Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I think I'm having stress!


Plans are made, tickets are booked, and Mother Nature plays havoc… Yeah, I was booked on a flight to Baltimore on Monday, October 29. Who knew? Of course the flight got cancelled and plans had to be changed. Could have been a lot worse, I know…

Click on Richard's picture and check the T Shirt he's wearing. Yes that's him behind the helm of Chardonnay II off Santa Cruz, California.

I have been getting nostalgic lately, looking at what happened over the years – how technology changed our lives and our careers evolved trying to catch up.

Oh, yes, I remember 1989 Tandem Computers Annual Report – and for those who long ago have forgotten the specifics, I was featured in it, with an artist-rendered likeness.

The SNAX/CDF product had been released, and for me, having been a part of this then modern development project felt fantastic! I was a part of something significant, it mattered, customers awaited it ready to deploy!

Fast forward to 2012 – yup, 23 years later. Time flies! Again, I am feeling great to be involved in a new, modern effort of putting NonStop on the clouds map.

I feel it may be a significant step toward enabling mission critical applications to access affordable and flexible computer power without a fear of ever losing a transaction in the process!
 
As the CRN (on-line magazine for VARS and Technology integrators) reported just this past Monday, October 29, 2012, “Google (NSDQ:GOOG) App Engine, Tumblr and Dropbox worked on ensuring the availability of their cloud-based services Monday after each suffered outages for several hours Friday.” The reporter, Jack McCarthy, added “Google said App Engine, its platform for developing and hosting web applications in Google-managed data centers, went down from 7:30 a.m. PST to 11:30. a.m., PST, as it experienced slowness and errors. As a result, 50 percent of requests to the App Engine failed.”
 
Even though Google reported that no data has been lost, all of us associated with Payments Industry see the scary picture of lost opportunities. Transactions that couldn’t be completed and customers forced to turn to competitors.
 
The article concluded: “This shows the cloud industry still has work to do to improve on overall availability and performance," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of Thinkstrategies. "There are inevitably going to be disruptions to service availability, and it's key for service providers to minimize these occurrences and for cloud consumers to mitigate their risk by having a backup and recovery plan in place and by exploring ways to take advantage of offline service options."
 
Clouds dotting the sky can be highly photographic at times and have been captured beautifully in many paintings. However, as we have witnessed this week, they can also generate lightning and thunder and indicate the presence of highly disruptive winds.
 
Coming on Monday, as Hurricane Sandy ruined my plans and made me stressed – it was great news.
 
No, not that Google lost its cloud, but that it clearly demonstrated a need for the presence of NonStop to guard the applications from the capricious nature of the clouds!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reasons to celebrate!

Some days I look at what happened over the years, and sadly, I can’t say that all that happened was planned, but for sure there was always a goal.

My goals are always set way high, just in case I achieve them, so when we first looked at the NonStop managed clouds demo all I could think of was just how cool it would be to partner with HP, get the “Sydney boys” (Managing Director, Peter Shell, Chief Architect, Neil Coleman, and Development VP, Dave Finnie) involved, and come out with a world class solution for those who can’t afford to lose their transactions in the clouds.

Richard gave me this look that said “in your dreams”, but unless you have dreams you just stay put, and do not get any closer to your goals.

So we started talking with the HP guys demonstrating the product, Justin in particular (that’s Justin Simonds), Richard wrote a few posts to the NonStop community blog promoting the effort, we sure admired what they’ve done, and we really liked them and their enthusiasm.

Yes, you may wonder why I am posting this picture of a wonderful cheese and pate platter – there is a reason! When a goal is achieved, a deal is done, a task is completed or the first phase of my dream take on shape, we tend to look at each other with the “this calls for celebration” expression – and off we go to have a glass of wine and a meal in one of our favorite restaurants. The wine and cheese place that serves this fabulous spread is on the list of fun places to use for celebrations. And now we are working with the same HP guys; the next step is for us at Infrasoft to figure how will we take the concept and the APIs and build it into our uLinga product. uLinga for clouds! I like how it sounds.

But there’s a lot more! Following briefings with the team at HP, we now have the code – gateways, APIs, tables and files, and the “Sydney boys” have completed installing it all on the NonStop system. Some of you may have seen Dave Finnie at the NonStop “boot-camp”, where there were discussions with HP – the focus being squarely on our early feedback and on what we have observed to date.

Whether we facilitate the use of NonStop on the edge of two or more clouds, projecting a level of availability and robustness that is usually only ever associated with NonStop, or cater for Java applications running on NonStop that are CPU intensive and “burst them into the Cloud”, or, perhaps, we go the other way, where for reasons of security or data integrity, or even just for compliance, there could be markets for syphoning transactions out of the Cloud. It’s all early days, but in discussing possible capabilities with users, the suggestions are coming fast.

There’s still the roadmap to complete, and with a completed roadmap I expect there will be even more wine and cheese!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The energy that surrounds NonStop ...


There’s no denying just how important people – users, vendors, consultants, analysts – are to NonStop. And the contributions keep on coming; without which we wouldn’t have the NonStop system of today.

I came to NonStop via a very circuitous route – one that involved several states and a couple of countries. It was 1987 and I had returned to the United States to work for the second time and it was with Netlink (or Systems Technology, as it was known when I joined the company in 1986) who had set up shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among the names and faces that were involved with Netlink were folks like Mark Hutchens and Terry Bishop who I was to reunite with many years later at Insession as well as Rick Ploen who many of us know from time he spent with ACI Worldwide, and more recently comForte.

It was while in Raleigh that I first came into contact with Tandem Computers. Midway through 1987, Netlink CEO Paul Wood called me to his office to outline his conversations with Tandem Computers and to ask me to manage the business relationship. The first meetings at the Netlink offices included folks well-known to the NonStop community even to this day; Andy Hall, Steve Saltwick and Suri Harish. And the list grew longer with my first visits to Cupertino where I met Roger Mathews, Chris Russell and though I only vaguely remember the incident, a presentation to the SNAX organization, Margo Holen. What I saw of Tandem impressed me to the point where I asked Suri Harish how I might be able to join Tandem.  The product, the people, the customers – the energy that surrounded Tandem in the mid-1980s was inescapable.


Unfortunately, as a US resident with an L1 visa, I would have to return to Australia, join Tandem Computers in Australia, and then apply for a position back in Cupertino. This I proceeded to do and for all of 1989, as my visa application made its way through channels, I commuted between Sydney and Cupertino – a total of 13 ½ return trips. The picture above is of me outside Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard, Woodside a place I visited frequently during those months I was commuting although taken a couple of years later.

Much of this history came up in a recent conversation I had with Steve Saltwick who recently retired from HP but, as he reminded me of more than once, not from the NonStop community. You can read a lot more about Steve on LinkedIn and Facebook and Steve stressed that when it comes to all things NonStop, expect to see him as active in the community as he always has been – just with a slightly different focus now. And spending time conversing with Steve proved to be more than just enjoyable and entertaining but informative as well.

While many of us in the NonStop community know of the history of NonStop, perhaps few have lived so close to what transpired over the past two plus decades as has Steve. And yet, the last couple of years he has spent with HP, overseeing the team working most closely with solutions vendors, has given him considerable insight into one of the most widely discussed topics across the NonStop community – more solutions for NonStop!

“Looking back at how we first met and at the engagement with Netlink, Tandem Computers approached networking from a transactional perspective – if Tandem was going to process transactions it needed to tap into the source as a peer and hence, IBM connectivity was mandatory. Customers wanted Tandem to do this and in time, we could hold our own with IBM when it came to supporting IBM’s SNA, was how Steve began. “Netlink complemented the products we had at the time and where there was an opening to encourage a richer networking offering, Tandem was only too happy to step in and help.”

Moving past how we had met, Steve then talked about the struggles Tandem had in the mid-1990s that led to the acquisition by Compaq a circumstance that may have been good for investors but left much on the table when it came to how Tandem Computers did business. “After a fashion, Compaq just didn’t get it,” Steve then observed. “Whenever a Tandem experienced problems then, once reported, there would be people on planes immediately to make sure the problems were resolved.” And this was new to Compaq and the source for much of the disconnect that followed.


There was further disconnects too about how Tandem systems were developed but then Compaq may have been more correct about its concerns than those at Tandem may have been willing to concede. “Tandem Computers unrelenting passion for building absolutely the best server possible, in terms of availability, eventually became unaffordable. Changes had to be made and the experience with Compaq,” Steve suggested, “with its 180 degree difference in perspective (when it came to building everything yourself) better prepared developers for the new realities of the market.”

Steve’s time with Compaq was disrupted briefly when he left to work at a couple of start-ups one of which Tandem Computers founder, Jimmy Treybig, had made investments and was on the board. “The experience at these start-ups really helped me better understand the perspectives of smaller, entrepreneurial ISVs,” Steve related. “Thanks to Pauline Nist, I returned to Compaq shortly before HP acquired the company and it was with a collective sigh of relief all associated with the Tandem systems welcomed HP.” Compaq may indeed have not gotten it, but surely HP would be able to leverage all that Tandem was capable of providing.

“It didn’t happen overnight and there was considerable initial angst but under Martin Fink we worked to integrate what we now know as the NonStop system into the spectrum of products that made up the Business Critical Systems (BCS) portfolio,” Steve then explained. “HP as a whole, customers as a whole, indeed the marketplace as a whole has given NonStop its due – and it’s proving today to be a highly valuable business - both for customers and for HP. There are some categories of transactions that continue to grow that will benefit from the presence of NonStop. Now a modern hardware and software stack, NonStop finds itself well-placed in a very viable marketplace and is benefitting accordingly.”

Steve then closed with “look at just how different today’s NonStop systems are to those engineered as Tandem Computers back in 1974. The world moves on; you are either evolving to meet the needs of the day or you are dying. But some things have stayed the same when it comes to NonStop. Focus on the fundamentals, the retention of good people, and a tremendous support team to support the customer – they are as much needed today as they have ever been and as part of HP, they remain the fundamentals of the NonStop team.”

Over the past few weeks I have had the good fortune to interview a number of HP executives and senior managers – Martin Fink, Paul Miller and now Steve Saltwick. And this has been a deliberate move on my part following all that was presented at HP Discover 2012. “Make it matter” has become the central message of what Meg Whitman is hoping will propel HP to more prosperous times. However it’s also a time when there’s discussion in the marketplace of what will become core to HP’s vision for growth – and many within the NonStop community have expressed concerns about the future of the NonStop platform.

For me there are signs that NonStop will remain a force within the HP BCS portfolio. And it will be a part of the strategy that helps HP to grow. On several occasions I have written about NonStop as HP’s Halo product to make a point of just how good the platform is today – but there’s more than just a badge or logo. But I made the reference for a reason; the product, the people, the customers – the energy that surrounds NonStop even today continues to be inescapable. Steve Saltwick may have indeed retired from HP but no, he very much hasn’t retired from NonStop and with that his name is added to a long list of advocates and evangelists and the NonStop community is the richer for - and about that I make no excuses or hold any reservations!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NonStop you!


There is a message about NonStop to be taken into the enterprise as the NonStop system is proving beneficial and indeed appropriate whenever topics such as Java, Big Data and Cloud Computing are raised – it’s just going to take a lot more engagement by all of us to make it matter! 
 
Road warriors are an integral part of most vendor companies. We all know who they are, and they rarely miss a user event or convention. For them six or seven flights in a week to visit four or five accounts is merely routine, and living on the edge with respect to not knowing whether flights will be cancelled, or a critical PC (or router or line) needed for a presentation will fail, or even a last minute cancellation by a user, only strengthens their determination.

I know; for thirty plus years, this was the only life I knew, and while it was interrupted a couple of times as I was given different assignments, I seemed to always gravitate back to this lifestyle, but of late, and with the work I am currently doing, I am travelling a lot less. Travelling is addictive and like an addiction, when I stopped doing it a couple of years back, it was tough, but now I don’t miss it all, but when those times to travel do arise and I see yet again those road warriors I know so well, and I can’t help but look back to those times now long gone.

Last week as I waited in Munich for my flight to Dresden, as I headed for the GTUG and the Pan-European GTUG/CONNECT event, I caught sight of a large overhead digital billboard scrolling through advertisements when up came the sign, captured in the photo above, that simply stated “Nonstop you”. Turned out it was a Lufthansa promotion for their new lie-flat beds in business class, wooing, as it was trying to do, those road warriors who were lucky enough to score upgrades in airline networks that gave them a choice of carriers.

The thought of “NonStop you”, however, never left my consciousness, even as I participated in the Dresden event for the NonStop community. So many well-known faces continue to champion products and solutions, whether from HP or the many independent vendors who contribute so much to the community. There is competition between vendors, and that is always evident, with some vendors anxiously watching as their newest prospect wonders off to a competitor’s stand, but since this is all about technology, and where the interests of the user community often gravitate to something new; seasoned road warriors never miss a beat. They have seen it all before and continue to demonstrate a knack for ensuring their products - no matter the feature deficiencies or legacy interfaces - is in the forefront of their prospects considerations.

There is a cricket world championship competition under way in Sri Lanka. It’s down to the last couple of teams, with the finalists once again the countries that are dominant in this sport – that’s right. England was eliminated only a day or so ago. “ESPN The Magazine” senior writer, Wright Thompson, is in Sri Lanka covering the final games and in an article updated September 30, 2012, “Sri Lanka team, nation look ahead” he wrote of how “There's a line I love from a novel about Sri Lankan cricket called ‘The Legend of Pradeep Mathew,’ set around the 1996 world championship. It describes the power of sports better than anything I remember reading.
"Of course there is little point to sports. But, at the risk of depressing you, let me add two more cents. There is little point to anything. In a thousand years, grass will have grown over all our cities. Nothing of anything will matter. Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there may be no practical use in that, there is most certainly value."
Indeed world championships matter little, but they do bring value to a marketplace. When it comes to technology, unfortunately, looking back at technologies, architectures and even some solutions, most of us are amused to look at what we championed four or five years ago, let alone ten or twenty. Whatever happened to Hierarchical Input-Process-Output (HIPO) systems analysis design aid and whatever happened to PL/1? Modular 2? And where today is the once much-lauded .Net heralded as the next best thing, and yet failed to capture the market-share expected versus Java. WebTV anyone? I still have three of those units somewhere in the house.

Value drives the success of any endeavor and road warriors know this – it’s what gets them back on the plane every day. For the NonStop community there’s no surprises as to why NonStop systems are still at the heart of many enterprises transaction processing environments – NonStop continues to perform this task so much better than any other platform, even when it’s sometimes perceived as being well past its prime. There’s value in running NonStop. And all through the presentations at last week’s GTUG event this became even more apparent. However, we cannot simply rely on a handful of road warriors to ensure NonStop remains relevant; increasingly, I am convinced it will take even more effort from all of us to ensure the message about the value of NonStop continues to be communicated.

I have just completed a new post to comForte Lounge, “
GTUG and the Pan-European GTUG/CONNECT – well attended and very successful!”, where I wrote of how it really doesn’t take a lot to change perceptions – but that it does take our engagement and our active participation within our companies. My response to seeing (Java, Clouds and Big Data) topics being covered, as aggressively as they were, was to simply remonstrate with the audience of how, yes, we can change perceptions! Yes, we can “educate” our IT departments and our business managers that NonStop should be involved in strategic discussions on any and all of these topics. The only barrier that I could see for even greater involvement of NonStop was whether we were prepared to raise our hands and say, yes, we can do that!

Something very similar to this appeared in an article by Ron Thompson of CAIL in the September / October 2012 issue of The Connection. In “NonStop in the Enterprise” Thompson observed that “… the agenda in many organizations is to reduce costs, better manage change and mitigate risk, while addressing new needs and supporting business innovation. As a result there is a need by all of us in the HP community to be proactive at ensuring decision makers appreciate the NonStop value proposition – with supporting advantages and metrics (that matter to the business). And given NonStop systems typically operate in heterogeneous environments there is a need to have an enterprise perspective that highlights NonStop supports Standards and can meaningfully contribute to achieving Corporate goals.”

There is so much more being written about NonStop these days than almost any time previously – social media channels have opened the floodgates in many respects. There’s just so much more ink on NonStop than I can recall ever seeing in the almost four decades of NonStop presence in the marketplace. There’s simply no excuse anymore for not being able to find something in writing that supports NonStop providing superior value in a given situation - and if you cannot find it, drop me an email and I will research and make sure you have something before the month passes!  Should you want to discuss something, then I have lost count of the number of forums and discussion groups focused solely on NonStop.

The message of “NonStop you”, when it comes to promoting NonStop by the NonStop community, is really all about you, me, and every stakeholder within the NonStop community. We all need to be proactive and we all need to become extremely vocal, after all, it’s becoming a lot more apparent that we are no longer alone when it comes to promoting NonStop. We just have to start thinking more strategically about expanding NonStop relevance within the companies where we work - what we now have with NonStop systems is really the type of disruptive innovation so many CIOs would welome.
It’s worth repeating (as I closed with this thought in my post of September 30, 2012 to comForte Lounge) as yes, we can “educate” our IT departments and our business managers that NonStop should be involved in strategic discussions on any or all of (the Java, Big Data and Cloud) topics. The only barrier that I could see for even greater involvement of NonStop was whether we were prepared to raise our hands and say, yes, we can do that! It really is all about “NonStop you” after all.