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!” 

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