Monday, June 22, 2015

Deep in the heart of Texas …

For the next three weeks I’m on the road – talking with clients, users and of course, HP. I will be presenting at N2TUG, a vital NonStop user group in Dallas, on behalf of a client even as I am being challenged - Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X!

Having just crossed the state line into Texas, shortly we will be on our way to Dallas where we will set up temporary company Command Center from which we will be working for the next six days. N2TUG will be the first engagement, before catching up with clients and prospects; squeezing in a side trip to good friends at IBM is also part of the plan. Yes, IBM, and given my long history with straddling the fence separating two of the biggest players in enterprise computing, it’s always good to see whether the grass is truly greener on one side or the other.

Cadillac Ranch – ever been there? A monument to cars of decades past, converted over time into art forms some appreciate while others quickly dismiss as vandalism and graffiti-riddled; half empty spray paint cans litter the ground, just waiting to be picked up for a little ad-lib! And yet, they stand as sentinels from a time when Cadillac truly represented the very peak of automotive excellence – yes all those years ago the Cadillac of cars was a Cadillac. Sitting back on the fence, I often wonder if the IBM of computers is any longer IBM? Or HP? Or anyone else for that matter – and more relevant given today’s cavernous data centers full of nameless server farms, is there a role for quality, and of course, the three Rs - resilience, robustness and reliability!

We passed the Cadillac Ranch a short time ago even if that only adds confusion about our exact route to Dallas, but more about that will have to wait until I post to the social blog, Buckle-Up. What’s more important though is the disruption inside the data center we have all witnessed in just this millennium. It’s been 15 years and while I can recall the 1990s well, and even parts of the 1980s, though the timing of specific events is proving more difficult to pinpoint of late, it seems a very short period of time and yet, despite the havoc wrought by the collapse of the dot com bubble, we have the internet as ubiquitous as everyone expected it to be, the blossoming of the smartphone and tablet marketplace and yes, the broad acceptance of open source and with it, the applying of the IT “seal of approval” on all things cloud related.

Survival - yes, the Cadillac survived even as it has morphed into something quite different than anything that had been produced in the past – a Cadillac station wagon with a supercharged V8 that was as much at home in a supermarket carpark as it was hurtling around the famed Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring! Today Cadillac’s best seller continues to be its SUV, a category not even invented in Cadillac’s heyday in the 1950s. In a recent interview with Cisco CEO, John Chambers, on the CBS This Morning show, he quoted Intel’s And Grove (in part) when he said, “Only the paranoid survive”. Grove’s complete quote was that “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” And for many, this succinctly sums up a good number of decades in the life of Cadillac.

However, two other comments Chambers made (and I am not sure whether he was quoting others, although he made no mention of that) were, facing a recent audience of CEOs, he said “40% of the business here (in the room) will be gone in 10 years.” Even for the paranoid, this certainly sounds alarming but then, Chambers went on to note that today, “companies either disrupt or are disrupted.” All up a cute way to say that you have better innovate to the point where you disrupt a technology or marketplace or else; others will be doing the disruption and you will miss out, leading to your own demise. Again, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

What we have all witnessed in just the last year and a half is HP upping the ante on NonStop. Doubling down, if you look at it another way – yes, HP investment in NonStop is apparent and the product family just unveiled is as modern, and indeed as relevant, as any other server in the marketplace. When it comes to NonStop X, many argue that the hardware journey has ended and that from here on out, it’s all about the software and that may indeed be true. But don’t think you can cable together your own servers and switches and simply order a NonStop distribution to throw on top of it all – HP is very much in the solution space and so NonStop will be a blend of commodity hardware together with the integrated stack comprising the hardware, the fabric, the OS, the data base, etc. Success, yes! Complacency, I don’t think so, well, at least not now given the evidence we have with the availability of NonStop X.

But then again, even as the expression “complacent” may have been levelled at Cadillac for several decades, perhaps the paranoid inside GM did survive and with their survival, a new car has emerged and it’s just “borrowing” the Cadillac moniker. Somehow it reminds me of the lyrics to the song by the Eagles, James Dean, “You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye”. Fast? Perhaps it’s best left to Bruce Springsteen who gave us the song, Cadillac Ranch, where you can hear the lyrics, “Open up your engines let 'em roar; Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur”. It’s no surprise then to hear that on my first trip to Raleigh, N.C., in the early 1980s,  the IBM VP who picked me up was driving the latest Cadillac Coupe de Ville – by then Cadillac was no longer fast, but somehow out on the interstate it felt like a dinosaur and the association with all things IBM wasn’t lost on me. Another case, perhaps, of “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Before Chambers finished his interview with CBS he made one comment, and this time it was regarding JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon. It was about Dimon’s May 2015 conversation with the Wall Street analysts that has been referenced numerous times since as what Banks Can Learn From Silicon Valley. The way Chambers told the story, Silicon Valley is coming to Wall Street and we all becoming technology companies. What Dimon actually said, talking of how Silicon Valley is increasingly encroaching on businesses once controlled by banks, "Silicon Valley is good at getting rid of pain points; Banks are good at creating them. In a capitalist society, you better be looking for ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper." You better be the disruptor or you will be disrupted and yes, 40% of businesses will be gone in ten years mostly because they failed to heed this simple message.

The question remains – does HP have more to do for NonStop to ensure it continues to be disruptive? Is the value proposition from being available, scalable and dare I add secure with great data integrity, still relevant especially as we see the gradual shift from baby boomers to millennials to Gen X’s and shortly, even  Gen Z running today’s data centers? True, with their exposure to consumer devices that routinely drop calls, screw-up downloads has educated a whole generation that it’s OK to restart or even power off / power on?  Has availability lost all relevance today? Once Cadillac epitomized luxury but, thanks to Madison Ave. marketers, luxury no longer means all that much to anyone buying a car. And yet, even as NonStop continues to epitomize availability, there’s a place in every data center for NonStop. No, there may have been a perception of complacency over NonStop, but no longer and there’s plenty of opportunity to generate even more success in the future.

Heading into Dallas and to the upcoming N2TUG user group meeting, it was hard to miss the message of their open invitation to the NonStop Community. “N2TUG presents ‘Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X’” with its reference to finishing the day with a visit to the ballpark of the Texas Rangers baseball team. But hitting a home run is exactly what the arrival of the NonStop X family of systems is all about and perhaps after all Intel’s Andy Grove only got it half right – it wasn’t that the paranoid survive but perhaps, after all these years and with the right product families, the paranoid thrive! Yes, to quote another Texas family, this is turning out to be a good day, for a good day!

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