Friday, April 25, 2014

Mow down barriers, rip out legacy! What’s coming to NonStop will surprise …

I am all about choice and having options but sometimes, I balk at having to throw anything away. When it comes to NonStop, there’s a rich choice of solutions and almost all of them are providing simple methods that help to ease-in to production …  

Imagine my surprise when the email arrived promoting a fun day in a Las Vegas sand box. Literally; it was a real sand box, full of sand and not a reference to some exotic new middleware. A sandbox, too, liberally populated with tractors and scrapers – as the promotion for such an experience proudly advertised. “You know you've always wanted to play on the huge equipment you see on construction sites,” said the lead in on the web site, Dig this Vegas.

“Meet at a giant sandbox in Las Vegas and receive a brief safety instruction and equipment orientation,” was how another promotional brochure started. “You'll be given a hard hat, vest, and 2-way radio before climbing aboard a real-life excavator or bulldozer for a unique and fun experience! Choose between two packages: with the Big Dig Experience, maneuver either an excavator or a bulldozer. If you want the ultimate construction experience, choose the Mega Dig Experience and control both machines!” 

A surprise promotion indeed, and with 2014 HP Discover upcoming I wonder whether a vendor will jump all over this and hire for the evening, although I suspect, it would be strictly moderated and perhaps not quite the venue for quiet discussions over adult beverages. On the other hand, it’s certainly all about adult entertainment, if not what might immediately come to mind. As a former employee of one of the largest Caterpillar franchises in western Canada, many years ago, I would routinely walk past these construction giants and wonder what it would be like to be given a chance to drive one of them.

In a recent client email I made reference to when I worked for Caterpillar back many years ago and to the popular expression of the day, “if we encounter roadblocks, power up the D9 bulldozer!” I also remarked in that client email of how, back in the 1970s, the mighty D10 hadn’t yet arrived on the scene, even though it seemed the logical next model. After all, some of the prime locations to view ‘dozers at work were the local rubbish tip, and as we all now know, there was no let up on the amount of rubbish we were producing and there would be a need for a bigger ‘dozer ultimately.

These giganteum beasts came equipped with two primary attachments. Most obvious was the ‘dozer blade itself capable of sweeping aside anything the operator cared to move. Then there were the most evil-looking ripper shanks – mostly a single ripper, but often triples were installed. These were attached to the rear of the ‘dozer and, as can be imagined, were used to simply rip apart whatever infrastructure the ‘dozer moved over, and none too gently at that!

The point of the comment about powering up the D9 back then was that no roadblock could stand up to the force packed into this bulldozer and it could simply go anywhere it wanted to, without restraint. It also symbolized just how free we were to lay the foundation for something new – actually, anything we had already built could be torn down in a heartbeat. Again, as we often joked about at the time, when it comes to knocking down the status quo, finesse can play a part but there’s nothing quite as unstoppable as a massive CAT ‘dozer.

This year I have been in discussions with solutions vendors new to NonStop. For the most part, these solutions vendors were openly competing with incumbent vendors and so the dual images of sweeping aside as well as ripping apart came to mind. Replacement solutions, for the most part, usually involved disruption and the images evoked were never subtle – if the status quo was to be broken, then indeed, to ease the potential disruption CIOS envisioned, it would indeed take considerable finesse as the alternatives, the D9 ‘dozer approach, sent shivers down their spines.

And this is where I see recent developments with NonStop playing a leading role – any cluster system holds the key, of course, but when clusters can be hybrids, there’s a lot of added value. Just as the ‘dozer blade, up front, holds the key to sweeping aside legacy infrastructure, so too can modern servers be deployed in front of older systems in hybrid configurations. Even when the older systems may be NonStop, this clustering of the old with the new offers solutions vendors considerable flexibility when it comes time to “drop in” a new solution even as the incumbent solution continues to function. Almost every modernization project has included the introduction of external web servers, for instance, but looking further ahead to when InfiniBand is accessible by all servers in a hybrid cluster, applications may look a lit different to what they do today no matter the number and type of connected servers already in use.  

In a classic case of the sweeping to one side approach, it was during a recent conversation with Lusis Payments, Inc.’s head of Business Development, Americas, Ki Roth that I got to appreciate this approach a lot better. “We see great value in the method of setting up TANGO ‘in front’ of another solution,” said Roth. “Whether that be BASE24, or something else, and very slowly over time as either new products come on board (or as a new set of branches is acquired from a competitor), begin to route that traffic to TANGO. This helps reduce the transactions volume to the other solution, for which they might be paying a high transaction rate, and it builds confidence that the solution is capable of supporting the bank’s needs.”


This harks back to my earliest days with NonStop. Back when Tandem Computers gathered early acceptance as a front-end to applications like banking and retail and where large networks of ATM and POS devices were decoupled from incumbent big-iron systems (mostly IBM mainframes), there was an initiative inside Tandem simply called Project Siphon. The intent was to terminate more and more transaction processing at the Tandem and this led to the funding for NonStop SQL – if you were to sweep aside legacy solutions, you needed a database management system.

What Lusis is pursuing is similar to other vendors, of course, particularly when it comes to payments. After all, financial institutions everywhere are among the most conservative of companies that, too many in IT, make the melting of glaciers look aggressive. However, bleeding or siphoning, transactions to modern solutions and installing hybrid configurations that cluster the new with the old, may not be something completely new, but what is changing is that the costs continue to come down and the option to transition to a hybrid computer just for the purposes of migration are becoming viable for more and more companies.

There’s still a need for the big ripper shanks, too. In the exchange with Roth, there are still instances where outside pressures force consideration of something a lot more drastic than simply proceeding down the hybrid path. “If the customer doesn’t want to renew their contract with an existing vendor, because they have become frustrated with the cost and treatment from the old management team,” noted Roth, there are those CIOs “who prefer the ‘rip and replace’ method”. It’s extreme and there’s risk, but oftentimes external circumstances dictate little choice to explore options other than dragging out the ripper shank.

2014 HP Discover is only a matter of a few weeks away and I hope to be able to attend. I have blogged from the exhibition floor many times in the past and it looks likely that, one way or another, I will be at it again this year! Among the many traditions at such events are the vendor dinners and cocktail gatherings where unfettered exchanges take place on just about every aspect of technology and there’s always a variety of venues involved.

Perhaps none of these vendors will take up the option to host a soirée at the Dig this Vegas sandbox, but with so much focus on hybrid computers, it’s a shame none are considering doing so (as best as I can tell, that is). Pushing aside legacy and ripping apart outdated technologies continues and it would be so much fun to play in the sandbox one more time and, of course, I would head straight for the ultimate, Mega Dig Experience. Only then can you reconcile yourself with having tried all the options!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heroics that may be tolerated …

Who knew? The lessons learnt on the rugby field could apply to NonStop! Essentially, we are all wired differently …

For as long as I can recall I have had an interest in playing football. Not the round ball variety, but rugby. From the time I was six years old there would be a Wednesday afternoon practice at a delightful suburban ground, Primrose Park. By the time I made it to high school, I had become highly proficient at playing rugby league and my on-field heroics led to me representing first the district, then the zone, and finally, making the trials for the Australian schoolboy side. Even at a very early age, my instinct for the game was recognized by coaches at the highest level.

While I missed selection to the team - losing out to a youngster who eventually captained the senior team for Australia - I did come away with an offer from my coach of a contract to play for a Sydney professional team. As happenstance would have it, my parents refused point blank to sign any such thing; I had to stay in school! However, my enthusiasm for the game hasn’t waned in the least and I remain just as passionate today about all forms of rugby.

This weekend while I was skimming electronic copies of Sydney’s newspapers, I came upon the story, Rugby league is changing and we are powerless to stop it, by the former Rugby League broadcaster, journalist, and former player and coach, Phil Gould. Writing about parents’ concerns today over concussions, Gould said, “Only a very minute percentage of kids who take up this game are capable of actually making it to this level – and I can assure you they are wired very differently to the average kid playing junior league.” Gould then closed with, “But that’s the world we live in today. I can’t look at the world as I would like it to be. I have to look at the world as it is.”

When it comes to the NonStop community I often wonder about whether our passion for NonStop continues because we are wired very differently and whether it all has to do with us looking at the world as we would like it to be. Have we all taken to wearing blinkers and steadfastly ignored the hype surrounding cloud computing, big data and mobile computing? Surely, four decades on, NonStop has lost its luster - or has it? If we truly look at the world as it is, can we honestly say there’s still a need for NonStop systems?

In the February 26, 2014, IDC press release, Worldwide Server Market Revenues Decline -4.4% in the Fourth Quarter as Weak Midrange and High-end Server Demand Weighs on the Market, According to IDC  on first glance, the news wasn’t all that encouraging. However, there were some hidden gems all the same, including good news for the NonStop community. “HP and IBM were statistically tied for the number 1 position in the worldwide server systems market,” stated IDC. It then made some rather startling observations about IBM even as it celebrates 50 years of mainframe presence. “IBM experienced significant year-over-year declines in quarterly revenue for all three families of systems – System x, POWER Systems, and System z mainframes.”

System x of course includes IBM’s x86 servers, which IBM announced it had sold to Lenovo only days before, leaving IBM today with just systems reliant on the uniquely IBM’s POWER chip – essentially the only remaining proprietary RISC chip in the marketplace. Even as HP deftly navigates to a course that will see NonStop on x86 meeting the needs of mission-critical applications, along with Project Moonshot, which according to HP, are  “super energy-efficient and compact servers capable of running the world’s biggest webscale workloads.” Definitely a response to shifts taking place in the market mandating that IT everywhere looks at energy consumption as well as a lower-cost approach to the robustness and availability IT still values highly.

However, it was left to Computerworld to observe, in a story released January 21, 2014, Hardware torpedoes IBM's Q4 revenue, “System Z sales were down 37 percent, when compared to a very strong quarter a year ago.” Computerworld then added how “mainframe systems declined 26 percent, also compared to a very strong quarter a year ago.” Computerworld noted too how, “Other areas of hardware are feeling the impact of ‘business model issues due to market shifts,’ some of which is coming from pricing pressure from lower-cost hardware alternatives, according to Martin Schroeter, IBM chief financial.”

Now mainframes aren’t going to disappear any time soon nor is the NonStop system going to fade from the scene. Celebrating 40 and 50 year anniversaries hasn’t come about by accident, nor are the changes we are all witnessing likely to fuel the demise of either OS. However, NonStop seems to be doing a much better job of reinventing itself as a software solution capable of running on practically anything the chip vendors invent – big or little endian – whereas IBM has little appetite to stray too far from its highly promoted proprietary chips. Maintaining a POWER chip only presence is going to make mainframes even more expensive in time, no matter how many MIPS are squeezed out of the multi-cores on offer with POWER.

In a response to questions I asked a number of clients recently, it was left to comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, to sum up the sentiment among vendors best when he observed that, “of the current hot trends cloud computing, Big Data, mobile computing, BYOD, 3D printing at home – I would guess that at least one of them will NOT live as long as HP NonStop and IBM mainframe will.” We may be all wired differently as we continue to believe in NonStop but perhaps we only need to see more information being published. When challenged about our view of NonStop, all we need is a little relevant data to keep the pundits at bay.

Once again, the Australian state of Queensland was buffeted by another major storm, this time by Tropical Cyclone Ita. It crossed the coastline a little north of the popular tourist destination, Cairns, and headed south wreaking havoc on banana plantations as well as numerous townships. As the winds eased, several government officials visited the area, including David Crisafulli, Queensland’s minister for local government community, recovery, and resilience.

My immediate reaction, after reading of Queensland having someone responsible for recovery and resilience, was how such a position would help NonStop. Following some early hiccups with HP acquiring Compaq, the NonStop business has recovered rather well and is on a solid foundation. It’s proven yet again that as architecture, NonStop is extremely resilient. About all that’s missing from this story line now is greater visibility across IT – CIOs need to hear a lot more about NonStop from HP, and from us.

IBM may be suffering a little from the impact of business model issues due to market shifts and has a lot of work to do to better price the mainframe to compete with NonStop for the marketplaces NonStop serves (even as it struggles to pull together a plan to compete with Moonshot). However, I almost believe that IBM aggressively competing with HP servers across the board only helps sustain interest in NonStop –there’s never any bad publicity; it’s just publicity. It was left to Oscar Wilde to remark on how, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

I played a lot of rugby in my youth and even now I look back and wonder what would have happened if I had turned pro at an early age. With hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have lasted too long as my key strength eventually counted for naught. But I completely understand the observation that to succeed, you had to be wired differently and I have to believe, my parents would have agreed with Phil Gould in this respect. The occasional on-field heroics can only go so far in professional sports.

Now I am “playing a lot of NonStop” and am every bit as resilient as any other NonStop.  And I am not alone in this respect – NonStop may attract just a minute percentage of IT professionals, but it continues to be the halo product for HP and mission-critical applications. In the promotion for an upcoming cooking show, the slogan says “if you want to beat chef (Bobby Flay), you gotta have more than that to bring Bobby down!” and I hear this resonating with the NonStop community. If you truly want to compete with NonStop then you gotta have a lot more capabilities (than you have today), to which I can only say – and I am sure it resonates with many - “Bring it on!” 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hey! You! Get off of my cloud.

There will be many articles and posts over the coming weeks on clouds, and on the impact on NonStop users, but hey, heads-up, the news here is all goodness! NonStop has every right to be considered as appropriate technology for deployment within the cloud …

So much attention of late is being given to “what’s trending?” Someone (self) important snaps a selfie with their smartphone, and immediately checks to see how it’s trending on Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. There’s an immediate response and a spike (in popularity) that may develop, but rarely is such actions rewarded over the long term. However, in many respects, the NonStop community is much the same – ever anxious about what’s trending!

Bucking a trend can be seen as being self-destructive, innovative, perhaps contrarian and going against the grain. In former times we simply dismissed this as idiotic or even eccentric, putting it down to bohemian lifestyles. It is therefore encouraging to read as much as I have been doing of late about what HP sees as its major focus areas. And nothing stands out more than the initiatives it has launched in support of cloud computing.

This week Boulder has been blessed with a little more blue sky than it has seen over the past couple of weeks. Temperatures are actually climbing towards 70F (20C), the trees in our yard are budding and it’s looking like spring is with us, once again. In a feature I just completed for the May / Jun, 2014, issue of The Connection magazine I opened with the lines that, with the coming of spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball, or so fabled poet, Alfred Tennyson, might have written if he had lived in America.  Perhaps it might have been more appropriate to add that with the sunshine of spring, the clouds have become less threatening.

The lyrics above that I chose for this post’s title are from the song of the same name by the Rolling Stones. The song dates back almost half a century but their relevance, and indeed topicality, are hard to ignore. Paging through a HP presentation on cloud computing, provided by Justin Simonds, Master Technologist and a well-known NonStop solutions architect, it too included the same reference and it brought me back to the cyclical nature of our industry. Clouds are trending along all too familiar lines and none us should find this surprising.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!  Or so the proverb goes - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. When I started in IT – about the same time as the Rolling Stones recorded their song – my company augmented IBM mainframes with mini computers, the Interdata Model 7/32. These systems are primarily remembered for being the first 32-bit minicomputers. But they are also remembered as being the first to use microcode to define an architecture that was heavily influenced by the IBM 360 instruction set. For us, assembler programmers, learning this new system was a piece of cake and the productivity the company was able to leverage was considerable.

Gaining acceptance among the hard-nosed IBM mainframe systems programmers was key and, with their acceptance, the first inroads by distributed systems were realized. Interdata are long gone as they failed to keep up. It took the compatibility to the mainframe to kick-start their early success, but in the years that followed a myriad of operating systems (OSs) appeared, each with programming languages that were different and instruction sets that had to be relearnt. Distributed computing was awash with options.

Fast forward to client server  (CS) computing where the initial servers were essentially extensions of the client, sharing the same OS, programming languages / models, but quickly, as the trend to CS accelerated (in the years preceding the advent of the internet), almost any combination of HW and SW could be deployed as a server; IBM even reclassified it’s mighty mainframe as a server – “
in 2000, IBM renamed the existing System/390 to IBM eServer zSeries

Now, the internet is supposed to be changing everything and in a way, it is. Financially, it’s hard to ignore the almost daily news accompanying the latest IPO or purchase with astronomical sums changing hands to what appears for many of us, old hands, trivial solutions. And yet, here again, the value is being driven by what’s trending upwards and that’s hard to argue against in a market-driven economy. Once comprehendible server farms are being displaced by cloud computing, where capacity on demand has fueled the equally comprehendible, elasticity of provisioning.

So here’s the $64 question – why do we think that, in time, clouds will not become all-inclusive with almost any combination of HW and SW being utilized? Why have we surrounded cloud computing with a language and indeed, almost “mythology” designed to put the fear of the almighty into CIOs less equipped to understand what’s really going on here - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

There’s absolutely no reason why any solutions vendor would not be contemplating providing his application – in part or in whole – as a service from a cloud of any kind. “The gradual progression from server to server farm to cloud seems quite natural for us,” said OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “When it comes to identifying where OmniPayments processes are running inside the cloud of NonStop we have set up, customers really can’t tell. It’s just somewhere in our data center and for us, ‘provisioning’ additional resources is relatively easy and more a function of the multi-tier architecture we have embraced. Can clouds only run on Linux or Windows? I don’t think so and we are getting no push back in the markets we serve.”

Referencing yet another song from decades ago, in the post of April 1, 2014, to realtime.ir.com, NonStop and Clouds! Is it a case of over, under, sideways, down? I made a mention of questions asked of me at the recent NonStop user gathering in Florida – the March, 2014, SunTUG event. I was asked, “Where do you see NonStop playing a role in clouds – inside the cloud, as a gateway straddling the cloud and traditional IT (data centers) putting the cloud(s) behind a NonStop presence, or as a hub, directing traffic to cloud resources as appropriate and according to cloud SLAs? And where would you see Prognosis providing value?”

You will need to read the whole post for the full story, but in short, I reiterated how I suspected that the introduction of cloud computing would be gradual in most cases, and where NonStop was concerned it would likely start with private clouds with NonStop providing a number of gateway services; in effect, treating the cloud as just another resource. However, it was much deeper into the post where I expressed my true feelings on this topic.

As for IR’s take on clouds, as expressed in that post, it was best left to General Manager Products and Alliances at IR, John Dunne, when he said, “Prognosis is well positioned to provide oversight of all that transpires as transactions are executed, no matter where that may be. Our view is that clouds are just another computing resource and as such, Prognosis has been engineered to accommodate any event stream being logged no matter the source – including clouds.”

Of course, no post on clouds and what’s trending can overlook the work being done at Infrasoft, even as they completed the implementation of maRunga, based on prototypes developed by NonStop solutions architects. Central to the goal Infrasoft set for maRunga has been its universal support of Windows, Linux as well as NonStop as platforms likely to be populating clouds – particularly those of the data center. “Would we like to discuss our intentions further with folks like Yash and John,” noted Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell. “You bet, and why wouldn’t we? I’m certain there are users out there already thinking along these lines.” And Shell is not likely to be alone with thoughts like this.  

The industry is littered with the shells of companies that reached too far and delivered solutions companies didn’t need, I wrote, just as there are as many forgotten companies that failed simply because they couldn’t keep up. The timing of products in support of clouds however will be critical to the rate of acceptance cloud computing achieves, no more so than when NonStop is involved; ease of integration (with clouds) will be particularly important for NonStop users. As I wrote this, I could have added too that in time, there will be no limit to the types of HW and OS combinations inside the cloud and in effect, NonStop had every right, indeed every opportunity, to populate any cloud configuration imaginable.

Those early to the cloud market are dictating the terms, but not for long. Just as we saw every vendor changing the badges on the systems to reflect their usage as servers, so too will we see cloud badges appearing on everything imaginable – just as today we see the lower case i- in popular use. No, CIOs need to be aware that cloud computing is not an exclusive club closed to all who do not possess the secret handshake. It’s open to every manufacturer determined to develop the right messages and work on an appropriate spin – but it’s out there and it’s early days.

It will take a lot more posts before the general IT population begins to get the message just as it will take moves by middleware and solutions vendors to promote their offerings as cloud centric. It will take even more evangelism by all within the NonStop community, and I suspect it will be the actions taken by just a few visionaries among the user community before HP NonStop is truly on board. It may even find a spark within just one vertical – and for my money, I’m not ruling out manufacturing and heavy industry as likely candidates – but again, when it comes to my vision of clouds, everyone can get on my cloud!