Monday, May 9, 2011

I’ll give you “what’s changed!”

Can a 35+ year technology be considered modern especially as it continues to have few peers in the availability stakes? Let’s ask plainly, what needs to change to attract a wider user audience?

Being in Chicago in spring is not a typical occurrence for me. Usually, Chicago is either covered with snow and miserably cold as wicked winds come in from the lake, or it’s hot and humid. There’s no denying the architecture, however, and no matter the time of year, I always like to take a short stroll and check out what has changed. The photo above is me alongside the river, directly opposite the latest addition to the stable of skyscrapers erected by Donald Trump.

In fact, while I was snapping this photo, I wasn’t too far from the location of a photo taken several years ago that I included in the October 30th, 2007 post “Our need for architects ...” and where the skyline back then only showed the rough skeleton of the Trump building as the only evidence construction was under way. The Trump building’s extensive use of glass, so visible today, is in stark contrast to the splendid stone edifices of the Tribune and the Wrigley buildings.

Contrasts like this aren’t limited to architecture and to city skylines. There’s no mistaking a modern windmill when so many are now dotting the landscape and there’s no mistaking the lines of a modern cruise ship as it pulls into port, turning effortlessly in its own length without help from old-style tugboats. It was only a few years back that I was on a very large cruise ship that navigated its way into the port of Gdansk, Poland, with barely inches to spare.

When it comes to technology and to labeling products as modern, it’s far more difficult. The term legacy is thrown around with little appreciation that every business application running today is, effectively, legacy. Reaching agreement on this point however, doesn’t automatically lead us to support the premise that every business application as yet unimplemented, is modern. The lines become quickly blurred with little opportunity to step back and appreciate what are business requirements that need to be addressed urgently. “Choice! Creativity! Flexibility!” could easily substitute for any modernization catch-phrase!

The issue with modernization is the assumption that we in possession of something that is old and that it is in need of rejuvenation in order to remain relevant. In today’s throw-away societies it’s as if any item we purchase, once removed from its wrapper, is instantly ready to be discarded. Walking around Chicago, there was much that had changed and yet, it was encouraging to see how much value was still begin derived from infrastructure developed over the centuries!

In the upcoming May – June, 2011, issue of The Connection, I revisit the topic of modernizing infrastructure and to illustrate the point, I referenced façade architecture – the process whereby older buildings are retained and reused in new and beneficial ways with the urge to rip and replace disparaged. The references I make in The Connection article pull from a feature story I developed for a client, but they reinforce the mistaken belief, common among today’s CIOs, that the data centers they are charged with maintaining needs to be modernized. Pursuing such a course of action, CIOs believe, is what will make their businesses more productive.

Irrespective of the technology in place, what fuel these beliefs has been the percentage of their budgets allocated to maintenance and how little remains for innovation. Surely, it must be a fault of the platform they are running! All too often it’s not a case of the platform chosen, but the advice that they are receiving from their architects; anxious about their contribution they often make recommendations based on nothing more than their favorite salesman’s latest Powerpoint presentation!

In the article in The Connection, as I wrote about façade architecture, I observed how for some time now cities striving to retain the value inherent with older structures while changing them to accommodate the needs of residents and business, have turned to façade architecture as a viable alternative to simply tearing down and rebuilding. From this observation I then suggest that a similar prospect can be envisioned today when it comes to application modernization, as many companies view the retention of key technology infrastructure as every bit as desirable as keeping a prized city building.

Nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to NonStop servers. In recent commentary posted to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, a complementary communications channel to this blog site, there’s been a lot of discussion on what to do with NonStop servers to better gain traction within companies and as one writer suggested, it’s time for some plain talk. Check out the discussion, “Does HP BCS / NED need to fund more apps on NonStop?” While I will not revisit the opinions that accompanied that blunt observation, all the same, it really is time for some blunt talk on NonStop.

What really surprises me is that, even after 35+ years of market presence and there being no viable alternative solution that you can drop into a data center with the levels of availability and scalability NonStop provides, NonStop continues to be overlooked and even marginalized as often as it is! It’s naïve at best to think that the knowledge learnt over these 35+ years can be readily (and reliably) copied using commodity servers, Hi-Speed LANs, and cabinets full of off-the-shelf switches.

NonStop, as a platform, is as modern as anything else around it in the data center, but when you really break it down, even when the modernization message makes it through to those running the business, there’s a concern over the cost effectiveness of NonStop. You cannot have a discussion on modernization today and ignore pricing, as for many of these architects and CIOs everything that’s inexpensive is modern, no matter what the value proposition!

For one reason or another, they only ever consider the unit price and seem dumbfounded and even confused when presented with the final bill! Too late; it’s now all waiting for them by the loading dock! Again, the architecture in support of the NonStop server leverages 35+ years of experience; it’s not old! It’s still the coolest product in the marketplace for all those who consider not having to front the press, or a government oversight agency, to explain why services are not available or so much information fell into the wrong hands!

As you look at a modern HP NonStop server today, what has changed? How can I suggest it’s modern? How can I consider it cool? At the heart of these questions, and again, to be blunt, lays a disbelief that is hard to overcome. If it is all that is now being claimed, why aren’t we hearing a lot more about the product? Why such little recognition by the press and industry analysts? And why such restraint by HP – yes, the hardware is commodity and is priced more competitively than it has ever been, but surely there would be more coverage than we see now?

Perhaps we have all developed selective hearing. Perhaps we are tending to dismiss some of the obvious – how many of us would consider payments processors worldwide offering up their services out of a payments Cloud for so many years! You think Cloud Computing is new? Well, something as basic as processing your ATM card has been done from within a cloud (can you tell me how it’s provisioned?) for decades, so no, there’s nothing very much new with Clouds. Yet, the issue persists.

The strength of NonStop lies in the protection it provides – from unexpected growth, from unpredictable outages, from unwanted hackers. Mission-critical applications leave no room for “we are sorry, the website and the ability to instantly watch movies are both temporarily unavailable” as Netflix subscribers ran up against just recently.

NonStop servers will never be general purpose, nor will they address all the needs within a vertical market, but they will provide a level of comfort CIOs have a hankering for even as they watch site after site come down. As the price tag continues to drop and as commoditization truly materializes, then the efforts of others to keep the message suppressed may disintegrate completely. The message will get out … and that’s some plain talk I’m only too happy to discuss!


Thomas Burg said...

(re-post from LinkedIn as not everyone can see comments posted on LinkedIn)

I see the biggest enemy for "more publicity for NonStop" within HP rather than outside. Apparently the Superdome group within "HP global" has more clout than the NonStop group and gets much more marketing $$$ for positioning the platform as "mission-critical". I ask any NonStop-fan to subscribe to the HP "mission critical" blog at to see what I mean.

In my wildest dream, I imagine "HP global" to stop marketing the Superdome platform for what it really is NOT and instead market NonStop this way.

Richard Buckle said...

This sentiment is widely echoed across the NonStop vendor community and for all the right reasons, of course! We all want to see HP promote NonStop ...

And in my recent exchanges with the NonStop group, I am anticipating more to come ... yes, all sides are aware of what's needed!

I do not hold the SuperDome folks at fault - all credit to them;for me, they have set the bar high and NED are aware. But let's not rule out NED just yet ...