Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yes, I get it!


When it’s an Indy racing car driver that expresses so succinctly the value proposition that comes with embracing standardization and commoditization, the message for the NonStop community is hard to miss and forward-thinking vendors are responding ...


For several years, well, decades really, we have been collecting wines that were sold in magnums – essentially a double helping of your favorite wine in a really big bottle. There’s a couple of Penfolds, several Silver Oaks, Duckhorns, a Joseph Phelps and even a ’93 Bordeaux from a famous vineyard picked up cheaply at Heathrow airport when the US dollar was a lot stronger. However, they are mostly Australian reds and when the holidays come around, it’s a great time to pull a cork and see just how well they have developed.

As many of the bottles are from the early ‘90s, it’s always a mixed blessing – sure we like the wine but now the cellar looks the poorer with the absence of a really good examples of wines we like, but the response from Margo is always the same; get over it! The running joke in our family is that it makes absolutely no sense to leave wine as part of an inheritance. What’s the point – you acquire wine to enjoy it not to let it gather dust in a chilly basement!

The picture above is of a magnum of ‘94 cabernet sauvignon from the John Riddoch collection by the South Australian winery, Wynns – and even though it was just on the edge after a few hours resting on the kitchen countertop, it tasted great. Readers of previous blogs posted at this time of year may recall a very checkered past when it comes to picking the wines but yes, I get it. There are few points to be won from not drinking some of the best you have, as the fall-out from choosing poorly can be considerable as will be the reminders. If you missed those earlier posts then you may want to revisit “
NonStop? Spreading the word ...” and “Product Roadmaps! Still required?

But I do get it – special occasions call for special wines! And a go
od wine is always a great lead in to opening presents, not to mention fodder for a good story line. Last year my good friend Brian surprised me with a subscription to Racer magazine and it was only a day or so ago that I was able to find the time to catch up on my reading of older issues. And among the editorials that grabbed my attention was one by the successful Indy 500 racer and winner and two-time Indy car champ, Gil de Ferran.  The focus of his column was the demands to reign in the costs of race cars while ensuring innovation would be allowed to flourish.

“Look, I get it,” de Ferran began. “Try to control costs, restrict options, standardize on certain parts, increase production, amortize investment over a wider base, increase value for money … It all makes sense and works particularly when the supply of investment into our sport has been dented by the economics of this era.” It is really easy to substitute our technology industry for sport and everything else remains relevant. Indeed, when it comes to technology relevance, Racer magazine was kind enough to include in its own definition of technology relevance with the bracketing (1) of the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes with (2) machinery and equipment developed from such knowledge together with (1) the relation to the matter at hand and (2) practical applicability.

Just as deFerran acknowledges, I too do get it. And I am talking about the HP NonStop system, obviously. Control costs, restrict options, standardize on certain parts, increase production, amortize investment over a wider base, increase value for money … all for the sake of technology relevance. What we have seen over the past couple of years are NonStop systems that are commodity-hardware based, sharing almost every component with other systems of the Business Critical Systems portfolio. We have seen standardization on a scale we would never have expected to see only a decade ago with the prices coming down even as the value for money has climbed. To many enterprises, NonStop is on threshold of crossing over to being bargain priced.

Discussions with solutions vendors providing products for financial institutions are revealing how compelling an argument for adding more applications onto the NonStop system these lower prices are generating. “Once you start relying on clusters of Windows or Linux servers, throw in the cost of the operating system, database system and the necessary tools in support of D/R as well as monitoring,” acknowledged OmniPayments Inc. CEO,
Yash Kapadia, “let alone factoring in the people resources needed to watch over such a complex environment; the value that comes with the latest small NonStop systems, including the most recently released NS2100 NonStop system, and of having everything you need in just the one box is inescapable. From what we have seen we have moved an application from off of Linux / MySQL and ported to NonStop with NS SQL/MX for a lower overall solution price. A circumstance I wouldn’t have believed possible just a few years ago.” 

Probably of more value to software companies is the support of other standards – the Java language and NonStop SQL/MX. It has also become quite routine to externalize applications via SOA and Web services, and increasingly, applications being ported to NonStop find it easy to bring with them enough of a HTTP server to ensure modern protocols including HTTP, HTML (including the latest HTML5 iterations), XML, etc. to ensure NonStop is no stranger to the needs of the latest PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. In other publications you will read of where I connect the dots between the growing integration of social media with business, the increased reliance on mobile devices, the value from getting transactional data into Big Data frameworks, and the cost-effectiveness from leveraging Cloud resources – private as well as public. None of this would have been conceivable without HP fostering an environment where embracing standards and leveraging commodity components was encouraged at all levels. A situation not lost on vendors like IR that have embraced Big Data even as they add support for mobile devices or Infrasoft and comForte as they take a much closer look at Clouds.  

However, what I simply don’t get is the lack of any real marketing “noise” about all of this coming from HP, and indeed, the full ecosystem surrounding NonStop. There are many incidents where NonStop customers talk openly of NonStop as if it were just another Unix box – you have to look very hard to even find the references to NonStop. Likewise, Nonstop vendors who have embraced platforms apart from NonStop for sound business principles designed to develop complementary revenue streams seem to stress the alternate platforms over NonStop relying on the customer to ask the question before NonStop is introduced into the conversation. Yet, even as I look back on 2012 I have to admit, many solutions and middleware vendors who added support for platforms apart from NonStop, have become much more optimistic about the future of NonStop and are more inclined to reference NonStop and for that, the NonStop community needs to be particularly appreciative.

Yes, the year has come to an end and the sales success of NonStop continues. Without giving too much away it only takes a few calls to those involved in selling NonStop systems to come to appreciate that the oft-quoted “another quarter of double digit growth” with respect to sales of NonStop systems is a reality and after three years of such growth, shrinkage in the NonStop community seems to have
quiesced, a situation that I plan on covering in more detail in 2013. Who could have forecast just a few years ago that a working NonStop system, complete with an SQL database, could be purchased for under US$100K? And surely, growing popularity of such a system might just prove enough for there to be a lot more marketing noise in 2013 as well!

Then again, I do get it. Just as
de Ferran emphasized value for money even as he acknowledged the need to control costs, restrict options and standardize, so has NonStop returned to emphasizing almost the exact same list of attributes. And with that, I honestly believe, we have here all the elements that have gone into why today NonStop remains a relevant technology, important to so many businesses. All I can hope for now is that more of the NonStop community gets it as well and about that, I will remain every bit as optimistic as I have ever been.

Friday, December 14, 2012

maRunga, in the sky

Everyone picked up on Google’s clouds misfortune, but back on July 2, 2012, New York Times reported: “On Friday night, lightning in Virginia took out machines that were part of Amazon Web Services, which hundreds of companies use for data storage and computation. Well-known sites like Netflix, Pinterest and Instagram were not accessible for hours.”

On October 22, 2012, GIGAOM reported: “Here we go again. Problems with Amazon’s Elastic Block Storage (EBS) service have brought down Foursquare, Reddit, Heroku, and other popular websites. Once again, Amazon’s U.S. East data center in Virginia is ground zero for these issues”

Back in 2011 Earnst&Young published a paper “Cloud computing issues and impacts”, as part of their Global Technology Industry Discussion Series. Interesting reading:

http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Cloud_computing_issues,_impacts_and_insights/$File/Cloud%20computing%20issues%20and%20impacts_14Apr11.pdf

So, unguarded clouds may get us all in trouble? I think that. What about the guarded ones? HP Clouds program does not address NonStop participation in the solutions. Not yet. We hope to change that with maRunga!

We spent a few hours last week discussing the name for a new InfraSoft product that will provide a shield against unexpected failures of the computers that are providing the resources as part of the cloud. It is no longer “pie in the sky”; it is a well-defined project, with plans, deliverable and a name!

Choosing a name is always fun; it needed to be an Australian Aboriginal word so that it is clear that the product comes from the same company that brought uLinga to market; yes it will share the underlying framework with uLinga, of course. The Team voted, and it will be maRunga, a word based on the Aboriginal word for cloud.

Building maRunga will not automatically promote NonStop systems to playing a prominent role within enterprise clouds and may only attract a select few – but after reading the reports being generated following the outages we have all seen recently, there certainly cannot be any harm in equipping NonStop to play a role in Clouds, so stay tuned and watch for more details in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big News on Big Data?

What has kept NonStop entrenched in our data centers for many years – its unique attributes when it comes to running mission-critical transaction processing – ensures that it will not be overlooked when it comes to building out Big Data frameworks!


Having the RV as our “command center” when we travel is giving us new freedoms when it comes to being able to be flexible with our travel plans. Any time we need to head back to the west coast, there’s now few issues preventing us from stopping by good friends at HP and to catch up with former colleagues from our times at Tandem Computers. With the recent move to new facilities, within the HP campus at Palo Alto, we were able to enjoy an unexpected pleasure – visiting for the first time the well-maintained original offices of both Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard, and the photo above was taken of us alongside the desk of Mr. Hewlett.

Big occasion and a big highlight! The street and city were one of the first US addresses that I came across – anyone who worked with IBM mainframes back in the 1970s should recall that manuals came out of an IBM distribution center with the address of Page Mill Rd, Palo Alto, and when the opportunity came for a drive down from Edmonton, Alberta, to California I went out of my way to find this street and to drive past the IBM building which, if I recall correctly, was on the opposite side of the road to where HP now hosts its current campus.

The more things change the more they stay the same – yes, all those decades ago I didn’t flinch at an 8,000+ mile road trip – my route from Edmonton to the Bay area was via San Diego and Dallas / Fort Worth. Big occasions, big trips, and of course a visit to the Big D itself! For someone from the Big Country, what else would you have expected? Whenever we label anything as being big, it goes without further explanation that it is out of the ordinary, sometimes even beyond superlatives, and possibly so immense that its significance just cannot be overlooked. It’s important.

All of this is a lead to the topic that has occupied much of my time over the past couple of weeks. Big Data. In the time I have been looking at what it means for the NonStop community – and yes, there are still those that question the relevance and likely impact on NonStop – I can’t escape the feeling that this holds great potential for even greater NonStop visibility and I cannot dismiss the intentions of those advocating for the inclusion of NonStop in any plans for Big Data. It’s all about the need to include transactional data, of course, and the developing acceptance that simply capturing unstructured data without any connection to what was actually going on at the time, leaves a lot on the table in terms of understanding customers. Knowing they purchased a jacket, based on a discount coupon delivered on a smartphone, holds a lot more significance if you know that the purchase transaction occurred within half an hour of the coupon appearing on your smartphone than knowing only the date.

In my last three “Musings on NonStop!” features, published in the Tandemworld.net eNewsletter, I have focused on Big Data starting with the observation in September of how there is a lot going on for the NonStop community when it comes to Clouds, but there’s also a lot happening when it comes to Big Data – it’s how companies will be able to better compete in the marketplace and to provide business unit managers with even greater insight into all that is happening within specific market segments. I followed this up in the October musings with the observation of how
industry experts seem only too keen to write-off the contribution being made by NonStop, even when they reference transaction processing. And yet, when you look at the data, it’s hard to overlook the presence of NonStop. Yes, I wrote rather tongue-in-cheek, critics of NonStop seem to be fond of promoting other platforms directly interfacing with customers even when their tolerance of failure seems pretty weak.

In the November musings I again referenced the work I had been doing for Attunity, in addition to that for IR. And they aren’t my only clients with an interest in Big Data – of late I have become associated with a start-up developing new ways to integrate data from many platforms to provide a better mix of relevant data for analytics programs and they are starting with the transactional data coming from NonStop. Surprised? I was, but as I talked to them, it made a lot of sense. The intersection of data generated by mission-critical transactional applications with the data coming out of emails, social media networking and other sources of unstructured data just makes sense. And if you think the Tandemworld.net eNewsletter is just a collage of vender promotions, you may want to take another look as there are interesting commentaries scattered throughout this publication well worth checking out.


But it is the work Attunity has been doing that has kept me focused on Big Data. Even as my previous opinion paper on Big Data became available as a download at
http://resources.attunity.com/HP-NonStop-transactional-data-important-ingredient-for-big-data-success I have complete a follow-on opinion paper that hopefully you will be able to download before year end. Whereas the central theme of the now-available paper looks at the challenges facing companies, as the landscape of servers that typically populate a data center continues to include a diverse mix of heterogeneous systems, the theme of the just-completed paper looks at the impact of an increasingly mobile client population, initiating transactions at any time, will have no plans to ensure transactional data is a part of Big Data. Moving from “what do you know” to “you know too much” to “yes, you can take it with you” provided an interesting backdrop for the material provided in these two opinion papers.

“We’re seeing Big Data being managed and processed in three types of Big Data stores,” Attunity’s Ankorion explained during the recent interview and covered in the previous opinion paper – again, follow the link above. “These include large-scale Data Warehouses that have been available for some time, cloud storage as we have today from vendors such as Amazon Web Services, and Apache Software Foundation’s Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), the primary storage system used by Hadoop applications. “For the NonStop community, the good news is that we have been actively engaged with HP’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC),” added Ankorion, “and we have already successfully demonstrated Attunity pulling data stored on NonStop including SQL and loading it to large DW such as HP’s Vertica - perhaps the very first time NonStop’s structured transactional data has been integrated with the essentially batch mix of structured and unstructured data that is in Vertica’s Big Data store.”


Equally as important was the comment posted by Justin Simonds following my initial post on Big Data of September 21, 2012, “Big Data? NonStop? It’s common knowledge … In that comment, Justin wrote “good EDW's and ODS's will continue to provide structured analytics around transactional data, of which most is useful. Hadoop and others will attempt to provide insights around social media data, most of which is not useful. Blending the two will yield better insights provided we get the proper filtering on the unstructured/social/sentiment pieces,” said Simonds. And on this point he is absolutely correct as all is said and done, there’s still no substitute for the smarts we can bring when the two worlds intersect as they are bound to do. Justin then makes the case for the Analytic Cloud where “Queries would enter the analytic cloud and either be responded to by the intelligent query router or direct the query to the EDW, ODS, Big Data analytic engine or unstructured analysis (Hadoop/Autonomy). Submitters would not know or care which backend system responds to the query." All pointing to a potential role for NonStop in the future that I am not prepared to dismiss out of sight, given the nature of recent conversations.

This then leads me to the Big Conclusion – there will be a lot of data moving around in the near term. Yes, there will come a time when we can better integrate systems, perhaps within a virtualized realm, but until then, we will be moving data. And with that, the investments being made by NonStop partners, like Attunity, hold my interest as I know they do the interest of others (including HP I suspect), and that shouldn’t be Big News for anyone who has been following the posts to this blog.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Things are not always what they seem to be…


The best place to illustrate this point would be Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place, where else can you experience change of scenery – from New York to Venice without even boarding a plane. I stayed in Venetian while at the HP Discover earlier this year, nice hotel, so I decided to explore it yet again, this time without a benefit of a room there, just passing by. Nothing changed, and it was actually better than the real thing, which is under water ...

So, sometimes the real thing is not what you may want.
 
Guardian (UK) posted this picture on November 11, 2012:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/11/venice-floods-high-water-italy

On the other hand…when I bought my new Sony laptop with Windows 8, which is supposed to be almost as good as Apple … I tell you (and I am sure comForte CTO Thomas Burg will not agree), what a joke! Nothing is intuitive about it, if I did not stop by the Microsoft store where a salesman showed me the basics I would not have known which way is up! It only got worse from there. I installed Outlook 2010, and for over a week send/receive was going on, without new messages arriving – not until I closed and re-opened the program. I admit! I gave up! I called Microsoft support. Nice people. No, there is no support included with your purchase of their software. You want to get support; you have to fork over an extra $99.00! No matter that it is their software that’s malfunctioning. Maintenance charge is not a part of the software purchase price, that’s an extra. I recall a few years ago Richard got himself a Mac Air, and there were some issues. Apple store folks tended to it, spent time analyzing and finding a solution – no charge!
>

Anyway, I paid my $99 and got remote support – turned out my outlook data file was corrupted. Well, I did not corrupt it, their software did, yet I had to pay to get it fixed! Honestly, I seem to recall you could get an advice on a phone without having to pay extra, but I may be wrong.
>

Most vendors selling software on NonStop include a maintenance component in the selling price, and it then really acts as insurance. Some customers need no support, some need a lot of hand holding, and it evens out in the end. Of course it evens out when you are in full swing, having a lot of customers. When you first start and build a business the support is where most your money goes, you have to have staff to provide an outstanding support, or you will never build a business.
>

Some stores, like Fry’s or Best Buy offer a support contract when you buy a PC from them. When I bought my previous Sony, with Windows 7, I did buy Best Buy plan. I was lucky not to need it. This time I did not go for any plans, and ended up paying Microsoft directly so that they could fix what they messed up. Somehow it did not feel right.
>

Yet, things are not always what they seem to be… The support representative from Microsoft was actually incredibly diligent and helpful. He stayed with me on a phone for several hours making sure the issue is resolved, and when I asked him to take a look at another problem on my other laptop he was only too happy to assist. It’s been over 4 hours, problem resolved, and in the end I feel it was a best spent $99.00.


It is all about people and personal touch – in all businesses, large and small. For the NonStop community, this may all appear to be somewhat alien but for many it has been the level of support, the initial build quality, and the team of solutions architects that is being funded by the  NonStop sales that separates NonStop from other solutions. Having worked for and with some of the NonStop Vendors  I have to say it is the support and personal touch that makes the ecosystem unique, and that’s why so many large institutions depend on NonStop vendors.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Different approaches …

Changes in direction at a familiar road course, as well as in the executive team at HP together with how markets are approached all called for taking a different approach. And yet, changes are what we must do if we are to compete effectively.

This past weekend saw Margo and me at the track, a road circuit outside the village of Buttonwillow, California, all weekend, firstly as mechanic for Margo on Saturday as she participated in four sessions, and then as driver on Sunday for another four sessions. This was our last outing of the year, and it will be another five months before the Vette gets to “stretch its wheels” once again. The photo above is of “Team Pyalla” setting up camp, trackside, as light was fading Friday afternoon.

The circuit was created to support various configurations to keep everyone on their toes, but it featured a number of corners from famous circuits and for years has proved to be a popular location for testing and even magazine car reviews. However, for this weekend, we would be facing the longest of the configurations, course #1, but instead of traversing it clockwise, as is normal for this venue, the organizers elected to run it counterclockwise. In the days leading up to the event I had watched film on YouTube, and then on Saturday I had ridden as a passenger in a similar car to what I would be driving, and yet, when I first went on track Sunday morning, it just didn’t come together for me. I needed to try something different so I arranged for a more experienced driver, but with the same car as we had, to participate in my next session and we would run a couple of laps lead-follow style, with first him leading and then me. All it took was a couple of laps and I finally came to terms with the circuit. The different approach paying almost immediate dividends and the time on track become far more enjoyable.


It would be hard for me to ignore the recent changes within HP, particularly as it has a direct impact on all within the NonStop community. Last week we all read of how Martin Fink had been elevated to CTO, HP, and Director, HP Labs. Martin is just so well known within the NonStop community, having led NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) for several years before taking on the bigger task of heading all of Business Critical Systems (BCS). I am still to read anything official about who replaces Martin as head of BCS but early information I am getting is that recently recruited head of NED, Ric Lewis, is moving up to take over – again, another significant move for all who follow NonStop.

Martin will surely bring a different approach to the role of CTO – from the very first time I met Martin (when I was ITUG Chairman) it was hard to miss his enthusiasm of keen technical mind. He liked to build things and that was very obvious to all who talked to him. That he enjoyed being around the NonStop community as much as he did spoke volumes about just how highly he thought of the NonStop system and he has stayed very close to the team throughout his time as head of BCS. But it’s not just the anchoring in NonStop that will likely see a different approach being taken – it’s also his passion for Linux, as well. If not more so than his enthusiasm for NonStop, and I can well imagine a future where the intellectual property of NonStop is more universally leveraged by Linux programs, and possibly in ways we can’t even imagine at this time.

Pursuing a different approach is also proving beneficial at Opsol. While on our way to Buttonwillow we had the good fortune to catch up with Opsol CEO, Yash Kapadia. In my last post I had quoted Yash briefly, but sharing a coffee with him proved opportune. Yash had only flown back from Mexico a day or so earlier where he had been working with a client and where he had met with some success. Ever since that fateful time when ACI Worldwide announced to the NonStop community that it’s BASE24 platform allegiances would change and no longer center on NonStop but on IBM Mainframes, the activity of solutions vendors escalated. ElectraCard Systems scored a big win as State Bank of India, Lusis Payments won Bankserv in South Africa and the OmniPayments business unit of Opsol won big at a top tier American bank.

And from what I can tell, there are more wins in the offering about which I am hopeful to hear a lot more shortly. However, the story of Opsol is one that reflects too on just how the path to overnight success can take many years and often involves several transitions. From a consulting company to a services provider to a product company, Opsol has used its time in the marketplace to hone the necessary skills to truly understand the needs of financial institutions, and in doing so, has built very strong connections to HP NonStop development and field sales and solutions architects. In marketplaces all around the Pacific Rim the capabilities of Opsol are very well known.
Two topics we covered with Yash stuck in my mind however. In a move that will surely be emulated by other in the coming months, Opsol will be among the first solutions vendors that I know of, who takes full advantage of the more competitively priced NS2100 NonStop system to move an application running on a combination of Linux and My SQL to NonStop and SQL/MX – about which I will be writing a lot more in the new year. As for the other topic, it was about replacing a feature of BASE24 with a much lower maintenance alternative that was more aggressively value priced.

“For many customers having access to the source code proved beneficial,” Yash explained. “But then again, pursuing a lot of changes within the source code, particularly when there may have been simpler steps taken, such as working with configuration files, has led to considerable expense being born by these customers when it comes time to upgrade. Certainly, ACI is only too willing to help out and the services revenues being generated within ACI bear testament to just how expensive some upgrades have proved to be. We have ensured our own payments platform, written in Java and exploiting SQL, is modular enough that features can be lifted from our product and plugged right into ACI’s product.”

As an indication as to how flexible the OmniPayments product is, one such BASE24 user has now completely replaced the Authorization, or “Auth”, module of BASE24 with the OmniPayments equivalent, reducing the sizeable expense bill the customer was facing to something more manageable in the short term, but just as importantly, giving the customer a more modern feature that will be much easier to customize going forward. “In relying on industry standard languages and tools, even when it comes to NonStop, makes recruiting and retaining applications staff a much simpler and easier task to accomplish and the customer benefits almost immediately,” Yash told us as he explained the benefits that came with taking a different approach to this marketplace.

My time on track benefited almost immediately from close proximity to a highly skilled driver more familiar with the environment and all that needed to be done to get around the circuit quickly. I was able to observe where braking was required and where to position the car on entry into the critical high-speed turns. Talking to Yash, I gained the sense that building his product business on top of their consulting and services foundations, where they had gained years of experience alongside the people working closest to products, now allows him to move easily between features – plugging in his feature as needed and when appropriate – is going to see his company become even more prominent in the payments platform marketplace.

Different approaches may not always be the thing to do at the time nor are they always immediately recognized as an obvious next step to take. However, for those who have the foresight and perseverance to recognize problem solving can benefit in pursuing something entirely different there’s benefits to be gained. Over coffee with Yash, this quickly became so obvious that I can only imagine that there’s even more news coming from Yash shortly that will prove every bit as interesting and topical for all within the NonStop community.  







Thursday, November 8, 2012

The best of views …

A trip to a national park reminded me of just how far we have come; the NonStop systems deployed today within the NonStop community are highly versatile, modern servers. But simply deploying the latest iteration of NonStop is only a starting point and the onus is on each of us to really look at how best we exploit NonStop.          
 
Business took us once again to Las Vegas, an occurrence that has already featured in posts to other blogs. On our way Margo and I were able to stop by Zion National Park, Utah, and as we were taking the RV, it gave us an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend checking out the park’s sights. However, one morning I awoke to find my vacationing neighbor, Steve, shooting pictures of the front of the RV and I was a little puzzled by the intensity he was exhibiting until he showed me this photo. It seemed we had parked the RV in the best location to catch a reflection of the mountain peaks that surrounded us.

For anyone planning a trip to the south west, including visits to such sites as Monument Valley, they should also plan on stopping by Zion National Park – those classic photos of very high sandstone canyon walls surrounding a very narrow river were likely taken in the parks famous “The Narrows” that are part of the headwater of the north fork of the Virgin River. They are a spectacular site, although I have to admit, once it became an exercise in wading the shallow river in order to continue the trip deeper into the canyon, I called it quits.

The early morning reflection on the front window of the RV, the sandstone peaks capturing the first rays of the morning sun, were not just beautiful but to me a reminder of just how often we miss seeing something important taking place because we didn’t stop to look at its reflection. I will not dwell on the mirror image that is a part of any reflection, but I will simply observe that often what happened elsewhere has laid the foundation for what we are now doing. In other words, the significance of our pursuits, particularly when it comes to IT, if left unframed by what has transpired elsewhere may mask further opportunities. Should we not see how the dots have formed we may not connect any of them correctly and miss recognizing the very next obvious dot. A view that is sure to disappoint!

A case in point: Rethinking our applications and transforming them into services, externalized via Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and capable of being consumed by any client device supporting a browser, and in a manner whereby they could be picked apart and complemented with other data to create completely new applications may have been something we did a long time ago. But as we have progressed through Client / Server computing and on to Web services / SOA, watching the further evolution into App deployments seems pretty obvious. First the client undergoes a transformation (with all that was proprietary stripped away) and then, in ways we may have missed if we hadn’t been watching, the services themselves are being transformed – the business logic may be retained but the packaging is beginning to look a lot different.

For the NonStop community, familiar with the types of mission-critical applications typically deployed on NonStop, consideration is already being given to whether access to the mission-critical application should now be initiated from an app that has been separately downloaded to the client device. In so doing, any authorized user, whether internal to the company, a business partner or even a customer has immediate access to functionality they may need. Looking back at all the energy we once spent on UIs, GUIs, Browsers and so forth, and working diligently all the while to ensure our particular interface provided additional value of one kind or another you can’t help but feel that much of our energy was expended needlessly. Make the interfaces as ubiquitous as possible and open up access to our applications to everyone on the planet.

There are restrictions here, of course, and I understand I am skirting issues of privacy and security, and potentially even data integrity, but the point remains. Much of the rapid progress that has been made easing the way we do business, pursue commerce, and in general make money is commensurate with the speed we have knocked down proprietary barriers. And talk is still relatively cheap – many members within the NonStop community see little evidence of their applications being deployed in this way as they continue to run the legacy applications and would argue that the budgets needed to go down this path simply aren’t available. NonStop running a single transactional application remains isolated and hidden somewhere towards the back of the data center – untouched simply as the concerns over possibly breaking something outweigh any perceived value that might be obtained through such “modernization”.

I have had a long-running discussion going with comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, over the disconnect that exists between todays very modern commodity-based and value-priced NonStop systems and what most NonStop customers actual have deployed. Bereft of the necessary skills that they would like, these NonStop customers appear to be in a holding pattern hoping that the NonStop will keep on doing what it has always done through a couple more hardware spins – and yet the promise of NonStop doing a lot more is so tantalizingly close. As Burg reminded me, “on LinkedIn, every week one comes across job postings searching for ‘COBOL developer for NonStop’ or ‘BASE24 developer’ – where are the postings looking for C++ or Java developers for the NonStop platform? I don’t think it is even remotely realistic to retire the ‘legacy’ applications as they still are rock solid and have a lot of proven business logic in them.”

But then again, there are solutions vendors, such as OmniPayments, where today, embracing Java, using NS SQL and looking at the possibility of running their payments application from within a NonStop Cloud as a service, seems to be a natural business progression. “On reflection, coming from a services background as we did,” said Omnipayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, “it was natural for us to focus more on products and then, as we have met with success, we look to address customers’ needs, not previously considered by potential NonStop customers, so putting our products into clouds and offering services once again seems a logical extension of where we see the business heading.” Retiring legacy applications may indeed prove to be a slow process but with value-pricing, replacing them may prove more popular, and in time, there may very well be the flood of job postings that Burg wished were being advertised today.

The reflection on our RV was a magnificent site. In reality, it looked even better than what we could see from ground level; the changed perspective that the added height of the RV provided, opening up far more of the vista than was possible from our vantage point. The NonStop community is going to see a lot more changes coming and not in some abstract or chaotic fashion, but rather, as a natural progression following much that has already been done. Vendors are anticipating this, even as creative NonStop users have already started prototyping. 

Possessing a modern NonStop system is proving to be just a starting point and very modern deployment of the applications is following. No surprisingly, this is not happening uniformly across the NonStop community, but it is happening all the same. And on reflection, none of this surprises me. After all, using transactions isn’t changing as much as transaction usage is changing, and that opens up a lot of territory for NonStop. And the view from where I stand looks terrific!






Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I think I'm having stress!


Plans are made, tickets are booked, and Mother Nature plays havoc… Yeah, I was booked on a flight to Baltimore on Monday, October 29. Who knew? Of course the flight got cancelled and plans had to be changed. Could have been a lot worse, I know…

Click on Richard's picture and check the T Shirt he's wearing. Yes that's him behind the helm of Chardonnay II off Santa Cruz, California.

I have been getting nostalgic lately, looking at what happened over the years – how technology changed our lives and our careers evolved trying to catch up.

Oh, yes, I remember 1989 Tandem Computers Annual Report – and for those who long ago have forgotten the specifics, I was featured in it, with an artist-rendered likeness.

The SNAX/CDF product had been released, and for me, having been a part of this then modern development project felt fantastic! I was a part of something significant, it mattered, customers awaited it ready to deploy!

Fast forward to 2012 – yup, 23 years later. Time flies! Again, I am feeling great to be involved in a new, modern effort of putting NonStop on the clouds map.

I feel it may be a significant step toward enabling mission critical applications to access affordable and flexible computer power without a fear of ever losing a transaction in the process!
 
As the CRN (on-line magazine for VARS and Technology integrators) reported just this past Monday, October 29, 2012, “Google (NSDQ:GOOG) App Engine, Tumblr and Dropbox worked on ensuring the availability of their cloud-based services Monday after each suffered outages for several hours Friday.” The reporter, Jack McCarthy, added “Google said App Engine, its platform for developing and hosting web applications in Google-managed data centers, went down from 7:30 a.m. PST to 11:30. a.m., PST, as it experienced slowness and errors. As a result, 50 percent of requests to the App Engine failed.”
 
Even though Google reported that no data has been lost, all of us associated with Payments Industry see the scary picture of lost opportunities. Transactions that couldn’t be completed and customers forced to turn to competitors.
 
The article concluded: “This shows the cloud industry still has work to do to improve on overall availability and performance," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of Thinkstrategies. "There are inevitably going to be disruptions to service availability, and it's key for service providers to minimize these occurrences and for cloud consumers to mitigate their risk by having a backup and recovery plan in place and by exploring ways to take advantage of offline service options."
 
Clouds dotting the sky can be highly photographic at times and have been captured beautifully in many paintings. However, as we have witnessed this week, they can also generate lightning and thunder and indicate the presence of highly disruptive winds.
 
Coming on Monday, as Hurricane Sandy ruined my plans and made me stressed – it was great news.
 
No, not that Google lost its cloud, but that it clearly demonstrated a need for the presence of NonStop to guard the applications from the capricious nature of the clouds!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reasons to celebrate!

Some days I look at what happened over the years, and sadly, I can’t say that all that happened was planned, but for sure there was always a goal.

My goals are always set way high, just in case I achieve them, so when we first looked at the NonStop managed clouds demo all I could think of was just how cool it would be to partner with HP, get the “Sydney boys” (Managing Director, Peter Shell, Chief Architect, Neil Coleman, and Development VP, Dave Finnie) involved, and come out with a world class solution for those who can’t afford to lose their transactions in the clouds.

Richard gave me this look that said “in your dreams”, but unless you have dreams you just stay put, and do not get any closer to your goals.

So we started talking with the HP guys demonstrating the product, Justin in particular (that’s Justin Simonds), Richard wrote a few posts to the NonStop community blog promoting the effort, we sure admired what they’ve done, and we really liked them and their enthusiasm.

Yes, you may wonder why I am posting this picture of a wonderful cheese and pate platter – there is a reason! When a goal is achieved, a deal is done, a task is completed or the first phase of my dream take on shape, we tend to look at each other with the “this calls for celebration” expression – and off we go to have a glass of wine and a meal in one of our favorite restaurants. The wine and cheese place that serves this fabulous spread is on the list of fun places to use for celebrations. And now we are working with the same HP guys; the next step is for us at Infrasoft to figure how will we take the concept and the APIs and build it into our uLinga product. uLinga for clouds! I like how it sounds.

But there’s a lot more! Following briefings with the team at HP, we now have the code – gateways, APIs, tables and files, and the “Sydney boys” have completed installing it all on the NonStop system. Some of you may have seen Dave Finnie at the NonStop “boot-camp”, where there were discussions with HP – the focus being squarely on our early feedback and on what we have observed to date.

Whether we facilitate the use of NonStop on the edge of two or more clouds, projecting a level of availability and robustness that is usually only ever associated with NonStop, or cater for Java applications running on NonStop that are CPU intensive and “burst them into the Cloud”, or, perhaps, we go the other way, where for reasons of security or data integrity, or even just for compliance, there could be markets for syphoning transactions out of the Cloud. It’s all early days, but in discussing possible capabilities with users, the suggestions are coming fast.

There’s still the roadmap to complete, and with a completed roadmap I expect there will be even more wine and cheese!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The energy that surrounds NonStop ...


There’s no denying just how important people – users, vendors, consultants, analysts – are to NonStop. And the contributions keep on coming; without which we wouldn’t have the NonStop system of today.

I came to NonStop via a very circuitous route – one that involved several states and a couple of countries. It was 1987 and I had returned to the United States to work for the second time and it was with Netlink (or Systems Technology, as it was known when I joined the company in 1986) who had set up shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among the names and faces that were involved with Netlink were folks like Mark Hutchens and Terry Bishop who I was to reunite with many years later at Insession as well as Rick Ploen who many of us know from time he spent with ACI Worldwide, and more recently comForte.

It was while in Raleigh that I first came into contact with Tandem Computers. Midway through 1987, Netlink CEO Paul Wood called me to his office to outline his conversations with Tandem Computers and to ask me to manage the business relationship. The first meetings at the Netlink offices included folks well-known to the NonStop community even to this day; Andy Hall, Steve Saltwick and Suri Harish. And the list grew longer with my first visits to Cupertino where I met Roger Mathews, Chris Russell and though I only vaguely remember the incident, a presentation to the SNAX organization, Margo Holen. What I saw of Tandem impressed me to the point where I asked Suri Harish how I might be able to join Tandem.  The product, the people, the customers – the energy that surrounded Tandem in the mid-1980s was inescapable.


Unfortunately, as a US resident with an L1 visa, I would have to return to Australia, join Tandem Computers in Australia, and then apply for a position back in Cupertino. This I proceeded to do and for all of 1989, as my visa application made its way through channels, I commuted between Sydney and Cupertino – a total of 13 ½ return trips. The picture above is of me outside Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard, Woodside a place I visited frequently during those months I was commuting although taken a couple of years later.

Much of this history came up in a recent conversation I had with Steve Saltwick who recently retired from HP but, as he reminded me of more than once, not from the NonStop community. You can read a lot more about Steve on LinkedIn and Facebook and Steve stressed that when it comes to all things NonStop, expect to see him as active in the community as he always has been – just with a slightly different focus now. And spending time conversing with Steve proved to be more than just enjoyable and entertaining but informative as well.

While many of us in the NonStop community know of the history of NonStop, perhaps few have lived so close to what transpired over the past two plus decades as has Steve. And yet, the last couple of years he has spent with HP, overseeing the team working most closely with solutions vendors, has given him considerable insight into one of the most widely discussed topics across the NonStop community – more solutions for NonStop!

“Looking back at how we first met and at the engagement with Netlink, Tandem Computers approached networking from a transactional perspective – if Tandem was going to process transactions it needed to tap into the source as a peer and hence, IBM connectivity was mandatory. Customers wanted Tandem to do this and in time, we could hold our own with IBM when it came to supporting IBM’s SNA, was how Steve began. “Netlink complemented the products we had at the time and where there was an opening to encourage a richer networking offering, Tandem was only too happy to step in and help.”

Moving past how we had met, Steve then talked about the struggles Tandem had in the mid-1990s that led to the acquisition by Compaq a circumstance that may have been good for investors but left much on the table when it came to how Tandem Computers did business. “After a fashion, Compaq just didn’t get it,” Steve then observed. “Whenever a Tandem experienced problems then, once reported, there would be people on planes immediately to make sure the problems were resolved.” And this was new to Compaq and the source for much of the disconnect that followed.


There was further disconnects too about how Tandem systems were developed but then Compaq may have been more correct about its concerns than those at Tandem may have been willing to concede. “Tandem Computers unrelenting passion for building absolutely the best server possible, in terms of availability, eventually became unaffordable. Changes had to be made and the experience with Compaq,” Steve suggested, “with its 180 degree difference in perspective (when it came to building everything yourself) better prepared developers for the new realities of the market.”

Steve’s time with Compaq was disrupted briefly when he left to work at a couple of start-ups one of which Tandem Computers founder, Jimmy Treybig, had made investments and was on the board. “The experience at these start-ups really helped me better understand the perspectives of smaller, entrepreneurial ISVs,” Steve related. “Thanks to Pauline Nist, I returned to Compaq shortly before HP acquired the company and it was with a collective sigh of relief all associated with the Tandem systems welcomed HP.” Compaq may indeed have not gotten it, but surely HP would be able to leverage all that Tandem was capable of providing.

“It didn’t happen overnight and there was considerable initial angst but under Martin Fink we worked to integrate what we now know as the NonStop system into the spectrum of products that made up the Business Critical Systems (BCS) portfolio,” Steve then explained. “HP as a whole, customers as a whole, indeed the marketplace as a whole has given NonStop its due – and it’s proving today to be a highly valuable business - both for customers and for HP. There are some categories of transactions that continue to grow that will benefit from the presence of NonStop. Now a modern hardware and software stack, NonStop finds itself well-placed in a very viable marketplace and is benefitting accordingly.”

Steve then closed with “look at just how different today’s NonStop systems are to those engineered as Tandem Computers back in 1974. The world moves on; you are either evolving to meet the needs of the day or you are dying. But some things have stayed the same when it comes to NonStop. Focus on the fundamentals, the retention of good people, and a tremendous support team to support the customer – they are as much needed today as they have ever been and as part of HP, they remain the fundamentals of the NonStop team.”

Over the past few weeks I have had the good fortune to interview a number of HP executives and senior managers – Martin Fink, Paul Miller and now Steve Saltwick. And this has been a deliberate move on my part following all that was presented at HP Discover 2012. “Make it matter” has become the central message of what Meg Whitman is hoping will propel HP to more prosperous times. However it’s also a time when there’s discussion in the marketplace of what will become core to HP’s vision for growth – and many within the NonStop community have expressed concerns about the future of the NonStop platform.

For me there are signs that NonStop will remain a force within the HP BCS portfolio. And it will be a part of the strategy that helps HP to grow. On several occasions I have written about NonStop as HP’s Halo product to make a point of just how good the platform is today – but there’s more than just a badge or logo. But I made the reference for a reason; the product, the people, the customers – the energy that surrounds NonStop even today continues to be inescapable. Steve Saltwick may have indeed retired from HP but no, he very much hasn’t retired from NonStop and with that his name is added to a long list of advocates and evangelists and the NonStop community is the richer for - and about that I make no excuses or hold any reservations!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NonStop you!


There is a message about NonStop to be taken into the enterprise as the NonStop system is proving beneficial and indeed appropriate whenever topics such as Java, Big Data and Cloud Computing are raised – it’s just going to take a lot more engagement by all of us to make it matter! 
 
Road warriors are an integral part of most vendor companies. We all know who they are, and they rarely miss a user event or convention. For them six or seven flights in a week to visit four or five accounts is merely routine, and living on the edge with respect to not knowing whether flights will be cancelled, or a critical PC (or router or line) needed for a presentation will fail, or even a last minute cancellation by a user, only strengthens their determination.

I know; for thirty plus years, this was the only life I knew, and while it was interrupted a couple of times as I was given different assignments, I seemed to always gravitate back to this lifestyle, but of late, and with the work I am currently doing, I am travelling a lot less. Travelling is addictive and like an addiction, when I stopped doing it a couple of years back, it was tough, but now I don’t miss it all, but when those times to travel do arise and I see yet again those road warriors I know so well, and I can’t help but look back to those times now long gone.

Last week as I waited in Munich for my flight to Dresden, as I headed for the GTUG and the Pan-European GTUG/CONNECT event, I caught sight of a large overhead digital billboard scrolling through advertisements when up came the sign, captured in the photo above, that simply stated “Nonstop you”. Turned out it was a Lufthansa promotion for their new lie-flat beds in business class, wooing, as it was trying to do, those road warriors who were lucky enough to score upgrades in airline networks that gave them a choice of carriers.

The thought of “NonStop you”, however, never left my consciousness, even as I participated in the Dresden event for the NonStop community. So many well-known faces continue to champion products and solutions, whether from HP or the many independent vendors who contribute so much to the community. There is competition between vendors, and that is always evident, with some vendors anxiously watching as their newest prospect wonders off to a competitor’s stand, but since this is all about technology, and where the interests of the user community often gravitate to something new; seasoned road warriors never miss a beat. They have seen it all before and continue to demonstrate a knack for ensuring their products - no matter the feature deficiencies or legacy interfaces - is in the forefront of their prospects considerations.

There is a cricket world championship competition under way in Sri Lanka. It’s down to the last couple of teams, with the finalists once again the countries that are dominant in this sport – that’s right. England was eliminated only a day or so ago. “ESPN The Magazine” senior writer, Wright Thompson, is in Sri Lanka covering the final games and in an article updated September 30, 2012, “Sri Lanka team, nation look ahead” he wrote of how “There's a line I love from a novel about Sri Lankan cricket called ‘The Legend of Pradeep Mathew,’ set around the 1996 world championship. It describes the power of sports better than anything I remember reading.
"Of course there is little point to sports. But, at the risk of depressing you, let me add two more cents. There is little point to anything. In a thousand years, grass will have grown over all our cities. Nothing of anything will matter. Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there may be no practical use in that, there is most certainly value."
Indeed world championships matter little, but they do bring value to a marketplace. When it comes to technology, unfortunately, looking back at technologies, architectures and even some solutions, most of us are amused to look at what we championed four or five years ago, let alone ten or twenty. Whatever happened to Hierarchical Input-Process-Output (HIPO) systems analysis design aid and whatever happened to PL/1? Modular 2? And where today is the once much-lauded .Net heralded as the next best thing, and yet failed to capture the market-share expected versus Java. WebTV anyone? I still have three of those units somewhere in the house.

Value drives the success of any endeavor and road warriors know this – it’s what gets them back on the plane every day. For the NonStop community there’s no surprises as to why NonStop systems are still at the heart of many enterprises transaction processing environments – NonStop continues to perform this task so much better than any other platform, even when it’s sometimes perceived as being well past its prime. There’s value in running NonStop. And all through the presentations at last week’s GTUG event this became even more apparent. However, we cannot simply rely on a handful of road warriors to ensure NonStop remains relevant; increasingly, I am convinced it will take even more effort from all of us to ensure the message about the value of NonStop continues to be communicated.

I have just completed a new post to comForte Lounge, “
GTUG and the Pan-European GTUG/CONNECT – well attended and very successful!”, where I wrote of how it really doesn’t take a lot to change perceptions – but that it does take our engagement and our active participation within our companies. My response to seeing (Java, Clouds and Big Data) topics being covered, as aggressively as they were, was to simply remonstrate with the audience of how, yes, we can change perceptions! Yes, we can “educate” our IT departments and our business managers that NonStop should be involved in strategic discussions on any and all of these topics. The only barrier that I could see for even greater involvement of NonStop was whether we were prepared to raise our hands and say, yes, we can do that!

Something very similar to this appeared in an article by Ron Thompson of CAIL in the September / October 2012 issue of The Connection. In “NonStop in the Enterprise” Thompson observed that “… the agenda in many organizations is to reduce costs, better manage change and mitigate risk, while addressing new needs and supporting business innovation. As a result there is a need by all of us in the HP community to be proactive at ensuring decision makers appreciate the NonStop value proposition – with supporting advantages and metrics (that matter to the business). And given NonStop systems typically operate in heterogeneous environments there is a need to have an enterprise perspective that highlights NonStop supports Standards and can meaningfully contribute to achieving Corporate goals.”

There is so much more being written about NonStop these days than almost any time previously – social media channels have opened the floodgates in many respects. There’s just so much more ink on NonStop than I can recall ever seeing in the almost four decades of NonStop presence in the marketplace. There’s simply no excuse anymore for not being able to find something in writing that supports NonStop providing superior value in a given situation - and if you cannot find it, drop me an email and I will research and make sure you have something before the month passes!  Should you want to discuss something, then I have lost count of the number of forums and discussion groups focused solely on NonStop.

The message of “NonStop you”, when it comes to promoting NonStop by the NonStop community, is really all about you, me, and every stakeholder within the NonStop community. We all need to be proactive and we all need to become extremely vocal, after all, it’s becoming a lot more apparent that we are no longer alone when it comes to promoting NonStop. We just have to start thinking more strategically about expanding NonStop relevance within the companies where we work - what we now have with NonStop systems is really the type of disruptive innovation so many CIOs would welome.
It’s worth repeating (as I closed with this thought in my post of September 30, 2012 to comForte Lounge) as yes, we can “educate” our IT departments and our business managers that NonStop should be involved in strategic discussions on any or all of (the Java, Big Data and Cloud) topics. The only barrier that I could see for even greater involvement of NonStop was whether we were prepared to raise our hands and say, yes, we can do that! It really is all about “NonStop you” after all.