Thursday, April 14, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same …

For a decade and a half, Martin Fink, EVP & CTO, HPE has been a recognized pioneer in bringing the world of open source into the commercial world. For the NonStop community this is well understood even as open source plays an important role in the growing popularity of NonStop systems today.

Fair enough, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. There’s no sense of accusing me of waxing eloquent, but this week I was compelled to dig deep for just the right exclamation. By the way, this reminds me of my father who, when I was a child, called his cars “eloquent” and every Saturday afternoon he would pull them from the garage just so that he could wax eloquent!

Nothing original in this, as I am sure families everywhere in the English speaking world can retell something similar, but what strikes me is not so much the reference to cars, but the reference to waxing and waning as in phases of the moon. The reason waves lap the beach, moving up the sand just a few inches at a time before the once prominent sandy beach is completely covered by water is all connected to the moon.

The same can be said about the seasons – but instead of the moon, it’s all about the sun and the change of seasons. Of course, spring is rather easy to recognize even as it varies region by region, country by country and even hemisphere by hemisphere. The picture I have included at the top of the post is a clear reminder that change is under way - everyone looks forward to springs first blossoms. Year in and year out, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Out of habit I troll through Twitter looking for eye catching statements and this past week, I was intrigued to see HPE tweet the above chart. It was part of a tweet of April 8, 2016, by HPE Servers:
Why #OpenCompute relies on symbiosis between your hardware and software  #HPECompute

Now, in part it promotes the Open Compute Project, but follow the link, and things get very interesting. Under the heading, Infrastructure software: The key to realizing Open Compute benefits guest author, Leo Leung, VP of Corporate Marketing at Scality, states: “The ultimate goal of any organization that embraces scalable computing must be optimization at every layer, with the ability to enhance each layer without creating imbalance elsewhere. For example, increasing efficiency in Open Compute storage hardware requires increased responsibility for availability and durability in the software layer. Only with this symbiosis between hardware and software can administrators and users reap the many rewards of scalable computing: incredible efficiency at scale, always-on stability, and budget and resource alleviation.”

The use of italics and bold font are my own but the point remains the same – there’s not only a symbiotic relationship between hardware and software but increasingly, there’s a symbiotic relationship between scalability and availability. When you see your very first presentation by HPE Servers on the NonStop X family of systems, this symbiosis will strike you immediately, and for good reason. Solve the availability and you will solve scalability. Address scalability and you will find yourself enhancing availability. Then again, looking back at the schematic, what really stands out is that in satisfying the need to scale, you don’t stray too far from the message of open. 

When I interviewed Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, HPE, following his keynote presentation at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (and addressed in subsequent emails), there’s no missing just how committed HPE is to all things open. Just like the waves inching up the beach, the message of open is permeating everything HPE is doing today. Any discussions about open platforms, systems and software always brings the conversation around to standards and to the need for all vendors to remain cognizant of business fundamentals – yes, companies big and small can make a lot of money from participation in the open movement. The infrastructure software above simply illustrates what HPE views as leadership projects and how it is plugging them together to underpin future generations of software that everyone else in the HPE ecosystem will be relying upon.

None of this should be news to the NonStop community. When Martin became the head of the NonStop Enterprise Development organization in the early 2000s he had just published the book The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source. Scattered throughout numerous chapter summaries are some very strong indications of just where Martin’s priorities lay and remember, this book was published in 2002. “There are too many companies, too many groups, and too many individuals for it to go away anytime soon. The momentum is there to guarantee a bright future for a wide assortment of open source applications, and more of these will take a share from their commercial counterparts.”

Much later in the book, Martin reiterates how, “You must still understand your addressable market and customer needs. All of the other elements of building a profitable business are still required. Open source is simply another element that can open opportunities to either build a new business or enhance an existing business.” Martin also highlights, under the heading, Know your Value, that “Open Source has the effect of accelerating the commodity effect of the value you are trying to deliver. Your goal is to continually deliver more and higher value to your customers. This implies that components you deliver lower in the stack are not components for which your customers are willing to pay as much as they were willing to in the past.”

This takes me back to my early experiences at IBM, but in reverse. When it came to pricing systems as intelligence began being distributed, as a rule of thumb you could expect something on your desk to cost $10K, something in your office to cost $100K and something in the data center to cost $1M. And yes, the operating systems and key subsystems were free.  Now we see that the most powerful computer components in our server are being priced for pennies, the OS and key subsystems being priced in the thousands and the solutions – which lie at the top of the stack – is where the value truly lies and these being prices accordingly.

For the NonStop community, we have been on the frontlines witnessing all of this activity firsthand. We have seen the processors embrace open with the migration to the Intel x86 architecture, InfiniBand, SQL, Java and so forth with yet still more to come. Hybrid infrastructure takes openness even further as it is “another element that can open opportunities to either build a new business or enhance an existing business.” Is NonStop waxing even as industry pundits misread the signs, suggesting instead it was waning? Apparently so, even as HPE continues with significant investments in NonStop!

My clients continue to ask me about the future of NonStop and just as importantly, the future of their own businesses tied as they are, just as symbiotically to NonStop as hardware is to software and availability to scalability. Some of my clients are now beginning to consider returning their open platform implementations of products and features back to NonStop – the availability of Java 8 on NonStop is certainly good news for many of them. Other clients are taking a serious look at Node.js (via InfraSoft bomBora) with its support of JavaScript on NonStop even as they eye with more than a little envy just how much functionality is coming to market as a result of the JavaScript open source project.  

Seasons change. Phases of the moon trigger events among them, the incoming tide. However, there’s a sameness, or consistency, being demonstrated even as you look around; the heat of summer is followed by the chill of winter only for summer to return. The mere fact that there are seasons, each different from what came before, is only marks on a timeline that extends into infinity. What’s constant is that we have a breathable atmosphere about which we have been cognizant almost from the time we were born.

For HPE, there are recognizable strategies even as we see trends developing that for a company with such a diverse product portfolio may suggest a waxing and even waning in popularity for some products. Central to all that HPE does today is the pursuit of all that is open and it comes as no surprise. This has been a pursuit of HPE that has roots going back more than a decade and NonStop has been an insider right from the outset. No matter at which level in the stack we  view, whether top or bottom, there’s an open influence but it all comes back to value and where business perceives value and for the NonStop community, it has always been about the solutions. 

Market segments supported by NonStop have waxed and waned over the years but forty plus years on, they may just be marks on the timeline of NonStop that perhaps doesn’t quite extend into infinity but certainly extend a whole lot further than I can see. As Martin observed, and we at NonStop can see too, “The momentum is there to guarantee a bright future!” Yes, he was talking about open source, but we at NonStop see it, too!

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