Friday, March 15, 2013

Before it rains, or even snows; check out the clouds!

 The cloud is the love child of the internet and virtualization” was posted to a LinkedIn discussion - is that all it is? Is there anything more? For the NonStop community it’s getting “exciting”, to quote Jimmy!

Today we live in a stylized world. Symbols are created as a shorthand way to convey information as well as to reinforce historical connections taking us back, so as to speak, to better times. As the latest generation Corvette was unveiled by GM in Detroit, just a few weeks ago, it was the appearance of a very stylized chrome stingray along each side of the car that generated considerable interest. It was as if the presence of the stylized stingray legitimized the car, irrespective of what might be present under the hood!

I have often wondered about how stylized images and what they depict resonate with communities. We see a yellow diamond with a black cutout of a deer alongside a road and immediately we know to be careful as there could be wildlife crossing in front of our car. We see an image of an airplane ascending and we assume that there is an airport nearby. We look at symbols and numbers on a hotel’s television remote and we immediately recognize the many functions that they support. We see a row of harvesters – yes, the stylized symmetry of the group caught my attention and I just had to capture them in digital form - and we immediately think of seasons about to change.
“Since the dawn of recorded history, we’ve been using visual depictions to map the earth, order the heavens, make sense of time, dissect the human body, organize the natural world, perform music, and even decorate abstract concepts like consciousness and love,” was how one review of Scott Christianson’s book 100 Diagrams That Changed the World began. This observation was followed with an explanation that the book chronicles “the history of our evolving understanding of the world through humanity’s most groundbreaking sketches, illustrations, and drawings, ranging from cave paintings to The Rosetta Stone to Moses Harris’s color wheel to Tim Berners-Lee’s flowchart for a ‘mesh’ information management system, the original blueprint for the World Wide Web.”

It was against this background, particularly the inclusion of the comment about a flowchart that essentially was the original blueprint for the World Wide Web that I thought about clouds. Cloud computing is often represented by using a stylized cloud to depict resources of any size and complexity that we can essentially ignore as whatever resource we need to perform a specific function ,be it the execution of a transaction or the storage of a massive amount of data, the cloud will deliver.

However, we have seen these cloud pictures before. They are not new to those who have worked in IT as long as I have. The very first networks were depicted as clouds. No one really understood all the complex components that went in to making a network but everyone always assumed if a computer connected to it at one point and then a terminal somewhere else, it all would work. Perhaps no better example of this was when IBM presented Systems Network Architecture (SNA) as a cloud, long before we knew about X.25 clouds, and more recently, IP clouds.

It just seemed logical to skip all the hard stuff that went in to providing a reliable resource, as networks eventually became, in order to jump to the really important stuff – who would be accessing resources and where would applications be running. After all, if we had been honest, depicting all that was within the cloud would have covered almost all of any whiteboard we would have used to describe the application we were promoting. But now, as so much of the complexity of the network has been eliminated, it is the systems themselves that are being shielded within the same stylized cloud depiction.

There have been numerous exchanges about clouds within several of the LinkedIn groups I follow. Considerable coverage of clouds has also been made in many of the blogs I subscribe to, including this blog for the NonStop community. How many have followed the posts by Margo Holen whose latest focus has been on clouds and on the potential for NonStop to participate in clouds? However, it is the current discussion in the relatively new LinkedIn group, Host System Advocate Group, that has attracted my interest.

Within the discussion
What is the difference between mainframe computing and the cloud? which in turn is a reference to an exchange that occurred on Yahoo!, and group members were directed to look at some interesting observations that had been made. Among the comments was one that simply observed, “I have heard that mainframe and dumb terminals are really bad for computing, but isn't cloud computing and thin clients the same thing?”

However, the group member that started this discussion then began by suggesting that, for him, “
the cloud is the love child of the internet and virtualization, and puts centralized computing back in fashion”! And I exhaled deeply – wow! Who knew? Cloud Computing was nothing more than IT circling back to reinstate a legitimate role for very big homogeneous systems. Mainframes, revisited. So today’s stylized depictions of clouds can now be overlaid with a picture of a very big system. I don’t think so …

Deeper into the comments posted on Yahoo! came another remark “Mainframes have single servers and require specially built air conditioned rooms to house these machines. Whereas the concept of cloud is very simple, it may have many scattered individual servers. Cloud Computing technology reduces the complexity of deploying and managing IT resources dynamically.” Once again, I exhaled deeply as I recognized the message being conveyed. The stylized cloud shouldn’t be overlaid with a picture of a very big system but rather, a collection of geographically scattered servers of varying capabilities.

For the NonStop community, with systems predominantly deployed among Global 1000 companies, cloud computing might actually prove advantageous. Not in terms of building a cloud out of a collection of NonStop servers (although I don’t want to deter any business from pursuing such a plan), but rather, looking to NonStop as a system on the edge of a cloud. For these Global 1000 companies, a private cloud (assembled from rack after rack of probably Linux or Windows servers combined with terabytes if not petabytes of cheap disk storage) front-ended by NonStop systems might resolve a number of business issues that block any immediate consideration about deploying clouds.

Why NonStop as an edge product? Think in terms of being present and connected to offload low value transactions during peak times; to off-load potentially processor-intensive application components that otherwise may affect the performance of the NonStop system; and to on-load high-value transactions that might have otherwise executed in the cloud without assurance of completing as required.

Imagine configurations of multiple private clouds, or even combinations of private and public clouds, cloaked with the same level of availability and indeed scalability of the NonStop system itself? Yes, even IBM mainframes could rely on NonStop as inexpensive gateways to redundant clouds that are always available, thanks to the NonStop system. Low-cost? NonStop? Relative to the MIPS / LPAR needed on the mainframe offering much less capability, then yes, definitely a lower cost option.

It may take some time to catch on among the NonStop community. It may even take some time to catch on within HP. However, a little creativity can go a long way and it’s really not out of the question to imagine the future of IT where stylized symbols used to depict clouds include a stylized chevron depicting entrance via commodity NonStop servers. There would be no question that this would add to the cloud’s reputation for being “not only less complex”, but with NonStop, as robust as users envision the cloud becoming at some point.

The love child of the internet and virtualization? Perhaps, but with NonStop truly in play, so much more I suspect. It may be raining outside perhaps even snowing, at this time of year. No matter, the ever present clouds are simply too numerous to ignore! For now, all I can add is to watch all that unfolds this year – there are some gifted engineers already working hard to make NonStop and cloud integration happen. Stay very much tuned-in for more to follow particularly in the weeks and months ahead of 203 HP Discover!

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