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!

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