Monday, September 22, 2014

Those Special Occasions!

I’m posting this on the road as I drive to MATUG in Philadelphia, PA. However, before we packed the bags and began the drive, we had an opportunity to celebrate with friends and when it comes to NonStop, I was reminded of earlier posts and yes, I do get it!

Had a good friends, Brian and Jan, over for the weekend; a mix of business and good meals with fine wine. In this case the friend, Brian, is someone with whom I can share my business plans as well as my interests in cars – yes, when asked where he was by a former neighbor, Brian simply responded “I’m with the Buckles, driving Corvettes and drinking good red wine”. As it turned out, he was here for his birthday as well, and on a special occasion like this, it called for something equally as special from the wine cellar.

As I pulled the cork from a 1993 Silver Oak – a great California Cabernet Sauvignon – I have to admit, I was apprehensive. I was real careful removing the cork as it had dried, and once I had it out of the bottle I decanted the wine, just to be sure. Left to breathe for an hour, perhaps longer, it proved to be everything we were hoping it would be – not a single rough edge on this drop of red as we tentatively took a first sip. It was suggested that the wine could be kept 15+ years but I was really surprised as we had laid it down for 20+ years and it tasted a lot better than when first we opened a bottle, back in the mid-1990s.

I couldn’t help noticing that in a post of nearly two years ago, back on December 26, 2012, I had featured another good bottle of wine that I had opened. The occasion that time had been the Christmas holidays, and again it had been a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - 1994 South Australian bottle from Wynns.
The post, Yes, I get it!

In addition to wine review featured comments from a race car driver who had observed how the team had tried to “Control costs, restrict options, standardize on certain parts, increase production, amortize investment over a wider base, increase value for money” and at the time, I suggested we could say much the same thing about NonStop.

Continued investment in NonStop is a very delicate balancing act – there’s a need for new features even as there’s a need to provide an integrated hardware and software product for a fair and reasonable price. The viability of NonStop is still very much tied to it being cost effective when viewed against the competition, even if we all agree that NonStop has very little by way of competition. It was analysts at IDC who came up with an “availability spectrum”, categorizing all systems as either Availability Level 1, 2, 3, or 4, with AL1 referring to systems not shipped as highly available and AL4 referring to fault-tolerant servers.

IDC describes AL4 as being “the highest-availability level, connoting that the end-user experiences no perceived interruption based on the use of fault tolerant servers. In this level, the combination of multiple hardware and software components allows a near-instantaneous failover to alternate hardware / software resources so that business processing continues as before without interruption.” Without delving into the finer points of takeover versus failover, I think readers will appreciate the simplicity of this definition, especially as it comes at the “problem” from an end-user experience perspective.

Control costs! Standardize on certain parts! Increase value for money! It’s hard to argue against the motivation or drive behind these goals. For readers who have regularly attended user events anywhere in the world where NonStop product management has been present these goals should be well-known by now. I can’t recall a presentation by a manager or executive who hasn’t pointed to a roadmap slide and hammered home the continuing pursuit by all within the HP NonStop team to increase the value for money.

The argument in favor of going with MIPS was all based around the unsustainable business model of continuing with custom chips. The subsequent move to Itanium followed a similar line of reasoning, this time the thought being that Intel had far deeper R&D pockets than MIPS (then a part of SGI between 1992 and 1998). However, even as Itanium continues to underpin modern NonStop servers, increasing value for money over time meant that an even more popular chip would be required – something that was not just a standard but deployed broadly enough so as to “amortize investment over a wider base”.

The move to support the Intel x86 architecture certainly is a positive move in this direction, and having a portfolio of products all utilizing x86, economies of scale will certainly be present. But there’s more to this story and as I wrote two years ago (long before NonStop announced plans to support x86), I do get it!

It’s not that NonStop development is hedging on either performance goals or pricing, as I am sure we will hear a lot more about all of this at the NonStop Bootcamp in November, but I have to believe the x86 will result in performance improvement for some solutions, if not all, even as I have to believe the price will be more attractive. When you look at Intel’s roadmap for the x86 you quickly realize that the x86 is a substantial family of chips – Xeon comes in many flavors, if you like, with some Xeon chips focused on client-side processing whereas others are focused on the server side.

Good performance, value pricing, and of course, a whole new fabric interconnect that holds the promise of even faster processing speeds combined with the possibility of building hybrid computers made up of different systems (from an OS perspective) and again, all based on standards. Certain parts just have to be standardized these days – the chips, the memory, the interconnect fabric and NonStop is certainly delivering on this promise. As middleware and solutions vendors come to terms with the new technology, the prospect for even greater optimization is apparent and even though there may be changes coming, I get that, too!

When x86 rolls out, there’s no doubting the special occasion it will represent. In some quarters, it will warrant a bottle or two of champagne being opened. And from my perspective, a well-deserved celebration, for sure! However, when it comes to controlling costs, this is where the NonStop users will share an equal burden. There’s much that they can do to control costs and much of that has to do with the cost of human resources – in achieving AL4, NonStop development has provided an integrated hardware and software “stack” and the higher up the stack NonStop users elect to go, the more they can control the costs.

This too includes those vendors who are now in the midst of porting new applications to NonStop. If existing NonStop users or new users to NonStop elect to skip the middleware available today, they make leveraging the benefits of an AL4 system difficult. It may be viewed as clever, or even ingenious, to dump a new product on NonStop with minimal touch points to the stack NonStop development provides, but I am sure five or ten years out, with the development lead no longer present, it will look little different to instances of the same solution on other systems. If you are going to run it on NonStop then take advantage of NonStop top-to-bottom, otherwise little by way of controlling costs will materialize. System savings will pale in comparison to the human costs involved.

Increase value for money! Adding support for the Intal x86 is going to be a big help in this department. Standardize on certain parts! Embracing an interconnect technology as NonStop development proposed via InfinBand (IB) as well as manufacturing producing an universal blade as a result is also going to be much appreciated. Control costs! Leveraging NonStop development expertise, fully utilizing the integrated stack and letting the OS ride the changes well is our cue for NonStop users to do the smart thing – it’s almost as if we are learning to love Pathway all over again!

The bottom line here, of course, is that after four decades (or thereabouts) we are still talking about NonStop and still thinking up new ways to exploit the best implementation of AL4 available today, Sure, IBM mainframes today now have what IBM is calling Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS) that is an extension of Parallel Sysplex in order to support mainframes located, potentially, in different cities. But this is at what cost? And in the end, with what added value?

Complexity abounds with this model of IBMs and yet, it’s so simple for NonStop users. Can we execute a takeover where systems are separated? NonStop users familiar with the recent additions to Pathway (TS/MP) 2.4 and later, understand how easy it is to deploy NonStop in this manner with far less complexity and at a lot lower price point – TCO remains important as do the number of nines, and even though IDC gives the IBM system z mainframe running in Parallel Sysplex mode an equivalent AL4 status to NonStop, it’s at such a high price point that no, I just don’t get it!

I still have some good wine left in the cellar and I am sure that my friends, Brian and Jan, will find a way back for more. There will be more pictures taken of empty bottles, too, to be featured in stories to come I am certain of that. However, when the new NonStop systems begin to ship I too will make sure there’s a little champagne on the side that I will be only too happy to open and to toast the NonStop development team for a job that is sure to be well done. NonStop on x86? NonStop in IB? NonStop in hybrids and even Converged Systems well, what else can I say but that I get it, too!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For NonStop users, moving data isn’t distracting!

Moving files comprised of punched cards or indeed, magnetic tape, was so 20th century and yet, when it comes to even the most advanced transaction processing systems, files still need to be moved and often this is the specialty of a select few boutique businesses.  


Out on America’s interstate highways you see transportation evolving on an almost continuous basis. With the regular trips we make to the west coast, whether it is to HP in Palo Alto or my other clients in the greater Los Angeles area, we have seen extended sleeper compartments behind the cabs of big rigs simply getting bigger and we have seen much greater use of aerodynamics on nearly every truck we pass. However, on these trips we have also seen the venerable dump, or tip, truck lose ground to massive side dump trucks – often hauled in tandem behind a single tractor or prime mover. With highway maintenance resulting in huge tracts of roadway being torn up, it’s no surprise to see these monsters at work. 

Forced to stop and stand idle on the side of the highway as they go about their work, it’s nothing more than an untimely distraction and one we dread facing each trip out west. The key advantages of the side dump, however, is that it allows rapid unloading and they are almost immune to being upset (tipping over) while dumping, unlike the traditional end dump trucks. More obvious, even to the untrained eye, is that they can simply transport a bigger load than the old-style, end dump vehicles. Furthermore, when they do transfer their contents, it happens a lot faster as the sides, naturally enough, are a lot wider than the ends. I know, I have had plenty of time to watch them.

Whenever we talk about such topics – big loads, greater weight, faster transfer it’s as if the conversation has taken off in a different direction. For data center managers everywhere, it’s all about the data and moving data, storing data, and not let’s not forget to mention, the running of analytics against the data. No longer a case of simply picking up a tray of punched cards and upending them into the card reader, as was once the case (and a task that was taken away from me at one point in my career), but across every channel connected to a computer, voluminous amounts of data flow.

As I watch the beginning of the Internet of Things (IoT) era where almost every mechanical device known to man will be connected to the internet (along with every conceivable contraption being turned into an effective measuring instrument), the prospect of even more data needing to be moved is inescapable. Unfortunately, among the NonStop community, such movement of data has been associated with batch processing, something NonStop applications treat with disdain and yet, much of the data NonStop transactions use either as raw material or as finished product is of value to other parts of the business. And it has to be moved.

As someone who is passionate about cars, a special case of IoT that caught my eye was the recent news that American legislators were catching on to the potential of Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication. Whether it’s vehicle manufacturers – Volvo promising that by 2020 it will provide crash-proof cars (a step up from an earlier initiative to provide injury-proof cars by the same year) – for insurance companies or law enforcement, cars that communicate with each other represent a whole new specter of monitoring even as it opens yet another chapter on data movement.

Streams of data will be shared among these with vested interests, leading to a whole raft of new applications. In a recent post to realtime.ir.com, For NonStop there’s no downside to monitoring unidentified moving objects I connected the dots between V2V, the movement of data, and the analytics that will be produced and it wasn’t hard to miss the impact that would be made. The real holy grail of business insight, I suggested in that post to the IR blog, has always been determining behavior so as to better focus critical business resources on the closing of sales opportunities. In other words, interrupt the flow of data and view incomplete scenarios and the insight derived will be less than meaningful even if the applications are brand new!

When you think about it, nowhere would this behavior determination add more value than when applied to driving a car.  Furthermore, if we don’t elect to ban driverless cars outright then V2V is inevitable – younger generations of drivers have become too distracted these days. So serendipitous that after all these years, data center consoles and dashboards may shortly be a collage of real dashboards and the real time monitoring familiar to every data center operator will reflect more closely a world that gave rise to much of the jargon that’s used within the data center – system crashes, scratch-files, and (data) collisions  included!

IoT, V2V and even M2M, which has been with us way longer than many of us care to acknowledge, are responsible not only for new opportunities for vendors like IR with Prognosis, but also for the greater movement of data we see today. But moving data has been going on for years, NonStop systems included, despite any apparent disdain for the process. All too often when we discuss solutions running on NonStop and quickly delve into the middleware deployed, our attention gravitates to the transaction processing components. However, for these solutions to participate in the world at large, assumptions are made and empty “boxes” included in flowcharts (to be filled in later) that convey a rather false sense of “she’ll be right, mate!” Files will be moved somehow and we will get there, on the day. Yet keeping that data moving is every bit as important as any consumption of data from any client device.

Contrary to what we may have read in a recent post by Mark Hurd, this is not simply a case of making sure you get everything from just one vendor, Oracle preferably. If you missed my opinion on this subject, check out my most recent post to the blog at WebAction, Ain’t no bugs on me … and yes, I have been waiting a long time to get this jingle into a business blog post. The NonStop team has recognized that they alone will not be able to provide everything the user community may require and this has led to there being there a very strong vendor community well-versed in what users require and when it comes to moving files, this is especially the case.

I covered this recently in a private communication to a major client where I referenced perhaps one of the least talked about products on NonStop – DataExpress. DataExpress has been in the business of moving files for several decades and it has done an effective job for some of the biggest Financial Institutions (FI) on the planet. For a number of them, simply having deployed DataExpress is a market differentiator all by itself. As Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress, sees things, “Our clients know that moving data securely and efficiently is critical to their business, and have trusted DataExpress to manage the process for them.”

In case you think the realm of data movement is something akin to upending boxes of punched cards into a reader, think again. Big Data – well, there’s a lot of data that has to be moved to maximize the effectiveness of Big Data frameworks and the analytics they feed. Clouds – well, more than anything else, there’s lots of data that needs to be securely moved in and out of cloud resources. According to DataExpress’s Marost, “Anyone can move bits and bytes between business units, customers and machines, but have you asked yourself if your business, your relationships and your reputation could survive intact should the integrity of that data be compromised.”

Whether it’s open cut mines, excavating a site for a new high-rise building, or simply freeway construction, moving the dirt is a costly exercise so the quicker it can be moved the better. Not only is it costly in dollar terms, but also in time where smaller loads push out completion dates. Much the same can be said about data, of course. However, there’s a lot more to the story – moving data as not just an adjunct to the main process, it is the main process for some applications. Miss getting all the data to a government agency on time, and penalties will follow.

Finally, Marost reflected, “We see more interest in secure file transfer, not less, and we have a growing pipeline of features that will prove even more valuable for our HP customers down the road!” Clouds? Big Data? Social Media? Email? Yes, this growing pipeline of features from DataExpress embraces them all and in the end, will likely mitigate the disdain many of us may feel about the task of moving data. However, in the highly charged world of always-on, it’s imperative for all parties to have access to timely and complete data and this will always involve moving data. Keeping those side dump trucks moving may not be such a distraction after all!    

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yet another anniversary … yet another post! And NonStop holds firm …

I am still at it and the posts keep on coming. No surprises here but the readership continues to grow and fair enough, the message on NonStop is attracting an even bigger audience. Yes, it’s all happening and shortly, user events will dominate NonStop community agendas worldwide!

I had to remind myself not to forget writing this post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. Shortly, I will be returning to the race track for one more time before summer ends and there’s no escaping that, with the coming of autumn, winter is only a few weeks away. Already fall colors are in evidence everywhere; the neighborhood pools are being closed, gardens are undergoing their annual clean-up and trim, and inside garages battery tenders are being readied for use. 

This year I will skip a lengthy introduction and just come out with it – seven years of posting to this NonStop community blog are now behind me as of last month and now it’s time to look ahead at a new year of posts. Based on feedback from you I now post three, occasionally four posts a month with each one more or less a feature article. I learnt very early on that posting almost daily wasn’t something many of you had time to read, even if the posts were only 800 words or so and there was nothing technical involving the merits of some obscure programming trick or a feature of a programming language.

If you have missed an earlier anniversary posts, I have now set up a label -
Anniversary Post Follow this link and you will find all previous posts. Furthermore, and just as a reminder, there’s a label set up that takes you to all previous posts on my wishes for NonStop – posts I write every three years and if you are interested in knowing how these wishes have involved over time and have missed a couple of them,  take a look at this label - Wishes However, what I welcome most are the comments that are posted and also there are discussions in many LinkedIn groups, I continue to encourage readers to look at the many comments posted to the LinkedIn group of the same name, Real Time View.

Of course, there are folks within HP too who continue to encourage an ongoing presence in social media – it’s an inexpensive way to communicate passion for the product and to engage more directly with the community. Independent blogs with an arms-distance relationship to a primary vendor are among the best read blogs and in many ways, have relegated old-style newsletters from even the most respected thought-leaders to just historical footnotes. The immediacy of posts is appreciated by all members of a community and this is understood by many within HP. “I see tremendous value from independent bloggers providing commentary on HP and NonStop,” said Gary Allen, Senior Manager, HPS Marketing Programs. “Social networking is of huge value and doing so independently of HP, especially valuable as readers of your blog always anticipate a perspective that reflects your history and experience.”

Building a community around NonStop requires many things to happen and in the past, this mostly involved user gatherings. ITUG was once all that the community talked about – indeed, when I first joined Tandem Computers it was the very existence of ITUG that helped me decide to join Tandem. Working at the time on the east coast, colleagues returning from an ITUG event in New Orleans couldn’t stay quiet about all that had happened there. However, social media has pretty much plugged the hole that was once the task of big tent user–run events.

It’s not as if we no longer like to network, but the reality is that few of us have budgets that cover the cost of an annual pilgrimage to San Jose. In all likelihood, few companies running NonStop today even have the staff on hand sufficiently populous to allow a few to disappear for a week. In talking to HP, at one point the conversation turned to the matter of there no longer being a “bench” of technical staff trained and experienced in NonStop to throw at new projects – having tiers made up of senior managers, technicians and junior staff has evaporated leaving data centers staffed by just a few system administrators casting an occasional glimpse at a console display. Yet, surely we can afford time to get together for the shorter, regional, gatherings and we sure strive to find a way to get to the San Jose bootcamp! I hope to see many of you at those events through the year!

Recently, in a discussion on LinkedIn, someone asked the NonStop community whether “Tandem is any longer a renowned server” and “who is going to appreciate it”? Furthermore, from the same individual, “for Java developers working in Tandem it’s a hard task as they can’t bring any new things to it!” Now, I am not clear as to the maturity of this individual or just how experienced he is with working on the latest NonStop systems but I am sure there will be others within the NonStop community who will step in here and provide additional insight – but bottom line, if it’s the latest iteration of the NonStop stack, it’s not that hard to port Java applications these days. “Java rocks!” is still the catch-cry of one well- respected NonStop architect in the user community.

However, the question aside, the more important consideration here is that the issue was even raised in the first place. Social media may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those within the NonStop community scattered as they are to the four corners of the planet, social media is doing a fine job providing us all with a sense of community. If you aren’t all that certain, just take a short time out and check how many active discussion groups and chat rooms are there – from LinkedIn to Yahoo and Google – all devoted to helping out NonStop developers whenever they experience difficulties.

How many within the NonStop community would have thought there would be separate LinkedIn discussion groups for them involving topics like Clouds and Big Data – if you missed it, this was the central theme of last week’s post,
A time to put the hammer down! NonStop accelerating adoption of Clouds and Big Data … If, as yet, you haven’t read that post, it’s well worth the time spent. Again, just the mere presence of such groups sends out an important message – there’s plenty worth discussing on topics like these and there’s more than just an individual or two looking at ways to leverage such key transforming technologies. For me, the presence of as many LinkedIn groups as there are that include NonStop in their group name is more than encouraging – and the NonStop community has to be pleased with the evolution of some of these groups.

This is the start of my eight year of blogging and as I look back, there’s been a couple of common themes but no matter how you look at them, these themes do center on why we aren’t doing more to promote NonStop and why aren’t there more solutions on NonStop and, in a related fashion, why isn’t the rest of the industry as proud of NonStop as we all are – the IDC and Gartner, the InfoWorld and CIO publications. After four decades, why aren’t informed CIOs more appreciative of the fault tolerant technology inherent in the integrated hardware / software stack that is today the modern NonStop system?

In part, it still is up to all of us to become part of the process – yes we would like to see more promotional material from HP but in the end, we have a thriving community involving many stakeholders and we have a voice. We should be using it far more aggressively – flooding every chatroom and community group we come across. Others are doing this and very successfully – so, what about us? Why should we be quiet?  NonStop is indeed a renowned server and NonStop has a global community that knows this! NonStop has a history and that’s important but having a history doesn’t imply a legacy solution – rather, it demonstrates flexibility and adaptability in a way few other systems can claim to have achieved.

Winter may be coming shortly – the signs of fall are more prevalent than just a few days ago.  The temperatures along the front ranges drop 20 degrees today and will hold at that level for the next week or so. But winter is a time of regeneration, a time to regroup if you like. For the NonStop community it’s also a period for user gatherings across the globe and yes, I will be attending several of them – from Philadelphia to Toronto to San Jose. In coming together as a group it’s time, too, to encourage and nurture – and to hear more good news about NonStop that will be the fodder for yet another year of blogging!