Friday, February 27, 2015

NonStop in the “technology mix” for IT? Sounds reasonable …

Among IT professionals, when discussions turn to hybrids, it’s not just hybrid clouds being talked about but hybrid systems and for the NonStop community, this includes hybrids featuring the latest NonStop X systems …

I recently passed a car with a bumper sticker: “Yes, it’s a hybrid, it burns both gas & rubber!” One’s perspective on the environment may differ from others’, and sometimes quite radically, but even so, there’s a sense that whatever interests us and wherever our pursuits take us, if we can leave the environment better off, then that is to the benefit of us all. Saying anything more on this matter however, as the majority of the U.S. shivers under the impact of a severe and lengthy winter deep freeze, may prove controversial (and it has nothing to do with the rest of this post), but even so, the cold has many of us wondering where global warming has gone.

Living on Colorado I have become a big fan of natural gas – a sentiment I shared with others when I lived in Australia. For a very long time the option to power vehicles with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) has proved to be popular among Australian drivers and with the abundant supply of natural gas, now apparent to everyone pretty much everywhere we look (in the U.S. LPG is known as Propane, and referred to as Autogas), it’s still amusing to hear the debates on whether more refueling stations should be built and whether manufacturers should provide support for LPG on many more vehicles.

Despite all the talk, I fully expect to see at some point hybrid cars that are powered by combinations of LPG / electric just as I anticipate seeing diesel / electric hybrids sometime soon. The point of mixing technologies to better meet the needs of users has become a proven winner for many within industry and so, mixing technologies for IT sounds every bit as reasonable, and already from the messages coming from multiple vendors, it would seem that the day of practical hybrids is fast approaching.

I have been writing about the emergence of hybrid computers within the NonStop community for some time, and with each post, and the subsequent discussions that arise on LinkedIn groups, the degree of interest climbs. For as long as I have been involved with NonStop, there’s been a very strong argument to be made for making very sure everything supporting an application on NonStop stays on NonStop, as the all-important availability attribute is only as strong as the weakest link. Push processes off-platform and onto Windows and the expectation of availability levels we associate with NonStop is immediately lowered. Why bother, some have argued, to even use NonStop systems if part of the application proves vulnerable because of the inherent frailty of the secondary system.

Before getting any deeper into this post, for the sake of clarity, when it comes to NonStop X and hybrids, “a hybrid does not need to co-exist in the same chassis,” according to Manager, HP NonStop Product Management, Karen Copeland. “It can be an overall application configuration where different parts of the solution run on different systems that communicate with each other in real time to be seen as one application by the user, while using the best of breed for different parts of the system.”


The likelihood of reaching out to another system on the far side of the data center will be one option many CIOs will consider, and the way I hear it, where NonStop X is already being tested. The most important consideration by everyone in the NonStop community when thinking of hybrids, I was told, was to think big! Don’t limit your thinking about the value hybrid computing will bring based on past projects or what you read in the popular press!  

IBM has had hybrids for some time now. With their mainframes, the opportunity to configure both zOS and zLinux in the same mainframe has been an option for many – particularly when zLinux supports the front-end presentation services and page serving and zOS supports the database and some of the heavy-lifting associated with mission-critical transaction processing. Very much a working model for what HP will likely begin promoting aggressively with NonStop X and x86 Linux, now that we can expect to see both sharing the same chassis at some point it will be hard to imagine modernization projects in the future that don’t take advantage of such an option.

Unfortunately for IBM, but potentially good news for HP, a renewed push to right-size IBM has seen mainframe customers doubting the future of the mainframe – not from a technology standpoint but in terms of future support, along with consulting services. None of this has lessened IBM’s enthusiasm for hybrids and for those who may be interested, check out the latest IBM’s press release
IBM Cloud Makes Hybrid a Reality for the Enterprise.

My interest in what was prototyped by the HP NonStop solutions architects some time ago, under the general banner of Persistent Cloud Services (or, Guardian Angel) that was subsequently productized by InfraSoft as maRunga, goes back to my own appreciation that in Pathway may be the very glue that holds hybrids of NonStop and Linux together; in so doing, throwing the mantle of Pathway over systems apart from NonStop. Pathway Advanced Cluster Services (ACS) extended the reach of Pathway to adjacent NonStop nodes under the single definition of a domain, so why not continue expanding the reach of Pathway to include nodes other than NonStop, such as Linux. This is now evolving into the current message for maRunga, and while there’s still further refinement of maRunga required, InfraSoft remains committed to working with other vendors to capitalize on this product to better serve hybrid systems anchored by NonStop.

This reference to clouds, and cloud computing, turns the dialogue back to where hybrids first begun entering mainstream discussions. At the center of these discussions was the expectations of the enterprise – would they simply abandon all that they had invested in to date, or rather, complement select applications with processes running on much cheaper platforms. This question was addressed recently in comments to a discussion on the LinkedIn group,
Mission Critical Systems Forum (facilitated by Oracle). In response to the question, Are legacy systems a hindrance, or just the fall guys when things go wrong?, Ed Carp, a Linux Guru, observed that, “Contrary to the original article's assertions, legacy systems ‘just run’. As another poster pointed out, some are always looking for the next big thing - moving away from Java or whatever ‘because it's become legacy’”.

However, more importantly for the NonStop community, Carp then wrote that, “Moving to the cloud, while it sounds sexy and new and attractive, just pushes problems of scalability, reliability, security, and backup control to someone else's plate - and when your cloud provider goes down or just goes away, where's your data? How do you know who's managing it is reliable and keeping it secure?” This of course, touches a nerve of every NonStop proponent, but then Carp finished with how, “It seems to me that moving to the cloud as the sole option without a failover to locally cached data is a recipe for failure - and if you have to manage local data as well, why bother with the cloud, with the issue of network latency - unless you're running multiple locations (then data in the cloud becomes more of a win for you) - it just becomes an added expense”.

Could we see not just a hybrid made up of NonStop X and x86 Linux, sharing a common chassis or not, but also a hybrid of NonStop with one or more Clouds and where Pathway throws its mantle over the lot? Again, I anticipate that something like this will eventually prove extremely tempting to some in the NonStop community. When you look at the vendor community some are likely to opt to explore such configurations. As have been well documented to date, OmniPayments, Inc. now has its solutions operating from within a cloud, all based on NonStop, but imagine the potentially greater TCO, should some processes be run on Linux within the cloud. In his article, Payment-card transaction switching via the cloud, just published in the Jan – Feb, 2015, issue of The Connection, CEO, Yash Kapadia, observes that while it’s “not a general cloud offering for running customer applications” all the same, “it is a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud that specifically provides financial-transaction-switch services via HP NonStop servers.

Yash is not alone, as many of my clients provide products capable of running on either NonStop or Linux – and most of them, from a common code base. Whether there are issues of DMZ placement, as in the case of security or simply access to a richer presentation toolset, vendors including IR, WebAction, InfraSoft and DataExpress all seem to be well-suited to exploiting any mix of NonStop and Linux, whether found in a shared-chassis or in a NonStop overseen cloud.

According to Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress, “With as much talk as there is these days of the benefits derived from building hybrid computers around NonStop, and having the extra flexibility of selecting where DataExpress runs that only adds to the benefits that come with our secure managed file transfer suite.” IR is well positioned to provide a single pane of glass to monitor hybrids, even as WebAction has begun demonstrating the potential to track adherence to SLAs that span hybrid environments. WebAction Cofounder and EVP, Sami Akbay, was quick to observe that when it comes to, "Realtime process monitoring, alerting, and workflow enablement across hybrid systems is just one area where WebAction excels. We see this service as part of the future landscape for all enterprise systems."

The industry is behind deploying hybrids even if it is in support of hybrid clouds. Vendors within the NonStop community are prepared and are essentially looking for the first implementations – yes, news from HP supports this new direction with, apparently, a handful of new NonStop X hybrids already under test at customer sites. Perhaps most important of all for the NonStop community, new markets may be fueled following the option to run NonStop from within a cloud. As Yash noted, “Special consideration is given to mid-size retailers who have grown large enough to afford their own transaction-switching systems. OmniCloud can offer such retailers dedicated systems. These systems still run in OmniCloud, but they relieve the retailers of the purchasing and operation costs of obtaining their own system”.

And therein lays the real story of hybrid based on NonStop – becoming price attractive in markets where NonStop may still be considered expensive. The move to be fully commodity-based, together with the option to run standalone in hybrid configurations with other systems or indeed clouds, with the flexibility to support modern languages and platforms, is among the biggest message about the new NonStop X coming from HP. NonStop cannot be ruled out of any market or industry or from any use-case scenario – when it comes to technology and solutions, the enterprise today has many options that can be pursued and mixing technologies for IT sounds every bit as reasonable. Including NonStop now, as an option, will certainly draw greater attention and for NonStop to be in the mix is good news indeed for every member of the NonStop community. 

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