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!

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