Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not a clear view ahead?

The NonStop community has always been willing to give new solutions a try and many PoC’s have been undertaken to look at what is on offer from a vendor. And guiding these decisions has been the vendor’s product roadmaps!
For perhaps the last time I crossed the continental divide and returned to Simi Valley, a trip I have taken as many as fifty times these past four plus years. But with this trip my final destination isn’t to be Simi Valley, but Boulder, Colorado at the moment is many miles behind me. After spending as much time as I have in Simi, and despite having built several great friendships, I am looking forward to a less disruptive time working out of my home office.

As I pushed deeper into the mountains, what I could see wasn’t all that clear. And the photo above was taken through the front windscreen of my trusty Escalade SUV as I descended Vail pass – snow flurries obscuring major landmarks! With a posted speed of 65mph, a little over 100kph, I could barely see enough of the road in front of me to maintain a speed of 40 mph, and with the onset of a winter’s afternoon, I still had 400 miles to go!

Yes, without visibility it was futile to try to go faster or to even think about changing course. I couldn’t even see the exit signs and it wasn’t practical to pull over and wait for the weather to clear, as already a number of cars had been engulfed by the growing snow drifts unseen by their unwary drivers. I always travel with maps, and my iPad does a good job of telling me where I am, but even with these tools, when you are unable to make out simple features, lacking visibility of what’s ahead makes the best road maps next to useless!

As it so happened, only a few days before setting out, I had just finished an article for the upcoming March – April, 2011, issue of The Connection. For this issue the article I wrote was on roadmaps – look for it as the magazine arrives. In pursuing the story, I had the good fortune of exchanging ideas with a number of infrastructure vendors and along the way, I developed new respect for the work that goes into their development and the sincerity with which their owners strive to portray accurate assessments of what lies ahead!

This article in the upcoming issue of The Connection, references an earlier post of November 11, 2010, “Product Roadmaps! Still Required?” where I talked about recent announcements by the HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) of partnerships addressing user requirements in security as well as manageability. With this in mind, I then suggested that perhaps we were getting a glimpse into the future – as we wonder whether traditional approaches to building roadmaps can continue, in light of the so many variables and unknowns present today.

I then proposed that for roadmaps to be useful for users, NED needs to step up its engagement with vendors from across the NonStop community. To more accurately project what is to come next and to have users plan for it, NED needs to reduce product delivery timeframes, and needs to engage others from within the NonStop community: that would be a good way to help bring the horizon a lot closer and help eliminate some of the more speculative aspects of a product or feature that does little to help foster credibility among users. It’s just plain tough to see where technology is headed when visibility is blurred by so many distractions!

Little did I know as I made these claims that I would find myself on the highway cautiously navigating my way through slick conditions! But then again, its winter in the mountains so why should I have been shocked by what was happening around me? Why should I be surprised with my inability to clearly see the way ahead! Why should I even try to consult my road map?

Increasingly, I am seeing users develop roadmaps for themselves. They may call them by different names, hide them within business requirements documentation, and even discuss them in terms of requests for proposals, but whatever the language used they are roadmaps all the same. They reinforce a corporate objective in terms of a business plan or vision. Strategy documents are liberally sprinkled with roadmaps – explanations of what’s required and when it needs to be delivered to fully meet a company’s expectations.

The upswing in Proof of Concept (PoC) exercises bears this out – a company will often bring in untried solutions, and check them out, when they see the potential to leverage something new and it has the potential to push them further down the road. Well-executed PoC’s can often help users see how a product or feature, from a vendor not even on their radar-screen, and can prove extremely beneficial.

Among the NonStop community, there has always been a willingness to give these new vendors an opportunity to showcase their capabilities. As we emerged from Y2K testing, for instance, very few NonStop users expected to be able to support web access, let alone come to terms externalizing Pathway applications as Web services. Participating in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) seemed to be the domain of others – but the NonStop platform has proved itself to be as modern as any other platform hosting services externalized to the web.

Now that we are becoming more familiar with Cloud Computing, and with private Clouds in particular, we are coming to terms with how the NonStop platforms has every opportunity to play a role. Users are not the least concerned with which platforms populate the Cloud, only that the service being supported is always available from anywhere in the world, at any time of day.

User roadmaps show little that’s different from requirements of decades ago when NonStop first appeared! And why should any of us running NonStop be surprised? Unfortunately, for many users, the visibility they have is pretty poor and landmarks aren’t easily sighted. Popular misconceptions are only adding to the flurries whirling around in front of them, making the road ahead easy to discern. However, as we do get to see more clearly and as the flurries pass by, newer roles for the NonStop platform to play will become much clearer.

In talking with users and vendors, there’s no question about whether HP NonStop servers will ever take up sole residency within the Cloud, just as there’s no question about the presence of there being only x86 servers – every category of server can easily find a home within the Cloud. It is the role these platforms play that will determine participation or not, and it will be about the value a server provides that will determine its future. Roadmaps devoid of NonStop participation may well be selling short a crucial technology component and yet, as I listen to these users and vendors, there’s still those who are very much surprised by my predicting such a future for NonStop!

I arrived in Simi Valley quite late, but next day morning gave us clear skies. The photo here to the left is of the horizon, looking north from a park just behind me. Sometimes we forget how high the mountains surrounding the greater Los Angeles area are and how beautiful they can become when covered in snow. What was so dangerous only hours earlier were now a winter showcase!

Willingness to develop strategies and craft roadmaps, to pursue PoC’s and to push ahead with new ways to deploy the HP NonStop server is a healthy sign for all associated with the NonStop platform. Its future role may not be immediately apparent to all of us, but as the noise coming from today’s experts recedes and landmarks take form once again, we are more than likely to see NonStop platforms anchoring much of what is being presented as modern… and for that, the drive we may be currently experiencing will quickly fade from memory and be replaced with spectacular visages.

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