Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sun, surf and sand – oh, the good-old-days!

With the sun beating down on my face and with a gentle ocean breeze stirring my remaining hair, I kept returning to thoughts of an independent NonStop company – free to pursue whatever it liked. But with the news that just broke … I’m not so sure this would be in the best interests of the NonStop community!

There’s something about the good-old-days that strikes a chord with many of us. For me, nostalgia is an emotion hiding just beneath the surface and perhaps it’s just a reflection of the many experiences I have had through the years. It takes very little to trigger a rush of memories bursting up from the depths, but a glimpse of the sun, a rolling surf and a sunny day usually does the trick! In the posts to this blog I have shared many of my memories and nearly always, glimpses of these memories were a result of something I had just read.

After two plus decades being involved with the NonStop community I have to admit that many of these memories are intimately tied to events that occurred while spending time with the community. The highlights of course were the years spent on the board of ITUG and I am very aware that those good-old-days are long gone, with little prospect of ever being repeated. Like almost everything else that gets tarnished by the label of legacy, I have come to realize that in today’s world where everyone is connected, relying on an annual big-tent gathering of the faithful for insight into product directions and technology adoption doesn’t need to exist, not in the same format it did for so many years.

Like many of the stakeholders participating in today’s NonStop community, we have watched the NonStop R&D group being trimmed. There’s been good reason for much of what’s been cut and the figures can be a little disconcerting. However, looking at NonStop R&D today it is clearly not comparable with what we remember back when it was Tandem Computers – the way HP is organized, tasks have been scattered throughout many groups. While it is good to know that the finances of the good ship, NonStop, have been righted and the contribution NonStop makes to HP’s bottom line is not something to quibble over, like everyone else I sure would like to see more funds allocated to NonStop.

Ah, the memories! They keep coming back even as I think back to Friday beer busts and afternoons in the Tandem pool. The printing of tee shirts for each new project and the Tandem television network with
First Friday videos – now available on YouTube – the sense of shared missions and the recognition that quarter after quarter, major enterprises were buying new systems. However, perhaps the best news of all escapes many of us. In a world of off-the-shelf commodity components, NonStop remains relevant.

When it comes to providing the highest levels of uptime, it’s still the halo product in HP’s portfolio – yes, as HP CEO, Meg Whitman, so succinctly summed up in a video at last year’s NonStop bootcamp, “Today, enterprises operate in a world where the demand for continuous application availability is growing exponentially. The need to choose the right computer for the right workload at the right economics has never been so important … we are on the path to redefine mission critical computing.” And, every bit as importantly for those attending, “Our NonStop customers truly make it matter!”

I have referenced this quote by Whitman several times this year – to posts here as well as in other blogs – and this quote remains as fresh in my mind as when it was first made. Choosing the right computer for the right workload at the right economics frames the discussion for NonStop now, and in the years to come. Step outside that framework and fail to meet any of criteria referenced, and the future for NonStop wouldn’t be as solid as it looks right now. Yes, we continue to kick around the impact that The Machine will have as the decade comes to a close, but it’s hard to overlook that even with a brand new OS, consideration will more than likely be given to attributes uniquely NonStop and to the enterprises that depend on NonStop.

Against this backdrop of NonStop and the memories I have of the good-old-days, it was with some disquiet that I read the news item in the August 1, 2014, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Under the heading of
Deal With H-P Paves New Future for Old Software the WSJ reported that HP had “agreed to let a small Massachusetts company – VMS Software - take over further development of OpenVMS, an operating system that originated at Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977. DEC no longer exists, but its technology has lived for years under HP’s ownership and still has passionate users.”

Furthermore, following a couple of announcements HP made last year to do with future ports of OpenVMS (to faster Intel chips) not happening, the WSJ  said the “H-P decision stunned organizations that use the software to run sensitive applications, in places like stock exchanges, manufacturing lines and chemical plants.” It then quoted VMS Software’s CEO, Duane Harris, as saying, “Everybody was in a panic,” and that users felt they “suddenly had no future.”

For quite some time there have been several stakeholders with lengthy ties to NonStop thinking that it may be a good thing to approach HP to see if there would be interest in splitting off NonStop and giving it to a company solely focused on its future. On paper, such an idea had merit for any entity with deep enough pockets to fund needed R&D “in perpetuity”. However, nothing developed and as I look at this story in the WSJ I am so glad nothing did eventuate. If there could be a stronger message to any community than yes, you are on your own, I don’t know of one and while we all harbor doubts about the performance of HP over NonStop, the good news is that NonStop remains an integral part of HP!

My loyalties have wavered through the years. Readers may recall my post of August 30, 2011,
Stories we could tell … I was standing in the offices of John Robinson, CEO of SDI (NET/MASTER) when I received offers from both DEC and Tandem (of course, electing to join Tandem Computers) and today it seems as though working on the fringes of HP was pre-determined! However, any thought that the future of DEC would finish up in the hands of a small software group in Massachusetts was unimaginable and yet, here we are today watching the winding down of a once mighty player on the computer stage.

There are a couple of sayings that come to mind at this point. Memories being what they are, I am not all that sure where I first heard them but family does come to mind. “Never set your goals too low in case you achieve them” is what I immediately thought of as I continued reading the WSJ story. For the NonStop community thinking big is still the objective and any thoughts I may have once had about the benefits of separating NonStop from HP are long gone. The simple truth is that to maintain a global reach and to ensure best usage possible of commodity items, it takes a company the size of HP to bring the resultant products to market in a cost-effective manner.

“The right computer for the right workload at the right economics,” seems such a simple observation and yet, with HP giving away OpenVMS as it has done (and as good a technology as OpenVMS had been), it apparently no longer was the right computer for the markets it served. IBM faces much the same dilemma with its midrange computers, the strangely morphed Power Systems (including what formerly was known as the System i and before that, the eServer iSeries and, going even further back, the AS/400 that has family ties back to the System/38 that appeared around the same time as the first Tandem computer) and speculation is rife that it too will end up in the hands of others apart from IBM. NonStop continues to retain just enough “special sauce” to differentiate it at times when even the most adventurous of us have thought NonStop surely couldn’t continue – but it does!

The good-old-days are gone and gone with them are the difficult times of programming complexities with limited connectivity. What I recall as being part of the good-old-days had little to do with technology and more to do with much of the social activities (loved the 1980s!) and as much as I muse about what doesn’t exist any longer there’s no escaping the leaps that have been made in productivity. The choice of platforms remains rich and the opportunities to innovate almost limitless and so, having NonStop in the picture, an integral part of HP and continuing to contribute. Even as I wish the folks at VMS software well, I no longer harbor wishes for NonStop to follow suit and look forward to better-new-days ahead! 


Anonymous said...

Ah, the good old days...of course Tandem the best company anyone could have worked for and a superior technology.

I also worked for S.E.L. (Systems Engineering Laboratories) bought by Gould Electronics and then morphed into Encore Computers, I believe. And does anyone remember Microdata Computers-a very nice development box?

Anonymous said...

You sum up my feelings very well. As you I have been aroudn Tandem since the '80s and loved the social side of it in addition to having The best systems. I surely for one did long wish for Tandem to break free from Compaq, and only felt some hope at the merger with HP. Finally back to a real computer company. However years have passed and NonStop has not really had a chanse to shine.

As you I totally agree, at this point in time and also for several years there really wasn't a good idea to spin Tandem off on its own.

I guess, or shall I say I feel that those days are gone, the happy, lets pull together and all speaking the same value is long gone, but HP has really come a long way and the spirit is good. Nonstop will survive a while longer but not as we have hoped. However that is not HP or NonStops fault, more the evolution of technology and what the world needs of computer solutions.

I am really looking forward to see how NonStop on x86 will take the marked and it if will make Nonstop more common or not. Will those who never considered NonStop buy?

For everything else, life can be good even if the old days are long gone. You sum it up well.

Those First Friday vids on youtube are uploaded by me! If others have more, please upload!


Anonymous said...

Of course, I had fun saying that my first job was programming "Reality".

Richard Buckle said...

Here is a link that Thomas Burg shared on LinkedIn with the group, Tandem User Group. For much of it, what's being said about the mainframe can apply to NonStop: