Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hybrids? Careful what you ask for …

Auto industry is in turmoil with alliances, government funding, and IPOs only adding to a sense of dramatic changes yet to come. And the rush to produce Hybrid cars may be a foretaste of what may come for today’s CIO!

The weather has been almost perfect here, in Southern California, and last weekend I had the good fortune of driving the roadster through the canyons of Malibu. The picture above is of Margo and me descending Mulholland Drive; my eyes fixed on the exit of the turn, as we headed to The Rock Store, a popular hangout for the likes of Jay Leno and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was taken by the professional photographers from “” who just happened to snap us on the descent - and for those of you well to the East of us and snowbound, check out the Spring flowers already in bloom!

Having none of the electronics or “nannies” watching over us, relying on old-school techniques, driving the roadster took me back to the times when all cars called upon the skills of their drivers just to keep them on the road, and where they provided a measure of feedback to ensure the driver remained engaged across the full range of interactions that occurs whenever a vehicle is being driven.

There’s been a lot published of late about the transformation under way in the auto industry and not just about the mergers, buy-outs and IPOs. I had to laugh the other day when I saw an American muscle car with the rear license surround of “Yes, it’s a Hybrid! It burns gas and rubber!” Yet Hybrids are making an impact and with Motor Trend crowning the Chevrolet Volt its Car of the Year for 2011, there’s plenty to suggest that the demise of the internal combustion engine is imminent.

At least as the sole source of a vehicle’s propulsion!

For much of the car buying public, however, these Hybrids are pretty dreadful looking (although, have you seen pictures of the futuristic-looking 767hp Porsche 918 RSR race car?) and yet it’s a trend that is not going away. The only question for me is what engine performs which function; when it comes to considering a hybrid power source, the combinations are almost limitless!

Personally, I would like to see a diesel electric: a very small diesel monitoring the batteries, and a powerful electric engine built into the hub of each wheel. You want Quattro? I will give you Quattro, and much more! It’s all about keeping the driver very much involved with enough feedback to make the driving experience truly enjoyable.

It was a few years ago, at the 2008 HPTF event in Las Vegas, when NonStop customers were treated to an HP “Hybrid” BladeSystem supporting a mix of NonStop and Linux Blades. It was presented as an Engineering Prototype, and I covered this in the Real Time View post of July 16th, 2008, “Specialist! Am I still needed?” where I wrote of how this Hybrid from HP gave us a perspective on what we could expect to see from HP sometime in the future.

At that time, I suggested a Hybrid provided generalists with the opportunity to have a cluster of specialty servers delivered to them by HP and functioning right out of the box! All the elements of a “pocket mainframe” with support of a Window’s-based web server, NonStop front-ending transaction processing, and a HP-UX / Oracle data base representing just one possible configuration. NonStop at the heart of it all, integrated in a way we have relied on specialists to do in the past!

Two years later, in the summer of 2010, IBM took the wraps of its new mainframe, the IBM zEnterprise 196 promoting something similar to what I described as HP’s Hybrid BladeSystem. At that announcement, IBM talked of establishing “the mainframe as the central management point for enterprise data centers, with other systems directly feeding off the mainframe's configuration,” according to columnist, Andy Patrizio, in the July 22nd, 2008 issue of the electronic newsletter ServerWatch.

“IBM has added the ability to manage Power 7 and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe console through zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, making the mainframe the hub of systems management. Workloads can be spread across all three systems and resources shared and managed as a single, virtualized system, so long as they are IBM systems,” Patrizio observed.

He then quoted Rod Adkins, senior vice president of the Systems and Technology group at IBM, "this is really the industry's first multi-architecture platform. We're taking the traditional quality services of System z and extending those capabilities to provide better data center integration and data center management.”

Given that HP and IBM are pursuing hybrid packaging then, as with vehicles, there’s growing evidence to suggest that reliance on just a “one-platform architecture” may suggest the demise of homogeneous systems is imminent.

At least, at the heart of our data centers!

Even though, for most data center managers, these hybrids present as many challenges as they offer less-expensive alternatives. And the only question for many CIOs is what application will run on which architecture?

For the NonStop community this is particularly true as the flexibility NonStop provides, from online transaction processing (OLTP) to operational data stores (ODS), to enterprise warehouses (EDW); when it comes to hybrid platforms, then again, the combinations are almost limitless!

Within some industry verticals, the picture is a lot clearer. When it comes to financial services, for instance, there would be very few CIOs who would consider running a payments platform switching software on anything but NonStop?

The availability of less-expensive architectures within the platform to run less critical services, such as an account balance inquiry, will more than offset the presence of NonStop supporting account access authorization requests.

As with Hybrid cars I suspect it will come down to how valuable CIOs perceive the NonStop to be. You want NonStop? I will give you NonStop, and much more, seems to be a likely scenario that plays out across many organizations where availability remains strategically important.

As good as an IBM mainframe has become of late, it’s still not continuously available in the sense of a NonStop – have you listened to an IBM DB2 database administrator of late? Old-school computing? Definitely! And as much as they pressure corporations to consider their multi-architecture platform, without NonStop, it really is just another pretty dreadful looking box.

If you truly recognize where the industry is headed, and the packaging of what used to be everything in the data center within a single platform, as is becoming the fashion, then be very careful where you assign the various workloads. Pay particular attention to how your vendors carve-up the transaction processing and data base access assignments and what these vendors may value in terms of trade-offs.

After all, when it comes to Hybrid computer systems and the multi-architecture platforms they embrace, we have to be every bit as careful as we would be when it comes time to choose a vehicle. Perhaps even more so, as there’s some pretty dreadful packages becoming available and it will not be as easy to trade-up once these models have left the showroom floor!

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