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!


Anonymous said...

This Thursday (May 8) we are holding one of those Regional Groups - N2TUG. We have speakers from the early days (Jim Treybig), some from that group that will be talking about the new systems (Wendy Bartlett) and old and new vendors - and some evening entertainment to boot. It's too late for long travel, I know, but I'll try to report back on the success of the meeting to you all!

Dean E Malone said...

There is one single think HP can do to dispel all doubters - just ONE THING! Meg Whitman should make a very public announcement that from now on, HP's "ORACLE RAC killer" that will be its primary offering from now on is SQL/MX on Nonstop. There should also be the important message that if HP has a mainframe offering, clustered NonStops is it.

The entire servers sales force should be trained in Nonstop so they know how to sell it. If this is done, I have no doubt there will be a miraculous revival of interest in Nonstop. Why should customers believe in this solution when HP doesn't pro-actively push it?

This is the root cause of why executives shy away from Nonstop IMO.