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.

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