Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just messin' about ...

Who hasn’t been messin’ about with clouds today? Who hasn’t toyed with one application leveraging Clouds? But are we all talking about the same thing and are our objectives similar? And what of Clouds, powered by NonStop?

Having been absent landlords of our own home for several years, with a year spent living in Omaha followed almost immediately with five more years living in Simi Valley, there were other communities who took advantage of us not being around. We have seen our home become a popular nesting place for a collection of pigeons, doves, as well as the regular mix of sparrows and starlings. What we hadn’t noticed building their own castle were the wasps, and it was only over a BBQ that comForte’s Dieter Orlowski pointed them out, suggesting we get professional pest exterminators as wasps simply weren’t something you wanted to mess with!

A few days later the professional did arrive and after exterminating the wasps he then removed the nest, reassembled it on the back of his truck (upside down of course), telling us that this was definitely going to find a place of prominence in the office, as there hadn’t been one as big as this found anywhere along the front ranges. And no, messing with this hive would have proved disastrous as the hive had housed a very large population of wasps.

Whenever I hear the expression “messing about with something” I can’t help but think of the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame’s book, “The Wind in the Willows”, where you will find the oft-quoted observation "There is nothing … absolutely nothing … half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats … in or out of 'em it doesn't matter. Nothing seems to matter, that's the charm of it." Although, there’s many other sailing enthusiasts who tend to agree with the unknown author of the popular definition of sailing, declaring that it is “The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while slowly going nowhere at great expense.”

Changing gears literally, author Graham’s words can also be seen in the quote from former Car and Driver editor, Brock Yates, who once opined “I admit to wasting my life messing around with fast cars and motorcycles”. And expressed anonymously (yet sounding familiar, too) is the observation "Racing is the best way to convert money into noise".  So yes, messing about with almost anything can have its lows, as well as highs (and even hives, as was the case at my home) and yet, there never seems to be any let up by those willing to express an opinion whether through firsthand participation or simply by observing from a distance.

It was only a short time ago that I started a discussion on the LinkedIn group, “Clouds, powered by NonStop” (and yes, if you haven’t joined, you may want to consider doing so), simply headlined with “Clouds, the ‘puzzle’” where I remarked “Bottom line, much of what plagues the public cloud offerings could be so easily addressed by NonStop and yet, the platform hasn’t once been mentioned as a possible candidate …” Yes, I know, there’s nothing so much worth doing these days, to paraphrase Grahame yet again, as simply messing about with clouds.

However, what kicked off a lively exchange was comForte’s CTO, Thomas Burg’s, response “Part of the cloud being a puzzle is that the cloud can be anything: a buzzword, a very specific requirement as well as a very unspecific requirement (e.g. ’Gartner says everything needs to run on x86 and be cloud-based’). I can see several specific requirements where NonStop would in fact be the ideal cloud platform (!) but only for private cloud.” For me, it all revolves around whether you consider NonStop has a play, front-ending clouds, sitting half-in / half-out as gateways controlling access to a cloud,  or residing wholly within the cloud.

As I prepared for this post, I came across commentary in the Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). In a July 31, 2012, post in the section “IT Pro …” journalist, Matthew Hall, asked “So, what is cloud?” and opened with references to the well-known NIST definition. "Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Hall then adds “Still, the NIST definition lists five essential characteristics of cloud computing: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service”. At face value, everyone in the NonStop community will recognize that these attributes of the cloud line up pretty well with what we view as the NonStop fundamentals.

“On-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources” sounds a lot like what we have associated with Pathway for many years. Just ask anyone with large ATM, POS or Kiosk networks. However, in the post to SHM, “IT Pro …”, Hall then references cloud software vendor NetSuite’s CEO, Zach Nelson, who states, rather matter-of-factly, that "The two-word explanation is that cloud is 'the internet'." Adding how “In its most basic fundamental form, cloud is the internet as a business or consumer platform. On top of that, a whole host of new services, consumer and business, are being built. It is the next stage of the evolution of the internet."

I’m not sure everyone will readily agree with this (repeating, as it does, the former core marketing message of Sun from over a decade ago, "the network is the computer") and yet, there’s some truth in the thought of clouds appearing simply as a logical outgrowth of more users wanting the internet to take some responsibility for the data they, as users, create. As infrastructure too has to keep up even as more solutions are being ported to even more platforms – including to NonStop of late – then this too will simply add to the new services, consumer and business, being built! Fueling even more interest in cloud options.

Messing about with clouds, however, and accepting much of what has been said and re-posted here still doesn’t address why I think NonStop has a role to play and yet, aside from those who suggest for the NonStop, in the same way as IBM suggests for the mainframe, the cloud is already inside the box, I remain convinced that NonStop will prove valuable and gain early acceptance among a select group of more knowledgeable NonStop users.

Perhaps the key to unlocking why NonStop may play a role comes with the observations by Laurent Lachel, a cloud analyst with British research and consulting company, Ovum, and referenced in the same post to the SMH, “IT Pro …”, who observes how  "The world has moved on to mobile IT, social IT, and big data. But they are all based in public cloud. The cloud has become an enabler. It is less talked about because people are now talking about what cloud computing enables."

Could we see NonStop systems positioned somewhere between a front-end and a gateway, as a cloud enabler? From my perspective this now looks more like the traditional role NonStop has fulfilled, and successfully, for nearly four decades. What makes connecting to clouds any different from connecting to ATMs – they’re simply resources of a different type, surely? And throw in the requirement to be able to fail-over from one cloud to another and the prospect of enabling makes the picture even more complete.

In his response to the LinkedIn discussion, “Clouds, the ‘puzzle’”, HP’s Justin Simonds responded with “Cloud will be good for overflow (cloudburst) processing if there is an application profile to fit. Cloud will probably be good for context free (standalone) transactions that benefit from parallel processing – say, a web server is a good example … Maybe cloud becomes the top tier in what was a three-tier architecture – presentation cloud, application private cloud and DB NonStop?” Talk about messing with clouds, I think Justin has pretty much topped anything I have been writing about here, but his point is very valid. When it comes to NonStop systems, it’s simply way too early to eliminate a role for NonStop anywhere up or down any multi-tier architecture we may be electing to pursue.

Messing about with boats, messing about with cars, messing about with clouds all represent a deep passion for what is involved, and with that I am in full agreement. Maybe it will take even more passion from the NonStop community before even more enablement comes to fruition, but there’s definitely no shaking the reality that today we have so many changes being fueled by the arrival of mobility, social networking and big data that I would be foolish to rule out clouds powered by NonStop.  And yes, for many in IT, NonStop with a presence in their clouds may simply be the next step in the evolution of the internet, after all.

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