Friday, March 30, 2012

Thinking SQL/MX? Rel 3.1 now delivers …

The last trip to Cupertino gave me a chance to check in with NonStop development for an update on SQL/MX and the exchange didn’t disappoint!
Last week I had the opportunity to spend time in Cupertino and to catch up with colleagues past and present. While much of my time was spent with those still working with NonStop there was also an opportunity to catch up with partners as well. And each colleague’s perspective add a lot to why I continue to be attracted to the platform and those still so very much committed to the NonStop platform always provide an interesting  view on whatever else is happening within HP.

Of course I drove to Cupertino over the previous weekend, but this time I had to add an extra night. The rain that had been a familiar presence in the Bay area the previous week had become a snow storm up in the higher altitudes of the Sierras and dumped several feet of snow onto the major interstate – I80. Cautiously navigating deteriorating roads, I soon came across two big-rigs on their sides straddling the median. Visibility dropped to near zero and what would normally take only an hour or so to pass, stretched on for most of the morning and well into the afternoon.

The picture at the top of the page is of the faithful SUV being washed at what is tantamount (dare I say, tandemount?) an institution for all who have worked at NonStop over the years. Only a few hundred yards east of the offices in Cupertino, along Stevens Creek Boulevard, a short distance after the I280 underpass, there’s barely been anyone who hasn’t washed their car at this facility and the number of discussions I have had with former managers and executives are too numerous to recall, and through the years there’s been many colleagues associated with Tandem and NonStop who have liked their cars clean as much as I do.

There’s much that’s been updated along Stevens Creek Boulevard, with car dealerships routinely changing hands and new malls rising from once vast expanses of concrete. At least the Range Rover dealership added some variety to their location, with some elevation changes to better frame the prowess of their cars. But these updates to the scenery haven’t strayed too far from the core theme of Stevens Creek – fast-food stalls and car yards.

Last year I wrote a white paper on NonStop SQL/MX that featured a number of interviews that I had conducted with many former colleagues who are still actively engaged with the NonStop platform. The white paper has now been made available on the HP web site and can be found and downloaded at
http://h20223.www2.hp.com/NonStopComputing/downloads/NonStop_SQL_The_path_to_the_always-on_easily_administered_out-of-the-box_clustered_database_server.pdf

You can also read more of my observations about NonStop SQL/MX, written at the time I wrote that paper, in the post of July 31, 2011, “It only requires a few steps!” However, in the months that have passed, just like on Stevens Creek, there’s much that has been updated with this flagship NonStop product.

At the time I was writing the white paper, referenced above, a new release was anticipated, Rel 3.0 / 3.1, and when it arrived there was considerable discussion about it, particularly in the LinkedIn group, NonStop SQL Professionals. One discussion “NonStop SQL/MX R3.1 is out now!”, started by Frans Jongma, a Senior System Software Engineer with the HP NonStop Advanced Technology Center, began by highlighting new features - table rename, additional security features (separation of duties required for PCI Compliance, change ownership – yes, another security feature), SSL support, preprocessor changes to facilitate MP migrations, support for popular Oracle functions, like TO_CHAR, DECODE, COALESCE ,etc. to make it easier to migrate from Oracle to NonStop SQL.

When I chimed in and asked Frans for even more info, he was quick to respond with "I listed the main features that appealed to me. Renaming of tables can be very useful for DBAs and developers. The feature even allows renaming the underlying Guardian (the ZSDxxxxx.xxxxxxxx) filename. This was on a specific customer request. The new supported functions make it easier for users who are used to them on other DBMSes. Call it ‘standardization of features’”.

Longtime supporter of the SQL SIG, Scott Randall, came back almost immediately with “this release is just awesome!! The ability to RENAME tables, both ANSI name and the Guardian file is critical to customers that perform table migrations and use RDF. Think PK change or column name change, etc. IMHO, this is the most important new feature available since SQL/MX was first released. GREAT JOB HP!!!” Both Scott and Frans contributed to the white paper mentioned earlier, and it was encouraging to see them this active among the social media channels I follow.

I must say, though, that there were more than just a few individuals who had doubts about whether there would ever appear anything new from HP NED development. There were certainly numerous deteriorating roads that had to be navigated. But deliver they have and the reactions following the availability of this most recent update to SQL/MX have been very encouraging. The take-up of Rel 3.1 of SQL/MX has been cause for much excitement within NED,” according to Ajaya Gummadi, SQL Product Manager, within NED. “To date the stability and quality of the product has impressed our NonStop users and they are seeing the value of the many new features."

This wasn’t all that Gummadi had to say on this topic when I caught up with her last week. “NonStop developers are excited to work on new features that add value to customers as they develop apps for SQL/MX, and we had quite a few new apps go into production just last year”, she told me. “This brings the NonStop SQL on par with competitive databases while preserving its RAS fundamentals, and does this with quality and stability that NonStop customers are used to.”

Overheard while in Cupertino was the news of how HP NonStop SQL can now serve as a database repository in an Enterprise SAP environment. SAP ERP Apps and NetWeaver middleware continue to run “as-is” on HP-UX or HP Linux/Windows servers. NonStop database server becomes the Enterprise System of Repository integrating data from numerous SAP instances and non-SAP apps running on multiple platforms in real time and serving enterprise wide business processes. Again, expect to hear more of this in the near future.

In talking to customers and partners, the biggest surprise with this release was simply how much was included and deep down the list of stated customer requirements the supported features descended. When looking at past releases, where just a single new feature or component was introduced, Rel 3.1 marked a substantial change in direction for all involved at NED – product management and development. “Quality, stability and performance, and making it easier to migrate to SQL/MX– these were key goals for all of us within NED and already customers are benefitting from what we have been able to deliver,” Gummadi was quick to highlight.

And what comes next? Will there be another big release later this year? On this point Gummadi wouldn’t go into too many specifics, other than to acknowledge work was well advanced in a number of areas and that users would again be pleasantly surprised. For more about these releases, Gummadi was encouraging me to attend HP Discover in Las Vegas this coming June, something I had planned on doing anyway, but now most definitely will – news about what is to come next typically attracts a large crowd.

The presence of a strong product offering in support of SQL is incredibly important for the ongoing future of NonStop. Probably no other middleware offering could hold as strong a potential for greater visibility of NonStop within IT than NS SQL/MX – with it, and its ability to fully leverage the fundamentals the NonStop community continue to value highly, NonStop is certainly a viable server offering.

The car wash on Stevens Creek was every bit as good as it used to be, and the SUV was in a very bad way when I arrived. More than one eyebrow was raised as I drove onto the site among the many pristine vehicles in for nothing much more than a cosmetic refresh. Surviving the snow storms and picking my way through poorly illuminated roads, as I had done, had certainly cost us. And yes, many of these metaphors carry over to what the NS SQL/MX development team has faced of late.

It may be routine to simply roll-out new releases of NS SQL/MX but in reality, these days, nothing is guaranteed and no assumptions can be made about any program within HP. So yes, I am greatly encouraged with all that has happened to NS SQL/MX and with the success and accolades now coming its way.

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