Sunday, July 31, 2011

It only requires a few steps!

It took me longer than I had initially anticipated but the help users gave me, as did a couple of vendors as well as HP itself made the effort worthwhile. Want to know my opinions about NS SQL then read on …

I’ve spent so many years travelling that there’s part of me convinced I am a Nomad! Perhaps not, but having moved internationally seven times, and with opportunities to take up residence in England (London) and Canada (Edmonton), as well as in the US on four separate occasions (Dallas in 1977, Raleigh in 1987, then Cupertino in 1989, and Boulder, Colorado in 1996, If you add Omaha and Simi Valley into the mix the number grows to six!), I am still enjoying the journey and consider the destinations of lesser importance.

The picture above? It’s of my apartment building that I took on a return trip to Edmonton, two years after I had left.

These days I am reconnecting with so many old friends and the memories keep flooding back; of standing on empty beer cans to catch a glimpse of Australia playing England in a rugby match at the old Twickenham stadium, and cheering with my fellow Albertans as then-WHL ice hockey team from Edmonton defeated the world champions, Czechoslovakia. All of these memories returning with each new name that becomes my contact on LinkedIn!

Growing up in a newspaper family where discussing the news of the day occupied most of our time at the dinner table, I now realize how little real information I could access back then. Staying in touch with anyone outside of Sydney, let alone somewhere overseas was impractical for all but the few who were able to travel regularly. Today, with a modern business tool, like LinkedIn, I can chase down a former colleague in the time it takes to tap on a few keys of my keyboard. And yet, there’s still surprises occurring on a regular basis.

It was only a short time ago that I received a recommendation from a former manager, Lewis Cardin, for the time I spent working in a service bureau in Edmonton, Canada. In his recommendation, Lewis wrote “I met Richard when data bases were a new concept ... and yes, that is many years ago. Richard was one of the very few people who really understood the power and future impact that 'data base' would have on the value of technology. He was a true evangelist among a sea of skeptics."

There’s more, but I will leave it to you to check out the rest of what Lewis wrote. However, I am sure that this comes as a surprise to many who have worked with me over the past couple of decades. Certainly, for the past 25 years, I have been better known for my work with communications and networking products and yet, in the years where I transitioned away from the user community and staked out a life in the vendor world, all those years ago it was databases that held my attention.

At the time I was working with Lewis databases were just emerging from conforming to either a hierarchical or networking model, and embracing partial or fully inverted models. Indexes were beginning to take over – a fully inverted database actually didn’t have any records, or rows, as the data were spread throughout the indices themselves.

SQL was just appearing, but positioned initially as more or less an ad-hoc tool useful for pulling information from the database, pretty much on an exception basis. I recall participating in a user conference in Dallas in 1978 when the wraps were taken off an early SQL implementation only to be told that the IBM mainframes the service bureau were running were too small to be able to take advantage of SQL!

How far we have come since the late1970s! I have been engaged in preparing a number of papers and presentations on modernization and there’s probably not a chapter or section in any of the material I developed where SQL implementations haven’t been featured. They have come to epitomize everything we want to see today from a modern piece of software.

In a post to this blog on November 9th, 2010, “Papers? Papers, please!” I covered the subject of CI-Ready where I described what was required to be considered a participant. At that time, I wrote of how a solution or middleware offering had to use “one of more of the modern and open software infrastructure components on NonStop (e.g. Java, SASH, SOAP / Web services, SQL/MX, etc.) or, is capable of being installed with NonStop Software Essentials (e.g. can then be integrated into the installation repository for any NonStop system).

LinkedIn Contacts hasn’t been the only place I have spent time recently, corresponding with people I know, used to know or want to get to know; LinkedIn Groups have become a regular destination for me of late and they are definitely coming into their own; a number of the groups featuring NonStop are drawing quite a crowd. And among the topic is the oft-raised issue about the future of NonStop and of the marketing effort HP is putting into promoting the NonStop platform.

Sharing equal billing with these subjects, however, have been the many discussions about the future of NS SQL/MX and it’s not that hard to miss the connection between the two.

Today, the future of NonStop is very much paralleling the future of NS SQL/MX – and from where I sit, it’s looking pretty good. In a speech to attendees at this year’s Oracle OpenWorld, Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CEO, declared “if you engineer hardware and software to work together, you get a much better overall system and the overall experience is better.” Hello, Larry! Where have you been?

Actually, it’s highly encouraging to see such a prominent advocate of SQL like Larry Ellison giving the NonStop such a glowing endorsement. A couple of weeks back, HP should have painted it on a fleet of taxis ferrying the crowds around Las Vegas. And all this brings me back to the subject in hand – I have been a big supporter of databases in general, and of NS SQL/MX in particular. The very first trip I made to Cupertino was at the time NonStop SQL was being announced and the sense of euphoria about “at last, someone is doing database right” was hard to escape.

For the first half of 2011 I have been engaged in interviewing NS SQL/MX customers – MX users running native with MX tables as well as MX users still utilizing MP tables. Either way, the results were pretty phenomenal. Yes there are some really big deployments out there, in both the private and public sectors. I also interviewed a number of solutions architects as well as a couple of solutions vendors.

And the picture that formed reminded me why I became a database evangelist more than thirty years ago – the power from what it can provide and its impact on the way we process transactions well into the future is an inescapable fact and one proven on a routine basis by many innovative businesses. The paper I wrote following the completion of these interviews, “NonStop – the always-on database server!” can now be downloaded from the HP web site.

You can visit the HP Portal directly at:
www.hp.com/go/Nonstop/ and scroll down to What’s New?

Or, as NED Product Manager Ajaya Gummadi just advised me, you can use this link to directly open up the paper: http://h20223.www2.hp.com/NonStopComputing/downloads/NonStop_SQL_The_path_to_the_always-on_easily_administered_out-of-the-box_clustered_database_server.pdf .

It is also posted on the SQL Pages under News & Articles: http://h20223.www2.hp.com/NonStopComputing/cache/81318-0-0-0-121.html

Early reviews are in; I provided a “sneak peak” to a select audience just to reassure myself. Lewis Cardin, my former manager, may have thought that I was “a true evangelist among a sea of skeptics” – but after three decades, had I lost my touch?

I love to travel and I probably will do so until there’s so much metal in me I can no longer pass through airport security! The journey, after all, is what it’s all about – the people you meet, the cities you explore, and the events you join. So too, today is modernization a journey and there’s many steps that need to be taken – but they are well worth the effort. Modernization is not something pursued in isolation, as with modernization comes the ability to use standard products and services and a reduction in the dependency on proprietary, often legacy, code, with all the costs associated with it.

Again, check out the paper and watch for new discussions about the paper being posted to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View. SQL is not some lane, poorly illuminated and off of the path that few businesses will turn into but rather, one of the very large, highly visible, steps right there on the main path that simply must be taken.

Productivity! Innovation! Competitiveness! Difficult goals at the best of times and yet, well down the path of modernization, and with SQL in place, they will prove to be a lot easier to reach!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nostalgia; comfortable and seductive! And yet …

An email exchange last week with a client provided the storyline I was looking for to introduce subjects covered in a recent interview with HP NED’s Martin Fink. Take a look to see what’s peculating to the top of his agenda …

A couple of years ago I vacationed in the south of France. It was May so I was able to pull into Cannes and watch the fun that surrounded the Cannes Film Festival, and draped over one of the waterfront hotels were banners promoting Brad Pitt and the film, Troy. I was fortunate to be on a commercial sailing boat, operated by one of the more popular cruise lines, and one of the benefits was that we shared the same dock with many of famous patrons.

It was a little further west along the coast, at St Tropez, however, where I came across a yacht that was truly a delight and the picture above captures what caught my eye. In today’s world of composites and carbon fiber sandwiches, this stunningly maintained timber yacht was a thing of remarkable beauty! I have spent much of my formative years sailing along Australia’s eastern coastline but I have never seen anything this gorgeous.

I picked up this month’s edition of Motor Trend and I have to believe the editor (who is an Australian, by the way) was thinking much the same thoughts as I was having. He had headlined his editorial with “the nostalgia trap – were they really the good old days?” He then suggested that, “the old cars are cool to look at and fun to drive if you have nowhere to go and all day to get there.”

“Nostalgia is a seductive thing,” the editor finally concluded. “View today’s world through the prism of the past, and it seems less certain and more confrontational. Nostalgia is comfortable and cozy; emotional cashmere. Don’t get me wrong; I love classic cars, vintage cocktails, and old watched. But I’m with Will Rogers: ‘Things ain’t what they used to be, and probably never was.’”

For readers who follow NonStop related groups on LinkedIn it’s been hard to miss comments posted by many of late, lamenting the changes they are seeing with Tandem, and missing the days when all they wanted to do was to write code. But today, we have the very modern NonStop server and it’s as though the very mention of these NonStop servers raises the hairs on the backs of some folks’ necks.

Change has come to NonStop alright, and from where I sit, with my tinted glasses put to one side, it’s not looking all that bad! This week I attended a client’s annual America’s sales kick-off events and I was one of only a handful of participants that showed any grey hairs – the room was packed full of enthusiastic and youthful industry professionals!

And just the week before, with HP Discover well and truly over, I was able to catch up with Martin Fink, HP Senior VP and General Manager, Business Critical Systems (BCS). Fink had become leader of the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) at the time I was ITUG Chairman and not surprisingly, our conversation opened with his perspective on the recent organizational changes that took place within HP.

“The view is that the time is right for change and that they (Enterprise Servers, Storage, Networking and Technology Services, headed by Dave Donatelli, as well as Software, headed by Bill Veghte) are large enough business units that they need to report into the CEO,” Fink began before adding that “these changes are all goodness for the NonStop community as NonStop is near and dear to (Donatelli’s) heart!”

There was another positive outcome from this reorganization that Fink was as quick to point out to me. “Bringing in the ES (services) business and combining with ESS&N is important. What was becoming clear was that there was a need to strengthen the ties between products and services.”

There was more to talk about than organization changes and divisional restructuring, of course even if this represented a real change from anything we had seen in the past. With HP unveiling its vision just a few months before HP Discover, my conversation with Fink moved onto something vastly different from anything that had ever been addressed in those “good, old days” – Cloud Computing.

“There will be a significant move to Clouds and with the move, the necessity to look at how many core applications move across,” Fink explained before adding, “however, there’s always going to be a set of customers who will chose to run their own infrastructure and within that set of customers, there will be those who need NonStop.” No, despite the different ways I asked the question, I sensed that it was probably highly unlikely that NonStop would be participating inside the Cloud.

Large users, I am sure, may elect to deploy NonStop in this fashion, but when it comes to products supported by HP, NonStop would continue to be a specialty server and with the observations I have made about how slowly enterprises change their major servers, this should ensure NonStop server’s relevance for at least the next five and possibly ten years. With the changes I fully anticipate appearing in the near term, NonStop Server’s relevance should extend beyond those horizons. Converged Infrastructure (CI) after all has firmly embraced the NonStop Server as a mainstream participant!

Front-ending Clouds, offloading low value transaction to clouds both private and public, and taking advantage of Clouds as a go-to resource in times of crises, and where traffic peaks unpredictably, I can see as possible outcomes from responsible CIOs looking to further right-balance their operational budgets.

We will surely see these CIOs pushing transactions out into Clouds just as they will architect their solutions to continue operating, should the Clouds simply fail. As Fink was keen to highlight for me “it’s always our responsibility (as CIOs) to plan for how we will operate our business if a utility disappears; we need to plan and provision accordingly.” Clouds will be a utility to be treated no differently from any other utility we depend upon.

HP has changed its organization, restructured its divisions, and unveiled its vision and strategy for the future. There’s serious work underway to converge infrastructure, and today we can all see a common architecture in place, with a small number of different implementations done to satisfy different customer requirements. Still, NonStop remains at the pinnacle of the product curve as depicted in the Leadership Roadmaps, now common to all product groups within ESS&N participating in the HP Converged Infrastructure initiative.

As admiringly as I looked at that yacht tied up in the harbor of San Tropez, and longed for the days when I could set sail on almost any weekend, the more I came to realize that yachts like this no longer provide the performance or experience they once did. As much as I liked the way it was decked out, there was no way I was going back to scrub the paint and work on the varnish. Every weekend? No thanks!

Even more memories returned but as I let the effects of selective memories subside, I just as quickly recalled the many days sailing in the rain, spending most of my time below deck packing sails, and nights spent with very little sleep. Yes, nostalgia is a seductive thing after all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Routines? We all have them ....

It never ceases to amaze me just how well the NonStop platform performs and yet, as we talk more freely of how modern it has become, why aren’t we working just as hard to get the message up to our bosses?
I’m sitting in an airline lounge waiting for a flight to Frankfurt. I’ve been able to mix in a little downtime while pursuing business opportunities in Paris, and of all European cities there’s probably none better than Paris when it comes to just filling in time. The picture above is of Margo, enjoying the ambience of the street outside Les Deux Magots, the famous former hang-out of such literary luminaries as Hemingway and Sartre!

On arrival in Paris, early Monday evening of last week, I headed down the Champs Elysees towards the Louvre and I stopped briefly at a stall to pick up a hot dog and a bottle of Orangina. While it may not surprise my readers, all the same it was Parisians who invented the hot dog and there’s nothing better than snacking on a frank covered in spicy hot mustard wrapped inside a warm baguette.

The pavement along the Champs Elysees is being turned into grandstands as the Tour de France is under way and will shortly finish with a sprint up the famed boulevard, but this temporary seating notwithstanding, the famed Parisian skyline is hard to miss. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Grande Arch, the Palais du Louvre and the rather tacky Ferris wheel could all be seen.

I first visited Paris in the early ‘80s and I have found my way back to the city many times since then, and with each trip there’s a routine that I seem to follow. The same buildings, the same cafes and the same streets – I just love the familiarity that comes from taking to the streets. At this time of year its well into the evening before the sky darkens and the city of lights is less a spectacle than it is at other times of the year, but the evening warmth more than makes up for having to turn in before the sky is truly dark.

Routines are something I have developed when returning to cities I have grown to like, but perhaps it’s just in Paris where they have become such an integral part of my interaction with the city. And yet, I am not a slave to routines and am only too happy to make adjustments as the situation dictates. Over the years, I have learnt to grow with the city and to embrace the changes I see taking place. Change is ever present, even in Paris. The city has become as modern as any other nation’s capital and visitors new to the city remain just as much in awe of what they see as I was all those years ago.

When it comes to business, following routines and the familiarity that they produce says a lot about our affinity for predictability, and our desire for simplicity and often just avoiding conflicts of any kind. Many in business that I talk to are cautious of change and openly lament the direction their business is taking, but survival offers few alternatives to change, if staying in business is the necessity and business executives simply must do their best to adjust.

Computers change as well. On reflection, there’s probably no other industry that reinvents itself as often as does the computer industry. For many decades those of us who have remained students of technology have watched the pendulum swing between centralized and distributed models. Big systems with intelligent front-ends, single multi-system data centers and more recently, geographically dispersed server farms – the model keeps on evolving and yet resembles many of the deployments we have seen in the past. With each swing of the pendulum, routines followed for years are quickly disrupted and what was once familiar, overturned.

For the NonStop community specifically, this is beginning to take on an ominous tone. Yes, we need to change, too. What was once rated so highly by business executives seems to generate no more than a shrug of the shoulders! Computers are no longer valued according to the level of availability provided and, amidst the general dumbing-down of the industry that is taking place any familiarity we may have attained from working with such robust systems is proving prejudicial to our longer term prospects of remaining in the industry.

System outages no longer seem to generate as much fear among business executives as they once did nor do today’s managers view the inability of their customers to access critical applications as anything other than an annoyance. What would have been headlines in the afternoon newspapers only a few years ago now rates barely a line or two of commentary further back in the paper!

Yet I have to wonder whether we are about to see the pendulum swing back? Are outages and disruptions to services becoming too hard to cover up? How many stock exchanges today will remain content to take outage hits of one or two hours and even longer? How many hospitals will accept the inability to access patient files as minutes turn into hours? And how many business executives will wait quietly in airport lounges as their flights are cancelled because reservation systems cannot be brought back online?

When exactly did we give up on availability and when did we all come to accept that what we had to deal with in our private lives, as our PC’s routinely required re-booting, would find acceptance in our business environment? Was I asleep at the time as I don’t recall ever seeing the message proposing critical computer systems that no longer worked 24 X 7 would be tolerated!

For the NonStop community, are we (who know most about the value proposition from running NonStop) ultimately the party at fault? When all is considered, has it been our failure to keep our business executives advised about the options open to them? For the past year or so, how effectively have we communicated to these same executives just how modern NonStop has become?

I am seeing little evidence that we as a community have pushed back hard enough on the many misleading assumptions about the importance of availability, or championed the arrival of modern infrastructure on NonStop such as Java, Application Server support – including the full support of the SASH run-time stack - and SQL!

In the coming weeks, I will be publishing my first marketplace white paper on NonStop SQL and I will be reinforcing the message of its importance to NonStop. For some time now this message has been hidden within other messages and yet, its role in ensuring modern NonStop deployments remain as available as they have been at any time in the past, shouldn’t be overlooked. Just as we shouldn’t be passing up the opportunity to market its value to the business executives we interface with on a daily basis.

“Customers need to be using NonStop SQL to leverage all the investments HP has made in modernizing the NonStop platform,” was what Harry Scott of Carr Scott Software told me recently. “Being an industry-standard database, NonStop SQL opens up many possibilities for customers to leverage, rather than having to build, components and tools as they (continue) to grow and maintain their applications.” A powerful message and yet, how many of us have changed out routines to ensure this message is being propagated deep within our business? Or has our voice been stilled and the initiative passed to others!

For NonStop to continue to participate in the data center and provide the value it’s famous for, we need to be vocal and yes, we need to change our routines. Scott is not alone with the comments he expressed, as talking to vendors who have recently ported their solutions to NonStop and have elected to leverage NonStop SQL all were impressed, and as they pursue a greater presence in their marketplaces with a NonStop based solution they will be anything but quiet.

I really do love Paris and have never experienced a less than wonderful time whenever I visit the city. The routines I follow help me get in synch with the rhythms of the place – the sites I like to take in and the restaurants I so enjoy visiting. This time I had to adjust and change my usual dinner venue: the restaurant I’ve learned to like was no longer. I tried a new place, and the fish was exquisite! To think I was forced to change my routine only to be really grateful that I did!