Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does your interest in NonStop elevate it to being a hobby? Tell me more …

The strong turn out by the NonStop community for this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp was encouraging even as it was a testament to how strongly the NonStop system is supported by advocates spanning the generations. Could NonStop be viewed as a hobby for some and if so, did this contribute to NonStop thriving for forty years?

Many years ago my father asked me if I would be prepared to give up my Saturday afternoons to help out a friend who had just bought a yacht. I have touched on this subject in other posts – to be specific, the post of July 16, 2008, Specialist! Am I still needed? In that post I described how I began my time on a 40’ sailboat having no experience whatsoever, and that, in time and with experience, I became the sole for’ard hand responsible for everything in front of the mast. For a couple of years running, in the early 1970s, we were overall season’s winners in the category we sailed and I came to develop a real love for this “hobby”.

What I didn’t write about was of how I put back the time of my first wedding in order to be able to sail the final race only to be told by the owner, not to be that stupid – what if you slipped and broke your arm? On the other hand, it was indicative of how committed I can be to my hobbies. As for the picture above, it’s not of me but is from the same yacht club and that could have been me on the bow! Attending the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp that wrapped up just a few days ago further highlighted, in a very tangible way, how strong the commitment to NonStop runs and even though hanging out with a bunch of likeminded folks was far removed from anything remotely associated with hobbies, there was still a similar feeling.

Folks at WebAction gave me an opportunity to kick-off a preconference session first thing Sunday morning -
What Does Big Data Mean for the NonStop Community? Introducing the topic of Big Data to a large NonStop group that had assembled for the four hours discourse on all things Big Data, I began my presentation with a quote by automotive icon, Bob Lutz. As far as careers go, Lutz had it all - Executive Vice President of sales at BMW, Executive Vice President at Ford Motor Company (think Ford Explorer), head of Chrysler Corporation's Global Product Development (introduced the Viper), finishing with a stint at GM as Vice Chairman responsible for all creative elements of products and customer relationships (yes, he gave us the Pontiac GTO – a rebadged Holden Monaro).

In a Q & A blog posting Lutz was once asked which job he would take. One that paid well but he didn’t like or another about which he was passionate but which paid very little. “Given the human need for food, warmth, shelter, and a decent car or two, take the well-paying job, give it your best,” responded Lutz, “and consider the other as a hobby!” And this left me wondering, how many of us would continue working with NonStop systems even if it were solely on the basis of being just a hobby? How many of those attending the Boot Camp would continue to be part of the NonStop community long after they derived any income from NonStop. It seems that NonStop, as a hobby, is appealing to many more folks than we may be aware of.

Coming up on 40 years of age – a secondary, celebratory theme of the Boot Camp – NonStop has outlasted many more famous products. The list is long – Wang, Prime, Data General, Four Phase, Pyramid, and so on, and that’s not including the BUNCH; when was the last time you thought of purchasing a Honeywell, or Control Data or even NCR let alone a Univac or a Burroughs system? In the mid-1980s the world was awash with Plug Compatible Mainframes (to IBM) and in Europe, the likes of ICL, through its connection with Fujitsu, and Nixdorf Computers produced PCMs and joined the ranks of Amdahl, Hitachi, Fujitsu and even Mitsubishi. But alas, all gone! Who in 1989 would have speculated that of all the names referenced here, NonStop (nee, Tandem Computers) would still be standing and prospering?

Perhaps, retaining a hobby isn’t that bad after all! Where the lines do blur is where the accumulated knowledge about a specific interest or topic elevates someone to a place of prominence – someone to go to for insight or simply an explanation. There are many instances where individuals are consulted about items of interest to others whether it is art, or wine, or gemstones and usually when an investment is likely. And yet, looking around the NonStop community gathered in San Jose, there was a wealth of knowledge on hand that was almost priceless.

So many times we lose sight of the human factor – so many NonStop systems continue to support mission-critical applications, forty years after the first NonStop system rolled into a data center, because there is access to a community of talented individuals all just as enthusiastic to share their experiences as they are to discuss your own special case. Even though it would appear that a number of NonStop supporters are leaving the fold, there’s every indication that a younger generation is beginning to appreciate NonStop.

During a casual conversation with one participant from HP NonStop Education, it was revealed that a 25%, year over year, increase had occurred with respect to new entrants looking for education on NonStop. Some were coming from other systems inside the data center but just as many were new to the data center and not familiar with any large system offering. And this is just a start; while this is good news to many, what may not be as pleasing (at least, to a different group within the NonStop community) is the apparent lessening of tenure among CIOs. 

There was talk that the average tenure for a CIO had dropped to eighteen months and when I checked the web site, FedScoop, in the report
Survey: 2014 brings challenges, wind shift for CIOs it was stated that whereas “In 2013, the average tenure of a CIO was 5 years, nine months, and in 2014 it will be two months longer than that, according to the report. (The average tenure of a government CIO is about 18 months.)”  Indeed, there is a strong argument in favor of breaking IT down and removing the need for a CIO entirely.

A quick check of the web site CIO Insight found a report, dated September 1, 2014, Why CIO Tenures Aren't Longer, where author, Larry Bonfante, suggests that “There are many reasons why CIO tenure continues to be shorter than that of other C-suite executives. One factor is a general perception of IT as a business ‘disabler’. IT is viewed in many companies as the ‘Land of No and Slow!’ Everything seems to take forever and things don't seem to get done at a high level of satisfaction.” There may be merit after all in embracing NonStop as our hobby. On the other hand, perhaps we should be pleased to see as many individuals as we now see embracing NonStop as in some situations, they will likely outlast any CIO espousing “computing de jour” for no other reason than for changes sake.

An enthusiastic cadre of NonStop expertise; a growing population of “freshly educated” NonStop personal; a rapidly churning base of CIOs; and an architecture that continues to flourish some forty years after its introduction! It may confound business school types even as it puzzles the media but all the same, whether a highly-charged career or simply a hobby, NonStop continues to flourish and in so doing, retain its “halo position” within a much sought after niche within the industry.

It’s probably selling too many members of the NonStop community short by suggesting that they stay involved on the basis that NonStop has become their hobby, but it isn’t something we can either dismiss too readily or even ignore. It may take up more of their time than a Saturday afternoon and there’s nothing competitive about it at all and yet, you cannot escape the thought that without such support, would NonStop continue to flourish some forty years later? 


Randall Becker said...

Richard: I am not sure that hobby is the closest word that describes it. In some ways, it is like an addictive computer game that meets some deep seeded emotional need of whatever the computing equivalent of "food", "shelter", and "clothing" happens to be - infrastructure, perhaps. In the past two weeks, we have seen President Obama ask the FCC to classify the Internet as Infrastructure. Why? Because some (tax-funded government) services are only available online. The need for continuously available infrastructure is moving into the realm of the government regulators, beyond the traditional financial regulators we all know and love. And yet, some key systems still deal in "performance over reliability" - how long will they last, or yes, until they become hobbies in themselves. If delivering mandated services will become a hobby, I'm on board. Cheers!

Marius Bejan said...

Hi Richard,

My name is Marius, and I am the creator of AtomBox.org. A project that I have been working on for the last 5 years.

Being a Base24 technical consultant and traveling to different sites I have received a very positive feedback but unfortunately as you pbl know our world is quite closed down and very skeptical on new ideas and new technologies.

I am really sorry I missed the Technical Bootcamp but this post actually convinced me I should take it out there. Even more now that I managed to port and integrate the JavaScriptCore (part of the Apple Safari) on Guardian and get 3 to 4 times better execution times on J series (with the 0.4 version).

Thank you and hope one day to present this also to the shrinking world of Tandem.