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!    

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