Tuesday, December 8, 2015

It’s time to give thanks …

As we focus on transformation of our data centers and consider hybrid computers along with clouds, once we are passed implementation then are we needed any longer? Will the prospect of driverless cars lead to unattended data centers and is this necessarily a bad thing?  

The turkey has been demolished along with all the trimmings and now it’s time to set about erecting the Christmas tree – or whatever it is that anchors your celebration at this time of year. Thanksgiving, Christmas and then the celebration of the New Year are always “cause for celebration” in our household. Over the past couple of years we have elected to escape the Colorado winter landscape in preference of something a little warmer but, with a growing tribe of grandchildren, all thoughts of escaping have been tabled for this year.

However, as I take the time to shake a martini, there’s still much that occupies my mind following the 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp even as I post to other blog sites and give webinars. My email inbox has been populated with some very interesting questions as the discussions I have started on LinkedIn have drawn more than one comment. The NonStop community can best be described as being anything but shy and I believe that remains one of the strengths of the community just as it’s a constant source of inspiration for new posts to this blog.

What stands out for me following Boot Camp is not just the growing complexity of our data centers as their transformation continues or even added intricacies that hybrid computing brings with it, but rather, the future of the data center operations teams. As I was often reminded, whenever it was my turn for a stint at the console more often than not it was with the explicit instruction, “don’t touch anything!” As a computer cadet in the early 1970s I had to rotate between writing code, shuffling tapes and card decks to storage outside the data center and yes, “watching the console” in case there were issues with the paper passing through what was still nothing more than an electric typewriter.

Being thankful for the turkey we roast is one thing and being thankful that our career choices took us into IT and with that, introduced us all to the NonStop system, is something we can be just as thankful about, but is it all about to change? Given just how much attention in the financial press pays to the intersection of business and technology and the transformation this is driving can we assume business people will become technologists with scant regard for the skills we possess? It was Meg Whitman, CEO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, who told the attendees at this year’s HP Discover in Las Vegas, “Every business is a technology business today.”

Whitman also referenced a report that had said, “IT strategy and business strategy are no longer separate, they have become inseparable.” To add even more weight to this observation, in the December 1, 2015, issue of Fortune Magazine, editor Alan Murray wrote of how, “John Deere, the 178-year-old tractor company, to stream real-time data on soil and crop conditions back to Monsanto headquarters.” He then added, “If John Deere is a tech company, who isn’t?” Both the remarks by Whitman and Murray made it into my most recent webinar and for a good reason; I see no lessening in the pace of transformation that is driving all companies into technology even as I see pure technologists becoming a dying breed.

AT 2015 HP Discover that was held in London last week, in an interview with the hosts of theCUBE (from the SiliconANGLE Media team) Antonio Neri, EVP and GM at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, gave us a little more information on the transformation HPE is help fueling. “The objective for HPE is to solve the issues that the enterprise is facing today, such as bridging the old to the new,” said Neri. “Deploying an infrastructure that is cloud ready, making the life of developers much easier and ultimately making a radical step forward in the way infrastructure should be provisioned deployed and managed.” True, this was an introduction to more information on what HPE now calls composability; “We think at the end of the day the enterprise has to become composable,” but it also places additional emphasis on technology that’s needed as we transform to become technology companies.  

My clients span a number of technologies and products but already I am beginning to see something similar to what is being talked about; every business is a technology business. With the work I do with Striim and the analytics the company performs on data streams in real time along with the work I do with IR and application monitoring, not forgetting the conversations I am having with comForte as they too look at adding to the depth of (security) defenses on offer, it’s all about dovetailing selections of data into processes looking for anomalies and patterns. It may be an oversimplification on my part, but we now have the power to see the needle even in a stack of needles – something I illustrated in a Boot Camp presentation on IoT when I referenced what Hertz was now doing when checking-in returning cars.

According to Hertz, “The Internet and new social media technologies have made consumers more connected, empowered and demanding. The average online user is three times more likely to trust peer opinions over retailer advertising.”  This drove Hertz to begin proactively scouring social media feeds whey they found out those patrons being transported back to an airport terminal had all the time in the world to blog about their experience. “Using a series of linguistic rules, the system categorizes comments received via email and online with descriptive terms, such as Vehicle Cleanliness, Staff Courtesy and Mechanical Issues,” Hertz reported. Adding how, “Automated tagging increased report consistency … and roughly doubled what the managers had achieved manually,” Hertz became more responsive to changing patron experiences as they happened, leading to greatly improved car return experiences.

Apply this to the oversight of myriad collections of applications supporting any business – with the technology now available is it reasonable to expect us, mere mortals, being capable of intervening in a timely manner and being consistent in all the responses we provide? I don’t think so. If there’s one thing I am sure about is that if a task needs human intervention then its ability to scale is questionable. After years of reacting to alarms and alerts, even with bigger dashboards giving us more of a clue as to the overall situation, surely it’s time to take us out of the loop?

The growing complexity of what is being introduced into the data center is only part of the problem as I see it. There’s something more fundamental at work here that compels me to give thanks over the imminent demise of the data center operator. At the same time my issue of Fortune magazine arrived so too did my issue of Motor Trend. In the January, 2016, issue of the Motor Trend editor Edward Loh wrote about autonomous cars and his recent experience at Google. When asked about a number of recent accidents involving Google’s self-driving car, “What has surprised me is the frequency, actually, of the number of times we’ve been rear ended … Humans are just not paying attention,” came the response from none other than Google founder, Sergey Brin.

“That’s not the end of the world,” added Brin, “but that speaks to the challenge, with all the phones and other distractions of our modern age, to drive. In those situations, the car is probably much better equipped to drive than the distracted human.” Exactly my perspective, too, on today’s contemporary computer systems including the latest NonStop X systems. Who can challenge that the latest NonStop X system is likely to be better equipped to handle any anomaly – particularly something involving multiple systems in a hybrid configuration – than a NonStop X system itself? Furthermore, and again at a more basic level, who can argue that even the most gifted systems manager or operator will not be distracted at the most inopportune time?

Is there a place for big data analytics, and in particular data stream analytics, in the real time world of transaction processing? Absolutely! And it’s only just the beginning of the era of pointing our own technology at ourselves – having the smarts to detect patterns as they emerge will be critical to the running of any data center including those where NonStop is present. Science fiction devotees have long known that space craft can only traverse space once the programming for the flight has been initiated – no pilot steers the ship once it’s jumped into hyperspace.  And as imaginative as this may sound there’s a recognizable element of truth about these actions.

Yes, NonStop systems are heading to where the trust we have in them will be commensurate with just how much we let NonStop systems manage themselves. It is great that, in these early stages of the transformation (of our IT), NonStop has the help from many of its partners. However, taking the operator out of the loop, in time, will be a given for many IT groups even as the focus of oversight moves to where it’s most needed – the managers of the business. If every business is a technology business as we now are coming to appreciate then every business manager is an operations manager. So yes, perhaps we still have much about which we can be truly thankful! 

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