Sunday, December 25, 2011

Falling down? Ouch!

For the past five years I have ended posts to this blog with observations about topics of interest to us all and each year, those observations have covered a lot of territory. And through it all, NonStop continues to remain relevant and there’s little to suggest any lessening in its importance for IT. Especially in 2011!  


The year is winding down and already here in Boulder we are into our third or fourth snow fall of the season. Yes, there will definitely be a white Christmas this year, although I suspect we will not see snow falling on the day, but with more than ten inches having already fallen overnight it will be a while before it clears away. The picture above was taken looking out from the kitchen and across to the BBQ. A rather forlorn-looking place under this much snow, and a distant reminder of the good times of summer!

In a few days I will be in the Florida Keys, escaping the cold of the Rockies and catching a few rays! I have only been back there once since I took advantage of its proximity following the 1993 ITUG event in Orlando. With a weekend to spare in between ITUG and the Tandem sales kick-off in Palm Desert, California, it seemed to be the logical place to go and yes, I managed to sit close by to Jimmy Buffett as he enjoyed lunch in his own restaurant, Margaritaville! Yes, it will be an escape but it will also bring back memories of warm summer days.

I am often reminded of the cycles we witness in business – companies follow a lifecycle curve as does technology and products. The simple bell-curve most of us a familiar with reminds us that there are downward trends just as there are upward trends, and the trick for any in business is to step out of a perceived downward trend, reinvent themselves and ride a new trend upwards. Sounds rather simple, but many companies have been adroit at doing this for decades.

And the same is true of technologies as well – hanging on to a technology too long and the ride down may prove disastrous. From the famous buggy-whip company that failed to realize it was in the transportation business to the once all-conquering Polaroid (not to mention my own favorite, the Rambler or Nash Rambler that continued to be assembled in Australia up until the mid-1970s) there are just too many to name when it comes to adapting to changing markets.

As each year has ended I have selected a different theme each time. A quick look at the final post of 2010 featured my observations of the potential impact tablet PCs would have in the coming year – specifically, the Apple iPad. As 2009 wrapped up I wrote about the greening of the data center and how there was much to be done to trim energy costs from our data centers. Looking further back to the last post of 2008 I packaged my message of innovation inside a story of traditions and yes, wrote of how NonStop did have a tradition of innovation. Finally, revisiting the final post for 2007 I provided commentary on ACI’s changing tastes in primary vendors, and of how there were some signs that all was not lost for NonStop and for HP, even with the switch to IBM, a story that has certainly seen many strategy twists and turns ever since.

Running through these posts and then looking at what has proved popular to readers, the posts featuring Clouds, Innovation, Security and the Environment, as well as anything to do with ACI continue to top the list, and so finishing each year as I have done with commentary on these subjects has gone a long way, I am sure, to help bolster the interest in these topics. And yet, it is the changing shape of the data center that continues to intrigue me the most.

Simply put, it is the data center where issues of changing networks and the support of client devices, the concerns over the environment, security, and the innovation, all of this drives become more evident. After all, for the enterprise these represent a sizable investment in technology and people and continue to be at the very heart of initiatives aimed at reducing the enterprises costs and where innovative solutions often appear first. And yet, not all pursuits produce the results anticipated, and increasingly the role of CIOs, as I heard recently, is becoming less involved in technology and products and more involved with people, physical structures and security and with helping keep the business whole during increasingly uncertain times.

In other words, what may have once been popular may become less influential just as what is currently a trend may falter with wiser heads leaning more favorably towards standard-setters of only a short time ago. No, this is not an observation that there are CIOs electing to take backward steps, but rather in continuing to move forward are more receptive to what is tried-and-proven! Punch-cards, paper-tape and acoustic couplers are still items only to be found in museums, and of that I am sure I am on safe ground.

But today, for many with close ties to the data center, our discussions on Clouds, and on Cloud Computing models, is frequently seen in the context of this all being part of next stage in data center evolution. Software as a Service (SaaS) provides a number of strong arguments in favor of adopting this model and the success of companies such as Salesforce.com and even Amazon.com and Google are hard to ignore. Racks of commodity processors certainly bring with the power at unprecedented price points, so much so that we no longer even blink when we here an enterprise now has a thousand, even ten thousand “servers” in a bunker somewhere that powers the enterprise.

It is unfortunate then to read of how problems of the past continue to raise their heads – outages, applications no longer accessible, even machine-to-machine communications, such as those found in cars, airplanes and basic control systems faltering at critical times. Scenarios, missed during testing and QA, when they do present themselves overloading and shutting down otherwise robust systems. Perhaps worst of all, the prevailing economic thinking that suggests that critical business logic doesn’t need to be maintained at all – simply replace the application as and when it eventually fails!

As the snows began falling early this week, I took a bad fall as I stepped out of my SUV. I should have known better, after all I have lived in Boulder for fifteen years and ice and snow shouldn’t be a surprise. And yet, fall I did with my feet sliding out from underneath me and my back taking the full impact from the fall. Yes, it knocked the wind out of me and I needed a while to recover. Ice, slippery? Of course it is!

Systems fail? Of course they do, and part of the need for every CIO is to revisit is just how hard a fall do they want to take! Wiser heads are indeed beginning to reconsider the true value that comes from systems where the combination of the hardware, operating system, middleware and data base really is working, and all of these components work together to ensure an enterprise users’ experience is consistent. Larry Ellison and his team at Oracle may just be waking up to this reality, but for the NonStop community this is mostly old news.

There is a place for the NonStop System in data centers of the future simply as with the acceptance of commodity hardware and the embracement of open source and industry standards, the modern NonStop System no longer is residing on a technology curve of the 1980s but rather has successfully transitioned to the newest 21st century technology curve, and where it is situated the trend is definitely on the upswing. Innovation? Clouds? Security and the Environment? NonStop Systems? Yes, they all belong in the same sentence and the attributes of NonStop Systems will see it continuing to contribute to the evolving data center for years, perhaps even decades to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A fabric of ink!

While business has taken me far afield for the past two months, I still found time to write and post to this and other blogs. For the NonStop community there’s now a body of work, frequently cross-referenced by other writers, which can be easily viewed no matter which media channel they prefer!

I will refrain this time from starting out this post by saying something like back again in Boulder as paging through the posts in this blog looking for a reference I noted that several posts had started out with this observation. But for more than eight weeks I have experienced, for yet one more time, what it is like to be a road warrior. The picture above was taken on a previous vacation aboard the cruising yacht, the Windstar’s Wind Spirit and while in Italy, only a few weeks ago, I had sampled the delights of life at sea with the Seabourn yacht, Spirit. The coincidence of being aboard vessels bearing the name Spirit wasn’t lost on me particularly as I headed for my first drink each evening!

However, there were more than spirits in common with these vessels as their respective owners made sure there were desks set aside to market future sailings. Common among all cruise lines, the effectiveness of onboard re-bookings turns out to be quite high – capturing a subset of the community at a time when they were clearly offering little resistance. And everywhere you turned, whether it was in common areas, bars or your own cabin there were brochures and pictures promoting ports of call you just had to visit! Extraordinary sites not on offer anywhere else and from your cruise line that has negotiated unique experiences that simply beckon to be sampled!

Cruise lines marketing future cruises to an audience already primed to be responsive isn’t unique to just this industry, and ensuring their message is communicated as widely as it is while you are their guests isn’t limited to just this industry. On a much smaller scale, every Friday I produce a brief commentary on something I observed during the week as a way of ensuring that my company, Pyalla Technologies, LLC ., remains in the consciousness of my clients as they head into the weekend and the responses I receive let me know that even on this scale my marketing efforts are not going unnoticed.

It’s all about producing “more ink” – finding as many channels as you can that can carry your message as you pursue marketing at its most basic. When I first posted to the blog I asked Randy Meyer, head of Product Management for the HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), of my intentions and his response has stayed with me through the years. “As long as you generate a buzz around NonStop and there’s more ink ‘out there’ on NonStop, then I foresee no issues,” was how I recall Randy responding. And for most of five years generating a buzz and producing more ink has become central to what I pursue these days in my business life.

Fortunately, I am not alone in this respect. Routinely, there’s new issues of the Availability Digest coming from Dr. Bill Highleyman, like me, a former ITUG Chairman, who has spent even more time working with the NonStop community. Each issue provides considerably insight into what is happening in various marketplaces and his tracking of outages, and the fallout from such outages, remains a “must read” for anyone running NonStop Systems. Likewise, very few of us miss reading the monthly edition of Tandemworld.net; Dave Barnes has worked so hard at ensuring it gets delivered to perhaps the largest NonStop audience of all.

The NonStop community’s The Connection magazine, too, is gradually stretching its legs and attracting a wider following and anyone who has not seen the most recent issue, November – December 2011 will have missed reading perhaps the largest issue I can recall ever having seen. With more than 50 pages on the topic of “Guarding your Data, Protecting your Business” this issue of The Connection most definitely tapped into a message that contributors were only too happy and willing to make public their own views and opinions!

It was while spending time with clients over the past couple of months that the topic of generating more ink for a product or company was raised, on more than one occasion. All vendors appreciate the value that comes through publicity and promotion and welcome every opportunity that arises. However, with the surge in interest in social media channels and the many new outlets that have been created, this time around the topic of more ink has developed further to embrace the concept of a fabric of ink. Simply expressed, this is the appearance of a related topic in many channels almost simultaneously, including many of the more traditional channels, including those referenced above.

Earlier this year I wrote a white paper for HP on NS SQL/MX. The paper, “NonStop SQL - The path to the always-on, easily administered, out-of-the-box clustered, database server!” available online, as a download from HP’s web site, was complemented with a post to this blog “It only requires a few steps!” as well as became the centerpiece of discussions started on a number of LinkedIn groups, including the groups Real Time View and NonStop SQL Professionals. In other words, the topic addressed in the white paper was marketed via many channels, so the potential touch points where the NonStop community may come in contact with the material was greatly amplified.

More recently, in the work undertaken for my client, Attunity, simultaneously with the appearance of a feature article in the November – December issue of The Connection, there was a white paper, “HP NonStop Data Replication” made available on Attunity’s web site, a complementary post to this blog “Reminiscing …”, as well as discussions started in several LinkedIn groups, including the group Attunity and Fools for NonStop, with a number of tweets blasted to the world. There were even links as to where to go to download the white paper provided by Attunity on Facebook!

For the NonStop community the benefits are clear – there’s little likelihood that they will miss out on anything. Whether in operations, development or a line of business executive, in their pursuit of information about NonStop Servers there will be articles and features about their favorite platform appearing in one media channel or another, whether it’s in more traditional publications or online. The fabric of ink in support of NonStop is turning the old adage of NonStop as a stealth technology on its head!

For vendors – middleware or solutions oriented - nothing of what I have covered here should come as a surprise. Marketing is a well understood discipline and as messages are crafted and promotion begins, there’s tried and true ways to inform an audience. However, in the past, there was never any simple manner by which we could be sure this audience really did see these messages. Social media, as a complementary marketing channel brings with it a far easier way to ensure our messages reach our audience, as well as encouraging follow-up via specific web landing pages.

A fabric of ink takes this even further to ensure all likely touch points whereby we intersect with audiences are covered and where we can be sure our message is seen. Today even products such as the HP NonStop Server can reach audiences that would have proved difficult to address only a decade ago, and for the NonStop community it is now a lot easier to find, and forward, relevant supporting information on just about any topic related to the essential mission-critical applications that drive our businesses.

For a community that for so long has been starved of concrete information about what others are doing, what new products have begun to ship and what marketplaces are warming to which solutions, seeing as much publicity today about the NonStop Server marks a positive turn that is welcomed by all who make a livelihood from a platform close on four decades old! As relevant today as it ever was, and as modern as anything else we care to consider! Watch for even more news on NonStop as we head into 2012 and keep checking what’s happening on your favorite blog or at your trusted online group!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Today, we have but one luxury!

At a time when lines are becoming blurred and where the very definition of what we consider luxurious is changing it’s encouraging to read of yet more vendors enjoying success on the NonStop – a rich bounty for all within the NonStop community. And a great feeling as well! But what truly is the biggest luxury of all?

It was barely six weeks ago that I posted from Atlanta, Georgia, and yet here I am today in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Pretty much a straight line diagonal from where I was only a short time ago. When I pull into the driveway later this weekend, I will have added 10,000 miles to the SUVs odometer. But the trip up here didn’t follow a direct path, as I squeezed in a weekend in San Diego and the picture above is of me admiring the view from the hotel alongside San Diego’s famous harbor.

While I have no emotional bonds with the Cadillac Escalade and I abuse it so frequently, it is still an effective way to soak up the long distances I cover. The thought of it being a luxury ride long since banished from all the wear and tear that comes with the miles it has accumulated, even as Cadillac is marketing the brand under the slogan of “we don't just make luxury cars, we make Cadillacs!” Nevertheless, almost ten years old with more than 130,000 miles on the odometer, there’s not a rattle to be heard from anywhere in the car.

I returned to the topic of uLinga in the most recent posting to comForte Lounge, that should appear shortly, if not already - check out the post "uLinga! Turning the corner?" that has just gone live for more about the recent wins! I am really enjoying watching uLinga show early signs of acceptance within the NonStop community. After initial success with an American supermarket chain it has now found success at an American service provider and before the New Year holidays get under way, it will likely win out again at a third site, and with each success it has provided support for mission-critical applications that are at the very heart of these companies’ operations.

All the more exceptional, given that the company behind uLinga, Infrasoft, has been in business a very short time and where the development of the product has occupied all of the “volunteers” time, as it demanded some pretty exhaustive coding schedules be met.

It may only be more infrastructure, and yet it is highly symbolic of what is happening across the vendor community of late. The NonStop Server platform marketplace remains sizable enough to attract even the newest of software endeavors to commit long hours, and potentially risky investments, all for the purpose of providing the NonStop community with choice. While many within the NonStop community long to see more solutions vendors working on the platform, it is the availability of critical infrastructure components that really are the key to future success of the NonStop Server. After all, if the platform continues to look proprietary, demanding skills not widely spread throughout the community, that’s not good for any of us! No, the trick today is to essentially hide all that is “proprietary NonStop” behind a veneer of openness that ensures any product in any market segment can take advantage of the NonStop Server platform.

It should be no more difficult to get running an application on the NonStop Server than it is to run it on any other platform. To paraphrase GM, HP doesn’t just make mission-critical servers, it makes NonStop! And this is an important differentiation in today’s crowded server marketplace. One very recent comment made in a discussion “Hi, Why Tandem Technology has (been) used in all Banking areas …” to the LinkedIn group, Tandem User Group, was in response to the challenges NonStop Server platforms have been facing in the Stock Exchange marketplace and it asked “the solutions you propose are incredibly good and efficient where downtime and data integrity are not priority (however) the need for speed has become a VERY EXPENSIVE game, who will pay for it? The clients?” And in following the complete thread in this discussion, it struck me of how luxurious a feeling we all enjoy from running our solutions on NonStop!

In the cover story in the Money section of the December 2nd, 2011, issue of USA Today the topic was that the definition of a luxury car has changed, and participating in the review were American executives from Cadillac, Hyundai, BMW and Lexus. What intrigued me with this article initially was the comment from the Cadillac executive who suggested that in the past “the definition of luxury was size, space, comfort, presence” but now luxury is defined more by “the feel of the vehicle”. While it may not be immediately apparent to everyone within the NonStop community there are certainly those of us who do understand that with NonStop Servers in support of their mission-critical applications, we do enjoy a luxury shared with very few in IT. NonStop Servers are just more robust and reliable than any other platform you may elect to nominate! And we can feel it!

Commenting on the opinions expressed by these auto industry executives, USA Today then quoted “luxury specialist” Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, who observed that there were “blurring (of) the line between mass and class.” The paper added how Danziger had said “there’s a lot of it going on in the auto industry, making meaning differentiation tricky.” In particular, recent entrants into the luxury segment, Hyundai, “the higher-end cars even share the brand name and showroom with mainstream models …. undercutting the exclusivity” that is another attribute often associated with luxury. Again, there will be many within the NonStop community who can sympathize with this observation – yes, NonStop shares the same HP logo as the other servers on the “showroom floor” and even when addressing the needs of mission-critical applications, the same brand name can “blur the line between mass and class!”

Revisiting the discussion thread from the LinkedIn group, Tandem User Group, and already referenced above there’s considerable inference that with the commodity technology we can access today, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider building our own NonStop System – wrack up enough server instances, throw redundant fabrics underneath it all and hive off the storage to a self-managing SAN. Sure looks like a NonStop to me, right? Yes, it even has the HP logo! However, it’s not that simple.

It’s the age old issue of unintended consequences that ripples through these configurations that cause the outages we hear so much about – even in the marketplaces that pride themselves as much as they do on speed, Stock Exchanges. It simply takes a lot of time from a select handful of highly knowledgeable folks to assemble it all and then, as they roll onto more exciting projects, it’s all left to regular IT folks to maintain and support. Not an engineer on the planet will tell you that “adding more leads to something simple”, and the frustrations that are beginning to be expressed from the clients of some of these exchanges is beginning to be recognized by others – regulators, agencies and competing exchanges are all prepared to act.

Perhaps it was the sidebar commentary towards the end of the USA Today cover story that caught my attention. Hyundai’s executive suggested to all participants that “there is only one true luxury, and that is time.” Yes you can roll-your-own NonStop by pulling together the servers, network fabric and storage from commodity offerings at hand. But not only is it not simple, it takes a lot of time to sort through all the potential failure points, and to put together the complicated test plans that are needed to ensure you can truly determine if new applications properly take advantage of the architecture embraced by “the knowledgeable few” who put it together. Time that is often wasted by the unintended consequences from very minor oversights! Compare with the time that is freed when the system can be brought up pretty much as the packing crates and boxes are cleared away and returned to the shipping dock!

Yes, the showroom floors of auto dealers and computer companies share much in common. The branding spreads across a variety of products, from the most utilitarian to something much more desirable. In today’s business world, time continues to be a luxury commanding a premium and I have to wonder, when did it all happen that we thought we could steal some time back by doing it all ourselves? Perhaps not every markets for NonStop Servers will come back, as there remains a lot of other outside influences, but the more we understand the fragility of what we are making up today as we try and do it all ourselves, the more the robustness of NonStop and the time it give us, will feel like true luxury!