Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NonStop: Good, but now better!

Greetings from Sydney, Australia! However, it was the trip to Canada, to participate in CTUG, that influenced this post – Tandem was good but NonStop today is so much better! Given the opportunity would we still invest in good when better is available? I don’t think so …


There have been a number of posts since I referenced boats, cars or travel – but it seems appropriate to, once again, dip into this pool to pull  out some well-meaning metaphors and this time, the connections or associations will not be hard to miss. It’s been some time, but we finally replaced the ten plus years old Cadillac Escalade. With more than 175,000 miles on the odometer there was sense of imminent doom with every outing we took, and later this year we will be driving to Orlando for a major event that Margo will be overseeing.

The Escalade was good, and served us well, but was there something better? After testing a number of SUVs, including the new Escalade, the Mercedes Benz ML550 and ever so briefly a Range Rover Sport, the driving experience was revealing. They were all good, but it was hard to say that they were better. The addition of extra gears has significantly slowed the responsiveness of the above cars under hard acceleration – they just didn’t want to go when we stepped on the gas!

To cut further speculation short then yes, we have replaced the Escalade with a Jeep and not just any Jeep, mind you, but the grand Cherokee SRT – a close relative of the SRT Viper. It goes – and surprising many in the SUV and 4X4 brigade, not only doesn’t it have a selection knob allowing you to move between snow, ice, mud and sand but rather offers drivers a choice between snow, sport, track and launch – this Jeep has
circulated the Nurburgring in a mind-bending 8 min 48 secs. Definitely, a suitable new flagship for Pyalla Technologies, LLC, and sitting alongside our SRT Viper, some similarities can be seen.

It came as no surprise then as I flipped though the editorial section of this month’s Motor Trend (MT) that I came across the words of Mercedes Benz Chairman, Dr. Dieter Zetsche that tapped into the same theme. Asked how much better a new Mercedes Benz could be compared to what’s already in the market, Dr. Zetsche responded, “Oh, because time goes by, and the better is the enemy of the good”. He then added, “The capabilities of the average customer to sense any difference between the good and the better is more and more limited. You could say all the cars are getting close.”

“Dr. Z is right,” responded the MT editor, Edward Loh. “As the auto industry continues to evolve at a relentless pace, cars are getting closer and closer in capability to one another, and it has become more difficult to differentiate between good and better.”  When it comes to the business of computing then the connection is very clear – IT executives appreciate the difference between simply good, and better.

For the NonStop community, it is getting better. When it comes to running mission critical applications with near real-time responsiveness, the NonStop system is not just better, it’s been proven time and again, the best. It’s true that with programming, you can implement just about anything but taking commodity servers and writing the code to make them as good as a NonStop system continues to be beyond the reach of even the most gifted developers and the almost daily headlines we are reading about outages due to technical glitches are on the rise.

It was a simple observation made by HP VP and GM, Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer, that we shouldn’t be thinking that innovation in the Financial Services marketplace is slowing. The solutions available today are, by no stretch of the imagination, complete – there is a lot more to come. Take for instance, Meyer said, “More Person-to-Person (P2P) transactions; small business with PayPal and Square” are generating more transactions and are involving even more people in the transaction path. It’s not just about performance, added Meyer, as, “This translates to much higher degrees of expectations when it comes to availability and to capacity”.

Four decades ago, Tandem set the benchmark for fault tolerance and with that, a new appreciation for availability and scalability. However, the modern NonStop system is far removed from the Tandem Computers of the1980s. Commodity hardware and open software – a complete “stack” that has become recognized as the “special sauce” that is uniquely NonStop. In fact, for many industry observers, NonStop has become a showcase for how a complex technology made up of proprietary hardware and software has become a near-software solution with potential for deployment on practically any new hardware that might appear.

With all these changes, today’s NonStop system is even better than it was in the past – ask those who have been involved in recent benchmarks – you want more than 1,000 TPS from just two processors? How about many times that? You want a low price-point for an entry-level system comparative to a cluster of Linux or Window servers, with an SQL database? Throughout the years the developers at NonStop have continued to evolve the product and even as good product offerings have come from other vendors, they simply have failed to prove that they are better.

Recently I posted about the
transformation of NonStop where I closed with where the surprises for many within IT will come from the transformed perception among IT leaders over just how well NonStop will play in the new world and of how that might be one transformation that will surprise few in the NonStop community! Transformation that has come about following a multitude of changes of a long period of time. Existing users of NonStop systems were able to upgrade at any time without putting their mission critical transactional systems in jeopardy. Evolutionary steps, often called appropriately enough, baby steps, remain the quintessential hallmark of all successful systems companies.

To paraphrase Dr. Zetsche, the capabilities of the average CIO to sense differences between the good and the better is more and more limited. Yes, some system configurations are getting close to NonStop in terms of either availability or scalability but throw in high performance transaction processing with the need for massive scale-up, and the work involved by prospective customers to come close to NonStop out of the box becomes a task almost all fail to realize. You can also say all the systems are getting close but that’s like dumbing down the question to where good enough will do!

In the MT editorial, Dr. Zetsche was describing the arrival of the new Mercedes Benz S-Class sedan. “This one (today) must look old compared with what we can do in seven years, but we don’t have the technology today to get to the next S-Class right away. So it’s a constant – not revolution, but evolution.” So too the work with NonStop – it’s a constant. Make it open, attract today’s solutions, support standards that let it easily integrate with other servers, and most importantly of all, make it affordable to everyone with higher expectations that their application will always be there for them.

Not quite the mantra of all associated with NonStop systems, but very close. However, when it comes to discussing the merits of NonStop today with CIOs and IT executives, few discount the value the presence of NonStop can provide. As we continue our march to even greater heterogeneity in the data center with hybrid computing becoming common place, there will be lot of good systems inside the data center but the better solution for mission critical transaction processing will continue to come from NonStop! 

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