Friday, August 17, 2012

Sailing, tacking and avoiding conflicts!


Even as the news about the initial court ruling begins to fade (as HP launches new, low-cost, NS2100 NonStop systems), and the Olympic Games become just a distant memory, will we see a return to business-as-usual between HP and Oracle?

Perhaps it is the video clips that appear in the evening news broadcasts on television or perhaps the snapshots that seem to be appended to breaking news stories appearing on my iPad, but during the past couple of weeks it has been almost impossible to miss all that is happening at the Olympic Games. As an expat Aussie living in America, whenever the Olympics take place it is one of the few times when I truly miss living in Sydney – one of the most obsessed sports-crazy cities in the world. That is, apart from Melbourne, of course.

And of course I love the sailing – was that an Aussie yachtsman that just won the gold medal in the Laser Class of single-handed dinghies? Didn’t a pair of Aussie yachtsmen win gold medals in the 49er Skiff Class? My fondness for sailing has already been the theme of several posts, but with the Olympics dominating the headlines, I truly do miss my hometown - particularly Sydney Harbor, and the many times I have been on its waters.

In my post of August 8, 2012, “Just messin' about ...”, I referred to the oft-quoted definition of sailing as “the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while slowly going nowhere at great expense.” On the other hand, when it comes to competitive sailing it was the former British Prime Minister (and champion sailor), Sir Edward “Ted” Heath, who was reputed to have said “Ocean racing is like standing under a cold shower tearing up £5 notes”, although this quote has also been attributed to several other authors. No matter, sailing certainly has its moments when all a sailor can think about is being back on dry land.

Then there are times when yacht races put competitors in each other’s way and they are forced to tack – to go about to avoid collisions. And there are a lot of rules when dueling at sea; yielding to those on a starboard tack as well as yielding to a following yacht to windward when it’s mast abeam! (Although there will be those that tell me that this rule has been dropped and is only ever used these days by more experienced yachtsman as the try to bluff lesser experienced helmsman.) In-harbor racing in particular presents sailors with many challenges all designed to test even the most experienced sailor where at times, simply tearing up £5 notes, seems quite reasonable. 

However, the news this past week hasn’t only been about what has happened on the harbors and bays of Great Britain, as many within IT have been just as focused on what was happening in Silicon Valley. Inside courts, far different from those used for tennis, basketball or badminton, it was the sparring between opposing lawyers that caught our attention. And as this contest involved such industry heavyweights as HP and Oracle, there would be few who would miss the excitement. By now, the outcome is well known to all and while it’s a Round One victory to HP, there’s still the anticipation of more sea duels yet to come. And perhaps, even more bluffing as well.

The picture atop the post is of one of the Oracle yachts that competed in the America’s Cup several years ago. My association with Oracle follows a highly circuitous route – working at State Street Bank in Boston, back in 1977, I made sure the work I was doing took just a little longer to complete so that I would have time to spend the weekend down at Newport, Rhode Island, where I took in the spectacle of the America’s Cup. At the time, it was Australia still tilting at the unholy windmill that was the Auld Mug. It would be six years later, in late 1983, when Australia finally defeated the US and where the results were still in question as both the American and Australian yachts rounded the final buoy even as Dennis O’Connor pushed Australia II into the spectator fleet.

Little did I know at the time that State Street Bank’s predominantly IBM IT shop would today rely on NonStop (having recently upgraded to Blades, as best as I can tell) as well as on Oracle and GoldenGate. A circumstance I have to believe we should expect to run into repeatedly all around the globe – given the respective companies associations with Global 1000 companies. Yes, products from both companies have given rise to considerable HP and Oracle overlap in the marketplace. Facing-off in the courtrooms, as we have seen of late, leaves most of us more than a little anxious about the eventual outcome. But in the end a victory remains a victory.

The HP press release that followed kept it pretty simple, stating "Today's proposed ruling is a tremendous win for HP and its customers. The Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, has confirmed the existence of a contract between HP and Oracle that requires Oracle to port its software products to HP's Itanium-based servers. We expect Oracle to comply with its contractual obligation as ordered by the Court."

As for the email that followed, from the HP AllianceONE.news, the story was much the same, noting how “This is a very positive result for you and HP. We remain committed to our partners, our 140,000 customers who run Oracle software and to our long-term mission-critical server roadmap, including Integrity, HP-UX, OpenVMS, and NonStop as well as our new investments in x86, Windows, and Linux. Similarly, Intel has repeatedly reinforced its ongoing commitment to the Itanium roadmap.”
For the NonStop community observing all of this, there have been fewer issues than for others within HP. NonStop has demonstrated considerable resilience and jumped from one chip architecture to another relatively painlessly and in so doing has clearly demonstrated that increasingly, the underlying architecture is indeed not as important as the internals of NonStop itself. There are those within the community who firmly believe NonStop has completed the transition to being a pure software play and as such, will continue to have a future no matter what transpires in any courthouse.

As for Oracle’s support of Intel’s Itanium chips, the news as it relates to NonStop and GoldenGate has been pretty well broadcasted, and for some time. GoldenGate gained an exemption back in April 2011, and has continued to be supported with new releases planned. According to Oracle GoldenGate product manager, Chris Lawless, “following numerous discussions with some of our biggest clients, I think we have this issue squared away – when it comes to GoldenGate and Itanium, we continue to do business as usual irrespective of all else that may be going on in the marketplace.”

However, there’s no escaping that in the time leading up to this first ruling, a number of vendors have been working diligently to bridge the gap and while there’s no evidence of a mass exit from GoldenGate new products have developed some “stickiness” with a number of users. “We are fully aware of this development,” Lawless added, “ and so it’s important that we continue to focus on the strengths of our own product offering, of the development team we have retained, and the access our users continue to have to the experts we retained.”

And for the NonStop community, the Intel roadmaps for Itanium have been pretty clear – there’s many years of competitive chip product offerings ahead. For me it has always been the “Intel Architecture” that has been important not the individual chip products per se, and in my most recent talks with Intel Corporation’s General Manager, Enterprise Software Strategy (and former head of NonStop Enterprise Division), Pauline Nist, at this year’s HP Discover she reminded me that whatever transpires with future chip products, the Intel Architecture will prevail.

In saying this, Pauline reiterates in no uncertain terms that NonStop customers will be protected and upward compatibility will be assured. But again, let’s not dwell on this for too long as the Intel roadmaps for Itanium have years remaining – a fact the math supports despite some pundit’s suggestions to the contrary. The pinnacle of yacht racing will always be match racing, a format that gives us the America’s Cup and in these races, bluffing, aggressive dueling and tacking (changes in direction) to gain the upper hand are routinely executed. Fortunately, even though there may be those unclear about the possible outcome, comes the end of the regatta, an early win is always a great result and for many within the NonStop community, this is every bit as rewarding as winning a gold medal!

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