Saturday, May 28, 2011

Now for something unorthodox …

With the HP Discover event imminent, and with headlines about outages showing no signs of ebbing, it’s solely up to those of us within the NonStop community to convey the real story on NonStop’s place in business …

I don’t have explanations and I can’t fathom it at all! The rain continues to come down here in Boulder and in all the years I have lived here I can’t recall a cooler, wetter, spring! If this rain keeps up then the countryside will be more reminiscent of England than it is of California, or Tuscany, or even parts of Australia, where the predominant color for much of the year lies somewhere between gold and brown. All summer we usually have to deal with humidity levels around ten percent, but this rain certainly alters that metric.

The picture above is of irises in full bloom outside my back door. I haven’t paid all that much attention to them in the past; perhaps I was out of town when they last blossomed. In fact, only a few weeks earlier the landscaper had suggested we remove them, indicating that they weren’t fairing all that well.

Irises have a history dating back to Greek mythology and where, given their blooming in a rainbow of colors, Irises have always been associated with courage and with hope. The association with rainbows, however, can also be considered as just another way of depicting change and with the weather we have been having, it’s reaching a point where I am scanning the skies and looking for a rainbow!

In Greek mythology, Iris was the personification of the rainbow, bridging the world of the gods with humanity – essentially, a messenger of the gods. A quick check of any encyclopedia will bring up a wealth of stories describing how Iris traveled with “the speed of the wind, from one end of the world to another.” Perhaps not intentionally an agent of change, but certainly, the image persists as humanity couldn’t escape change once the messenger of the gods departed!

Change has been a reoccurring theme of my blog posts and this is because I see us living in tumultuous times with respect to IT. Without any further resorting to clichés, it’s becoming hard to escape the rhetoric of influential technology leaders pitching their view of IT as they move quickly from one developing trend or fad to another, and leaving us to wonder where we should focus our attention.

We should be installing x86 products! We should be virtualizing everything! We should be embracing cloud computing!

These discussions haven’t been helped by the postings to the many social media blogs, groups and forums, particularly for those of us within the NonStop community. Participants have been playing a little lose with the facts to ensure their point of view is communicated, just as thought-leaders and highly opinionated columnists have shouldered their way into dialogues often at the expense of better known industry analysts.

In the game of cricket there are times where one team’s bowlers fail to curb the enthusiasm of the batsman – their ineffective bowling allowing these strikers of the ball to score runs at will. When it comes to international competition, where the game is played over five days, this situation may continue for most of a day with the attacking team’s captain becoming increasingly frustrated by his bowlers’ failure to break through the batsman’s defenses.

At these times, creative and somewhat unorthodox captains bring into the bowling attack a participant previously unseen by the batting team – often one of the bowling teams own batsman – and with this change, the very unpredictability of what the new bowler may do, can force batting mistakes that contribute to the opposition’s downfall.

A cursory look at some of the more recent postings would suggest that unless something dramatic occurs to turn around observed trends, the NonStop platform will cease to remain relevant for the majority of its users in just a couple of years!

The data points presented look ominous – solutions providers in healthcare and public safety certainly have begun building products targeting Windows. Even Stock Exchanges have moved off the NonStop platform, when for many years they were a stalwart of NonStop commitment. The biggest vendor in the financial services marketplace was switching vendors, pursuing the market with packages designed for the IBM mainframe. In some circles it’s even been suggested that there could be as many as 50 users, perhaps more, leaving the NonStop platform just this year!

And yet, the story I hear from customers is quite different. It’s always hard to get the real numbers as HP doesn’t split out the numbers for NonStop, nor can we easily reconstruct a set of figures comparable to how we used to see them presented when Tandem was a public company.

However, anecdotally, based purely on conversations and interviews I have had in association with other papers I have been writing, when you look at this past quarter there has been considerable growth! Without putting any firm numbers on just how much growth, I have heard that on a year over year basis, it was pretty spectacular. Perhaps more than 50% and possibly as high as 75%!

This time last year business was slow, and that is unquestionable. The effect of the recession was felt by everyone and business was reluctant to invest in infrastructure. But today, transaction volumes in financial services together with the building out of the 4G networks, has seen considerably uptick in business within financial services and Telcos.

A strong, if not dominant, position of the NonStop within these marketplaces continues just as after several years of aggressive marketing by the payments solutions provider who switched to IBM, not one NonStop customer has migrated off the platform and onto IBM. Quite the contrary, from what I have heard, up until early this year there has been a net gain of one to NonStop following three years of concerted efforts!
All told, as I continue to poll folks and check as many sources as I can, I have to believe that HP’s NonStop business is on track to report a full year of operations that shows growth beyond 20% and possibly as high as 30%! This is not a business that shows any signs of losing ground as best as I can tell – it’s being reshaped certainly, and the NonStop sales teams are being laser-like in their focus on new business (yes, there’s new business being created) addressing win-able opportunities in adjacent applications and customer spaces.

NonStop remains as relevant today as it ever was – there will always be a marketplace where “little to no downtime” remains unacceptable and where “the server failed over seamlessly and began running on the other (server) with very little downtime; about a minute” as I just read in a competing vendors white paper, carries with it enormous risk for business with no tolerance for failures of any kind.

Amidst all the changes, this requirement hasn’t lessened as a concern of business. There’s still no hiding from the headlines whenever major outages to services occurs and the past couple of months have seen more than their fair share of such headlines on outages!

What the commentary posted to blogs and forums of late has highlighted is that if we continue with our current approach, there’s little we can do to unsettle the competition and they will continue to amass a big score. However, even the greatest of batsmen have been known to stumble and fall when facing something unexpected.

This year’s HP Discover event, only a few weeks away, could prove to be the place for the NoNStop community to consider something creative, perhaps a little unorthodox. In Greek mythology it took someone special to bring the message to humanity, but this time around we don’t need anything that spectacular - let’s just change the perceptions on our own. I for one am hopeful.

Even without a visit from Iris, there are still many of us with the courage. Let’s promote the facts! Let’s speak out and evangelize NonStop to the greater HP! There are still rainbows, aplenty!

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