Friday, October 8, 2010

Remove the warnings!

It was great to see the general air of optimism surrounding last week’s NonStop Symposium. There were more attendees than expected, and most of the late arrivals were NonStop users. Nothing exemplified the upbeat atmosphere more than the very crowded Monday morning general session where there wasn’t a spare seat in the house, with many standing against the back wall. I even saw a wry smile on the faces of Winston Prather and Randy Meyer as the prepared to take to the stage. You could be forgiven if you thought that the former glory days of Tandem had returned and that once again, the community was taking flight!
Now, this is NonStop, not Tandem. And this is HP and no longer Tandem Computers. The transition from what I remembered from decades past couldn’t have been more seamless, and the sense of community more pervasive. As the week progressed and the activities of each day wound down, it became increasingly more difficult to penetrate the gathering throng around the Fairmont Lobby bar for a much needed refreshment. And the buzz arising from the ballroom level of the hotel, where sessions and exhibits were being well supported, couldn’t be missed by anyone passing by.

Why the picture at the top of the page? I couldn’t resist, as the timing was perfect. I had just purchased the vanity plates “uLinga”, which is a name of the new networking solution from Infrasoft, when I came across a roadster sporting a red warning tag normally seen attached to the armaments on fighter planes – “remove before flight” After all, even with the terrible market conditions faced by modern car manufacturers, there’s still some incredibly exotic vehicles coming off the production line and the fierce competition that all of them face is pushing them all the harder to deliver product that entices enthusiasts into the showroom. uLinga is Australian aboriginal for “to fly” and when it came time to reflect on the Symposium, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate!

A quick check of the exhibition hall at the Symposium revealed something very similar to previous events held in San Jose – vendors were solidly behind the program and they were excited to be a part of the program focused on NonStop. A couple of new vendors participated for the very first time, and even a long-time friend of the community returned after an absence of several years. Again, all contributing to the sense of community renewal that gave the atmosphere within the hotel a palpable sense of rejuvenation.  From all that I saw, and with the messages I heard, the NonStop community is alive, the red warning tags torn away, and rearing to fly!

Against this background, it was good to welcome back ACI Worldwide to the Symposium after an absence of several years. Some of the faces were very familiar – Jim Bowers and Doug Grote are well known to most in the NonSop community – but there were a couple of new faces as well. ACI was promoting their infrastructure and middleware products and looked hopeful as they fielded questions from the hallway traffic.

So much has changed, however, since ACI last participated at a community event, and the playing field had changed considerably - it’s now NonStop and not Tandem. After nearly three decades of facing only minor competition, ACI customers are now looking at a variety of product options that include support for low level protocols, infrastructure, and even replacement payment platform solutions. Of these a number of vendor offerings caught my eye and I had the opportunity to talk to several energized individuals as the week progressed.

Perhaps the biggest surprise I had, from talking to vendors, came about following the suggestion of some good friends at HP. Mike Meeks, Senior Vice President of Baldwin Hackett & Meeks, Inc (BHMI) was talking about a new product just introduced to the financial services marketplace. BHMI has developed a product for MasterCard that is a replacement for ACI’s XPNET transaction processor. For those who may not be familiar with the role played by XPNET at BASE24 sites, it’s the equivalent of Pathway although a highly specialized and optimized offering – look for more detailed coverage in a future blog posting.

All the same, it’s the very heart of BASE24 and for me, as a former ACI employee, XPNET is infrastructure of a type I never thought would see it facing a competitive product offering. MasterCard have completed an evaluation and the product is in production. There are many stand alone users of XPNET (also known as NET24), and even though the marketplace isn’t that large, in some countries XPNET is the most prevalent product deployed at customer sites.

Also attending the Symposium was Peter Shell of Infrasoft Pty Limited. Peter had travelled from Sydney Australia before the start of the event as Infrasoft’s new product, uLinga, had just begun a Proof of Concept (PoC) and the anticipation of success could be clearly seen on Peter’s face. Developed as a replacement for ACI’s ICE product, as well as a replacement for some of the functions supported in HP’s SNAX products, and again, carrying with it the potential to dig even deeper into the ACI customer base. uLinga is not another SNA solution but rather, a way to modernize on TCP/IP and yet, allow SNA application to communicate as if SNA was still present.  

The work being done by BHMI and Infrasoft is not news to ACI who have been aware of these developments for some time. The decision of ACI to attend the Symposium should be applauded even more, as ACI now recognizes the need to compete. Readers of this blog already know of my close ties to Infrasoft and to its product uLinga – hence the vanity plates for my car. However, providing infrastructure and middleware to the NonStop community represents only a small percentage of ACI’s business. It is another client of mine, also present at the Symposium, however, that could prove to be more troublesome to ACI than BHMI or Infrasoft. Opus Software Solutions and its subsidiary, ElectraCard Services (ECS) have focused on the application itself and that has to hurt.

Paresh Banerjee, who heads the America’s operation of Opus, had been visiting Denver when he decided to fly to the Symposium to check it out for himself. Opus, through ECS, has now successfully completed a pilot implementation of their electraSWITCH product at State Bank of India (SBI), where the potential exists for Opus to support one of the largest deployments of ATMs and POS terminals in the world. Utilizing NonStop on Blade servers across two data centers, the payments product has been deployed as a replacement for ACI’s BASE24. This too is known within ACI and yes, it’s proving to be extremely competitive.

In the days that followed the Symposium ECS issued a press release in which it announced that MasterCard had made an investment in the company. “MasterCard is committed to bringing the greatest value to our customers, who are increasingly looking to enhance the depth of their product offering and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. We are impressed with ECS’ capabilities and look forward to further enabling our mutual customers with customized and differentiated options,”  according to T.V. Seshadri, General Manager, South Asia, MasterCard Worldwide. Again, look for even more commentary on this subject in future blog posts!

Also present at the Symposium was AJB Canada, who isn’t quite as far down the prospect / customer path as BHMI or Opus, or even Infrasoft. Their new payments platform offering, targeting the retail business, should be starting a PoC shortly with a second PoC in the works for early 2011. In a couple of weeks time I will be attending the CTUG user event at HP’s offices in Toronto and anticipate a further update at that time. I have covered the offering from AJB Canada in an earlier posting and I am continuing to track it and, hopefully, will have more to report later in the year.

In returning to the Symposium, however, ACI faces competition all across the board and, with their participation, it’s a testament to their willingness to compete. It would have been very easy for ACI to ignore the Symposium, but taking a booth and having folks actively participate, I found particularly encouraging. If everyone else is electing to take flight, then clearly, they weren’t prepared to be left behind!

This week, I took my car to the local Chevrolet dealership. Across the street there is a Ford showroom and down the street, there’s a Dodge dealership. As I talked to the management at each dealership, it was evident how anxious they were to compete again after what, for all involved, was a very uncertain future. While I am not suggesting the IT marketplace is suffering anywhere near the angst that the auto industry has suffered, or that the competition between the manufacturers we all witness daily on our television sets is on par with what happens between IT vendors, however, all industries benefit through competition.

Even though much has changed within the NonStop vendor community, where there’s far more competition than ever before, I continue to view it as a very healthy sign. There can be no downplaying how tough it will be for ACI to compete – they are the incumbent, of course, at the majority of sites, and that still counts given today’s tough economic conditions.

It’s good to see them back! It’s also good that, in their absence, so much has been developed and we have seen a renewed focus on NonStop as a result, as one HP sales executive recalled for me, adding “there’s never been a situation quite like this before where there’s been as many software houses approaching HP for help with porting!” And I, for one, have to admit – I’m pleased to see ACI supporting the user community once again just as I’m pleased with the interest in NonStop it’s sparked and the competition that this has generated!


Jimbo said...

So, Richard, this is indeed exciting news. When will we see SAP on the Megaplex?

Richard Buckle said...

Immediately - the whole point of what is being addressed with Megaplex from what I can tell is that users will be free to run their favorite applications on the platform that supports them, the data base somewhere else, the transaction monitor / application server wherever, and so on and so forth ... this could be really cool stuff, once we figure out a 'plex wide interconnect fabric and move beyond ServerNet!

NonStop Mark said...

An interesting read Richard... thanks for the update...Mark.

HemanthPradeep said...

Thanks for sharing the news around the Sympo, Please keep updating your blog , looking forward for your new post

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