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.

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