Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Responsible CIOs show restraint!

The HP Discover event is now history but the arrival by chance of a photo from an earlier ITUG event together with a posting in HP’s web site has me rethinking where NonStop is headed …

Mark Faithful forwarded me a photo this week that was taken at the ITUG event in San Jose, late October, 2002. It is of a luncheon held in honor of that year’s guest speaker, Gene Kranz whose book “Failure is not an Option” included a detailed account of the 1970 effort that went into rescuing the Apollo 13 crew. The photo above captures Kranz and his wife with the ITUG Summit 2002 committee.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Kranz addressed a full house of community members and he reflected on the events that led to the successful recovery of the crew. I have always enjoyed attending user events and have found participation highly rewarding. No matter where they may be held or how big or small an audience they attract, they have proven to be the best way to pick up on the latest trends concerning NonStop.

This post is a kind of milestone of sorts. Depending on who is doing the counting, this is my 200th post, and shortly I will begin my fifth year of blogging. No longer is this my sole presence in social networks as I now blog for a number of clients as well, but this blog remains the one that allows me to cover topics focused on the NonStop community and, much like The Connection magazine, I try to cover user deployments as often as I can - how many readers recall how this blog traces its roots back to the column, Real Time View, that for many years was a feature of The Connection magazine?

ITUG is now a part of the much bigger user community, Connect, and HP has steered the annual user gathering towards a much richer, multi-platform experience, where all of its products are showcased. While some attendees were confused to find sessions and group meetings in conflict with general sessions and keynotes, HP Discover still managed to pull together several lively Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings.


I was reminded of this aspect of HP Discover while scrolling through discussions on LinkedIn groups where one such entry pointed me to the report filed by Kevin McDowell of HP’s Total Customer Experience (TIC) group. McDowell posted a summary to the Mission Critical Computing blog, hosted on HP’s web site and can be found at:

http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Mission-Critical-Computing-Blog/NonStop-Special-Interest-Group-SIG-Report-from-Discover2011/ba-p/94071

“This year’s HP Discover NonStop SIG meeting,” McDowell opened with, before observing how “most (of the) discussion was around the marketing of the NonStop brand and offerings. NonStop has made significant in-roads in becoming an open / non-proprietary system and it appears we need to get the word out more effectively.”

If this doesn’t grab your attention, or have you raise an eyebrow, a little later McDowell asks “do you have examples of situations where NonStop was overshadowed by other marketing efforts? Or perhaps situations where NonStop was misrepresented as a dead-end product?” Now McDowell does admit in the post that he has been involved with NonStop for 23 years, which is about the same length of time as was my own involvement (I joined Tandem Computers in March, 1988), but even so, I think he may be onto something.

Could NonStop benefit from a greater marketing profile? Is the NonStop community becoming frustrated at seeing very little promotional activity in support of NonStop? And what’s this about NonStop being misrepresented as a dead-end product? Before it looks like I’m being a little too negative on this subject, dwelling too long on perceived failures from within HP, after reading McDowell’s summary I have to admit I like it that someone has at least started to think about how to bring better focus on to the NonStop product line.

For me, NonStop will never be general purpose ,and of that I have no reservations. It’s a specialty system as much as IBM’s mainframe, or even HP’s own SuperDome. And there’s a place for specialty systems within company data centers for many years to come, I believe, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of my readers.

As I look at general purpose systems today, they are all dumbing down to run on inexpensive x86 chips supported by Windows, with some Linux and even Unix thrown into the mix. As workloads have grown and their users have tried to keep up by scaling out, they have become increasingly harder to manage. As one HP executive reminded me recently, have you ever tried to upgrade the firmware on a thousand Windows servers? Not cool …

It is this sense of despair (and failure) from trying to patch together clusters of inexpensive systems that has led to these very same users declaring that there must be a better way and they are now rushing to cloud computing, just the latest variant, or the service bureau of time sharing model many of us grew up with in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Sorry, the bits and pieces may be new with cloud computing but the model itself is pretty dated. And there’s only so much make-up you can apply to cover the wrinkles and hide all the blemishes.

CIOs will take advantage of the cloud computing model as, and when, it suits their needs and there will be a sizable move to cloud computing as a result. However, with the introduction of clouds, the necessity to look at how many core applications will move across will generate restraint on the part of responsible CIOs. There will be companies who will simply chose to run their own infrastructure and within this set of companies, specialty systems will retain a home, and among them NonStop will prevail.

Drilling deeper into this demographic, there will be even those companies where the history of NonStop in OLTP may encourage the pursuit of NonStop systems being deployed as essentially smart front-ends to clouds, private as well as public, in a manner not too dissimilar to how our early ATM networks were created, and for those attending HP Discover, a demonstration of configurations not too far removed from this model proved a popular draw card for the NonStop booth. Don’t rule out, either, the inroads NonStop will make into the high-end Oracle marketplace as HP further distances itself from the product offerings of a vendor it has long supported.

No, NonStop will not be general purpose and if this is the case, what then of marketing? What then of reversing any perception of NonStop being a dead-end product? Should we expect to see the new management team at HP get behind NonStop with a big-budget marketing campaign?

I recently watched the 70’s movie, 24 hours of LeMans. Apart from the comments coming from my wife, Margo, about how dreadfully boring the film is – no dialogue for the opening 40 minutes - it’s still one of the best motion pictures that captures the spirit of motor sport. In the film, the character, Michael Delaney, played by Steve McQueen, observes “racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it ... it’s life. Anything that happens before or after... is just waiting.”

And I couldn’t help but see the similarity between these observations and what McDowell is trying to whip-up support for, when it comes to the NonStop server. “NonStop customers have always been a passionate group,” was how McDowell began his report following HP Discover and we are often accused of not having a life outside of NonStop! There are those companies after all, running NonStop and with the mission-critical applications they run, their companies are very much alive. And competitive, and with time to innovate.

For those companies, yet to understand the value proposition of NonStop, and who move from one model to the next looking to capitalize on the next big thing then no amount of marketing will deter them from going down that path. With little comprehension of what they are missing out on, well naturally, all I can suggest is that they too … are just waiting!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Detour’s Ahead? Stay Cool!

Driving through the desert I’ve been forced to take detours and it’s been hot. Following Las Vegas and HP Discover, focus has shifted to Palo Alto where the heat has been turned up! Will relief appear with the gathering of clouds?
 
This week I yet again took a road I just simply had to take a few weeks ago, as snow blocked the highway I had originally intended to use. High in the Rocky Mountains, even at that time of year, an unexpected downfall of snow had proved too great to risk tackling in a rear-wheel drive car.

Now my destination required me to go down the same road I had chosen as a backup before, but this time I was forced off it, taking yet another detour onto a secondary highway because scorching heat had brought with it raging fires that closed the road. Driving an all-wheel-drive SUV in case the snow returned, I found fire instead; welcome to living in a mountain state!

The temperature is already 108 degrees, there’s little humidity, and in the higher elevations it continues to be windy. Settled into my hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, I can understand why the authorities in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are so concerned about the coming summer months and the risks they face. The picture above was taken on the way to Scottsdale and is a tangible reminder of the risks travellers face in this desert area and why it’s not advisable to detour too far from the road.

Only a few miles away, in the city of Las Vegas, a major HP event – HP Discover – had been held. While all involved last week are now back at their desks, the feedback and observations continue to roll-in and with each new email a clearer picture of the value this event provided is forming. Yes, it was worth attending as the networking opportunities appeared worthwhile. The key notes and the subsequent drill-down sessions all seemed to have scored high points with those present – yes, Converged Infrastructure is important and is beginning to flex more muscle than some of the previous initiatives.

Whether you are a big supporter of open, industry-standard solutions such as Windows or Unix, or are drawn to the world of Linux, or appreciative of the highest availability platform in HP’s server arsenal, the NonStop server, Converged Infrastructure lays the foundation for a kind of future, plug-and-play, choice of platform where consideration of trade-offs depending upon costs, value, and even reputation (with your users) comes into play in a more manageable fashion. Yes, retaining key infrastructure components supported across a variety of platforms allows well-architected solutions to enjoy choices in platform hosting.

Even as I reflect on all that took place in Las Vegas, Monday’s announcement of organizational changes within HP are cause for us to refocus on Palo Alto. For the NonStop community the move of Ann Livermore away from the day-to-day operations of the Enterprise Business and onto the board at HP, and greater responsibilities given to Dave Donatelli, didn’t come as a complete surprise.

For the news release of June 13th, 2011, check out HP’s web site: http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2011/110613b.html?mtxs=rss-corp-news

In case you missed reading my article, “NonStop – A Running Commentary” in the February 2011 issue of Tandemworld.net, these changes were expected. At the time I wrote “last month I made a brief reference to the HP strategy update to be given by the company’s new CEO, Leo Apotheker. There’s a lot of anticipation over what it will address and while I suggested in my last article that it was too early to speculate, some early indications have already surface.”

Following this opening remark I then suggested, as a community, we “don’t rule out Servers (including the more complex hybrid variety), Storage, and Networking continuing to play an important role, or fail to see how quickly Dave Donatelli consolidates his position at the top of the HP technology tree in the post-Ann Livermore era! This is worth watching of course as it is being rumored that Ann Livermore will join the board (is it already a done deal?) and take up the post of Vice Chairman. It’s also worth watching as this is the group where Business Critical Servers (BCS), of which NonStop is a part, resides and where the future of NonStop will be determined.”

For the full article in Tandemworld.net, check out the web page: http://www.tandemworld.net/newsletter%20feb11.htm

However, some early feedback that I have received requires me to clarify why I like these changes and while I don’t necessarily want to detour too far from the HP storyline, I do see potential for renewed focus on the enterprise – their servers, their software, and the services. For many weeks I have been fielding questions about why isn’t there more focus on NonStop within HP and if the company’s strategy, as described by HP CEO Apotheker in March, is centered on Cloud Computing and Mobility what precisely will the NonStop contribute to Cloud Computing?

There have also been some concerns over Livermore’s election to the board and view her departure from day-to-day role at HP as potentially bad news for NonStop. While Livermore has been a supporter of NonStop through the years attending many user events, all the way back to ITUG, including the support of programs that were built for C-level executives where she participated, I cannot see the support for NonStop lessening in any way with her departure.

Dave Donatelli has expressed, many times, his support for NonStop and his position couldn’t have been made any clearer than when he included a slide on NonStop in his presentation on Converged Infrastructure at HP Discover. According to one HP participant, as Donatelli introduced the slide:“(he) asked for a show of hands from people who had used their cell phone, or credit card, that morning (before adding) that (the transaction) probably went through a NonStop.” Yes, we have seen this approach pursued by others but hearing it afresh from the new guy, tells us plenty!

What may surprise some in the NonStop community even more is that with Donatelli’s arrival at HP there is now a group of R&D executives that meet with Donatelli on a regular basis and NonStop is part of that group! Indeed, as conversations among the respective heads of development continue, more and more interest about NonStop capabilities has arisen. In a classic case of diving down a couple of levels to interact with the folks responsible for building products, Donatelli has quickly familiarized himself with the reality that is today’s modern, open, NonStop server. Yes, it’s an old approach adopted by the wise but it demonstrates to me that Donatelli gets it!

Whether we are a fan of Apotheker or not, for the leading IT company in the world, change was needed. While I do understand the attraction from becoming the world’s number one printer, and then personal computer vendor, for enterprise users HP’s continued pursuit of these markets did appear to be a detour. Just as IBM was exiting this marketplace, for instance, to refocus around much higher-margin software and services businesses, HP appeared to relish the opportunity IBM’s exit represented. Now, HP pushing much deeper into software and services is being seen as a prudent step for HP to take.

It’s still very hot here in Arizona and as I prepare to leave for Southern California, I can’t imagine that there’s any less heat in Palo Alto. And yet, I feel very optimistic which may surprise some of you! With Donatelli in a new role and with what I have heard about him to date, I can only see positive outcomes for NonStop. As I scan the heavens for signs of clouds, and the relief they bring, so too many in the NonStop community are looking for evidence of clouds and while I’m not seeing any here in the desert, NonStop may soon be engulfed by them … Cool!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Missing the good old days?

Is it the free beer and soda we miss? Or is it something else? HP Discover will reveal much about HP’s plans for NonStop and news will travel quickly in cyberspace!

Saturday morning saw the parking lot adjacent to one of our favorite coffee shops sprinkled liberally and colorfully with sports cars. With the coming of the warmer weather, an impromptu car show takes over the locale the first Saturday of each month. So we backed the Corvette into one of the vacant spots and joined the festivities!

The cars included some exotic machinery and the photo above I took of Margo as she passed by a Vette, a Viper, and an early ‘80s Lamborghini Countach with its six dual-throat weber carburetors sending shivers down my spine. Tucked back behind Margo, astute car aficionados will recognize the sleek lines of a modern era Ford GT, still looking like new and that hasn’t seen a single snow or rain day in its life.

This posting however, is not about cars or about car enthusiasts and yet, after spending a short time walking past owners prized possessions, it was difficult not to make comparisons. The same warm greetings, the same sense of shared camaraderie, and that passionate intensity that draws a crowd to check out the latest technology. It may have been a warm and sunny morning in Boulder, but already my thoughts were about Las Vegas!

HP Discover will kick-off in a matter of hours. I for one am quite happy to see HP putting on a big-tent style marketing event, as it opens up the opportunity for everyone to get an update on the company’s vision and strategy and to see the latest product offerings. Major vendors have every right to hold these types of events and participants fully expect to be subjected to the marketing full-court press as soon as they arrive. Yet there will be detractors and those who yearn for the good old days.

Ignoring the obvious that no, the old days weren’t all that good, as one party recently commented on a LinkedIn group, what cannot be missed is that perhaps the world of user groups and events has moved on. It has itself morphed into a hybrid with coverage of all of HP’s product lines and where I expect the mix of exhibits, presentations and face-to-face meetings with HP executives will outweigh other considerations. The availability of free beer and soda, a hallmark of the free-spirited days of the past, has been scaled back, returning sparingly to attract attendees onto an event’s exhibit floor.

However, for the NonStop community the success of this upcoming event will all hang on what is promised for NonStop and the role NonStop will play in HP’s CEO, Leo Apotheker, strategy centered, as it has become, on Cloud Computing and Mobility. Ruling out Mobility it only leaves Cloud Computing and while I have my own thoughts on roles NonStop could and should play, I am very interested to hear what transpires during the week as the lead-up to this week has been eventful, to say the least.

The commentary posted to several LinkedIn discussions of late has been particularly lively – whether part of my own Real Time View group, or within the Enscribe to SQL Migration Forum, or even within the recently formed NonStop SQL Professionals. With the HP Discover event in Las Vegas only hours away from starting, I am sure there will be very few participants from the NonStop community who haven’t heard about some of the postings.

It probably doesn’t surprise too many readers that I became the target for some of the strongest admonishments!

“It looks like Richard that you are in full denial mode!”

“Humor is good. It helps the grieving process. But hey guys you are grasping at straws …”

“Hey Richard, maybe your wife can beat some sense into you. You are confusing the last gasp of dying man with fresh breath!”

And my all-time favorite:

“You guys don’t get it. Richard, you are such nerd!”

What triggered these outpourings were the observations by Jim Johnson, Chairman of The Standish Group, and well known throughout the NonStop community for his many white papers advocating NonStop for deployment in many mission-critical scenarios, supporting these propositions with reams of data showing the superior TCO over all other contenders. In an apparent about-face, Jim suggested that drastic steps needed to be taken to save NonStop!

At first, I was pretty fired up over some of Jim’s remarks but as I watched the engagement with the NonStop community that these comments sparked, I was encouraged to see how quickly and intensely community members came to my defense. I just don’t believe the end of the NonStop era is imminent any time soon!

While the NonStop community was cautious and not quite as optimistic as I was, all the same, there were few among the community that shared Jim’s belief that without something dramatic occurring to propel NonStop into new, explosive markets, the NonStop platform would cease being relevant in a couple of years. Quite the opposite, questions began being asked about what had caused Jim to have turned a full 180 degrees over the value provided by NonStop servers!

Each new day saw me spending an hour or so checking some 40 plus groups just to see what had been posted overnight. Social media channels were really beginning to attract a crowd and the NonStop community was proving none too shy about joining in. And it was easy for me to put up with Jim’s barbs seeing so many of the NonStop community participating.

The immediacy that social media is providing is beginning to make an impression on the NonStop community. Bricks-and-mortar events, such as the HP Discover event, have their place and address the needs of those within the NonStop community that want to know more about the complete HP product set. There will always be those within the NonStop community who simply must get their information in face-to-face meetings and in a setting where there continues to be free beer and soda.

There are, however, many within the NonStop community who are just as happy to pull their information off the web. Number of NonStop attendees may appear to be smaller than in previous years but don’t rule out the many NonStop users that will be online following the posts, tweets and wall messages from users and vendors alike who will do their best to keep everyone informed.

As for the big issues – NonStop servers participating within Cloud Computing – will we see the outcome from application transformation and converged infrastructure, together with hybrid delivery, pointing us to where NonStop will fulfill such a role? Will NonStop servers look similar to what we see today or will there be tweaks proposed for some hardware components and will future blades packages look the same for all operating systems? Will NonStop simply ride the software wave and become a pure software play? Will HP gather a number of vendors together to build a more comprehensive software stack?

In the past we all had to wait until we read about the outcomes of big events in magazines, and newsletters. No longer! With the social media channels it will only be seconds before the rest of the NonStop community becomes informed. And debates will rage anew, just as we have all witnessed this week!

When a group of NonStop users come into contact with each other in cyberspace, the effects are no less passionate than if we had gathered in a coffee shop or at a bar somewhere within the cavernous arenas that today are the venue for big-tent events. Opinions are expressed, questions are raised, and information is quickly shared. Not unlike the impromptu car show that I stumbled across this morning. It may not be the good old days, for sure, but if I am any judge of history, no less important or effective.

I will pull together the highlights of the event in a few days’ time. I can’t wait to see what’s announced and I can’t wait to respond to Jim. To all those present in Las Vegas, enjoy the event!