Monday, September 24, 2012

When in Australia, you just have to have Laksa….

This post is a tad of history, it’s about InfraSoft, friendships, and how business is all about people.

The picture on the left was taken in late February, 2002. The Plan Team was meeting in Sydney to come up with the roadmap for the next 18 month. The idea was to always lay out plans for the next 18 months, and then in 12 months we would meet again, see if the plans still valid, and create a next 18 months plan.

This worked well: we would have representatives of Sales, Product Management, Development and QA, Customer Support, and Management. The rules of engagement were simple: we were there to come up with the best plan we could, and it had to include new product features, with the caveat that anything new could be pursued with baby-steps as we would be often venturing outside of our usual scope – “the next big thing” – yet, there had to be time and resources planned for process improvement, code streamlining, test libraries’ improvements and automation.

With all of us there it was easy to see others points of view and when we created our “stars” sprinkled chart and plan, where stars represented releases, we all felt that the best possible compromise was struck between Sales with their need for new features, and Development and Support with their need for solid, well tested software.

These meetings, held always in the January – February timeframe were accomplishing more than building the business plan – that was how the Team was forged. It was an open discussion between all those involved, and we felt safe to express opinions. Yes, it was all about the people!.

Of course meals were required, and among the more popular dining spots was a Malaysian restaurant, originally in North Sydney, but then moved to where it overlooked the harbor, that featured Laksa, a spice-laden noodle dish, (popular in Malaysia and Singapore) – we like the curry shrimp Laksa, coconut milk based.

We started these meetings in 1998, and continued through to late 2006. Even when ACI Worldwide purchased Insession Inc. we operated pretty much unchanged and continued to deliver the goods. When the “smash” happened, and our group was forcefully integrated into ACI Worldwide that became the owner of it all, some of us chose greener pastures at other software companies.

But the surprising thing was that the Team survived. The core part of the Team continued its weekly calls; this time, dedicated to discussions about “the next big thing”. As a group obviously we didn’t have the “current” anything anymore. Then InfraSoft came to be – started not in a garage, but in the “garage spirit”; no money, just an idea and a couple of guys with unparalleled programming skills. We looked for funding just about anywhere we could – we approached our then current employers, talked to venture capital guys, but the market was crashing and we couldn’t get the funds – even though we came close.

That’s when we found a partner, comForte, who was willing to finance InfraSoft, and to take the first product to the market. The uLinga product was developed and taken to market and has already proved successful at a number of customers’ sites.

In a couple of days we will be meeting face-to-face with comForte, at the annual GTUG event in Dresden, Germany. We will discuss our plans for yet one more “next big thing”, and we hope to take InfraSoft to the next level, resurrecting our yearly Plan Team sessions - and some of us are beginning to look forward to having a bowl of Laksa sometime soon.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Big Data? NonStop? It’s common knowledge …

What has characterized NonStop for so many years – its underlying highly-scalable Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) “engine” - is the envy of all who pursue Big Data. Could we see it being leveraged in the future?

It is not uncommon for Margo and me to head up into the mountains at this time of year to catch the colors of fall. Furthermore it’s not out of ordinary for us to do so in an open roadster to better see it all and to take in the pleasant scents that accompany the change. And on the occasions when we elect to look at the fall colors to our south, we usually end up stopping for lunch in Aspen – perhaps the epicenter when it comes to checking out the aspens. The picture above was taken during our most recent trip and it shows just how colorful the landscape can become as the leaves change color.

When it comes to technology and to finding common ground among reporters, analysts, and all those prepared to offer opinions there’s been more in common of late than I can recall having seen in a long time. Yes, Apple continues to dominate (surely, their financial performance isn’t truly influencing America’s GDP, but it seems that it will improve it by a couple of decimal points), and with Apples ascendency, there’s a consensus that mobility and interfacing with tablets and smartphones will dominate the agendas of many CIOs. Always on theses CIOs agendas is security and audibility – abiding by the governance mandates overarching all that business does today seems inescapable.

However, there’s even more common ground when it comes to the other two big-ticket items that nearly all who are prepared to discuss IT rarely stray too far from – Clouds and Big Data. Even as I suspect there’s a strong umbilical cord developing between the two, as surely IT cost-effectively addressing Big Data will turn to Clouds. It’s common knowledge within the NonStop community that I volunteered to become the leader of the HP Business Critical Systems (BCS) Cloud Special Interest Group (SIG), that I have set up a LinkedIn group simply called “Cloud SIG – A Connect Community”, and that it complements the LinkedIn group I had previously created called “Clouds, powered by NonStop”. This, together with the LinkedIn group “Fools for NonStop” pretty much sum up my enthusiasm for NonStop and for its potential to play an important role in Clouds for many within the NonStop community.

Perhaps what is now quite as well known is my interest in Big Clouds, a byproduct essentially of earlier work I had done for vendors like GoldenGate (now Oracle GoldenGate) and for the SQL/MX team within HP NonStop. As I was preparing for this post I was looking for the right words to introduce Big Data when I came upon another vendor’s introduction. “Imagine a world where everyone gets precisely the right information at the right time—to make important business decisions faster; to expose what’s relevant in a critical litigation matter; to know what’s no longer needed or just clouding the issue and raising costs; to be able to respond confidently to any regulatory or customer inquiry; to provide a better product or service than the competition”, was how they positioned themselves before adding the obvious “that’s the world we believe in.”

It is with this in mind, making important business decisions faster and providing a better product or service than the competition, I wrote two opinion papers for vendors well known to the NonStop community – Attunity and Integrated Research (IR). For the immediate future, moving data from NonStop to Big Data platforms seems an obvious direction to take, just as determining that with even more to monitor, the data accumulating may be best pushed out to a Big Data store. The paper for Attunity, “HP NonStop Transactional Data: An important ingredient for Big Data” will be published shortly whereas the paper for IR, “Big Changes coming as monitoring turns to Big Data!” has just been published and can be downloaded from

In writing these different opinion papers only twice was their material in common and this had to do with observations made by HP executives. In the earliest references to HP, in both papers, I quoted what has already appeared in the August 29, 2012 post to this blog, “NonStop? Radical transformation!”, as I repeated what HP’s Senior VP and General Manager, Business Critical Systems (BCS), Martin Fink, had observed. “Another complicated vector thrown into all of this … and where NonStop plays – how we leverage NonStop expertise – is Big Data,” Fink said before adding “we have been running MPP engines that are some of the biggest the world has ever seen. There’s no better engine than NonStop!”

In later references to HP, I pulled from a HP News announcement about the HP and Cloudera partnership, where I had quoted HP’s VP, Converged Application Systems, Enterprise Group, Paul Miller. “Companies are increasingly turning to Apache Hadoop to help manage petabytes of information, but are finding they spend more time on operations and maintenance than on strategic data analysis,” Miller had said. “HP Converged Infrastructure provides a strong portfolio of comprehensive Big Data management tools that when combined with Cloudera’s solutions bring the benefits of Hadoop to clients faster without the administrative burden."

In the weeks that followed the post to this blog, as well as the writing of the opinion papers, I had the opportunity to talk to Miller and expand on the comments above. What was interesting to me, of course, was the potential role of NonStop – already in the paper for Attunity I had looked at how there would be some in the NonStop community replicating data from NonStop to Big Data platforms like Hadoop – as it seems unlikely that NonStop would provide an economical platform on which to run Big Data. Just how “converged” would be the Converged Application Systems when it came to NonStop?

“Today we have a mix of ‘systems of record’ (including ERP) as well as ‘systems of engagement’ (including web access apps), in addition we have customers who are looking at popular offerings in support of Big Data initiatives (including Apache’s Hadoop) as part of systems of engagement,” Miller observed.  He then added that “by marrying NonStop systems with Big Data systems, customers can leverage their existing data with new sources of data to provides advanced analytics to the lines of business.”

Converging? Marrying? This echoed similar sentiments as had been previously expressed by HP NED’s product manager, SQL, Ajaya Gummadi, who during our last conversation has said, “Big Data? It’s not going to be as much about storing and moving data as it is a matter of how we connect the dots between transactional data and social media feeds. There will be occasions where organizations will launch a new product or service, check the transaction volumes of the last five minutes and then want to correlate this activity with what was being said about the product in social media channels including blogs, tweets, ‘Facebook likes’ etc. both positive and negative in order to make rapid adjustments to the product or service as well as the marketing messages being used. This type of capability needs a platform that can handle extreme volumes of workloads and be always available to do business.”

“There’s no better engine than NonStop”, according to Fink. “Marrying NonStop systems with Big Data systems”, added Miller.  “Connect the dots between transactional data and social media feeds”, proposes Gummadi. When it comes to Big Data then, for those who may not have considered the matter too deeply, there appears lots of potential opportunities for NonStop as it harbors the transactional data, critical to making the types of business decisions projected as necessary in the future, and all on a rock-solid platform without the frailty of what today serves meeting the needs of Big Data.

“Furthermore, while there are many applications where organizations require high orders of governance, back-up, archival access, etc. there are also customers who do not require this level of rigidity and this is where the system of record continues to be important for organizations”, Miller then advised me. “However, there is great value to customers who co-mingle data between the two types of systems but retain the system of record which is rock-solid, reliable, whereas the system of engagement is typically less so and the rules are looser.”

“When it comes to a role for NonStop within Converged Application Systems, it is immersed in it – not tangential at all,” Miller then summed it up for me. “HP Integrity NonStop is built on the same core Converged Infrastructure building blocks of blades, fabrics and infrastructure management as our other Integrity and ProLiant systems. But then each is purpose-built to meet specific use-cases from mission critical to web surfing. Organizations benefit from a common architectural approach that can scale across all their needs and operating environments from Windows, Linux, UNIX to the most important applications in the world on NonStop.”

There’s a common thread through all of this that is probably not lost on many within the NonStop community. In its early phases, few organizations will even be considering the NonStop, but as the time when information is needed   shortens and heads to being real time, what is held on the NonStop transactional systems will become more important. Moving data will serve the purpose for quite some time, however in subsequent phases as the technologists and architects look further out, moving data may need to be complemented with a broader Big Data framework that embraces the NonStop as it stands – new protocols and new services coming to the fore as part of such a broadening of the Big Data framework. Finally, in an even later phase the intellectual property of NonStop, as we see it today, easily capable of handling enormous MPP configurations, will most likely be leveraged in new and highly innovative ways.

We may not immediately appreciate what we see, but even as discussions within the NonStop community center on how today NonStop has become a software solution,  perhaps sometime soon we will find it even less surprising to find HP leveraging NonStop in such a way that ‘NonStop Inside’ may become widespread. And that could pave the way for commonality way beyond what we may have thought possible in the past. Indeed, what NonStop mastered nearly four decades ago, may turn out to be what’s truly Big!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who’s popular? What attracts a crowd?

Following the interview with Martin Fink it was time to take a look at what themes were proving popular for the NonStop community – and it wasn’t all that surprising to see what attracts a crowd! And when it comes to surprises - who could have guessed, I'm now into my sixth year of posting to the blog, Real Time View!

Kicking off another year of blogging has me looking at the blog stats and digging back through past posts. When I first started blogging I chose a number of themes I would develop, but even with this intent changes in the industry have seen some shifts and turns along the way – five years is really a long time in our industry and for many within the NonStop community, they may already have moved onto their third job as they read this.

The photo above was taken of Margo and me over dinner in Bellagio, but this time not in Las Vegas but rather alongside Lake Como, one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to. I only wish there was an active NonStop regional user group in the area so that sometime in the near future we could return to this “pearl of the lake”. This was also the starting point of a trip that would take us deeper into Italy and then across into France, before we cut back through Switzerland and up into the Black Forest.

One side benefit from supporting user communities across the world is that they provide insights into where I would like to go some time – and this trip saw us return to Nice, the very first European user event I ever attended. And the event that sealed my fate, so to say, in terms of becoming more involved in the NonStop user community, and the fact that I am now writing posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, is simply my way to continue a dialogue that has been going on for nearly two decades.

When it comes to themes and the storylines that attracted the most readers, I have been pretty open about listing the most read posts under the heading “Popular Posts”, in the sidebar to the right of these posts, and just recently I tweaked this feature to give us a snapshot of what catches our attention over a rolling 30 day period. And there has been some surprises in that some of the more popular posts date back many months, even years. But is no surprise that whenever I touch on some topics, or reference individuals at HP, the interest levels truly do climb. Of course, topping the list right now is the most recent post (and one I suspect will climb to the top of the list of all-time popular posts), of August 29, 2012, "NonStop? Radical transformation!", where I included quotes given by HP’s Senior VP and General Manager, Business Critical Systems, Martin Fink, during an interview I had with him only a week or so ago.

“Tandem identified itself as a hardware company and customers perceived its value was with hardware not available in any other way,” I reported at the time as Martin Fink explained (the major achievements of the past five years). “So, we went through a pretty radical transformation to where NonStop is a software play; it’s where the customer sees the value today. And now we have new customers on board as well as new vendors … but we do want to get to that place where we are a pure software company so ultimately, yes, (ServerNet hardware / protocols) may be replaced by InfiniBand but there’s lots of work
to do.”

Again, the second most popular post of the past 30 days is not a surprise either, as in the post of August 17, 2012, "
Sailing,tacking and avoiding conflicts!" I again touched on the transformations under way within NonStop, writing of how, 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 hardware 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. The above having been written before I had the chance to talk to Martin Fink.

However, it is the third most popular post of the past 30 days that really caught my attention as it dates back to November 6, 2007, and came after only a few months of blogging. In the post, "It's a sign!” I wrote of my observations following earlier participation at the famous and very well attended Gartner Symposium, noting of how, as  I skimmed through (Gartner’s) description of “Fabric “that I began to recognize the signs. Gartner suggests that the “fabric-based server of the future will treat memory, processors, and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suite the owner’s needs”. The analyst contributing these items to the list goes on to add, “blade servers are just an intermediate stage” and that “a fabric will allow several blades to be merged. Blades are not the final step” as he suggests something a lot more fluid in nature!

It is very obvious to me from the discussions I have had and from the email exchanges I have enjoyed of late, that nothing rouses the community as much as when you suggest fundamental changes are under way within NonStop. As a community, there is considerable angst that in moving forward, for goodness sake, don’t change anything! Give us the fundamentals we have always enjoyed. Don’t lessen the NonStop-ness of NonStop! And yet, we have seen the arrival of Blades and the very flexible Blade System chassis; we have seen a new CLIM technology where Linux runs the critical I/O controllers for storage and communications. We have seen some adventurous usage of commodity components, to the point where we have fewer and fewer unique elements, and should ServerNet be replaced at some point, which it looks as though is now a goal of BCS, the transformation of NonStop into a pure software play will have been accomplished.

But as a pure software play, HP will continue to provide NonStop – let me be very clear on this item. NonStop will not be something that ever evolves to where, similar to Microsoft, you simply download it to your favorite Intel-Architecture de jour, but rather, will come supported by a finite number of hardware packages – after all, it’s the Q&A and Pilot tests that are an essential component when it comes to assuring the NonStop community has the NonStop system that they require – no, that will not change! For me, the expression “a pure software play” simply is a reference to how well NonStop now runs on the hardware packages HP BCS R&D develop, even as they will always be aware of the requirements of NonStop.

As for the all-time most popular post? Well the post of August 11, 2011, “NonStop revels in Clouds!” continues to work its way routinely to the top of the list – and there are no real surprises here. Ever since the appearance of Cloud Computing the NonStop community has been very keen to explore opportunities. For many, the early experiments by some of the bigger NonStop users to separate and deploy the “look to book” architecture appear to be forerunners of much of what companies value with clouds – running low-value transactions on inexpensive resources, on an on-demand basis. 

In this post I was also a lot more specific as to where I see this headed, suggesting that even though it may not be performing the most glamorous of tasks, but as enterprises hasten to deploy clouds, deploying NonStop as a controller overseeing it all, has a lot of appeal for me. Its Safety, and Assurance, with a capital S and a capital A! … For me, Persistent Cloud Services (PCS) is a return to what NonStop has always proved effective at doing; shielding imperfection behind a level of availability simply not matched in any other manner. Or, as Martin Fink suggested as reported in the most recent post,
when it comes to NonStop, “being on the edge (of the cloud as) the resilient cloud presenter” could prove to be a desirable starting point.

In a few weeks’ time I, along with many others from the NonStop community, will be gathering in Dresden, Germany, for the
pan-European GTUG/CONNECT event, and again, another part of Europe that I have not previously visited. I will be chairing the Cloud SIG, so yes, come look for me as the themes addressed above seem to be converging, just as HP’s infrastructure is converging. And given the popularity of this theme, as evidenced in the polls of late as well as by the stats the blog site provides, look for even more commentary in the future. And of course, again, look for many more posts to follow …