Sunday, April 29, 2012

With the coming of spring, expect more clouds!

It’s hard to miss the media attention being given to Apple these days. Their latest quarterly results are mind blowing, to say the least, with some financial analysts even speculating whether Apple’s valuation will be the first to break through the trillion dollar market-capitalization barrier. Who could have guessed all those years ago when Tandem was partnering with Apple?

There’s an air of excitement surrounding Apple that I haven’t seen around technology since Sony introduced the Walkman in the late-1970s and Motorola introduced the original Razr in the mid-2000s. And the picture above is of the wonderful display from flowering snowberry trees that surround the walkway to our house and yes, provide a fitting background to another technology marvel – the legendary Nissan GT-R, or Godzilla – that is now Margo’s daily drive.

The iPod shook up Sony, but with the iPhone and then iPad Apple is shaking up the whole industry – redefining the PC and refocusing the world’s attention onto smartphones and tablets. As another blogger expressed it recently, “looking backwards at the iPad disruptive innovation did happen. The iPad was a disruptive innovation. It was not predicted beforehand. It created a new product category.”

However, it is the ease of access to iCloud that has really captivated the marketplace and for those happy with the controls Apple has in place, being able to move from phone to tablet to laptop to desktop and enjoy the same user experience, picking up tasks exactly where they were left off – no matter the Apple device being used at the time – is for me another example of disruptive innovation.

Discussions about clouds have been going on for some time with Amazon.com and Salesforce.com, but almost overnight Apple has been singularly successful in moving discussions about clouds into the bigger, consumer, marketplace such that the value proposition has become perhaps even better understood.

HP is not blind to what’s going on either – mobility and cloud computing are at the top of the priority list driving their roadmaps. From product to services to consulting, pretty much every division within HP has a message in place involving clouds. The NonStop community is not being left behind or being ignored – quite to the contrary, there’s some serious heavy-lifting under way to ensure a role to play for NonStop in support of cloud computing.

Leafing through the pages of the March – April issue of The Connection, I came across the feature “Persistent Cloud Computing (PCS) Architecture” by Master Technologist for Enterprise Solutions & Architecture (ESA), HP, Justin Simonds. “Cloud computing is one of the hottest topics in IT today. Articles abound on how cloud computing is a potentially disruptive architecture and how business will or will not, take advantage of this new computing paradigm,” Simonds open the feature, and he then adds “notorious outages and failures have recently occurred within public cloud systems have sparked huge interest in how and where HP NonStop can help customers in their journey to cloud services.”

In his post of October 2nd, 2011, “The ‘Big Five’ IT Trends of the next half decade: Mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data”, that appeared on the web site of publisher zdnet.com, blogger, Dion Hinchcliffe, opened with “of all the technology trends on this list, cloud computing is one of the more interesting … among the large enterprise CTO and CIOs I speak with, cloud computing is being adopted steadily for non-mission critical applications and some are now even beginning to downsize their data centers.”

Perhaps of more interest to the NonStop community were Hinchcliffe’s closing comments on cloud computing, when he noted that “until cloud computing workloads can be seamlessly transferred back and forth between a company’s private cloud and public / hybrid cloud, adoption will be held back and favored largely for greenfield development.”

Really? With this in mind I went back to Justin Simonds for more insight about the feature he wrote for The Connection. “Cloud computing is ‘the’ topic today. About two years ago, Tom Miller, Keith Moore and I were working on a project where we wanted to bolster x86 architecture with some of the NonStop fundamentals and the idea of extending Pathway through an API came to mind; we all felt that NonStop involved in a hybrid architecture approach was a good thing,” Simonds explained.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have NonStop overseeing a cloud environment? Since we were pushing servers out to a Linux server, which could be physical or virtual, it did not seem like a stretch to have the serverclass located in a cloud. Once we had that working, the same stuff we were doing with the local Linux servers could be done in the cloud. That is load balancing, failover and elasticity,” Simonds then added. “We demoed this at Discover in 2011 and everyone seemed fascinated.”

A subsequent exchange with Keith Moore provided even more insight into the program as, according to Moore, “our general vision all along is that most current cloud server instances support discrete application execution instances. We are thinking that this use of “the cloud” is somewhat limiting. Most of the current enterprise cloud deployments use application templates for creation of specific vertical enterprise functions. To the extent that existing enterprise applications currently work together in an integrated way, these are still deployed as mapped instances onto virtual cloud instance.”

But then, returning closer to home for the NonStop community, Moore suggested how “this is tremendous opportunity for HP and others to address a need for managing and monitoring these specific user needs. The benefits of moving to this sort of ‘templated-cloud’ are fairly well documented and often represented in a leveraged, cost-lowering business driver. However, if you look at legacy and future application development and deployment models you see that for most large enterprises, there are issues with inter-application complexity that cannot be simply resolved by deploying templates of vertical business applications.”

Reflecting on what Simonds too had suggested, Moore then continued on this theme as he pointed out how “the workloads in most pan-enterprise computer systems need to support dynamic, self-healing business functions. By using NonStop as a service manager for the cloud, there is significant value to almost all enterprise application scenarios presented for cloud usage. NonStop adds fault-tolerance, dynamic scale-up/down, and security/audit capability to real-time activities that might use cloud server instances of business applications.”

Digging even deeper into the topic, Moore then hit on what I believe could propel NonStop more visibly into the discussions taking place between CIOs and CTOs when he proposed how “in many enterprise applications, the usage is so dynamic, variable, and vulnerable when on the cloud that it needs some sort of external ‘daemon’ to manage and monitor the cloud instances. NonStop, using the fundamental capabilities of TS/MP to manage response time and availability, delivers this ‘cloud daemon’ capability. NonStop PCS uses standard NonStop TS/MP to deliver an always-on daemon for business application services.”

Much was written about NonStop and cloud computing following the demonstrations featuring NonStop interacting with clouds, private and public, at last year’s HP Discover event. My post on the subject, “NonStop revels in Clouds!” attracted more hits on my site than any previous post, and to me this was an indication of how topical clouds had become even within the NonStop community. Not a product and not strictly a service, Justin, Keith and Tom then provided education and put on workshops and more recently, began their initial pursuit of Proof of Concepts (PoC’s) that have already attracted considerable interest.

“We just completed a PoC for a financial institution, where Base24 was used to drive Java servers using PCS. The configuration consisted of two NonStop blade servers and a Proliant RedHat Linux server, all running the same Java application,” explained Tom Miller. “In all of the tests the application employed the JDBC driver connected to the database of record, which for this customer, was an SQL/MX database. We tested two configuration policies; load sharing - where all three nodes evenly shared the BASE24 client traffic, and a capacity burst scenario - where, as the primary NonStop node reached a resource threshold, TS/MP 2.4 began distributing client traffic to the other two nodes.”

“The customer was extremely satisfied with the results. We were able to achieve > 1200 TPS with both configurations with an average response time of 10 ms ~ 2ms,” Miller reported. And for me, this proved to be a reality check. Yes, the early observations about getting NonStop involved in this way and to have it a part of a hybrid architecture, were beginning to be realized and looked to be paving the way for possible future consideration by others within the NonStop community.

As I was wrapping up this post I went back again through the comments Simonds and Moore had provided to me and what was hard to miss was their enthusiasm over the potential benefits NonStop could provide. “I like to tell folks that if they understand the difference between deploying a business ‘server’ and a business ‘service’, then you can understand the need and the capability of PCS on NonStop,” Moore had said.

“NonStop is, and always be all about providing a business SERVICE to enterprise clients. PCS is envisioned as a tool to deliver a NonStop-level of SERVICE to more than just NonStop servers.” Simonds then closed by saying “writing the article was a way to get the message out to a broader audience and to let everyone know NonStop plays, or should I say revels in the clouds, especially with all the HP cloud announcements going on.”

And in the coming months, I anticipate hearing even more about clouds as we move deeper into the summer months and it will be with a lot of interest that I walk the exhibition floor at the upcoming HP Discover event – what more surprises are in stall from the team of Simonds, Miller and Moore!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Time to cut the cord …

The NonStop community may not be aware of changes within the Telco industry other than they consume a lot of NonStop servers. But it would appear that the appetite for NonStop at these Telco’s is only going to get bigger!


It’s only been a short few years that Margo and I have been working for ourselves, but right from the outset I was pleased with much earlier provisions I had made for such an eventuality. While the house was being framed and we talked of adding wiring for a whole-house music system that pulled tracks from a massive 200 CD carrousel, it was pointed out how beneficial it would be to wire the house in support of multiple phone lines.

The picture above is of me alongside the cabinets that were eventually installed to support the distribution of video as well as audio, as well as to house a digital PABX in support of four lines and twelve handsets. That all occurred more than ten years ago, and when we returned to take up fulltime residence once more in our home, it was Margo who was first to point out that now, all these years later, we were living in a museum!

No, we have no distributed audio throughout the house, as one-by-one the home audio amps failed and they were units no longer being manufactured. The CD carrousel is a relic and it would be much simpler if we could connect to satellite radio or even through a PC to something like Pandora where we could play music directly off our own custom playlists. As for television, who knew that every satellite receiver could be configured with DVR support inexpensively which greatly simplify their operation – no more running to a central wiring closet to check whether it’s recording or not. Much simpler to just have a receiver beneath each television set.

Did I also mention I found WebTV receivers still plugged into the wiring closet? Yes Margo was right – we do have a museum and working through it, “modernizing” the house, will not prove inexpensive so somehow it’s just dropped down the list of priorities to where sometime, later this year, we will work towards setting a timetable, with an appropriate budget. All the while allowing us to continue with running our business without any disruptions to the services we provide. But of course, and it certainly was remarkable foresight on my part to insist on all those phone lines. Right?

Well perhaps not. Turning the (electronic) pages of USA Today this morning, on my iPad, I came across the story “State laws let telephone companies end land-line services”. According to the reporter, Adam Sylvain, “first it was the street-corner phone booths and home delivery of telephone books. Now, land lines are on their way to becoming part of American telecommunications history.” Behind it all, Sylvain wrote was how “phone companies including AT&T say deregulating land-line phone service will increase competition and allow carriers to invest in better technology rather than expand a dying service.”

At one point during the construction of our home Margo and I walked in on the company wiring the house for phones, the intercom and internet access, audio and television distribution, security including cameras as well as interfaces into every light switch for possible future control system support, and the fire suppression system, and we saw some multiple hundreds of wires making up the 24“ by 8” wiring “harness” – with redundancy, we were told, resulting in only a few wires short of a thousand. All for what purpose? Sure, if termites ate all the wood in the house there would be no worries, there was enough cable in place to hold the house together!

Modernization of today’s homes has resulted in nearly everything being distributed, apart from power, but I am guessing only for a little while longer, wirelessly. With much greater use of commodity components than just a decade ago. All of which is beginning to sound all too familiar to anyone with an interest in the server marketplace. Former VP and GM of NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) and Mission Critical Business Solutions, HP, Winston Prather, in his farewell editorial in the March – April, 2012, issue of The Connection remarked “the products have evolved to keep up with the times: modern hardware, open standards and development environments. And we have done it while continuing to do what we do best: helping our customer deliver on their business commitments.”

In the USA Today story Sylvain includes a quote from a spokesman for AT&T, suggesting that the various bills before state legislatures, “levels the playing field for traditional land-line providers in a competitive environment. Relief of these (current) restrictions encourages additional investment in the new technologies that customers are demanding.” An investment that for those of us close to NonStop translates into a lot more NonStop servers being purchased.

In recent conversations with BCS marketing and NED product management there was scarce need to downplay the significance of this for NED – the arrival of 4G networks across America represents a whole new era for telephone companies; mobile carriers along with the traditional land-line providers were all switching from antiquated voice-grade infrastructure, over which data had been passing for the past couple of decades, to modern data-grade infrastructure that would be carrying voice. A complete reversal of how phone networks have been deployed since Alexander Bell first deployed his earliest handset. Out with copper and in with optics and wireless.

Behind it all it is increasingly the domain where NonStop servers excel. Getting public access to exactly how many NonStop servers are being deployed is difficult as phone companies are reluctant to acknowledge which vendors are involved, but figuring it out is pretty easy to do – just check the NonStop vendor community for the frequent, strategically placed, phone company logos in the PowerPoint presentations.

And we all have become familiar with the fact that nary a text message moves in America without passing through at least one NonStop server! Perhaps, more importantly, the HP OpenCall HLR application, based on the NonStop server (the computer of choice for businesses, such as phone companies, requiring the ultimate in reliability and data integrity, according to one HP data sheet I read), almost universal deployed within phone company networks, is also a clue to just how popular NonStop has become in this marketplace.

“The great thing about licensing software to phone companies,” one former colleague in sales suggested at a sales kick-off I attended a few years back, “is that the deals can be measured in telephone number size number of digits. Including the area codes!” Perhaps a bit of a stretch but recalling my time with Insession Technologies, this wasn’t all that far off the mark. If you really want to know where all the action is taking place when it comes to upgrades to running NonStop on blades, you can’t ignore what is happening across the Telco marketplace.

Our daughter, Anna, recently married and in her home she and her new husband, Erich, have no use for landlines – they rely solely on their mobile phone operator. This is not a trend that is showing any signs of lessening and according to the closing comments in USA Today, “as of last June, nearly 32% of U.S. households were wireless only, according to CTIA - The Wireless Association, up from 10.5% in 2006.” While I am not quite there yet, once we sort out our priorities and come up with a budget, I suspect we will head down the same path.

The wiring closet we have in the house was selected as it had the capacity to expand to accommodate all the additional stuff we were expecting to accumulate. All that may change, however, in the coming year as the “museum” begins to be disassembled. I will probably hang on to that CD carrousel only because I am short on space for storing 200 CDs, but then again, if I had the time, I could probably duplicate it all on Pandora. Perhaps, with a little diligence and equal amounts of prudence, I could even free up enough shelf space to add a few NonStop blades myself. Now there’s a thought - let me make a couple of quick calls, on my mobile, of course!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The other system …

Perhaps it doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but our data centers are running many different types of servers and yet, how often is it that IT elects to acknowledge the presence of NonStop as the other system!
Springtime came early to the Colorado Rockies and some could argue that we did a quick jump to summer. The weekend saw temperatures climb into the 80s and our flowering tress all came to life putting on a pretty amazing show as the neighborhood came to life. And of course, with such weather, it was off to the store to pick up supplies as the task of cleaning up after winter pulled me outdoors, and the picture above is as I walked away from a local warehouse store with my arms wrapped around buckets and mops.

Of course, on returning home it was all hard work as first I brewed some coffee, gathered together armfuls of magazines that had collected on the table, and headed for the garage. The bucket and the mops that I had purchased were still standing there but with coffee in hand I flipped through the pages of the magazines one last time. In haste I had picked up some very recent issues, and as I began to separate the latest arrivals to return them to the table, I came across an editorial by Sam Mitani in the May 2012 issue of Road and Track.

“While I’m excited by these new coupes – rear-drivers that fully embrace traditional sports-car virtues – are in the marketplace,” Mitani opened his column with this observation, but then much later made the comment about the new sports car he was covering, that “we see the brands as being quite different (and) will appeal to someone who already has another car in the garage … buyers will be interested in getting the original article as well!”

Whoa – now that’s quite the statement. Certainly, one goal of cleaning up after winter is to reveal a clean, sparklingly shiny house bereft of the detritus of winter’s storms; something closely resembling the original at the very least. A familiar site to those driving by, and a constant reminder each spring as to why we like to work hard to ensure the house looks good.

But then, the reference to the other car in the garage brought my attention back very quickly to IT, and to the other servers in the data center. It would be hard to miss all the effort being made by the folks at HP to clean-up NonStop and to ensure it faithfully performed as well as the original, but it’s also visible how NonStop is still one of many servers we see today within the data center – the other car in the garage!

Recently, I completed an opinions paper on the HP NonStop server and it has been made available from the HP web site. The topic of the paper, “Why more corporations today depend on HP Integrity NonStop mission-critical servers!” focuses on the continuing popularity of NonStop, even as the hardware leverages more and more commodity components. Perhaps the subtitle says it better, proposing how “Modern HP Integrity NonStop Servers continue to deliver on hallmark attributes – Availability, Scalability and Data Integrity.” To download a copy of this opinions paper, click on the title above.


As part of the executive overview I wrote of how our tolerance for failure is declining and yet NonStop prevails, and for this companies are thankful. We can no longer afford the time and our patience wears thin, I suggested, observing that whenever outages interfere with our ability to perform the task we need to accomplish our frustration is hard to miss. And yet, when it comes to general purpose computers, we often rely on them in support of much that we simply must do, even as they routinely fail us.

The system crashed, failed and is dead in the water! It doesn’t matter in the least how we describe what has happened, I then added, and there’s just nothing we can do. The application is simply no longer accessible. The pain experienced by companies responsible for disruptions like these is apparent to all – companies that disrupt the flow of services lose revenues, and perhaps even more damaging, weaken the value of their brand. Reestablishing a company’s reputation after outages can be prohibitively expensive.

And yet, even with data centers full of general purpose computers, there is another computer that changes all of this – with attributes every bit as valuable as the original Tandem. It’s the HP NonStop mission-critical server.

As I prepared for this opinions paper I was able to talk to many customers and to the HP sales and support teams working closely with them. Most of what was covered in these discussions made it into the final version, however during the final editing phase and for the sake of keeping the size of the paper manageable,  a couple of customer references didn’t make it into the final version.

Bank Verlag and VocaLink, both receiving “Meritorious Achievement” acknowledgements as part of last year’s NonStop Availability Award program, and recognized in the editorial of the September – October, 2011, issue of The Connection, as well as Greyhound  Lines  missed out, but they are no less significant or important.  Furthermore, VocaLink, a large European payments processor, was referenced in a feature written for The Connection and published in the same September – October, 2011, issue as referenced above on page 26 under the heading of “VocaLink, Specialist Payments Partner” and Greyhound was the subject of a recent customer case study developed for Attunity and available here.

Wolfgang Breidbach of Bank-Verlag IT Services division is well known across the NonStop community and has been featured as a speaker many times at various conferences. “Availability is a ‘must’ for us,” Breidbach has stressed more than once, and “we are the central access point for ATM and POS for the private banks of Germany. So, if we are not available, no POS payment with cards from those banks is possible.”

And imagine the fall-out in Britain should VocaLink lose its ATM network. “Every household in the country relies upon VocaLink’s services as it processes 94% of UK salaries and over 70% of the population uses its services to pay their household bills using Direct Debit, Faster Payments and standing orders,” according to sources within VocaLink. Essentially, any major outage at VocaLink would not just be a calamity, but potentially, a nation-stopping event.

However, all the customer testimonials that did make it into the final version of the opinions paper provide a compelling argument for why the latest, most modern, iteration of NonStop is excelling at a time where once again, availability of mission-critical applications is paramount. Consider the above references as being just being a small sampler, in terms of what can be found in this opinions paper, as there are many more customers represented. Yes, the hardware has changed significantly and much of the middleware present on NonStop today leverages the world of open, standards-based components and frameworks.

And yet, today NonStop is every bit as available, near-linearly scalable (both up, and just as importantly, out), secure, and with unmatched data integrity, as well as needing fewer human resources than ever before to manage it, in terms of application availability, and the negation of the frustrations that inevitably set in with alternate offerings – NonStop is appealing to professional CIOs that already have another server(s) in the data center.

General-purpose computers that proliferate within the data centers are just not up to the task of supporting the mission-critical applications that truly underpin the business. When it comes to 24 X 7 NonStop remains “the original article!” Perhaps we should entertain a little spring cleaning inside our data centers after all – I wonder just how many would be surprised to find another server in the data center - a clean, sparklingly shiny NonStop at the very heart of their operations.