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!    

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