Monday, May 26, 2014

Time to go … don’t count the hours, it’s NonStop!

“How I wish that there were more than the twenty-four hours in the day
'Cause even if there were forty more I wouldn't sleep a minute away … Viva Las Vegas!”

So go the lines in a verse from Viva Las Vegas and it pretty much sums up the frenetic pace of networking that takes place each year during the three-day mega-event, HP Discover. It was only a few days ago that the registration was finalized and I can assure everyone that I will be there – and yes, bright and early each morning. I will be providing commentary on a routine basis to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, as I have done on all previous occasions, so look for the new posts each day.

The all too familiar signs of too little sleep and too many cocktail receptions are hard to miss, but each year there’s a couple of places where the NonStop community heads – the inside The Venetian hotel always the most popular. Not forgetting the Morels Steakhouse & Bistro or TAOs, both proving to be popular. Walk through the Grand Lux Café and you will see groups huddled together in animated conversation at almost any hour of the day. As for me it’s still a good reason to walk a block south to City Center, Las Vegas, and to dine on what I believe are the finest steaks anywhere – Mastro’s Ocean Club. Forget the name, it’s the steaks (and the martinis) that stand out!

Recent promotional material from HP indicates we will be seeing a lot more of HP CEO, Meg Whitman, as she will be anchoring multiple keynote presentations. On Tuesday Whitman, together with HP executives, John Hinshaw, George Kadifa, Mike Nefkens, and Bill Veghte will talk about Defining the New Style of IT. HP encourages us to come and listen to “how we are providing solutions for this new foundation”.  There’s a lot being openly discussed of late as to whether IT as we know it has run its course – indeed has the very concept of IT become legacy - and is no longer providing companies with true value, so hearing what HP executives have to say on a new style of IT should prove quite entertaining.

The very next day Whitman will be joined by a familiar person, HP’s CTO and EVP Martin Fink, and they will talk about their vision of the future for the New Style of IT. As someone who’s always up for looking at something new, I am pretty much in the same boat as everyone else and have to wonder what’s this all about! With Martin Fink involved it has to be about Clouds and after what I view as a rocky start, with perhaps marketing well out in front of technology and real deliverables, perhaps we will see more concrete infrastructure and tools unveiled.

For folks like myself, who like to look well into the future, there will be a second part of Whitman’s Wednesday keynote we will all get to hear from New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman, as he sits down with Whitman and Intel and Microsoft CEOs, Brian Krzanich and Satya Nadella, for a candid discussion about technology today, tomorrow, and beyond. Again, for the NonStop community participation may be viewed as a luxury and of lesser interest than knowing what is in the next NonStop Kernel (NSK) release – but for all involved in technology, there really is no substitution for hearing first hand what HP has to say.

HP NonStop sales will be present with the America’s head of NonStop sales hosting a reception. Again, this is not a venue strongly favoring the NonStop community, but for those who find a way to attend, their interests will not be ignored and there will still be content that will prove engaging. I will be taking a small stock of my Fools for NonStop T-shirts with me, so if you do have plans, let me know as I will make sure you don’t leave without this memento.

For the NonStop community it’s worth pointing out too that there are new HP products coming to market that perhaps are worth more than a cursory look. For some time now I have been referencing Project Moonshot and the impact it will make on the industry.. A vendor I work closely with, InkaBinka, now has firsthand experience with Moonshot and I paid them a visit just a few days ago. Located within the perimeter of Camarillo Airport, InkaBinka has refurbished one of the support buildings and turned it into a really nice facility – Hanger 18.

Initially, InkaBinka leveraged Micrsoft’s Azure cloud services but then switched to HP’s cloud before installing Moonshot cartridges. Running a mix of Linux distributions and Windows, they have built a hybrid application that now runs InkaBinka. Anyone who visits InkaBinka.com and clicks on the button, What is InkaBinka?  will be taken to a page where more information about InkaBinka is provided. In addition to a video explaining InkaBinka you will see that InkaBinka is built on Hewlett Packard's new Moonshot servers – scroll down and check it out!

ThisMoonshot implementation gives InkaBinka scalability and the power to serve the users with one of the greenest footprint possible. Front-ended by some clever lightweight load balancing software running with a master and a slave instance (and with take over capabilities configured), and with a back end database that actually looks like it’s a RAID configuration, with consequently very high levels of availability, how InkaBinka exploits Moonshot looks like … a very primitive NonStop system.

“Having experience with cloud offerings from multiple vendors,” said InkaBinka Founder and CEO, Kevin McGushion, “we know all too well the importance of availability and indeed of the need to architect into our solution extraordinary scale-out properties. As a start-up that has begun attracting users, keeping a tight lid on costs is critical, but with what we have seen with Moonshot, it’s all rather exciting. HP has been a terrific partner so far and yes, we are off to HP Discover where you will see our presence on stage along with HP executives talking about our experience with Moonshot.” As HP tells the story, mark your calendars for Tuesday June 10th, 11:30-12:30 when Paul Santeler (VP and General Manager for HP Moonshot Servers Group) will talk to a number of customers who are already are experiencing the benefits of the HP Moonshot system.

What’s bringing me back to Moonshot time and time again shouldn’t surprise even the hardiest of NonStop supporters. Right now, HP has plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture and a number of vendors have successfully demonstrated their products are running on NonStop across the x86 architecture. As part of these plans, we are seeing the commoditization of the blade itself come full circle as the blades will be the same whether it’s NonStop, Linux or Windows that is deployed. Yes, NonStop will be a software offering just as I have been predicting for a number of years.

More importantly, however, the pricing of NonStop will be something we all will be watching. Price NonStop too low and there’s not enough revenue to fund ongoing R&D, but price NonStop too high relative to, say, a supported Linux distribution (and add-ons), and even the hardiest of the hardcore NonStop supporter will begin to wonder whether the time has come to build their own NonStop. There’s still an understanding that NonStop will carry a premium for fault tolerance, but it has to be seen as a fair premium and not a penalty tax.

Looking at what InkaBinka architects built on something as inexpensive as Moonshot is impressive, but not everyone has access to such expertise. Getting something on par with what can be built on top of Moonshot for a small premium and yet, have it delivered and working right out of the box, will be more appealing to commercial users, of course. However, there is a breaking point and even the most respected NonStop solutions vendors have turned to hybrid configurations, running everything from consoles and administration tools outboard of NonStop, might find implementing their solution fully on platforms apart from NonStop attractive.

Of course, none of this is lost on HP, I suspect, and in the end I have to believe HP will consider the input from all of the NonStop community and will put just the right amount of distance between NonStop prices and those of other operating systems, without deterring too many vendors from sticking with NonStop. Although it’s still early in the lifecycle of NonStop support of x86 and there will likely be little by way of promotion, all the same there should be enough signs coming from the event to let us all know where NonStop is heading, and that will not be something I will miss.

It will be a very busy time for those attending. The NonStop community may not be present in numbers but for those who do make it to Las Vegas, the show put on by HP will be one to remember. As someone who does think traditional IT has run its course, and it’s contributions to business questionable, it will be very interesting to ‘discover’ exactly what HP means by the new style IT. Will it include NonStop, or at the very least, leave the door open to NonStop properties? That will be interesting but no matter, it’s almost a certainty that bright lights and all, there will be few opportunities to “sleep a minute away”. Viva Las Vegas!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

What’s next in Vegas!

Big wheels! Big shows! Big events – it’s all happening in Vegas and it’s only going to get hotter in the coming weeks and with that, it’s getting even harder to ignore Big Data!

Leaving Las Vegas! Yes, after spending a couple of days there – well, on the outskirts actually and far from the strip – there’s only one word that best sums up everything about Las Vegas and that is Big! It’s oversize, loud, and even a little outlandish and yet it continues to draw a crowd no matter the time of year. If only Disney could drop the proverbial dome over the whole thing, it could be air-conditioned 24 x 7 and sold as the adult equivalent of Disney World complete with every imaginable theme park!

Yes, and when it comes to big, there’s nothing bigger than the recently opened Ferris wheel. At 541 feet high it’s about 10 feet taller than the Singapore Flyer that in turn is bigger than the London Eye that measure a puny 443 feet. Together with some lads from the offices of ACI, Margo and I rode the London Eye but as yet, we haven’t hoped aboard the High Roller, as this big new Vegas attraction is called. Given that 2014 HP Discover is only a few weeks away, perhaps it’s an time to put on the activities list – now who could I impress from a seat this far above the crowd.

Big has been on my mind a lot of late. You would have to have awoken from a Rip van Winkle sleep to have missed the noise Big Data is generating of late. There’s rarely a day go by without one headline or the other telling us something extremely important about Bid Data. While doing background work on Big Data for the latest post to realtime.ir, For business managers today, situation awareness is critical … I googled Big Data conferences and I got 100,000,000 + results.

What triggered my recent interest in Big Data was a post to Technobabble a blog site well worth visiting and hosted by an old friend from my time spent at Nixdorf Computers, Kim Brebach. The particular post that caught my eye was the post of April 18, 2014, BigData for Marketing – Separating Hype from Hope Yes, any post whose heading included Big, Hype and Hope just seemed to fit with a trip to Vegas. However, what I found particularly interesting was some of the observations Brebach provided.

For instance, in the opening paragraph Brebach tells his readers that, “from search engines to social networks, banks and credit card companies, they (marketing) know our buying habits and the destinations of our travels on the internet. There is nowhere to hide unless you get off the net altogether.” More significantly, Brebach notes how, “Big Data is really about the ability to launch big queries, which until recently required massive and expensive computing arrays. Big Data typically refers to volumes of 10-100 gigabytes or more. However, it’s not just about massive amounts of data but about a variety of data from different sources.” 

Brebach brings this all down to earth with another simple observation, and one I included in my post to realtime.ir – “The hold-up is that you can’t simply go out and buy a solution to analyze the Big Data you’ve collected.” And when it comes to launching big queries, “To do that, you have to build your own tool set, starting with a platform.” Furthermore, “It seems the big IT vendors are selling big data analytics solutions but, when you dig a bit deeper, they’re telling you to ‘invest in a big data and analytics platform.’”

Even more telling, “you need some IT types to put all this together and make it work, but that’s only the beginning. You also need data architects, statisticians and data scientists to make Big Data Analytics produce intelligence form the mountains of data you’ve collected and/or bought. Specialists like these are thin on the ground, and the few that exist have been snapped up by the military, the intelligence agencies and the big consulting firms.”

Against this background, I decided to check in with a couple of vendors familiar with NonStop. After all, surely with the transactions NonStop processes, in real time, there would be some interest among vendors to tap all that’s taking place on NonStop. Perhaps the platform is not one where we will see big data laying down roots but even on the periphery, there must be something going on. “Realistically, we don’t expect OmniPayments ever to be driven by Big Data, but rather, it will be a contributor to populating Big Data databases,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO Yash Kapadia.

“As stated in The Connection magazine last year, we fully expect that OmniPayments will be required to participate and our architecture lends itself to such pursuits. However, not only will OmniPayments be populating Big Data databases but support new products coming to market that aggregate Big Data and transactional data in real time. This is only natural for us to consider as it makes little sense to us that pseudo batch processing will remain an option for many of our customers – they will want to look for relevant information in real time. As it happens and as their customer is interacting with their services.”

In in way, it’s highly encouraging to read of observations like this. If Big Data is already on the radar with vendors like OmniPayments, then there’s every chance that among the middleware vendors more NonStop system specific work is being down. If batch is on its way out as even the most complex of big queries needs to be satisfied in real time, then surely NonStop will play a role? “Our product is WebAction Real-time Big Data Server (RTBD)," said WebAction, Inc. cofounder Sami Akbay. "It runs on Linux and Windows, scales out and up well. As for NonStop, running WebAction RTBD Server on NonStop isn’t part of the plan and yet, we recognize that it’s a key source for real time transaction data and we include it as a source we connect with.”

All the same, “There is clearly a need to capture data that’s an intersection of transactional data with both reference data and historical data, and to do so in real time. Providing meaningful information from the data is important for users as the time to act is often as a client is interacting with a system – when he walks away, it’s an opportunity lost.” This observation is critical to those running NonStop systems. Big Data is applicable in that at the time transactions are initiated, companies want to be able to correlate current transactional data with both reference and historical data to detect even the smallest insight as to what might happen next.

The value of information has such a short timeframe for much that is transacted in real time. After the fact is definitely of interest to strategists but when it comes to making money right now, it’s the ability to derive a sense of what is motivating a buyer that’s important. As the transaction currently being undertaken completes, the customer will move on and getting them to consider something additional, while at a kiosk or terminal, is vital to the health of any company. The likes of Yash at OmniPayments may in time be depending on the presence of technologies from companies like WebAction to better grow the payments business.

Are there other vendors within the NonStop community also looking at Big Data? Some of what I have written here has been referenced in the post to realtime.ir already referenced, so what are we seeing from Integrated Research (IR)? As the leading provider of monitoring products aimed at meeting the needs of IT operations staff, anticipating what is to come surely must be every bit as important as data of a different type is to business folks?

IR has been evolving monitoring to provide greater Business Insight (BI) – collating and aggregating a plethora of events, as they occur in real time, so as operations staff can quickly spot developing trends as well as escalating incidents. Observing a network component about to fail and being able to switch to a more appropriate resource before any customers are even aware of an imminent failure is every bit as important to operations staff as selling additional merchandise is to the business.

According to IR Director Key Account Sales - America's Jay Horton, “Yes, it’s at vendors like IR where you will find the data architects, statisticians and data scientists that can decipher what’s taking place from the myriad of events coming from multiple sources. Not just the solutions, but the frameworks, software stacks and the operating system so many at times that they often mask real problems, and if missed, trigger the crisis companies work hard at avoiding. The Business Insight provided by IR, is as big as the customers want it to be, and is limited only by their perspective on what is important to measure.

In his post, Brebach made it clear that the data architects, statisticians and data scientists have indeed been snapped up by the military, the intelligence agencies and the big consulting firms and this includes vendors well known to the NonStop community. When it comes to excellence, reputations and leadership, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and the fact that products and services applicable to the NonStop marketplace are well advanced, should equip all associated with NonStop to better educate their IT peers.

Next month, we will have 2014 HP Discover in Las Vegas. I am planning on being there and will provide coverage of all that is promoted by HP. So what should to see happen next? It’s clear to me that formerly announced focus areas of Mobility, Security, Big Data and Clouds will continue to gain the lion’s share of attention but as to its inclusion of NonStop, that will prove interesting. But the fact remains, whether HP overtly promotes NonStop as part of any of these initiatives may not be all that important – more than enough vendors within the NonStop community are already on board and are working hard to ensure NonStop plays a role. And perhaps, that’s the biggest story of all as we leave Vegas!






Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Step on the gas!

Just looking at how much progress has been made to ensure NonStop has a future leaves little doubt NonStop will be around for many more years – but c’mon, let’s get going! There’s more to the story …

It’s not like me to ignore popular consensus when it comes to technology. Drones? Sure, they’re flying overhead and if I believe the story line of one popular television series, they have already been shrunk down to the size of insects. Camera networks capable of retracing our every movement? In an interview of Jay Leno by popular BBC TV journalist, Jeremy Clarkson, the subject of speed camera deployments in the UK came up to which Leno responded, as any good citizen from Los Angeles would, “why don’t you just shoot them out?”

Then again, watching television on our phones or watching the big game on our tablet all seemed pretty far-fetched only a decade ago. Glasses with video displays? Preposterous! Flying saucers? Not likely, and this is where I draw the line. Bigfoot?  The abominable snowman? The Loch Ness monster? Urban legends may develop traction within some communities, but for most of us, if it’s unbelievable then it’s highly unlikely. Last year, while attending a conference in Orlando, I witnessed Michael Gore, a paraplegic, walking again with the help of a computer controlled partial exoskeleton suit – it’s as if its technology related, it’s believable but otherwise, it’s fantasy.

And that’s just who we are – IT folks rarely witness anything out of the ordinary and yet, coming up on its fortieth anniversary, the longevity of NonStop is proving extraordinary. In a year when Nixon and Brezhnev met in Moscow, OPEC ended the oil embargo and the films Chinatown, The Godfather II and Blazing Saddles came out, who could have predicted that NonStop systems (née Tandem Computers) would still be playing as important a role for IT as they do.

In a private newsletter I email clients weekly, I picked up on a common theme I observed following a number of conversations with folks inside HP. Talking about NonStop and of its future presence inside data centers, the comparison to a ship came up more than once. The good-ship NonStop, it would seem, has witnessed a miraculous transformation that is surprising even to the most jaded IT professional. Rather than benefitting from the fitting of an external assist, the way Michael Gore was doing, NonStop was the benefactor of even greater radical treatment.

For several years, under the leadership of former head of NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), Randy Meyer, the storyline involved righting the NonStop ship and plugging the leaks – the prognosis at the time was less than appetizing. It seemed with every shipment of a NonStop system, HP was losing money and on that basis, it would have been easy for HP to simply walk away. However, embracing commoditization, as HP’s Meyer told it, allowed NonStop to live to fight another day.

Leveraging a common blade architecture, even as a shared-infrastructure chassis was released, helped HP take out even more manufacturing costs but as the ship was righted and the leaks plugged, there was still an issue with the rudder. Where was NonStop headed? The most pressing need was for NonStop to attract more solutions, but at the time, it appeared as though some of the biggest applications on NonStop were embracing platforms apart from NonStop. ACI was heading to IBM mainframes and IDX, following its purchase by GE Healthcare, who knew where!

Rather than trying to cherry-pick applications for select market segments, the approach coming from NED was to see if they could make NonStop attractive to all applications. Or so it seemed to me. Revisiting the requirements of Java developers, NonStop came up with a solid implementation of a Java application server and now with NSASJ, the equivalent to industry-standard JBoss on NonStop, this opens the door to practically any application developed in Java.  NS SQL too has seen a number of upgrades that broaden its acceptance among developers.

These are course changes I heartily support and now, as I only recently found out, with the NSK operating system supporting process pairs in which the processes operate in the Open System Services (OSS) environment, a key attribute – availability – is “available” to all who code in Java. However, with the good-ship NonStop no longer threatened with foundering at sea and with the helm back under control and running true, the story isn’t over yet. As a car guy, there’s still one more action required – let’s get going! It’s time to step on the gas!

NonStop is about to celebrate its fortieth anniversary and that’s a significant milestone. It made it through a significant transformation and the marketplace has embraced the changes – nearly all the customers I interviewed recently for an upcoming opinion paper have NS BladeSystems deployed. with most of them moving to the new NB56000c systems powered by the latest Intel® Itanium® 9500 series processors. Having said this, we are about to see even greater alignment with the bigger HP as NonStop announced plans to support the Intel® x86 architecture. But if we are to step on the gas, what does this really mean?

Communications and networking! As a community, we need to make a bigger noise – something that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my posts. In many instances, it would seem that even when NonStop systems are deployed, their presence in the data center is in support of something very specific and as such, is often overlooked for other projects. NonStop is also often understaffed – who wants to invest resources in training programmers and operators – and in general, underfunded in terms of what utilities and tools are implemented. We, as a community simply have to get a lot better with interacting with our peers and with management.

There’s nothing at all out of place with NonStop today – it’s modern and it’s competitive when it comes to clusters. I continue to be amazed by the ignorance of many IT professionals when it comes to just how expensive it is to support better known platforms like Windows and Linux. Just in human resources alone (in support of key subsystems), the costs add up to quickly surpass what’s needed by NonStop. And the story doesn’t stop there – some of the critical subsystems on these cluster configurations seeking to emulate NonStop are priced well above what’s on offer for NonStop.

HP’s Meyer certainly oversaw a significant transformation and now there’s other leaders at HP working every bit as hard to ensure future success of NonStop and for that, we are way, way better off than many other platforms. Prime, anyone? Wang? Data General? What about the once mighty Amdahl? Again, what HP has achieved is monumental in the annuls of computing and this too is a message we all need to convey to our management.

So far, there’s nothing too surprising in what I have written here. Many of these comments have appeared in posts to this blog, if not elsewhere, on other forums. However, my sense of urgency is only increasing as I sense a forlornness overcoming many advocates. It’s all too hard! It’s not getting us anywhere! There are few youngsters looking to invest time in NonStop! But again, if the good-ship NonStop is now seaworthy once again and headed in the right direction, has the community suddenly developed a bad case of sea-sickness as one vendor’s marketing executive suggested recently. Do we need to hand out sea-sickness tablets?

It’s a candid comment worth discussing – has our sense of forlornness generated a sense of despair and is the NonStop community losing all hope?  The short answer is, I don’t think so! If you really want to test the overall health of the community, attend a regional user group – there’s certainly no shortage of evangelists at these events. Urban legends among IT professionals may not be commonplace but if they think NonStop is legacy, they are surely wrong and poorly informed.

Again, we have a message to communicate and it’s in urgent need of being delivered. At 40, the longevity of NonStop is indeed extraordinary and NonStop is closing in on this milestone for all the right reasons! IT professionals may not have much faith in the extraordinary but in NonStop, we may be witnessing the closest thing to a miracle some of us will ever see!