Monday, February 25, 2013

It’s yet another sign!

A persistent top ten most popular post has been one of the earliest posts to this blog, “It’s a sign!” so it’s about time the topic is revisited in light of just how fruitful fulfilling the needs of a niche has become.   

There are so many times when we simply remark on how it’s just a sign of the times. Perhaps not as dismissive as the comment “Whatever!” but all the same, it’s a short-hand, somewhat equally dismissive way to reflect on how it’s just not our fault. We aren’t to blame. We aren’t involved. The snow that fell here in Boulder this weekend and pictured above was a reminder that seasons manifest themselves rather predictably. If there is snow on the ground then yes, it’s winter. The fact that we aren’t enjoying nearly as many snow days as we once did, well, yes, that too is a sign of the times.

Readers of this blog will have scarcely missed that the most widely read post of all times was that of November 6, 2007,
It's a sign! The post drew attention to forecasts, and in particular to the technology forecasts made by Gartner that year and where “The list includes green power, unified communications, virtualization, mashups and social software” according to an October 7, 2007, report in the IDG publication, NetworkWorld. That it retains overall top spot in terms of reader popularity ever since doesn’t really surprise me – we are all interested in topics to do with NonStop especially when we view NonStop as having a role to play in areas considered topical .

In her classic song, It’s a sign of the times singer, Petula Clark, penned the words “
It's a sign of the times and I know that I won't have to wait much longer. You've changed a lot somehow from the one I used to know” and I couldn’t help thinking how relevant this is to NonStop today. NonStop has changed and for the better and yes, it’s not the same system we used to know. But can we also acknowledge, somewhat enthusiastically, that given such a changed system we will not be waiting much longer for NonStop to prevail. Globally, and across many market segments!

It may be new, but it’s still a world where transactions count and where the need to process even more transactions than at any time in the past is obvious, and the value of NonStop’s contributions goes unheeded for the most part. Is it truly a sign of the times, however, as a community, we haven’t propelled visibility of NonStop as highly as it ought to be?

Five years later, what is Gartner now forecasting as its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2013? Any surprises? The list this time is dominated by predictions about mobile device battles, the advent of the personal cloud, the changing role of IT as hybrid IT and cloud computing take hold, and of how, under the general heading of actionable analytics, again it will be cloud, packaged analytics and big data accelerating even further in 2013.

The outcome from unified communications,
virtualization, mashups and social software seems to be in evidence everywhere we look, and much of the interest, and indeed take-up, of offerings in support of mobile devices, clouds and big data seems a natural follow-on to what was forecast fully five years ago. And yet again, the question lingers – what of the changed NonStop? Will it be playing a major role? Will there be another burst of enthusiasm in support of much wider deployment of NonStop systems?

In a somewhat controversial article in the January 26, 2013, issue of The Economist
Only the digital dies the journalist writes of how “Innovation tends to create new niches, rather than refill those that already exist. So technologies may become marginal, but they rarely go extinct. And today the little niches in which old technologies take refuge are ever more viable and accessible, thanks to the internet ...”

For more years than I care to recall, when it comes to NonStop markets any references to niche markets draws considerable fire. However, in today’s global marketplace, niches have become considerably larger with the result that customers do benefit from some selective tailoring better meeting their needs. Occupying a niche in no way suggests a limited or restricted marketplace addressed only with aged, legacy products.

Niche means distinct, specific, and distinguishable - although we often use it as a small sub-segment. It really means a ‘distinct segment’. Apple iPhone has its niche with the young and cool crowd. That sub-segment is neither small nor marginal. So yes, you are right with your assessment - niche doesn't have to mean small or dying,” responded Sami Akbay cofounder at WebAction and formerly of GoldenGate Software.

“Technology is invented, has a lifespan, and then it becomes obscure or dead,” Akbay then added. “It isn't born as a niche or it doesn't die as a niche; people create technology to address a real or perceived problem that is believed to exist now or will exist in the future. If the innovation and technology address a ‘real’ problem that exists now and continues to exist into the future, you have a winner. If the problem doesn't exist or disappears as a side effect of some other phenomenon, the technology dies away. The success, lifespan, longevity all depend on the size of the problem and the merit/brilliance of technology or innovation.”

In todays’ interconnected world it is also easier to access and serve niche markets,” observed comForte marketing head Thomas Gloerfeld. “You could even argue that NonStop and its commoditization of components has helped it out of the ‘technology niche’ and hence will help it survive, indeed thrive, in select sub-markets. The key however for infrastructure vendors like comForte is that customer organizations elevate NonStop and what it provides in support of their business critical transactions / data.”

However, it was the observation by
OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, that perhaps put it into context for the NonStop community. “There are times when we do struggle hard to make NonStop sound like a normal system and try our best not to call it a niche. However, when it comes to the bigger picture of computers worldwide – then yes, NonStop is a niche. Once you appreciate that niches are indeed sub-markets, then when it comes to a sub-market as big as payments, NonStop is the predominant player and this is a message not lost on solutions vendors like OmniPayments.”

Ownership, or dominance, across a niche that maps to a rapidly growing and increasingly important market segment is a good thing; niche doesn’t necessarily equate to small, declining, or mostly overlooked and provides enough incentives for vendors to continue to invest and to innovate. And to rebut one of the observations of the writer in The Economist,
while “some technologies may become marginal, and rarely go extinct” where the niche or sub-market is big enough, it’s quite the contrary, “if the innovation and technology address a ‘real’ problem that continues to exist you have a winner”.

The key to unlocking further success for NonStop, according to Akbay, comes back to the basics. “NonStop today addresses a limited segment. It owns that segment and it is here to stay. However, the path to resurgence of NonStop is finding new segments, owning those segments too and going through a second lifecycle starting from ‘early adopters’. Owning mission critical across the computing landscape, making it affordable, adding compatibility for Java applications running on it, conquering the cloud, re-segmenting the market and going after it again. And again.”

In a final remark it was again OmniPayment’s Yash who put this in a more pragmatic light, observing that “even as I agree with what has been said here, our company started out providing consulting services that led to us providing a number of specialized services that then resulted in us becoming a product company. We have invested a lot in the NonStop platform and continue to do so as we see NonStop having few peers doing what it does best. Processing transactions, 24 X 7, right out of the box. And with the costs continuing to decline, why wouldn’t we continue to support and promote? Yes, I would like to see some distance put between NonStop and niche and yet, these niches or sub-markets do offer an extremely
viable, historically easily accessible, and indeed increasingly valuable opportunity to all those who pursue the development of solutions.”

For those within the NonStop community who track the forecasts of industry analysts like Gartner, there really isn’t any surprises for 2013. And perhaps this of itself is a sign of the times as well. Certainly, when it comes to NonStop systems today, they have “changed a lot somehow from the (systems) I used to know” – a message well worth communicating. There will be more clouds. There will be more mobile devices. There will be more hybrid IT. And yes, engaged in all of this, there will be a lot more of NonStop!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Plain White T’s song running through my mind …

So many cloudy discussions out there, and it seems we each mean something different when we say clouds. On the other hand, I have to say I always smile a tad when I read of clouds and think of the popular song by Plain White T’s.

It goes like this:

My head is stuck in the clouds
She begs me to come down
Says ‘Boy quit foolin' around’
I told her ‘I love the view from up here
The warm sun and wind in my ear
We'll watch the world from above
As it turns to the rhythm of love’”

The Wikipedia provides a comprehensive definition, and tells you that the term “clouds” is used liberally, to mean so many things – here is what it says:

Outside of the information technology and software industry, the term ‘cloud’ can be found to reference a wide range of services, some of which fall under the category of cloud computing, while others do not. The cloud is often used to refer to a product or service that is discovered, accessed and paid for over the Internet, but is not necessarily a computing resource. Examples of service that are sometimes referred to as "the cloud" include, but are not limited to, crowd sourcing, cloud printing, crowd funding, cloud manufacturing.”

Common routines frequently accessed by multiple applications ,for instance, could be candidates to become services and as such, IT might just elect to run from out of a cloud saving each customer from having to pay for their own resources. Complete transactions may find themselves too residing in the cloud. What makes the prospect of using cloud resources tantalizing is that they may just save us all a lot of money.

If you want to get the good sense of what is it maRunga will deliver take a look
First phase: deliver a product, fully instrumented, supported, etc. that delivers on the PCS demo promise....

In a recent email Thomas Burg of comForte joked: “Here’s my definition of cloud: “a wonderful marketing buzzword which can mean a lot of things and which you better throw up in the air a lot these days to stay relevant”

I agree. Everyone throws around terms like clouds and big data and reserves the right to interpret these terms as they please. That is OK, as both are relatively new and developing right in front of us.

To me what is important is the role NonStop will play: it is uniquely positioned to front end resources that themselves may not be as stable as you would wish – we all experienced Netflix fiasco over the Holidays! NonStop front ending clouds environment will be able to switch you from the environment that failed to the one that is chumming away! To your user that will mean no interruption of services, and that’s all that counts!

“We'll watch the world from above” is a position I have always endorsed when it comes to development projects of any kind. With understanding comes products and with products and the interactions with real users comes knowledge and, in time, expertise. Of course this only eventuates when you are on top of it all ... 


Monday, February 4, 2013

I am not a number!

Working with computers almost all my life, I am fully aware of the importance of numbers and codes. But today’s computers, even NonStop, are so much faster and so much smarter – how much longer will it be before I no longer need to provide a number?
When I finally sat down in front of television this week, I spent the short time that I had channel surfing. Of course, this can be extremely distracting to those seated nearby, watching a show, but I have little patience for commercials and after being on the road over the holiday period I had exhausted the Tivo. However, as I surfed, I came across the show, NUMB3RS, and the episode opened with an introduction that caught my attention.

“We all use math every day; to tell time, handle money. We also use math to analyze crime; reveal patterns, predict behavior,” came the program’s voice-over. The punch line? “Using numbers we can solve the biggest mysteries we know!” A little over the top, perhaps, but coming at a time when television shows like The Mentalist, Pysche, even Perception featuring an
eccentric neuroscientist suffering schizophrenia-induced hallucinations, who is also quite paranoid, NUMB3RS represents a refreshing, if not unique, distraction featuring just a little more science than most.

The picture above is of Margo captured while passing the Maserati stand at a recent car show; with the subdued light and wearing dark glasses, surrounded by exotic cars, the effect was to remind me of the many mystery and spy thrillers I have watched over the years. The use of codes and references to agents by numbers, not to mention the fact that there is always cyphers to unravel before missiles are launched and bombs explode, seems stock-in-trade for this genre of film so much so that the suspense they generate would be lost if it wasn’t for our fascination with numbers.

Secret agent man … They've given you a number, and taken away your name,” were the words of a well-known 1960s pop song by Johnny Rivers that played on my satellite radio station this week as I drove back from running errands. While Margo could so easily play the role of a secret agent, I suspect, dressed the way she is in the picture, should she ever be given a number within the NonStop community she will always be known as Margo. So perhaps there is a limit to how deep our fascination with numbers runs, after all.

However, being known by a number is gradually marginalizing the value of our given name. This week I went online to renew a motorcycle registration – I had to know the specifics of the license plate number and have a credit card number handy. Something similar transpired as I renewed an auto club membership online – I needed to know my membership number and pin. While running errands I found time to deposit a check – I needed my debit card number and a pin. While online, only a short time ago, I ordered new business cards from FedEx – I needed my account number and password. It seems that very few transactions can be completed these days without me having to provide numbers.

In my January 24, 2013, post to ATMmarketplace, Love those machines!, I wrote of how involved we have all become with machines. In the post I reflect on how, personally, when it comes to getting my boarding pass, purchasing my tires and brake pads and yes, getting to my cash, I am more than happy to be on first name terms with machines. Well perhaps not by name, I then add, but definitely by number even if it does remind me of the old TV show, "The Prisoner," in which actor Patrick McGoohan angrily chastises his unknown captors, saying, "I am not a number, I am a free man"!

“We all use math every day; to tell time, handle money,” is an observation about how we live. And at the heart of any sentiment we may share (with the television series), are transactions. Yes, checking the time is a transaction, albeit very simple, and for most of us, our instinctive response these days is to check our smartphone preferring its accuracy to that of the jewelry we may be wearing. For the most part, too, a low value transaction as there are so many options available to us should we find our smartphone’s battery expired.

However, handling money? That’s always going to be viewed as a high-value transaction. If you have been following Margo’s posts to this blog, you can’t miss her many references to maRunga. Margo has become quite evangelical when it comes to NonStop and  opportunities for NonStop participating with Cloud computing. Bottom line for me is that Clouds are just another resource option to be tapped whenever circumstances dictate – a flood of unexpected transactions, an overflow of data, and perhaps even as a fallback resource during maintenance. When it comes to handling money, then the numbers clearly add up should we elect to size future systems solely to handle average transaction loads rather than peaks.

Secret agents may be better known by their numbers and numbers may be helpful in analyzing crime, but as the power of transaction servers increases, and the drive for even greater security continues, are we about to leave the numbers game behind? In emerging markets biometrics continue to penetrate communities – the “unbanked” demographic within emerging markets becoming a strong candidate for such technology, leaving numbers behind. While few government agencies are prepared to describe the specifics of facial recognition, this technology has come a long way since 9-11, so much so, that I suspect even among developed companies it will not be long before it enters the mainstream.

All of which brings me back to NonStop. Any transition from numbers to biometrics will see very “rich” transactions being generated where response times will be sub-second. Parallel processing will be a premium requirement along with scalability. The database can’t be turned off, even to run maintenance tasks. We continue to see the price of NonStop systems come down even as their compute power increases, often begging the question what will we do with all this additional processing capability? The answer is quite simple – we will need it as numbers go away. We will need it to solve the everyday problems where once we used numbers.

Even under the soft lighting of a trade show floor, Margo’s identity is hard to hide – we all know it’s Margo. Very soon it will not just be television characters who can easily recognize us using the latest in facial recognition technology, but every system we come in contact with. There will be a lot of fuss made over confidentiality and civil rights, but in the end, we would all enjoy not having to shuffle through our wallets and bags for cards and other forms of identification and will come to terms with where the lines are drawn. As for me, I am only too happy for my number to be taken away -  yes, give me back my name!