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!  


Thomas Rudolph Burg said...

With the relationship between Oracle and HP being not exactly one of perfect harmony, I would hope that the "bigger HP" eventually realizes that using HP NonStop SQL they do own the full technology of a rather powerful database.

I do believe that NonStop SQL could indeed be another player in the "databases running on HP Enterprise Hardware" beyond Oracle, MySQL and Vertica.

Ajaya Gummadi said...


Love the title!

Once comment about porting Java apps. A Java app written clean with shared-nothing assumptions port with little or minimum effort. We encounter challenges where we see the applications doing clustering and managing memory and threads in the app itself – all of this code is redundant on NonStop and hence apps require changes. Yes, NonStop Java tooling still has some work to do but from application port perspective, in 2014-15, we are standing tall!

NonStop X comes with Infiniband giving you 25x improvement in system interconnect capacity. What is exciting for me is that at the other end of this Infiniband fat pipe could be a Linux or Unix compute server doing the crunches and accessing NonStop X database over Infiniband.

In this interconnected world implemented over standard Infiniband, a whole new class of apps can be written with the philosophy of “right compute for the right workload.”

Services can be hosted on the most appropriate platform. Mission-critical services handling settlements, trades, CDRs, payments hosted on NonStop X. Search, data sorts and number crunching on a Superdome X.

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.

Justin said...

Richard it is interesting you bring this up as I have been thinking for a while about something I called the company "Black Box" similar to the one in planes. What information would a company need to rebuild and restart in the event of some kind of disaster and shouldn't that information be housed on a NonStop. Just a thought in case there are some ISV's out there looking for a project...8^)

Richard Buckle said...

Ajaya - interesing about IB and something near and dear to my heart. Comms.

OK, so will the NonStop community be getting an externalised IB controller? From the specs I've read, there's no IB that makes it out of the system. It's just a replacement for DynaBus, ServerNet, etc. and terminates in controllers / adapters.

Maybe you can fill me in on how, with NonStop X, you see it all working with:

In this interconnected world implemented over standard Infiniband, a whole new class of apps can be written with the philosophy of “right compute for the right workload.”

Or, is this really about running the interconnect to build this hybrid over Ethernet - a very fast Ethernet, mind you.

Ajaya Gummadi said...

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.

Dirk Verburg said...

I'm not sure if there is a relation between the loss of churches and the loss of piano players, but there certainly is a correlation between the loss of churches and the loss of organ players

Gerhard Schwartz said...

Churches and cathedrals have a significantly longer useful lifetime than computer systems. Standard servers are often decommissioned after three years, NonStop systems tend to last a bit longer ...

But I'd guess most people would understand this more as an idea of repurposing the Nonstop architecture and the advantages resulting thereof, by using NonStop in a somewhat different way than what was the way to use NonStop in previous decades.

Up to now, NonStop was mainly seen as a tightly integrated failsafe system containing both the application(s) and the database. People also noticed that this failsafe system is pretty robust versus malware attacks and requires much less tender care in terms of security patching.

All this is nice and good, but only of limited use if you don't have the required applications. So outside of the traditional niches like card payments and controlling telco networks, NonStop's success was somewhat limited.

Besides lack of mindshare, lack of applications is the major obstacle holding NonStop back today.

But imagine for a moment that NonStop would be repositioned as a superior database server - communicating nicely and efficiently with today's mainstream application servers.

Now it would not matter at all that there are very few applications running on Nonstop. All popular mainstream applications could leverage the advantages coming from an extremely reliable and secure database. With proper application process persistence implemented via the database, that combination would indeed be good enough for many purposes - and better than what is found in mainstream IT today.

There are many other databases around and even more coming to the market, but when looking for very high reliability the choice boils down to very few alternatives. The most popular and most successful alternative comes with very high pricing - there are studies showing NonStop SQL is significantly less expensive. And by the way, Nonstop SQL also provides better reliability and security ...

Keith Dick said...

“Nonstop just makes sure that the data always remains available and intact, can't be stolen or tampered with”

"Always available" -- yes, we can claim that.

"Can't be stolen or tampered with" -- be careful about that one. Assuming at least some applications are running on a different platform and just using the NonStop system as a database server, if those applications get compromised, the intruder could use the applications' access to the database on the NonStop system to steal the data or tamper with it. If that happened, it would not be the fault of the NonStop system, but the data still would be stolen or altered.