Sunday, January 25, 2015

Floating in space, I need a lifeline …

Cloud computing continues to dominate much of the popular discussions of late, but when it comes to putting real systems to work in support of real applications, there’s much to be said about the inherent value that comes with hybrid computing deployments and this is becoming netter known within the NonStop community …

During the holiday we watched the Clooney / Bullock movie, Gravity. It was a very well made, not-so-quite SciFi drama, set in space but believable in that it was about the International Space Station and a fictional journey of recovery in an old-fashioned space shuttle. The imagery was beautiful and portraying work in space entirely believable. So much so that I gradually inched forward on my seat, anxieties building and really appreciative of the tethering they enjoyed to the shuttle and to the telescope that they were repairing. Obviously, Clooney ever the adrenaline junkie was enjoying himself untethered as he drifted around doing a “spacewalk” and checking out the view.

However it was a short sequence in the movie that brought me back to earth rather quickly – and yes, it was the manner by which astronauts returned to earth. For as long as I have been watching space exploration it seems to me that rocket ships and space vehicles were hybrids. An engine module with a separate capsule or a command module and a lunar module made up the moon orbiters of the Apollo program. Space shuttles rode into space on the back of fuel modules and so on – providing unique modules in support of very specialist operations seems to be travel de rigeur for all astronauts. Even the expected flights by Virgin Galactic are based on a hybrid craft.

When the wraps first came off the Infrasoft product, maRunga, at the 2013 HP Discover event there was an emphasis on cloud bursting – Java applications running on NonStop, for instance, could burst into a cloud environment should unexpected peaks on a NonStop system occur. However, in the time that’s passed since the wraps came off the product, the conservative nature of many NonStop users makes leveraging of cloud computing resources, in any manner, unlikely in the near term. After working with the sales arm of InfraSoft, the Team at comForte, steps are now being taken to redefine the value maRunga provides with attention being directed towards hybrid computers, even as it becomes apparent that there’s increased interest in NonStop hybrids with the arrival of NonStop X.

“maRunga, at its core, represents extensions to Pathway that embrace platforms apart from NonStop,” said InfraSoft Managing Director, Peter Shell. “Just as Pathway broke new ground with Advanced Cluster Services (ACS), maRunga can be considered as a further extension of ACS, whereby other platforms such as Linux and Unix can be included. The presence of Pathway domains overseeing multiple Pathway nodes can now be all-inclusive of any platform that may be found participating in heterogeneous configurations, such as we are now seeing appear as hybrid computers.”

The dearth of references to NonStop within hybrid computers to date belies what really has been developing at a grass-roots level among some of the more adventurous vendors looking to put distance between their solutions and those of competitors.  “With hybrid, there’s the value aspect that translates to less cost but there’s also better fit in terms of both development languages and platform optimization,” was how OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, explained his decision to include hybrid configurations in support of his payment processing and switching solutions. “We have focused on NonStop but we use Linux for the monitoring / user interface support. Even as HP is talking about packaging both NonStop and Linux x86 blades in the same chassis, we can see advantages of making even greater use of two adjacent systems as this is consistent with what we have been building ourselves – to have HP build it and support it? Even better!”

And when it does come to Clouds and NonStop, for a lot more on this topic, check out the feature OmniPayments Introduces the OmniCloud as Host for Affordable Financial Transaction Switches in the January, 2015 issue of the Tandemworld eNewsletter. Watch for a future post on OmniPayments and OmniCloud in an upcoming post to this NonStop community blog.

Likewise, the folks at DataExpress include hybrid configurations as part of their DataExpress solutions. After securely moving files between systems, business managers can opt for updates via email and with almost universal adoption of internet protocols, separation of host functions from notification features (most likely, deployed as a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) point-of-presence) provides another, yet very important, level of security. “We acquired two products – DXNS for NonStop and DXOP for open platform – when we purchased what today we sell as DataExpress”, explained DataExpress President, Michelle Marost. “It turns out that having platform options and the ability to support hybrids will provide the best of both worlds for our customers.”

At the 2014 NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp, held in San Jose, I had ample opportunity to chat with Sean Mansubi, VP of R&D for HP's NonStop Integrity and x86 family of servers, database, and middleware software and solutions. Mansubi asked me about the NonStop communities interests in hybrid configurations and at first, I had little to add but after the event, I checked with vendors and like the quotes above from OmniPayments and DataExpress, it seemed there were others quietly developing product extensions that were dependent on the presence of more than one system architecture. So, after the event, I emailed Mansubi to apologize for my less than complete response to his question.

A short time ago, Margo and I had the opportunity to sit down with Ric Lewis, HP’s VP and General Manager, Enterprise Server Business – Sean Mansubi’s and Randy Meyer’s boss. While much of what we discussed isn’t for public consumption (and was mostly for my own “education”), Lewis did acknowledge that early usage of hybrid computers based on the x86 architecture that included NonStop were under way. I didn’t press for anything more, but it was clear to me that housed in a common chassis were x86 blades running NonStop as well as x86 blades running Linux. All the same, nothing more than whispers and dropped hints, I thought. But where there’s smoke, was there also even just a few sparks?

Readers of this NonStop community blog, if you read the previous post of January 14, 2015, Repurposed … NonStop the better server for database? you may have missed the comments that followed. But for me, these are the interesting aspects of blogging and I am always thinking of topics that hopefully will generate a discussion. In case you missed it, HP NonStop Product Manager, Ajaya Gummadi, stepped in and provided some rather illuminating insights. Gummadi is responsible for all things database as well as cloud computing and it was Gummadi who tipped me off about the hybrid architecture adopted by OmniPayments. However, in her comments Gummadi was anything but shy when it came to x86 blades being used in support of hybrid systems.

“NonStop X comes with Infiniband (IB) giving you 25x improvement in system interconnect capacity. What is exciting for me is that at the other end of this IB fat pipe could be a Linux or Unix computer server doing the crunches and accessing NonStop X database over IB,” said Gummadi. “Need to update the NonStop X database with the results of a number crunch just executed on the Superdome X? Sure, go ahead and send it over the IB. Need sub-second transaction data from NonStop X to include it for some real-time datalytics? Pull it at IB speeds! NonStop X is indeed enabling a new class of apps to be written. Let us get back to writing cool software.”

It has been my understanding that with NonStop X there is no externalizing of the IB pipes. IB simply terminates with controllers or adapters that support a variety of connectivity options. When it comes to NonStop X, the only thing running over the pair of IB fabrics was the next generation software equivalent of ServerNet, and unless someone was prepared to duplicate this capability on Linux or Unix, what could you really do with IB connections should they be externalized? And yet, with the improved speed IB provides and the tantalizing prospect of seeing x86 blades populated with IB chipsets, present for NonStop as well as these other systems, could this eventually become a viable part of the connectivity equation?

When I pointed out the lack of IB controllers for external connectivity, Gummadi posted the tantalizing response, “As they say, markets drive R&D and R&D shapes the market. In this case, let us start with the Use Cases and let the Roadmap evolve.” Perhaps beneath the smoke was more than just a few sparks, as clearly, some real heat is being thrown off by something taking on more serious form. The possibility of NonStop throwing its mantle around commodity processors has been a tantalizing dream of many working with NonStop and the prospect of something real eventuating is now looking a lot more likely.

And so, the new marketing message for maRunga, as it adds support for hybrid computers based on the x86 architecture, appears to be timely addition. NonStop users have traditionally been conservative and rarely open to suggestion of integrating other systems as part of a NonStop based solution. However, with the adoption of x86 hybrids, the question is turned completely around – now that you have portions of the solution running on platforms apart from NonStop, wouldn’t it be preferable to have these portions operating under the embrace of Pathway? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to be tethered to a system that ensures maximum availability? In other words, could the pull effect from deploying hybrid computers that include NonStop systems become more influential on the outcome of maRunga?

Space travel has always been depicted with hybrid vehicles – one for the long space flight with another, and more than likely multiple vehicles, for the trip to a planet’s surface. Both vehicles important in their own right with very specialized task to accomplish and yet, knowing that the mother ship is orbiting overhead, means there’s always the option of recovery no matter what eventuates. It may be a tenuous comparison but for the NonStop community, the image is all too real. Hybrid computers are coming and yes, NonStop is involved. Hybrids, by definition, are tethered and wouldn’t it be to all our advantage to make sure we keep Pathway involved? As in science fiction movies today, extending Pathway to include what else makes up the hybrid may prove to be the lifeline that keeps the hybrid whole and this might be that special market that drives the R&D that truly shapes the market in favor of NonStop!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Repurposed … NonStop the better server for database?

Architects and intellects worry about what to do with former pristine examples of technology in their day and yet, left to creative individuals, there’s no limits to what can be done to breathe new life into what otherwise might be trashed. For the NonStop community some examples raise interesting questions including the database …

One of the more interesting developments I have witnessed these past decades is the repurposing of buildings – historical buildings catering to entirely new, and often unexpected, patrons. Think Starbucks opening in the foyer of an old Sydney bank branch, near the famous Circular Quay. Think too of the former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, one of hundreds of decommissioned churches, that was turned into a skate park – a situation that the former elders could never have contemplated as a likely eventuality. The photo above? It’s of a former Lutheran church in Edinburgh, Scotland, that has become of all things, a Frankenstein-themed bar according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). But seriously, aren’t there limits to how far we take this repurposing trend?

In the January 2, 2015, edition of the WSJ reporter, Naftali Bendavid, highlights how
Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale  . According to Bendavid, this “reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.” Painfully for many to read, the WSJ reporter (referencing the Netherlands), then notes how “‘the numbers are so huge that the whole society will be confronted with it,’ says Ms. Grootswagers, an activist with Future for Religious Heritage, which works to preserve churches. ‘Everyone will be confronted with big empty buildings in their neighborhoods.’”

On the same day, the Huffington Post came out with the headlines Piano Stores Are Closing As Fewer Children Take Up The Instrument where reporter, David Pitt, reflected on the fall from grace of a once major pastime for all teenagers. “Some blame computers and others note the high cost of new pianos, but what's clear is that a long-term decline in sales has accelerated,” observed Pitt. Quoting Larry Fine, a Boston-based piano technician, consultant and author, Pitt then added "Computer technology has just changed everything about what kids are interested in.” Moreover, “People are interested in things that don't take much effort, so the idea of sitting and playing an hour a day to learn piano is not what kids want to do."

Loss of churches; loss of piano players – are the two related, I wonder – and it doesn’t stop there. According to BGR, a leading online destination for news and commentary focused on the mobile and consumer electronics markets, “Movie attendance dropped by a surprisingly sharp 5.1% in 2014.” In another post of January 2, 2015, BGR reporter, Tero Kuittinen, headlines with
Netflix is starting to wound the movie industry where it hurts most and goes on to write that “The most worrisome data nugget concerns Americans aged 14-24 — people in this age bracket delivered a stunning 15% decline in movie-going. This comes right after a reported 17% decline in the previous year.” Perhaps these commentaries are a tad too tough on our younger generation as I am sure there are many exceptions; but interesting data points all the same.

All of this news broke on January 2, 2015, and that leads me to make the following observation – was I the only one to pick up on this? There’s a lot of (news) data out there that has to be analyzed and every day, I suspect, nearly all of us are doing some level of broad-brush filtering / analysis – and securely too for that matter (as it’s all in our heads) – but are we really the best prototype of what to expect from Big Data and Business Intelligence / Analytics we know lots about? At a time when there’s no counting the number of times I am being asked about the relevance of Big Data by the NonStop community, is it about time to examine the repurposing of NonStop to better take advantage of one of its best attributes of all – security?

HP NonStop systems represent HP’s halo product offering when it comes to transaction processing – when it absolutely has to be processed no matter what, NonStop comes to the fore. There’s little dispute from anyone who has taken advantage of NonStop about this very important attribute of NonStop, but in a world where “almost-NonStop is good enough” is being heard more often, can we repurpose NonStop to better serve data? As one HP expert counseled me recently, “shouldn’t we be positioning Nonstop as a failsafe and secure database server?”

If real time data analytics is important to us, and the correlation of incoming streams of data, be it transactional, historical, reference, or whatever, shouldn’t the most important data be filed away in a failsafe and secure database enterprise store? My understanding that today, the younger generation doesn’t go to movie theaters, doesn’t go to church and doesn’t play the piano has led me to believe that the interests of younger people lie elsewhere and that technology has much to answer for (and for us, much to worry about, I imagine). Furthermore, such an intersection of stories from numerous sources was something I did in real time – my real time, mind you – and that time is the factor.

Today’s youth apparently doesn’t want to spend an hour practicing the piano, an hour and a half at church or even two hours at the theater. In the always-on world we have created consumers want results immediately, and for the most part, want these results to come with little effort expended on their part. But this is just one example that I have come up with from just reading a couple of newspaper stories and I suspect that there are many more examples that can be recalled by anyone else in the NonStop community. Forgive me for not mentioning that today’s youth doesn’t want to drive, let alone own, a car, but you get the point. In our everyday lives, we are doing exactly the kind of analytics proponents of Big Data are championing; we use our brains to house the application and we access our memories each time we read a new article in the press.

It’s not a stretch to view the similarities here between what we routinely do and what NonStop systems have proven capable of doing for decades. We never go off-line; at least, for our allotted “three score years and ten.” As the HP expert referenced earlier noted, “Nonstop just makes sure that the data always remains available and intact, can't be stolen or tampered with” and that when it comes to simply having data stored on a NonStop system, “that approach can be implemented quickly and with relatively little effort.” Furthermore, and good to know as well, “Experts from HP Enterprise Services tell me that we already excel at serving Java applications connected via JDBC and for C/C++ connected via ODBC.” Not without effort, I must add, as not all Java / Database applications can be easily ported – there’s still considerable effort required, but it’s not the impossible task that some migrations in the past proved to be!

To be very clear, I am not suggesting for a moment that NonStop will be the sole database server in a Big Data framework, but rather, one where the data needs to be free from any possible contamination and where the data contribution to analytics performed against it are free from potential interference. The most important aspect of Big Data for me is to support enterprises making the same observations that I just made (with the news published January 2, 2015), in real time, such that conclusions important to the business can be reached and business outcomes positively affected. CEOs looking over their shoulders at those providing them insight are aware of the temporary nature of their tenure if they don’t adequately shore-up their data and having data on Nonstop as a failsafe and secure database server should lessen their fears substantially.

New opportunities for NonStop? Every vendor I have talked to over the festive season is anxious about just how much commitment HP will be putting into the roll-out of NonStop X – new partners, new applications, new markets are all being discussed openly, so perhaps, adding just one more use-case scenario will be welcomed by all within HP. I have always believed that NS SQL is a key differentiator for NonStop systems – proactively marketing it as an extra special “secure” database server just makes sense. And all I think needs to happen is for more of us within the NonStop community to champion the potential of NonStop – so let me know. What do you think? Is the world now ready for a repurposed NonStop system with a database in residence that never breaks, no matter what!  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Welcome to 2015!

It takes very little encouragement from the HP NonStop team for me to provide my own commentary on what to expect to see in the coming year and for the first post of 2015, it just made perfect sense to blog about it!

Few residents of North America would have missed hearing the news about just how cold New Year’s Eve turned out to be; here in Colorado, a centuries old record for the lowest minimum temperature was set. Recordings at the Denver airport dropped to -19 Fahrenheit by 9:00pm on December 30th, with the high reading of just 1 Fahrenheit being a new record lowest high temperature for December 30th. Nothing cheery or celebratory about this, and even though we had to step outside for a brief period on the afternoon of the 30th, it was very much a case of staying indoors and simply enjoying being rugged up around the fireplace.

As for my ancestral roots, my family tells me that with 2015 being wrung-in, Sydney-siders were enjoying something completely different - temperatures soaring well past the 80s and into the 90s were pretty much the norm and fully expected at this time of the year. BBQs poolside, sailing on Sydney Harbor and catching the waves at Cronulla, Bondi or Manly pretty much summed up the occasion. However, no matter where the celebrations took place and irrespective of what the weather threw our way, it is always good to welcome a New Year and, as the countdown is completed, with the bells ringing out and the fireworks exploding begin to contemplate all that may take place in 2015.

Of course, there will be birthdays and anniversaries but this is not a topic I relish any longer. On the other hand, NonStop has celebrated 40 years and of course, that’s an incredible accomplishment for any technology / architecture given the high rate of failure among alternate product offerings. While I will leave it for another post, I fully anticipate the final days of Sun, as part of Oracle, will take place (yes, speculation is under way that Oracle will split with Sun and that Dell will likely pick up all that’s left) even as I agree with those predicting that Microsoft will spin out the Xbox unit.

More importantly I suspect for the NonStop community is the introduction of the NonStop X family of NonStop servers. It joins the NonStop I family of NonStop Integrity servers, and its arrival marks the last steps to fully commoditize the components that make up today’s modern NonStop system – everything from the chips to the blades to the connectivity fabric, it’s all off-the-shelf technology and it’s being shared with the larger HP Superdome X systems. It’s also being used by “the world’s most scalable and best performing x86 Linux system”, as HP’s Diana Cortes wrote in her post of November 19, 2014, New possibilities to transform your mission-critical environment are just around the corner to the HP Mission Critical Computing Blog – a site I routinely visit and strongly recommend to everyone in the NonStop community.

Social media will be playing a very significant role in the roll-out of NonStop X systems, and why not? In a day where information is shared instantly and globally, more members of the NonStop community are turning to blogs for insight into NonStop deployments than ever before. The opportunity to interact with the bloggers can often sort out fact from fiction and even anecdotal information is proving a godsend to many looking for insight about fellow community members’ use of NonStop today. The tabs across my own browser are predominantly populated with links to blogs from vendors and industry experts and I have to assume this has become common practice throughout our community.

Among my own clients, support of blogs is rampart although the approach taken is a reflection on the communities they serve. For some it’s the inclusion within more popular posts while for others it is maintenance of their own blogs – a similar situation to what we have seen with old style magazines and newsletters. It’s always attractive to gain a couple of pages in a well-read magazine or to be on the front page of a well-read newspaper, electronic or otherwise. My own perspective on this, naturally enough, is to ensure a steady stream of vendor information is always contained in my primary blog – the one you are reading now – Real Time View.

In discussions with InfraSoft’s  Managing Director, Peter Shell, - gaining visibility in other party’s blogs is important and represents a crucial element of Infrasoft’s marketing program. “For us, being referenced in blogs like this as well as in vendor blogs such as those maintained by comForte and IR as well as industry blogs such as ATMmarketplace, assures us far greater readership than if we had our own blog,” Shell told me. “Just generating buzz about our products is what we need and we are most interested in recent events within the NonStop community which are simply confirming our understanding about the value of having the community talking about us. As for 2015 then even as we welcome the New Year we are welcoming new customers and with that, we think all the buzz about us has helped.”

InfraSoft has been in business less than a decade but a similar sentiment has been expressed by DataExpress President, Michelle Marost. “The benefits from participating in more widely-read blogs cannot be disregarded. Providing interesting stories to bloggers to ensure greater participation brings with it a lot more visibility for us and our products than simply going out on our own,” Marost said during a recent conversation. “Naturally blogs are proving invaluable to us through sheer breadth of exposure and the more references to DataExpress the better no matter where such references surface. Of course, we are into securely moving files which is a very hot topic so I suspect whatever anecdotes we provide will find interest and possible traction within the NonStop community.”

Straddling the fence are the good folks at WebAction, where gaining as much visibility as possible is paramount. Even though evangelism is a key element of their messages to the NonStop community as the topic of Big Data and Data-Driven Apps is promoted, WebAction has taken the steps (almost from day one of being in business) to maintain their own WebAction blog. I am very supportive of WebAction and of the need for the NonStop community to be more actively engaged in Big Data so I am among the contributing bloggers to this site where my focus is totally on NonStop. “We are appealing to the broader enterprise industry,” said WebAction Cofounder and EVP, Sami Akbay, “It is important for us to engage with specialist technology bloggers to demonstrate the industry-specific value of WebAction.”

When it comes to my support of vendor and industry blogs it take very little time scrolling through sites like LinkedIn to become aware of those I support – some of the already referenced in this post – but the most important advice I received many years ago, when I first started, came from HP Vice President & General Manager, Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer. When I first posted to this NonStop community blog I advised Meyer of my intentions and his response has stayed with me through the years (and been referenced more than once). “As long as you generate a buzz around NonStop and there’s more ink ‘out there’ on NonStop,” came the advice from Meyer.

And even today, this sums up the real power of social media – in times where even large vendors have shifting priorities, there’s often occasions where little is heard about a specific product or solution but bloggers posting monthly or even weekly, fill the void. There’s little excuse for any member of the NonStop community not being aware of something taking place in the community as it will be reported on one social media channel or the other. And if it’s just the latest about a specific vendor, then a quick check of these same social media channels will more than likely provide coverage.

2015? Well, we just can’t wait to see what really transpires and as the year unfolds and plans are realized, make sure you check out your favorite blog for all the latest news! NonStop X? InifniBand? Security? Clouds? Big Data? Node.js? New solutions? It’s all about to start and a highly visible presence of NonStop in social media will be hard to miss. Yes, welcome to 2015!