Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Proof of the pudding? Without transactions our society wouldn’t work!

The themes of meetings and events, as well as the commentaries and posts that followed, share a common theme – transactions and yes, our willingness to believe in transactions only when we have seen the contributions they make for us; HP NonStop systems are changing perceptions and remains at the forefront of processing the transactions that keep society functioning …

All around us here, in Boulder, Colorado, the harvesting of the wheat crop has begun and there’s no missing the sightings of the harvesters going about their business – the numerous clouds of dust produced by the headers is unmistakable. While the wheat flows into waiting trucks the chaff flies freely in the air and it may be very modern looking, but it’s still rooted in traditions that are millennia old. The harvests now under way are of the winter varieties and if the weather holds, there will be an additional plantings shortly, although not being a farmer I’m not sure how all of that happens but I am only too happy to eat the finished products as they hit the supermarket shelves. 

In today’s world it’s not always easy to track trends as they happen. Avoiding the IT “noise” can be difficult at times and sorting the wheat from the chaff a daunting task. However, never before have we had as many sources of information as exists today and turning to our favorite channel can prove beneficial. We may not always be able to make it to the local user group gathering to hear the latest from HP but as is often the case, what has been presented is quickly posted to a forum or blog and for many in the NonStop community, this is the only way to stay current with all that’s coming from HP.

After participating in a couple of conferences – big tent marketing affairs attracting thousands to the regional user group meetings attracting a hundred or so – I have just come away from attending a vendor sales kick-off event. This is something I like to attend as checking the pulse of the user community provides just one side of the story whereas the vendor community often tells a completely different story and in so doing, helps fill in the blanks. It may please many in the NonStop community to know that indeed, it’s not just HP that’s investing in NonStop but there are considerable investments being made in NonStop by numerous vendors and for them, the need to turn ideas into products is even more a necessity as there’s little wiggle-room these days to recover from product wrong-turns or misjudged timeframes.

What I have been observing has already made it into a number of posts and commentaries. One of the more frequently used expressions this past month has been, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Originating in an exchange with DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, the phrase first turned up in an article by DataExpress in the July 2015 issue of Tandemworld under the heading, To gain a big audience, NonStop goes small! The context was the belief, common now to many vendors, that in coming up with an entry-level NonStop X system (for American users, likely to be priced below US$100K) more customers will chose NonStop and already, the order books are starting to fill up, but we still have to wait and see how this develops for HP and what new marketplaces may develop.

However, this phrase also appeared in the most recent post to the DataExpress News Blog, the post of July 22, 2015, Testimonials by our NonStop customers prove most credible! “‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ is particularly pertinent this month,” the post states, “for DataExpress this is the ultimate test of just how well our product delivers on customers and prospects expectations. This is very important for a company of our size as all we have is our reputation.” So, not just the future of HP NonStop depends upon the sales an entry-level NonStop X attracts, but also for DataExpress;  once purchased and brought online, the customers’ testimonials become just so important for all involved.

The phrase also show up in the previous post to this blog, that of July 18, 2015, Vibrant Composition and the context here has to do with the acceptance not just of NonStop X or a particular vendor’s product but the potential to have NonStop as one part of a hybrid systems. The expectation that NonStop will be paired with a Windows or Linux blade(s) as part of a cluster with InfiniBand providing the interconnect fabric. There will be some markets reluctance to embrace either a Windows or Linux blade inside the system chassis – and yes, finance and banking comes to mind – yet there will be other markets sure to embrace the concept. Telcos, where not every call is a 911 distress call and manufacturing, where not everything involves a robot operating 24 X 7. The popular “look to book” model fits nicely into this hybrid model being unveiled by HP for NonStop.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating and sorting the wheat from the chaff, both have to do with determining value. Whether this is by taste or by letting the wind blow away what is worthless, the result is obtaining that which is prized, whether it is a quality or even ability. For the NonStop community, dependence on NonStop systems to run mission critical solutions has always been highly valued but for the majority of the IT industry, the lessening of expectations has become acceptable. And yet, the climate of tolerance seems to be shifting – as Bob Kossler, Director, Technology, Strategy and Planning for Mission Critical Servers (MCS) at HP, observed, “There was a time when picking up a telephone handset gave us a dial-tone immediately, today we have embraced the smartphone even though we know network access may vary depending on our location; they are a mediocre device at best compared to telephones of the past and yet, we accept the loss of reliability.”

Take stock exchanges for instance where there had been very strict SLAs in place, but today if trades – mostly automated program trading, where orders are placed but are cancelled before execution – cannot be pursued on one exchange because of an outage, are executed on another exchange. No real penalty is incurred due to such an outage and yet, where the SLAs remain, those exchanges continue to depend upon NonStop. Reliability still has its upside even where conditions appear to be favoring speed over such reliability. The point here is not so much whether or not NonStop makes a bold return to stock exchanges globally (which I have reservations about) but rather, in those situations where the dial-tone reliability needed for processing todays transactions without disruption is still prized and considered by all involved as being valuable.

Today’s reality is that NonStop remains the premier system for processing transactions where the highest levels of availability remain an important business differentiator. IDC continues to rank NonStop as Availability Level 4 (AL4), a category reserved for those systems where the “switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users”.  In this case, the proof of the pudding is very much on display across the world’s largest financial institutions, retailers, Telcos and manufacturers, including automobile manufacturers.  This too was the theme of a recent presentation given by IR CEO, Darc Rasmussen, where he reiterated how transactions are at the very core of every business pursuit.

“The voice of the customer is the most important influence (and what we provide) only matters if it makes a difference for our customers! Without customers, you have no business,” said Rasmussen. “Business is engaged in transactions and without transactions our society wouldn’t work!” And while the event where Rasmussen was presenting was a closed affair, the success of this past year for IR is confirmation that Prognosis is making a difference for their customers. How big a contribution? How about record sales in NonStop market? Check. Record sales across the board? Check. Record revenues, stock price and market capitalization? Check. Retaining a sizable presence in the NonStop marketplace continues to pay dividends, even for a vendor who has served the NonStop community for as many years as IR did.

For more on what was said at this IR event check out the post of July 29, 2015, to the IR Payments and Infrastructure blog, More NonStop transactions? More for Prognosis to monitor! It’s not always easy to predict future trends or to second guess where markets may be headed, but when it comes to transactions there can only be more of them involving even more sources and for that, NonStop remains the premier offering. Despite the inroads made by commodity cluster servers and the many redundancies that are built into the clusters, throwing more hardware at the problem of availability only makes the solution more fragile – more parts doesn’t equal greater robustness. AL4, according to IDC, only comes when the ability to switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users, and this is an integral part of the design of the server.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating may be a well-known saying but it cuts to what is important for everyone in the NonStop community. Out of the box and fresh off the truck, a NonStop system provides a level of availability unmatched by any other vendor. We are now seeing, with the narrowing of price differentials a NonStop system, complete with a fully working software stack, from the OS to the database, being less expensive than commodity servers clustered and loaded with a selection of similar software products.  It may take a little longer before CIOs get their heads around this basic fact, but when they do the transactions that keep society working, 24 X 7 X 365, will end up running in part or in whole on the NonStop systems of today. And you will most likely first hear of this on a forum or blog …  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vibrant Composition

It was as if the music played - it was vibrant indeed, and thinking of the composability along with Converged Infrastructure (CI), as Martin Fink described the concept at the June 2015 HP Discover in Las Vegas, I could not pass this guitar without having a picture taken. Vibrancy? HP? Perfect illustration! We travelled to Dallas, Texas, for the N2TUG, detoured through Austin, Texas, where the Vibrancy (pictured above) was on display, then it was off to Las Vegas, Nevada, followed by Southern California. Now as I write this post we're in Palo Alto, California, for a couple of days.

Hearing a little more from Sean Mansubi about CI and more specifically, about Converged Data Center Infrastructure (CDCI), I was thinking how similar CDCI – at least in concept - is to the NonStop we all know. With its ability to add or remove resources, be these the processors, storage, or networks, visibility to the system in part or in whole by any application is a given. Having the ability to provision it for whatever new requirements arise – absolutely, it’s being able to compose your system. Yeah, just like a NonStop, right? There’s no Pathway as best as I can tell, but even here, I am intrigued now by the potential of OneView.

With OneView it is beginning to look pretty exciting and so is the concept of the “virtual” NonStop.  CDCI, at its core, supports the externalization of all resources and via One View has the ability to change everything to better accommodate the needs of the moment

Many current members of the NonStop community may have forgotten Black Monday, October 19, 1987, when the volume of trades overwhelmed SIAC and yet, with NonStop in the data center and running the trading application, it was just a case of adding more processors and disks on the fly - and the NonStop OS embraced them transparently. If it wasn’t for the ticker tape not being able to keep up, NonStop would have just kept on processing. Looking at this new composition model that’s central to CDCI shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with NonStop.    

I couldn’t help discussing where HP is headed following our discussions with Sean, and Richard and I had a thought. The requirement, or question, was how could we hasten the deliverable of having NonStop, via IB, participate, adjacent to the CDCI systems. The value-add we came up with had to do with a very key NonStop subsystem; wouldn’t it be nice to be able to wrap the arms of Pathway around processes on the CDCI systems and give them the same degree of persistence as you would expect to have from running them on NonStop?

With maRunga being re-messaged around hybrid and hopefully set up in the ATC – could a demo running a NonStop / IB / CDCI be arranged at some point, and perhaps even before December’s HP Discover? We can’t see why not!  I keep coming back to maRunga as I don’t think we have fully exhausted all that it can do when it comes to heterogeneous system deployments. And I don’t want to sound like a broken record but fundamentally, when I think of clusters and where there’s more than one platform involved, extending NonStop attributes to include these other platforms just seems to make sense.

The proof in the pudding is in the eating of course, so first we need to get the hybrid system set up at ATC and put our paws on the IB APIs as they will become available (we would not go for the raw verbs, of course), then look over at the CDCI systems should they be available.  But here’s the bigger question – will NonStop always look the way it does today? Could there even be more than one NonStop solution? Just as important for many within the NonStop community, might NonStop be given a new name, from Tandem to NonStop to something else certainly can be in the cards and new branding just might do the trick of generating interest among the industry analyst community. Goodness knows, we need to get them engaged anyway we can. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The long road home …

A brief exchange with another executive led me to reflect on just how far we have come with respect to embracing the newfound modular world of development where developing applications has become more akin to playing with building blocks …

After three weeks on the road, covering almost a fifth of the continental United States, we finally pointed the company command center towards Boulder. With 4,000 new miles on the RVs odometer plus another 1,000 on the Corvette we used to get around while camped, it was just another typical day in the office for Margo and me. Uneventful is the best way to describe it and next month marks one full year of abstinence from flying. That’s right, no plane rides in a year and you can read more of that last trip in the posting to the Buckle-Up-Travel bog, Round and around in the Georgia rain! But flying there was, all the same, as states now bump up the speed limit to 80 mph and there are no restrictions for drivers of rigs like ours – all 60+ feet.

To sum up impressions derived from peering through the front windscreen, it’s been a very green period – so much rain in Colorado and even in Nevada, not to mention Texas, that in parts it looks more like Europe than your typical western U.S. landscape. Of course, California remains the odd state out and there’s no escaping the bareness on display alongside most of its thoroughfares. With each mile covered, what was just over the horizon continued to motivate us to push on. But again, when it comes to impressions, it wasn’t so much what was outside the window that left an indelible mark on us but rather what transpired inside the command center, and more importantly, of course, inside the venues we attended.

Yet again, we made it to Las Vegas. This year we have found ourselves in this city every month but one and the changes taking place there are tangible, so much so that we fully expect to read shortly of an enterprise buying the whole strip and setting a dome on top of the lot. Fully environmentally controlled, with a perfect AC setting – a kind of adult Disneyland – where conventions run 24 X 7. Given that it plays host to so many IT related events, perhaps the likes of Oracle or Microsoft or even Facebook take up the challenge to fully enclose the Las Vegas strip!

I only mention this in passing as we suffered through daytime temperatures that pushed well past 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Throw in a couple of evening thunderstorms that pushed humidity close to 100 percent and you can get the idea. But again, if so many IT events are coming to Las Vegas with the temperature as hot as it is, are we surprised to read that when it comes to developing business solutions, the heat has definitely been turned up. By that I mean the presentation by HP EVP and CTO Martin Fink at HP Discover this past June on “composability” is just a starting point – every aspect of what has been traditional IT is being subject to composability at an escalating rate.

For some time now Margo and I have been heavily involved in a dialogue with the Sydney team at Infrasoft as they worked to bring Node.js to NonStop. This was a very deep port in support of Server Side JavaScript and was done not so much with a firm business plan in place but rather an appreciation that composability brings with it a certain reliance on non-traditional programming models. Many in the industry thought of JavaScript as something you used to program apps on phones, but no more – it’s unique property is that as a language it’s the same whether you use it on the client or the server. A first for IT as best as I can tell!

But wait; one more thing! With JavaScript we are beginning to see acceleration in the trend across all of IT to bring in components to plug into frameworks in order to provide real business solutions. Indeed, JavaScript is a response to a common need across business to simplify and to aggressively dismantle much of the proprietary, and often expensive, infrastructures we have spent so much time tinkering with for the past couple of decades – “reinvention it is, returning to its roots by trimming nearly every dimension and ‘adding’ Lotus-grade lightness”. Sound familiar? What’s good for cars (and in this case, the magazine was reporting on the new Mazda MX5) seems is also good for IT!

Barely home a few hours and a client passed on to me a link to an interesting report in Forbes magazine, Ladies And Gentlemen, Corporate IT Spending Has Left The Boardroom. In my response to my client, I quoted from this article more than once, noting that there’s the reference to “cloud services and composable technologies becoming more common in the enterprise”. Furthermore, states the reporter, “According to cloud communications platform company Twilio, ‘The line between buying and building is blurring as developers combine and customize off-the-shelf technologies today.’” Yes, Twilio is in the framework, libraries, APIs and so forth business so some balance is needed. But after talking to the team at Infrasoft, not that much balance it would seem as this trend is just a further example of IT’s penchant for the mini-application and a total dislike among CIOs for the big project.

Too chaotic? Too disruptive? Assembling new solutions out of the pile of routines and libraries readily available? Sounds like my early days in IT when my company built a boat-load of macros we all used to help speed the development process, but I digress. Composability is just so much cooler but as the article in Forbes concluded, “The best advice here is approach this subject with informed but cautiously suspicious minds.” However, what this road trip also exposed me to was the carry-over of composability into the physical world of servers, networks and storage – think HP’s initiative for the Converged Data Center Infrastructure (CDCI).

Responding to the demands of business to more loosely associate all three technologies – servers, networks and storage – and providing tools to easily “provision” to meet the resource needs of the day, HP will rollout capabilities to “borrow” from one platform to meet the needs of another almost instantaneously (again, think and indeed revisit, One View). Yes, we aren’t in Kansas anymore and for a good reason. The old days of soup to nuts in-house development are over; it’s all about distributions, open source and leveraging the work of millions of fellow IT professionals. 

It’s all about industry standards and languages like JavaScript and frameworks like SKEL JS, SPINE and RIOT (no recommendations or endorsements here; I just liked these cool sounding names), and the first users of much of this technology are the NonStop vendors – and that’s another major step towards keeping the costs of NonStop software low which should appeal to everyone in the NonStop community. For me, NonStop is heading in the right direction and its presence in the HP product portfolio is assured for the rest of this decade.

The quote about the Mazda MX5 came from the August 2015 issue of the car magazine, Motor Trend. In its back page editorial by fellow Aussie, Angus MacKenzie, he takes a similar look at what’s happening in auto manufacturing as I am for IT. “The Ford River Rouge Complex was the most vertically integrated factory the world has ever seen—raw materials from Ford-owned mines and plantations went in one end, and complete cars rolled out the other,” observes MacKenzie. “The Rouge had furnaces to make steel and glass, its own tire-making plant, stamping plant, engine-casting plant, transmission plant, radiator plant, and even a facility that turned soybeans into plastic car parts. In the 1930s more than 100,000 people worked at the Rouge, and a new Ford rolled off the line every 49 seconds.”

But no more – it’s all about sub-assemblies and flexible production lines where the concept of composability is being elevated to even higher levels. Leave it to the Japanese manufacturers, writes MacKenzie as, “Toyota claims it will be able to build different vehicle types in different colors, one by one, on the same assembly line.” And today’s IT isn’t far behind – think too of the upcoming hybrids featuring NonStop, with potentially new build-out options to enhance provisioning possibilities as yes, “cloud services and composable technologies becoming more common in the enterprise.”

We may never see the appearance of a dome over Las Vegas even as we wish for more temperate weather. There is a limit to composability after all, and the weather remains off-limits for now. When it comes to IT and the way business responds to the challenges of the day, only those with the basic building blocks in place will be able to compete in the future and with what I see coming from HP, but still just over the horizon, out of sight, assures me that HP and NonStop will continue providing the types of systems today’s increasingly modern IT demands. It may have indeed been a journey down a very long road but what’s coming into view certainly makes up for the distances we all have covered! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

N2TUG RUG meeting – being there was its own reward.

Regional user group meetings are returning in strength and my hope is that even more members of the NonStop community will make plans to attend at least one this year – you may be surprised about what you hear and see!

Spending the week in Dallas, Texas, has proved not only challenging, heat wise, but also frustrating when it comes to driving around town. The whole place is under construction and to misquote another writer who spent time in Paris, Dallas should be a pretty good city when it’s finished. The growth that fuels Dallas prosperity continues unabated and before much longer I have to believe the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex will be the largest community in the country. If I had thought I would remember landmarks from previous trips to the city, I was sadly mistaken – I couldn’t see anything that looked familiar.

With all the travels I have done across the U.S. over the decades, this was only the second time I had driven south to Dallas and as I recounted at the N2TUG NonStop regional user group (RUG) meeting, the last (and only previous) time was when I crossed that line that separates being a user from being a vendor. I arrived in Dallas representing a Canadian Caterpillar dealer, for whom I had just installed and configured a data base / data communication product, only to accept a job offer made by that vendor a few days later. And so yes, the die was cast for what I would do for the rest of my career. Fortune smiled on me all those years ago as the path I took once crossing over to the vendor side led me ultimately to Tandem Computers.

The N2TUG RUG event impressed me for two reasons. The first positive impression was the large turn-out by the NonStop community for a RUG event. Yes, there were a high proportion of vendors present but there was a goodly mix of users as well. As for the second positive impression, I have to admit how pleased I was with the support coming from HP. No more voices coming across a speaker phone – the HP presentations were done in person, with Bob Kossler and Justin Simonds both happy to spend time with customers and vendors alike. For the whole day and into the night the theme of the event had been “Hit a Home Run with HP's NonStop X” so it was only fitting to end the day at the ballpark watching a game between visiting Oakland As and the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately for some, all the early hitting was by the visiting team with the As scoring a rare opening innings grand slam.

While the NonStop community is looking forward to the NonStop Technical Boot Camp in November, in the run up to this year’s ending event there will be several more regional user group events and I am hopeful to make it to a couple more, weather and budget allowing. I have always been reliant on my clients having a need for me to participate, and I welcome the opportunity to simply talk to current NonStop users – many facing difficult upgrade choices in the near future – but here’s the thing; can a community truly identify itself as a community if it doesn’t meet on a regular basis, and perhaps every bit as important, can a community really influence a primary vendor’s roadmap anymore?  There is considerable talk about the NonStop community influencing HP’s decision to bring forward the availability of entry-level systems in the NonStop X family, but development of a smaller variant of NonStop X was always on the roadmap. Can the NonStop community be even more influential?

My sense is that no, not really, and let me explain that a little more completely, even as I acknowledge the value of having as active a community as we have today with the NonStop community. First, let me acknowledge that through the years the NonStop community has always supported advocacy and there has been some success achieved via the advocacy program. Furthermore, customers have known that there is another channel that they can approach should their own lobbying efforts fall on deaf ears, but really, the value that comes with an active NonStop community shows in other ways.

One of the valuable lessons that has come with the numerous crossings of the American countryside that I have done these past couple of years is that I have seen first-hand so many different cityscapes and natural wonders that I have a better sense of what distance and separation means – there are days where you can head down a road and barely encounter another individual. Leave the main road and you will begin questioning whether the country really has as many inhabitants as it is reported to have. Often there are times when you simply wonder whether there’s even a gas station or rest area anywhere on the horizon. You kind of know the journey will end up OK, but that doesn’t rule out the many times you simply aren’t sure you have made a wise decision to take the path you have chosen.

And so it is with our commitment to NonStop. For many of us, despite the assurances to the contrary, we feel as though we are very much on our own and that our view about what next project to pursue on NonStop maybe flawed from the outset. Attend any industry gathering, whether solutions focused or platform specific, and it’s generally something out of the ordinary that sees us in the company of a like-minded NonStop user. Even when we do run into someone wearing a badge denoting they are from a company we know for sure runs NonStop, they feign complete ignorance of that fact. The popular NonStop groups on LinkedIn are full of stories about why there isn’t greater visibility of NonStop success across the general IT community.

The good news here is that there are signs that IDC, and more recently, Gartner, may be providing just a little more coverage of NonStop than in previous years – while not related to HP NonStop, recent promotions from Gartner for one of its seminars does include the line, Nonstop IT: Delivering the Integrated Data Center. As for what Gartner describes as the, “Six key technology and process foundations for this next-generation infrastructure include software-defined data centers, multi-zoned facilities, hybrid alternatives (such as cloud services), integrated infrastructure, bimodal service delivery and nonstop operations.” Before we rush off to our CIO with this Gartner promotion, enthusiastically suggesting that finally Gartner gets it, remember its promotional support for a very broad definition and I know Gartner isn’t quite prepared as yet to fit HP NonStop systems into its model for Nonstop IT, but the time for Gartner to do this may not be far away. All the same, analysts are paying NonStop a little more attention than they have in the past.

OK – so let’s get real here. What am I talking about – well, for starters, who have read the Gartner report of May 4, 2015, Magic Quadrant for Modular Servers? As the report states, “For Gartner to consider a server product as ‘modular,’ the product must have a chassis or enclosure that allows for the easy and rapid addition or replacement of servers. Rack, tower and frame servers are not considered modular servers, and neither are do-it-yourself servers created from motherboard and component acquisitions.” A good start, for sure, but NonStop modular servers?

After placing HP in the topmost right hand quarter of its magic quadrant, it then adds, “HP has also created a fault-tolerant version aimed at the NonStop installed base. HP also offers a wide variety of modular server products for scale-out workloads, including the Apollo platform (targeted at HPC and other compute-/graphics-intensive workloads), Moonshot (a system that blurs the boundaries between blade and multinode servers that is targeted at virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI], Web serving and workloads requiring extremely low-energy servers) and ProLiant SL (a highly proven multinode server that is suited to multiple workloads).” So, yes NonStop is firmly on Gartner’s radar screen – when was the last time we said that or saw any reference to HP in the prized magic quadrant?  

However, the point here isn’t so much about what Gartner may elect to do or say or not, but rather, I heard about this at a RUG meeting. I would like to say I already knew this but I’m not sure that is the case, but now, it has aroused my interest in the topic – after all, nonstop operations has been an interest of mine for more years than I can recount. Decades ago, as I recently reminded one audience, I was the program manager at Tandem Computers for the deep port of NonStop NET/MASTER. Yes, no matter the expectations you may take into a RUG meeting, there’s always going to be surprises and this is the true value of simply showing up. 

It was that fine English actor, Peter Sellers, who reminded us that simply “Being There” could lead to infinite possibilities, even talk of being the next President. While participating in a RUG event carries no similar promises, simply being at a RUG meeting is its own reward. You most assuredly will leave having picked up some “gems”, even as you gain assurance that the path you have chosen isn’t leading to a lost world, so as to speak – yes that much needed gas station is just over the next hill. I never did return to the user world once I had visited Dallas all those years ago, and while I have no regrets on that score, landing at Tandem Computers all those years ago proved life changing and for that I will be forever grateful. See you at the next RUG event!