Thursday, November 8, 2012

The best of views …

A trip to a national park reminded me of just how far we have come; the NonStop systems deployed today within the NonStop community are highly versatile, modern servers. But simply deploying the latest iteration of NonStop is only a starting point and the onus is on each of us to really look at how best we exploit NonStop.          
Business took us once again to Las Vegas, an occurrence that has already featured in posts to other blogs. On our way Margo and I were able to stop by Zion National Park, Utah, and as we were taking the RV, it gave us an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend checking out the park’s sights. However, one morning I awoke to find my vacationing neighbor, Steve, shooting pictures of the front of the RV and I was a little puzzled by the intensity he was exhibiting until he showed me this photo. It seemed we had parked the RV in the best location to catch a reflection of the mountain peaks that surrounded us.

For anyone planning a trip to the south west, including visits to such sites as Monument Valley, they should also plan on stopping by Zion National Park – those classic photos of very high sandstone canyon walls surrounding a very narrow river were likely taken in the parks famous “The Narrows” that are part of the headwater of the north fork of the Virgin River. They are a spectacular site, although I have to admit, once it became an exercise in wading the shallow river in order to continue the trip deeper into the canyon, I called it quits.

The early morning reflection on the front window of the RV, the sandstone peaks capturing the first rays of the morning sun, were not just beautiful but to me a reminder of just how often we miss seeing something important taking place because we didn’t stop to look at its reflection. I will not dwell on the mirror image that is a part of any reflection, but I will simply observe that often what happened elsewhere has laid the foundation for what we are now doing. In other words, the significance of our pursuits, particularly when it comes to IT, if left unframed by what has transpired elsewhere may mask further opportunities. Should we not see how the dots have formed we may not connect any of them correctly and miss recognizing the very next obvious dot. A view that is sure to disappoint!

A case in point: Rethinking our applications and transforming them into services, externalized via Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and capable of being consumed by any client device supporting a browser, and in a manner whereby they could be picked apart and complemented with other data to create completely new applications may have been something we did a long time ago. But as we have progressed through Client / Server computing and on to Web services / SOA, watching the further evolution into App deployments seems pretty obvious. First the client undergoes a transformation (with all that was proprietary stripped away) and then, in ways we may have missed if we hadn’t been watching, the services themselves are being transformed – the business logic may be retained but the packaging is beginning to look a lot different.

For the NonStop community, familiar with the types of mission-critical applications typically deployed on NonStop, consideration is already being given to whether access to the mission-critical application should now be initiated from an app that has been separately downloaded to the client device. In so doing, any authorized user, whether internal to the company, a business partner or even a customer has immediate access to functionality they may need. Looking back at all the energy we once spent on UIs, GUIs, Browsers and so forth, and working diligently all the while to ensure our particular interface provided additional value of one kind or another you can’t help but feel that much of our energy was expended needlessly. Make the interfaces as ubiquitous as possible and open up access to our applications to everyone on the planet.

There are restrictions here, of course, and I understand I am skirting issues of privacy and security, and potentially even data integrity, but the point remains. Much of the rapid progress that has been made easing the way we do business, pursue commerce, and in general make money is commensurate with the speed we have knocked down proprietary barriers. And talk is still relatively cheap – many members within the NonStop community see little evidence of their applications being deployed in this way as they continue to run the legacy applications and would argue that the budgets needed to go down this path simply aren’t available. NonStop running a single transactional application remains isolated and hidden somewhere towards the back of the data center – untouched simply as the concerns over possibly breaking something outweigh any perceived value that might be obtained through such “modernization”.

I have had a long-running discussion going with comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, over the disconnect that exists between todays very modern commodity-based and value-priced NonStop systems and what most NonStop customers actual have deployed. Bereft of the necessary skills that they would like, these NonStop customers appear to be in a holding pattern hoping that the NonStop will keep on doing what it has always done through a couple more hardware spins – and yet the promise of NonStop doing a lot more is so tantalizingly close. As Burg reminded me, “on LinkedIn, every week one comes across job postings searching for ‘COBOL developer for NonStop’ or ‘BASE24 developer’ – where are the postings looking for C++ or Java developers for the NonStop platform? I don’t think it is even remotely realistic to retire the ‘legacy’ applications as they still are rock solid and have a lot of proven business logic in them.”

But then again, there are solutions vendors, such as OmniPayments, where today, embracing Java, using NS SQL and looking at the possibility of running their payments application from within a NonStop Cloud as a service, seems to be a natural business progression. “On reflection, coming from a services background as we did,” said Omnipayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, “it was natural for us to focus more on products and then, as we have met with success, we look to address customers’ needs, not previously considered by potential NonStop customers, so putting our products into clouds and offering services once again seems a logical extension of where we see the business heading.” Retiring legacy applications may indeed prove to be a slow process but with value-pricing, replacing them may prove more popular, and in time, there may very well be the flood of job postings that Burg wished were being advertised today.

The reflection on our RV was a magnificent site. In reality, it looked even better than what we could see from ground level; the changed perspective that the added height of the RV provided, opening up far more of the vista than was possible from our vantage point. The NonStop community is going to see a lot more changes coming and not in some abstract or chaotic fashion, but rather, as a natural progression following much that has already been done. Vendors are anticipating this, even as creative NonStop users have already started prototyping. 

Possessing a modern NonStop system is proving to be just a starting point and very modern deployment of the applications is following. No surprisingly, this is not happening uniformly across the NonStop community, but it is happening all the same. And on reflection, none of this surprises me. After all, using transactions isn’t changing as much as transaction usage is changing, and that opens up a lot of territory for NonStop. And the view from where I stand looks terrific!

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