Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Partnerships built to last …

Once proud companies join forces and partner on product design. But sometimes, it doesn’t always work out. However, the partnership between one of them and the HP NonStop Server appears to be on a much stronger footing …

It was a little over a year ago, January 28th, 2011, that I posted to this blog the story “About that data ...”  where I suggested that NonStop servers and Mercedes Benz cars have something in common, and it’s not always visible. No, it has nothing to do with pricing! NonStop is heading towards being a pure software play and it’s all about the “stack” – and this introduction was simply a way to the NonStop community that NonStop systems aren’t just about the hardware. NonStop systems are about the collection of layers that in combination make a complete stack that leverages it all, I wrote back then.

And since I wrote those words, there has been a lot more written on this subject by others and for the NonStop community, it’s beginning to make a lot more sense. Much of this has to do with how we value the fundamentals that differentiate NonStop from other vendors’ servers – availability, scalability,data integrity and more so these days, security – even as NonStop continues on its transformation journey enjoying being as modern as any other server on offer today. Whether we continue to see NonStop as a badge attached to the front of a chassis, or simply the title on an operator’s console, it seems to mater less these days and it's looking to me a lot like a partnership between the NonStop software and whatever is “the platform” of HP!

In the garage this morning I was checking on the condition of the cars attached to battery trickle chargers a very common situation at this time of year. Following a couple of days of sunshine, snow returned overnight so the potential of taking a short drive this evening had to be shelved. But lifting the hood of our SRT/10 roadster, pictured above and before the snow returned, I could easily read the badge fastened to the Viper’s firewall – DaimlerChrylser Corporation. Yes for a few short years, the SRT/10 was an integral part of the Mercedes Benz portfolio!

Just how integral? A few years ago as Mercedes Benz launched its then-latest supercar, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG supercar. A post of June 18th, 2010, to Yahoo Voices “Automotive” suggested that in hindsight “it seems that what we now know as the SLS AMG started life as a replacement for the Dodge Viper supercar.” According to author, Vlad Balan, “Dodge engineers knew that a replacement was needed as the Viper had been around for ages without a major overhaul … but then the financial problems started plaguing Chrysler. Daimler packed up all of its things (and) the plans to the supercar were also taken. In the end, it seems that while Dodge had an integral role in the supercar project, the only model to come out of it was the new Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.”

Alliances and partnerships are common within the auto industry and sometimes, they raise an eyebrow or two. And when it comes to computers we have to pause on occasion too and wonder about the merits from some of the partnerships that arise. Microsoft buys Skype and yes, Skype runs on the latest Apple tablets and phones, and yes, you would usually turn to one of the mobile phone operators to buy the Apple. Now, who wins out on that one?  And then of course, who can forget the tie-up between Silicon Graphics and Cray Research – from a technology perspective we pretty much could connect the dots but you did have to worry about the sales folks. At the time, Cray ran on Sun Sparc chips so who knows what SGI intended but four years later, SGI sold off its Cray division!

Without Chrysler, Mercedes Benz has returned to doing what it does best - producing a line of luxury cars.  For those who have visited the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgart, there is little doubt about the efforts spent on ensuring each Mercedes Benz is as well-engineered and as well assembled as is possible and watching them leave the factory floor even less doubt that they will be much cherished by their owners. I have visited Sindelfingen, a large Mercedes Benz assembly plant near Stuttgart, several times and after each visit, I have wondered whether the time was right to buy a Mercedes Benz for myself.

Mercedes Benz has enjoyed a partnership with NonStop for many decades – they were a key participant in the SNAX/CDF beta program in 1987. For a time they ran all of their factory terminals configured as remote devices, rather than as local devices, so that they could deploy physical switched between the NonStop systems and the racks of modems. A simply pull of a switch and the network would continue running on the back-up NonStop system – a predecessor to the functionality that is now an integral part of modern routed-IP networks. When I asked Mercedes Benz all those years ago, with the assembly-line model they had at the time which were the most critical applications, running on NonStop, the quick answer given was seats – after all, what can you do with the cars if there’s no seats to install!

But assembly models keep evolving and when I related this exchange with folks who continue have close ties to the factory, the response came back “if for instance the Sindelfingen factory was running out of say, black sports seats (with medium leather quality and seat memory functionality) for their E-class sedans, and a truck broke down so that those seats couldn’t be delivered in time, then Sindelfingen would not build any E-class cars with black sports seats with medium leather quality and seat memory functionality that day.”

Demonstrating the flexibility that Mercedes Benz has today, I was told that instead “they would build other E-class cars, for instance with black sports seats coming with basic or premium leather quality - you get the picture? Car orders would simply be rescheduled accordingly.” For manufacturing Mercedes Benz runs software from Abat+ (www.abatplus.de) that runs on NonStop and today, these same folks close to Mercedes Benz informed me of how Mercedes Benz “have a NonStop system in each of their car assembly plants worldwide - even for the Smart micro-car!”

But what of running such mission critical applications on platform other than NonStop? “What’s the added value of NonStop versus the Windows server?” came the response. “Well, if a Windows server broke down and its backup did not come up properly or even worse, if that Oracle database crashed and got corrupted – then there would be real stress at the assembly line!” With the transformation of NonStop that continues and where today, NonStop shares much of its hardware with all other HP servers, the costs of deploying NonStop has dropped significantly to where industry-standard servers, replicated and clustered, would be hard pressed to match the capabilities of NonStop for the same or lesser price.

In a few weeks’ time I am off to New York to attend the New York International Auto Show where there will be a new SRT/10 unveiled – this time, the fruits from a partnership between Fiat and Chrysler. I will give it a look, certainly, but the stakes will be high. And Viper owners worldwide are already pensive about the outcome. Partnerships are important and when they work well, the benefits are immediate and appreciated by all. 
For more than two decades the partnership between Mercedes Benz and NonStop has held firm. With so much at stake, there’s little patience for anything other than engineering perfection. At home in these factories, NonStop seems such a logical fit that it continues to surprise me that so few within the NonStop community realize the contribution NonStop makes. Day in and day out! And completely true to form – 24 X 7!

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