Monday, April 13, 2015

Industry Standard Rules, OK!

As for industry standards, it's been part of the game plan for NonStop to embrace industry standards fully and with NonStop X, HP delivers on this plan ...

From the very first time a container ship passed through the heads of Sydney Harbor at the end of 1969 I have been fascinated by the container industry. Spending my formative years of IT working for a container shipping company cemented that fascination and I have been following the industry ever since. So much for the container ships that carried a measly 2000 standard size Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU as today new-age behemoth ships transport almost ten times this number. What has really sparked my interest all these years later is what’s happening with containers today on dry land, as industries have grown up with novel ways to exploit essentially a standardized “building block”. 

According to one news source, the Port of Seville, Spain, is among the more recent converts using seagoing containers in unconventional ways. In an article of April 2, 2014,
Port of Seville receives shipping container-based cruise ship terminal the reporter wrote, “in order to accommodate the growing number of cruise ship passengers who regularly disembark at the Spanish Port of Seville – the country's sole inland port – a new cruise ship terminal has been built using shipping containers. Spanish architectural firms Hombre De Piedra and BurĂ³4 took 23 well-worn shipping containers to construct the 508 sq m (5,468 sq ft) terminal.” The irony of this isn’t easily missed – boarding your cruise ship via containers; who would have guessed?

Few of us will forget the devastation caused by the February 22, 2012, earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. The devastation was almost absolute – barely a usable structure survived. And yet, as the city of Christchurch began to rebuild, one of the first structures erected was a temporary mall made up of yes, you guessed it, sea containers. In the news release Re:START - a unique shopping experience in the heart of Christchurch that describes the project to get the city back up and running, “The shipping container mall is one of the most striking features of the cities renewal …The brightly colored stacked boxes hold 27 stores (and) the mall offers a bit of normalcy to the residents, and some serious contemporary eco-style.” 

It would seem that embracing a standard, such as has been done by transportation companies, has not only streamlined the transportation industry and revolutionized the way ships are built, ports are constructed, and how supporting infrastructure functions in in general, but created numerous secondary industries as a result. For IT and the computer industry, the message is very clear – utilization of industry-standard components wins out and those holding onto proprietary solutions cannot win over the longer term. The time when mainframe plug-compatibles flourished was when IBM drove the standards, but today, no longer. It’s Intel that now drives the most important of all roadmaps – the chips we package within the systems we rely upon. 

In my March 31, 2015, post Here comes NonStop X and here’s to another decade or two, or four, of NonStop excitement! celebrating the official launch of the NonStop X family of systems – specifically, the first model, the NonStop X NS7 X1, I quoted Martin Fink, executive vice president and chief technology officer, HP. “It’s been a long journey to where we see NonStop running entirely on industry-standard hardware,” Fink had told me and I was reminded by others at HP just how important this message was. Scanning the press for additional news coverage of NonStop X, I came across the article HP’s long road to a single server architecture in the Australian electronic publication, ITWire.

In this feature journalist, Graeme Phillipson, observed, “HP inherited disparate architectures from Tandem, DEC and Compaq, as well as a couple of its own. Bringing them all together has been a long process, which is nearly complete.” Furthermore, said Graeme,   “Over the last decade or more HP has been evolving all these architectures, with their disparate chip sets and operating systems, towards one hardware architecture based on Intel processors.” However, it’s not just journalists that have picked up this message but also many within the NonStop vendor community share similar beliefs – embracing industry-standard technologies benefits everyone.

“After years of simply referencing WinTel as industry standard, it’s acknowledged within IT that anything incorporating Intel chips – particular, Xeon chips with their support of the x86 architecture – is industry-standard,” OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, told me. “But it is a lot more too – integrated support for Ethernet, with TCP/IP communications support a given - and it also applies to interconnect so embracing InfiniBand (as HP has now done with NonStop X) is a big plus. External storage support via SAS and Fiber Channel help round out the industry-standard message as well so yes, the industry standard blanket applies to a broad spectrum of technologies and while it’s not so much a case of acknowledging it as ‘something I would recognize when I see it’ so much as it’s endorsed by my customers and prospects without reservation.”

When I asked Yash whether NonStop X really does close the gap to industry standard or whether there is still more to be done, his response was informative as it was challenging. “Firstly, embracing industry-standard is a journey and a commitment as what constitutes industry standard is a moving goal line,” he began. “Newer, faster, cheaper, components are arriving all the time and where customers accept these components, all vendors need to be cognizant of the implications and stay true to their industry standard support. But secondly, and just as important from my perspective, industry standard also applies to the breath of solutions available – and I am expecting with the arrival of NonStop X that there will be many new solutions becoming available and with that, my task of selling NonStop X into markets I am already established in only becomes easier for me.”

When I put the question about the value of industry standard to InfraSoft VP of Engineering, Dave Finnie, his response reflected his primary focus on software. “I would have said ‘no, it doesn't matter what's underneath’ as I thought that the OS and supporting runtime environments, etc. were all that counted,” said Finnie. “However, I have now heard from a couple of people that NonStop has suddenly become a more accepted platform in their company (i.e. a possible move from ‘maintain’ to ‘invest’) purely because it is now using Intel x86 technology! I would never have thought that that would be an important factor, but obviously it is for some folk.”

However, there’s even more to the industry standard story than just HP’s embracing Intel x86 architecture. According to Finnie, “Industry standard now means support for all the commonly used languages and environments. POSIX support is important here, so the OSS support in NonStop plays a big role here. I think for this simple reason, NonStop X has closed the gap with competing products by embracing industry standard features across hardware and software.”  This sentiment is shared among other vendors I polled this past week, as indeed, standardization may be the tipping point for vendors considering accelerating their moves to OSS as NonStop X confirms for them the longevity of NonStop.

In an upcoming article to the April, 2015, issue of The Connection you will read of DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, explaining how, “Today, we have two distinct products, DataExpress NonStop (DXNS) and DataExpress Open Platforms (DXOP) and we are taking steps to see if we can now consolidate these under a single multi-platform product offering. While as yet we do not have a customer asking for our DXOP product on OSS, considering the built in redundancies that NonStop brings to the table, it just makes sense for us to go there.” To at least have the option to standardize their solutions in a way allowing the product to run on multiple platforms is surely a godsend to many middleware and solutions vendors.

“As I suspect with many vendors serving the NonStop community, the announcement of the General Availability (GA) of the first member of the new NonStop X family of systems strengthens our resolve to stay focused on NonStop systems – they have been a part of IR since it first provided application monitoring solutions,” came the observation from IR VP of Products, John Dunne. “Perhaps more importantly is HP’s commitment to industry standard technologies, which we see as a necessary part of growing a community, and introduction of NonStop X as a complementary product family, as it is doing, suggests that there will likely be new customers for NonStop in the near future.” It is this final point that I sense will foster even more discussion in the future – the NonStop X isn’t just for the NonStop faithful, but is a product for the times for all those companies looking for more secure, highly available (and scalable), industry standard systems. NonStop opens the door to a much bigger world and this is the real value that comes from being industry standard.

Providing a similar observation comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, noted that indeed, NonStop X “is an important step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.” Industry standard “is about much more than what hardware it runs on. It comes down to providing the right ecosystem and solutions, said Burg. “A key area will be the support of ‘Hybrid architectures’ making use of InfiniBand as a fast communication layer within the Hybrid system. Also, getting solutions vendors excited about NonStop will be the real confirmation about the validity of this new industry standard NonStop system. Intelligent Hybrid architectures should in fact enable easier and 'smarter' porting of existing applications to the NonStop X platform”. Like everyone else in the NonStop community the expectation within comForte is that with NonStop X, the community will grow bigger.

Raising this topic with OmniPayments, Yash made it very clear that, “today, industry standard has more to do with the platforms supported – can you run Java? .NET? JavaScript? Does the platform support SQL? And to a degree, can you run popular solutions – SAP being one example. The opportunity to configure the new NonStop X as part of a hybrid solution embracing both NonStop and Linux is a huge step towards finding greater acceptance as being industry standard but there really is a lot more to be done with respect of levelling the playing field when it comes to what IT sees as being an industry standard platform.” And by this, Yash as are many others in the NonStop vendor community, is hopeful that HP’s pricing model better reflects the arrival of industry standard solutions – that is to say, the NonStop X family breaks ground on lower, more competitive, price points.

“We have our NonStop X system now installed and all the OmniPayments code has been certified on NonStop X,” Yash then told me. More enlightening perhaps is that OmniPayments has “built our fraud solution on Nonstop X. OmniHub Payment services hub integrates with Linux and with big data feeds over InfiniBand.” Of course, Yash isn’t the only one certifying products and purchasing NonStop X systems. Already news is beginning to come in about one American user who has bought three NonStop X systems to complement existing large NonStop i Blade systems. A large retailer looking to better integrate NonStop into their business operations it is still early days for this American retailer but already I am openly speculating that this may just be a starting point.

For NonStop to embrace standards has been a popular theme of posts to this blog. Referencing unconventional uses for containers, likewise, has been featured before.

In the post of March 21, 2008, The need for standardization! I wrote about the coming of standardization and I referenced the thriving industry surrounding the reuse of sea containers. As I wrapped up that post, I noted how the arrival of standards for blades and blade chassis will continue to excite me. I noted too that I see tremendous potential to reduce costs while opening up the options and broadening the range of choices available. Seven years ago I had no idea that NonStop would come as far as it has.

There may not be a thriving secondary industry for NonStop X and I don’t see a range of office furniture or even garage hold-all cabinets being constructed from these latest additions to the family of NonStop systems. I can’t rule it out, mind you – there was a time when I hung IBM mainframe consoles as abstract art along my office wall – as this really isn’t the story here. Embracing industry standards, and having the vendor community on its side, tells its own story and the message is inescapable.  To re-quote InfraSoft’s Dave Finnie, “NonStop has suddenly become a more accepted platform in their company” and all thanks to HP rolling out NonStop on industry standard Intel x86.   

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