Thursday, September 29, 2011

My passage to India!

When the invitation arrived from HP India to speak at their InNUG user event there was absolutely no way I was going to turn it down. And after spending time with the NonStop community in India I was so pleased that I had elected to go!

There has been one country I have somehow missed visiting during all the decades I have been in IT. I landed there once on a flight from Paris to Bangkok, but never left the plane. And yet, whenever conversations turn to IT, the work being done in this country rarely escapes a mention. Of course, I am talking about India. And the picture above is of me poolside, very early in the morning, in the town of Kovalam, pretty much at the bottom of the Indian peninsula. About 8 degrees north of the equator, I later learnt.

I had been fortunate enough to have received an invite from HP to speak at the Indian NonStop user group event – InNUG. Coming right after the successful event for the Australian NonStop user group, OzTUG, as well as following the good news I had received about the most recent gathering of the Vikings at VNUG, I just had to accept. Following a whirlwind couple of days as I secured my visa, I found myself airborne and on my way to the subcontinent of India.

As an Australian with some familiarity with the geography of the region, I had assumed that I would be flying across the Pacific and changing planes in Singapore, and I was looking forward to the journey. The chili crabs served at restaurants along the south east shoreline of Singapore are a treat never to be missed. There’s never been a post to this blog about Singapore without some references made to this delicacy, as spicy food from the Far East has always been something I have enjoyed immensely.

But no, not this time. So much for my knowledge of geography and of the relative distances between the continents! India was a lot closer to the east coast of the US than it was to countries on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. So this would be an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and see things from a different vantage point – I would be travelling east to visit a land I always had pegged as being to the west of the California!

Departing out of Denver, through to Frankfurt and then on to Mumbai for a 1:30 am arrival. An overnight stay at the spectacular Leela-Kempinsky Mumbai (the 6 Degree bar off the lobby cannot be ignored) and then it would be a couple more hours in the air before I would be checking into the Leela-Kempisky Kovalam. And in the early hours of daylight, I recorded my first impressions of a place I had only ever heard others talking about :

I am sitting in my hotel room in Mumbai where ceiling-to-floor glass windows are providing me with a panoramic view of the many mid-rise apartment and office blocks crowding the hotel. In the distance I can see a number of hills pushing up into the low-hanging monsoonal clouds that continue to bring more rain. The humidity remains high and my glasses immediately fog each time I step outside. And everywhere, that distinct pungent odor that you only ever experience in the tropics – that strange mix of aromas that comes from the rich variety of exotic plants combined with the smell of decay that is ever-present.

Directly beneath my window there is a highway overpass under construction. Or perhaps a railway overpass. Or both; it’s hard to tell from the concrete support pillars already in place what it is that’s being built. However, what’s easy to see is that labor continues to be inexpensive in this city as close on a hundred construction workers are laying reinforcing bars (rebar) over a section several hundred yards long. Another concrete pour must be planned sometime soon, and as I look across the tops of the buildings and take in the scene it is reminiscent of what Singapore looked like thirty years ago.

HP India didn’t hold back when it came to organizing this year’s user group event – the location was terrific and the number of participants was as impressive as the locale. By the time I post this I will have already provided commentary to posts I have made to the web publication,, as well as to the blog, comForte Lounge, both of these are worth checking. However, the theme that stayed with me throughout the event was of removing limits and of broadening horizons.

In other words as I listened to the keynote speakers whom HP and the user group had lined-up, and as I heard first hand of the variety of solutions being run in support of the business, the more I came to appreciate how short-sighted I had become when I think of where NonStop Servers can be best deployed. There are so many discussions of late about the appropriateness of NonStop in this market segment or perhaps that market segment, when in reality, whenever there’s something a business values, whether it’s a type of transaction or simply data, then where the price is reasonable, there is a very legitimate role for NonStop Servers to play.

With so much talk about Cloud Computing and of enterprises embracing clouds, particularly private clouds, I have become concerned that our definition of Cloud Computing has become too narrow and needs to be broadened. The Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defined Cloud Computing in a paper published late 2009. It listed the essential characteristics as “on-demand self-service,” “broad network access,” “resource pooling,” “rapid elasticity” and “measured service.” And it described deployment models as “private cloud,” “community cloud,” “public cloud” and “hybrid cloud”.

In the preface NIST began with defining Cloud Computing as a “model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provide interaction.” Which all leads to suggest, among the NonStop community familiar with the loosely-coupled, shared nothing “Pathway” environment to go, yawn! So what? Nowhere in the definition was there a mention of x86 servers, virtualization, or Linux / Windows.

Picking from the NIST definitions broad network access, resource pooling and rapid elasticity together with deployment as private and / or hybrid clouds shouldn’t limit our imagination but rather broaden our appreciation for just how well NonStop Servers can support this growing business need. All the time, the pricing is coming down while the fragility of current implementations continues to be documented and their users left disillusioned. Perhaps the new message for NonStop should center on the “frustration free” NonStop Server based Cloud Computing!

And while on the topic of messaging, why are we limiting the message of Mission Critical to specific platforms and relegating NonStop to some other, albeit more-mission critical where zero downtime is mandatory (than just the basic-mission critical) marketplace? I am sure we are only seeing the early stage of Mission Critical messages from HP. When I revisited the slides Martin Fink, Senior VP and GM, HP Business Critical Systems, used at HP Discover two slides in particular stood out. Right there in the slide “Best fit solutions for critical workloads” was the Integrity NonStop systems shown as the participant in Mission Critical computing when “zero application downtime with extreme scalability” – yes, it wouldn’t be making such an appearance if the other servers in the chart could provide either!

Further into the slide deck, in the slide “Delivered versatility with common modular design” all of the BCS product line is included as participants within Mission Critical computing and where HP NonStop BladeSystem is qualified as being the “ultimate in availability and scale” – again, it wouldn’t be appearing on this slide if this requirement had already been satisfied by other servers. Sharing the slide with the NonStop Server are the HP BladeSystem (ProLiant and Integrity Blades) and the HP Integrity SuperDome 2, so this at least gives us a clue as to how valuable a participant NonStop is when it comes to the highly visible message from HP on the portfolio of products it has in support of Mission Critical computing!

There is no reason at all to limit or constrain our perspective on products and technologies when it comes to the NonStop Server – it’s an ideal place to start when it comes to clouds and it really is the premier offering in support of mission critical computing. There has been much said of late as to why HP isn’t talking about NonStop or why NonStop isn’t a participant in Cloud Computing. Yes, I think there is agreement all round that HP can improve its marketing message but it’s not like the NonStop Server is being overlooked! For me, it all comes down to education and it comes down to you and me – we simply aren’t broadening our imagination or communicating as passionately as we once did. It’s almost as if the can-do attitudes we once cherished have simply been relegated to the past, overtaken by an almost bunker mindset.

My very own passage to India, and indeed my participation in this year’s InNUG, will certainly be among the highlights of the year and I will remember the experience for quite some time. Travel this time did broaden my mind and the opportunity to meet with so many end users, perhaps more than I have seen at any other recent NonStop user event, was a real surprise. At a time when technology is shifting underneath us and attributes that were once sacrosanct seeming less important, let’s ensure we broaden our vision and open it up as wide as we can because even with what we are now witnessing all around us, NonStop remains as relevant today as when it first appeared, 35 plus years ago!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Information-centric world!

Do we ever fully comprehend all the capabilities of the NonStop system? The question has been floating in my mind, particularly in light of the discussions taking place in LinkedIn and Yahoo groups of late. But before continuing with this thought, last weekend proved to be eventful and by now, some of what transpired is already appearing in cyberspace.

The picture to the right was taken last Sunday outside a Golden, Colorado, coffee shop. Margo and I had awoken to a typical picturesque Colorado mountain morning, as you sometime do late summer, with temperatures dropping, and it was time to jump on the motorcycles again. We had spent Saturday touring the continental divide in our ragtop roadster, stopping for lunch in Aspen, all the while checking to see if the aspen trees had begun to change color, so taking motorcycles for a ride seemed the natural thing to do.

However, only minutes after leaving the house, Margo pulled alongside of me at a stop sign to ask where she could find the turning signal switch. And I should have been more concerned, as it was a little odd that she didn’t remember. After all, there are only a small number of controls on a modern cruiser – particularly the more popular “metric” cruisers from the better known Japanese manufacturers.

The trip to the coffee shop was to be slightly more than 30 miles, or about 50 kms – and the route we chose was one we had often taken in past years. Margo was a little rusty, so we took it rather casually, and for most of the ride I simply pegged the throttle a little under the speed limit and took time to enjoy the scenery. I was trying to relax as on the Friday of that weekend I had taken the Corvette to the local road circuit to unwind over a few quick sessions, but early into the day I lost the Corvette in a very big way and ended up far from the track, buried in dirt! The result of poor decision-making, no question, as I had changed-up a gear while my wheels were not exactly straight in a vehicle developing upward of 700hp.

Yes, this past weekend had been fraught with decisions that were not the wisest, considering the eqipment chosen at the time. There had been times past when we knew intimately all the controls, what they managed, and the results we could expect when interacting with them at the right time and in the right manner. However, distractions and just the everyday activities that so occupy much of our time pushed our knowledge of critical properties far into the background, and a very strong argument could be made for us to never pursue the activities we chose that day as poorly informed as it turned out we were!

Very early in the discussion “Does TMF usage places a burden on system resources ??” within the LinkedIn Group “HP NonStop Tandem Professionals” it was Keith Dick, in response to a very good question posed by a developer, Jayendra Upadhye, who said “TMF provides full ACID transactions (atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability). If an organization's applications update a database but don't need such a guarantee of reliable updates, I wonder why that organization bought a NonStop system in the first place.”

The discussion has since raged across a number of deployments from stock exchanges to banking applications, from human to machine, as well as machine to machine, interactions as well as about the pros and cons of related NonStop middleware. However the bottom line is that arguably, if you really need the NonStop and part of the reasoning behind deploying applications on NonStop is the integrity of data, particularly across an environment that is fault tolerant the way NonStop is implemented, the usage of critical supporting NonStop subsystems and components is very important. And you need to stay on top of the capabilities they support, revisiting them on a regular basis.

Designers, even those revisiting older applications that are in maintenance or sustaining mode, need to realize some of the design objectives embraced by the original design team to ensure that they are taking full advantage of NonStop middleware that may have come to market well after the initial application was completed.

You need to remain familiar with the controls no matter what, as running applications and not being cognizant of what a modern NonStop supports can put your business unnecessarily in peril. What is needed to control a 700lb bike is essential to know, after all! Yes, understanding all that is a part of a modern motorcycle cruiser is important and there is a down side when we simply forget. Fortunately, Margo will recover and none of the injuries was life threatening and there will be no scars.

It was only a week or so that an article I read in the newspaper, USA Today, included remarks made by former Microsoft executive, and now CEO of VMWare, Paul Maritz, of how he envisioned “consumers getting mountains of information from whatever device or cloud-based application (that) is best for them.” For some time now, vendors have been promoting the value that comes with better integrating the data we collect and through various machinations, turning it into useful information.

“We inexorably are shifting from a device-centric world to an information-centric world,” USA Today further quoted Maritz. For example, USA Today reported, “we still have mainframe (computers); they just have a new role. The same will happen with PCs. They may end up being used for PowerPoint presentations!”

The more attuned we are to the capabilities and functionality of the systems we rely on today, it now appears, the better positioned we will be to use them again in exciting ways in circumstances that may at first appear alien. Understanding the controls and the results of the responses we provide certainly carries over from what I witnessed last weekend and are as applicable to how we view the servers we deploy today – even the NonStop server which many of us place on a similar pedestal just as mainframes are elevated by those who use them.

It truly is becoming an information-centric world. For those who may have missed the remarks made earlier this year by HP CEO, Leo Apotheker, it is worth repeating. “Information technology is the fabric of the global community,” Apotheker explained in the HP press release of March 14th 2011. “Data is the world’s most valuable raw material and information is the most valuable commodity – created, consumed and delivered in always-on connectivity.”

Yes, this includes NonStop! And yes, NonStop has a tremendous future ahead of it as an active participant in information technology serving up the world’s most valuable commodity. Almost four decades on, NonStop server remains relevant and a serious contender for a strong and visible presence in cloud computing!

Yet I still wonder, for those businesses that depend on NonStop and are aware of the dramatic changes occurring in the marketplace, and have been become sensitive to the transformation under way as we move inexorably towards an information-centric world, how familiar are they with the technology and how appreciative are they that today, they already possess technology that lends itself to the journey? And will the knowledge of NonStop pave the way for even greater participation as the world does become information centric?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Foolish aspirations!

Social media may not hold all the answers and may be a poor substitute for actually meeting face-to-face. And yet, it's proving to be a powerful lightening rod in terms of attracting those anxious to learn more! As for the future of NonStop then check out what these fools predict ...

Last weekend all across America people celebrated the Labor Day weekend – the traditional end of summer. Margo and I were no exception, and we headed across the continental divide to spend a relaxing weekend on the western slopes. We elected to spend the weekend in the small town of Palisades, Colorado, just a little to the east of Grand Junction.

I had driven past it many times during the years we commuted between Boulder, Colorado, and Simi Valley, California, and never given it a second glance. Actually, it is not possible to view the township as you pass it by as it is hidden below the Interstate, but a few billboards are high enough to let you know that should you take the freeway exit, there would be plenty to do. The photo above is of the Wine Country Inn where we spent the weekend, spoiled rotten by the attentive staff.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive at first as there were many attractive destinations nearby – Telluride, Durango, Crested Butte not to mention, a little closer to Boulder, Aspen and Breckenridge. Wasn’t it foolish to give up a long weekend just to stay in something that might end up being rather mundane? But now that I am back in Boulder, it turned out not to be a foolish choice after all. The wine! The peaches! The delightful inn and the great food! Turned out to be a great place to spend time, after all!

Following such an introduction it may not come as a surprise to readers, or indeed to members of LinkedIn groups I manage, that I am about to launch into my latest endeavor - the formation of the LinkedIn Group, “Fools for NonStop.” So soon after my first post of my fifth year of blogging, there’s almost a sense of inevitability that the subject of foolishness should be raised among those who are fervent supporters of all things NonStop. It’s not a subject that doesn’t cross our minds at some point – surely, after all the years we have been associated with the NonStop Server platform, there’s some truth in us being different, a little odd, perhaps. Even elitist, as I was once called!

The creation of the LinkedIn Group, Fools for NonStop, came about when a contributor to one of the online forums where I regularly participate quickly dismissed one of more upbeat predictions for NonStop as “there is one fool exists in LinkedIn whose name is Richard Buckle!” Clearly my passion gives me away. However, it’s scarcely a new accusation or a surprise. Back in my days working for InSession Technologies, it was suggested in a management meeting that my opinions should be weighed in the knowledge that, after all, I wore Tandem underwear. Certainly, if my passion for all things NonStop suggests that I am a fool, then yes, I will wear that insignia with pride – and continue to welcome the more than 100 members who have now joined with me as Fools for NonStop.

In fact, with all of the groups that I have started, or have witnessed growing, this group is proving to be the fastest growing of the lot. At the time of posting to Real Time View, membership has continued to climb and now sits at some XYZ members – placing it ahead of all other NonStop-specific vendor groups and raising the question of whether it will grow in membership to the size the LinkedIn Group, Real Time View, that today has more than 700 members. There’s still no substitute for the face-to-face time and general networking opportunities that come with participation in real user group gatherings, but could this be a sign, as one new Fool for NonStop went so far as to suggest – “is this the real ITUG?”

There is a difference between foolish behavior and simply being a fool. Particularly, for no apparent reason – when tagged as a fool for something, it usually implies that there are others not as convinced as you are about your beliefs or values, and that perhaps, you have moved too far from a central, popular point of view. When it comes to the NonStop Server platform, and its adherents then yes, our knowledge of what it can provide and the value business can derive from its presence separates us from the pack. For flying in the face of such obvious and overwhelming popular support for commoditization and the technobabble that surrounds it, as a community we certainly look foolish.

In medieval times, the role of the court jester was important. Royalty of the day would not only look upon them for amusement but for information. Free to wander from village to village, these entertainers were the source of much intelligence about what was really taking place within the kingdom. “Who are a little wise the best fools be,” was what 16th Century British poet, John Dunne, observed. Or perhaps more widely recognized, from the Bard of Avon himself, Shakespeare (about the same time John Dunne was writing his poems), “the fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Today, we are much more aware that tides can turn and that what was once valued as important can turn out to be fleeting disappearing as quickly as it appeared. Indeed, the term fashionable has come to mean something that barely lasts a season. And yet, when it comes to technology and to systems anchoring mission-critical businesses, populist perspectives and opinions continue to weigh heavily on the judgments made by many CIOs. NonStop Servers continue to dominate in situations where business values the inherent properties of availability and scalability.

In a recent set of responses to question “Generation Next of HP Nonstop Tandem Professionals - What would you advice?” posted to the LinkedIn Group, HP NonStop Tandem Professionals (certainly, catches all the keywords), longtime expert and a former key architect for Tandem, Keith Dick, wrote “I will say a little about the future of NonStop in this post and about what someone new should learn in some following posts. The future prospects for NonStop are a bit unclear, but there are reasons to be hopeful. Let me give some history to explain that.”

Keith Dick then suggested that NonStop “is a very good system on which to build applications that have as one of their requirements that they have no downtime, or extremely little downtime, and the main competing systems could not match that characteristic in NonStop's early years … Although the clustering approaches of other systems have continued to improve slowly, they still do not match the ease with which a large, fault-tolerant application can be built and run on NonStop. Now the cost of NonStop is comparable to similar Windows or Unix clusters, so the stage is set for NonStop possibly to win more business.”

Yes, tides do turn. What was once fashionable, particularly when it’s out there on the bleeding edge, requires little outside influence before it crashes and burns, relegated to the distant depths of the closet. Commoditizing all the hardware needed by the major HP Integrity server offerings to the point where all that is left is ServerNet is materially affecting the costs – they are coming down. As Keith Dick points out, declining to the point where on paper, there’s not much separating the hardware costs of a Integrity NonStop blade system and Unix, or even Linux, clusters and when these better known systems often run fowl of software license fees, particularly when it comes to databases, NonStop begins to shine.

There are clearly some anomalies remaining with the pricing of some middleware offerings, as well as with some solutions, but even here, current market conditions are seeing vendors revisit their models much to the benefit of the user community. Is it foolish to consider deploying a very modern NonStop Server? I don’t think so! Am I a fool for continuing to lobby hard for further usage of the NonStop Server? Again, I don’t think so!

I found the time spent in Palisades, Colorado, riding through fields on a bicycle and sampling fresh peaches while tasting some pretty wonderful wines, the detour well worth the effort. I may very well have been viewed as a fool for sidestepping a weekend in Telluride or Aspen, preferring to be distracted by the simple life within a small Colorado village but then again, I came away a lot more relaxed than I had at first anticipated.

There’s much that can prove distracting when it comes to social media and it’s a challenge to find a path to those sites providing value. For many, too, there’s the issue that corporations block access on a routine basis and it’s left to quiet periods at home before there’s any opportunity to check out what’s being discussed. But if the speed with which membership in Fools for NonStop grew is any indication there’s very little that’s foolish when it comes to deploying NonStop.