its many critics through the years but the value of holding events in San Jose had never been about the location as it had been about its proximity to the NonStop development center and to the product managers and developers. I am anticipating a solid turn-out from these NonStop groups, to the same degree as we saw in former times, certainly the program I have looked at already suggests several days of strong NonStop content. NonStop today, is far removed from Tandem of yesterday – the adoption of commoditization, its ability to support open standards, and its ability to work well with the other HP platforms sharing security, manageability, etc. speaks volumes for the amount of R&D invested in NonStop over the past few years. It’s just so obvious to me whenever I look at a modern Blades configuration running NonStop – who knew!

It’s the sense of participation and sharing that I have come to appreciate at user events. Anyone who has ever come across Sam Ayres, for instance, will not leave unaware of how well Java applications now run on NonStop, just as anyone who has bumped into Bill Highleyman will not walk away with anything other than the latest on how available is the NonStop platform and how all other platforms just cannot match what continues to be the industries most successful mission-critical server. There are many others – Rich Rossales of US Bancorp, for instance, as well as Joe Ramos from Visa. A cup of coffee with any of these folks is well worth the admission price!

All the advice in the world at tracks like Laguna Seca will not make me a world-class racing car driver. It just won’t happen. Whatever! There’s too much bad wiring in me. For starters, I’m a bit of a chicken at heart and I sure wouldn’t want to bend my Corvette! But there’s absolutely no reason why any of us cannot assemble a world-class solution with unmatched levels of availability, scalability, and performance – many others have done it already.

Learning the tricks and sorting through the noise is exactly why we attend user events and this year’s Symposium is headed in the right direction, in this respect. But how about you? Would you take a moment and leave me a comment – are you attending Summit this year, and why? I look forward to seeing as many of you as I can and yes, coffee, a beer, or a glass of wine will always draw out an opinion or two from me, no matter what time of day!


Anonymous said...

Richard..were there many from either the Nonstop Customer or Vendor Community..Joe Ramos

Richard Buckle said...


Sorry to be a bit tardy here but in short, there were a number of vendors present including solutions vendors as well as traditional tools and utilities. But only a handful and certainly not to the level we are used to seeing at ITUG events.

As for customers then no, I think I saw two maybe three NonStop customers ... and that was it!