Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Yes, once again, I ask – are our wishes truly important?

Once again, I am writing a preview of what will follow next February as my update to My Three Wishes for NonStop will be posted. Like my previous preview, I am keeping a few items close to my chest … 

Over the past two week I have been on the road and for nearly all of that time the heavens have opened up and it’s been a hard rain for more days that I care to recall. Driving was erratic at times even as setting up camp proved challenging – the drive into the RV facility on North Carolina’s Outer Banks happened just 30 minutes after a tremendous deluge that left the facility flooded. But the opportunity to discuss business with numerous folks made it worthwhile and overall it all added to a growing impression that the software industry is heading for tough times and that, without a few more concessions coming from major hardware vendors, our future choices may be greatly reduced even as users may be tempted to return to writing critical middleware and tools themselves.

Driving all of this is the simple fact that there’s just very little money heading towards traditional software vendors. Well, almost all software vendors. Those providing solutions remain optimistic of course as there is a direct line between the business problems they address and their own ability to charge accordingly. There continues to be significant discrepancies between the many solutions on offer but the actual price paid for any given solution ultimately rests with the users themselves – they can walk from deals and consider alternatives. However, when it comes to middleware and tools there are usually only one or two choices and for the NonStop community this is particularly true.

It’s unfortunate that with the rightsizing of NonStop system prices that has led to NonStop being priced as competitively as it is now – on par with almost every other server cluster offering and streets ahead of equivalent mainframe offerings – a new pricing expectation is being set for middleware and tools. And yet, we expect our preferred middleware and tools vendor to accelerate the level of investment in their products to cater for changing hardware architecture. Throw into this mix the availability of NonStop as Software, capable of running virtually, and the expectations of users are beginning to step beyond the lines of reasonability. HPE NonStop expects these vendors to remain part of the NonStop ecosystem but I am not sure how many NonStop vendors will be motivated to do so and this may be to the detriment of everyone in the NonStop community.

Every three years I update my three wishes for NonStop. It all started back on February 12, 2008, in the post,
"My Wish" for NS Blades. Since then I have published successive Wishes for NonStop posts in 2011, 2014 and now 2017 is fast approaching when I will once again be publishing my next three Wishes for NonStop. However, given how quickly events can turn on a dime, with my post of July 19, 2013, Are our wishes still important? I set the scene in terms of what to expect next and this year, I am continuing that pattern. The post of 2017 may be fast approaching but it may be useful if I provided you with a sneak preview about what is yet to be posted. And yes, there is lots to discuss.

But here’s the catch. Are making three wishes for NonStop still relevant today? I have asked the same question every time and each time, the responses have been positive. It would seem that we all have our private list of Wishes for NonStop and consider them important. On the other hand, can we say NonStop has now caught up with the industry to where we are all prepared to go with the flow? Is same-o, same-o, become acceptable and in fact, become the new norm? Is NonStop differentiation even relevant in 2016?

My first response is one of gratitude that HPE stuck with NonStop where today the investments HPE is making, in NonStop systems, are hard to ignore. Who could have imagined that NonStop would be where it is today, on the verge of being available pretty much any way we want it – running on HPE hardware, on commercial off-the-shelf hardware and potentially, not just in private clouds but possibly in public clouds underpinning a selection of services including database. Making three wishes for NonStop is still relevant but given how much is changing of late, I will leave it till that post of February 2017 what I think my next three wishes should be.

In the meantime, and as a precursor to what may follow, when I look at how best to characterize the NonStop ecosystem as it exists today, then there are three items that stand out – transparency, cooperation and engagement. These are very important topics for the NonStop community today given all we are hearing from HPE. Change upon change upon change – the reshaping of an industry stalwart to better address the conditions of the day. Not a cliché, but reality. It’s so easy for us these days to drift back to memories of former times and wish for their return. But IT is a thriving, multi-faceted industry that only knows progress. IT is like a powerful car that only has forward gears.

Transparency? Overriding every discussion I have had with my clients of late is the urgency for greater transparency with respect to their dialogue with HPE and I have to believe the same holds true for NonStop users. C’mon, HPE – we can’t just be forced to read the Wall Street Journal to find out what HPE is up to – a briefing call on the day (or yes, a little in advance) would be great. Having said this, I do have to say I admire the steps that HPE NonStop Product Management have taken of late to be more transparent with the vendor community and I want to see this develop further – quarterly calls, if it’s possible! And yes, I know all about the SEC rules – but as they say so often in the movies and on television these days, “read us in!” And when it comes to transparency, how about letting us all know just how many NonStop customers exist today and just how many NonStop systems are deployed.

Cooperation? Quite simply, there is so much to do and HPE R&D cannot do it all. Numerous steps have been taken already with select partners and again, this is good news. But develop a program that is more comprehensive and don’t push back each time with observations that well, yes we have something already in the works. Don’t do that – it just doesn’t win you any friends and quite frankly you don’t have the breadth any longer to be competitive on every front. Let the specialists who are prepared to invest their own dime in bringing a tool, utility or major feature to market, take the lead. It’s not that big a concession to make but cooperation will buy HPE NonStop an awful lot of good friends in many of the right places.

Engagement? The tricky element! You may already ask whether this has been covered with transparency and cooperation but I want to call it out as its own challenge. Let’s start with partner programs. For the most part, the NonStop vendor community doesn’t want to be lumped into a generic all-encompassing partner program. I know, I have been there! More than once! The needs of the NonStop vendor community vary significantly from those of your typical Unix or Linux or even Windows development shop. For starters, the marketplace for NonStop is finite and tightly focused – we don’t need to be given access to a couple of PCs or a Linux server. The Advanced technology Center (ATC) has been a godsend to many NonStop vendors – explore ways to broaden its engagement with the NonStop vendor community. For free! The NonStop Technical Boot Camp has been a surprise windfall for all involved – let’s keep it up and somehow manage to find resources to export it to EMEA and AP-J.

There is also one more thing – related, but more on the periphery of everyone’s radar screens. The freelancer! The time of having job security, working for a large organization, is long gone – those very same large organizations have seen to that. I don’t know of any other IT segment where the skills lie with as many freelancers as exists today across the NonStop community. Freelancers should not be ignored even as they don’t have the backing of a large corporation but having said that, they are more likely to be better equipped and motivated. It’s a huge resource around the planet that just needs greater recognition. 

Returning to my opening comments; HPE does expect the NonStop vendor community to remain part of the NonStop ecosystem. It’s very important for HPE and indeed, the expectation is that new vendors will be found and brought into the NonStop fold. But it’s a two way street with many one-way side streets leading NonStop vendors away from the main thoroughfare. Keeping everyone engaged is not a nice-to-have but rather the biggest imperative of all for HPE NonStop. The NonStop vendor community is heading for tough times and truly needs concessions from HPE. Yes, we would all benefit from new solutions for NonStop even as we would all benefit from making it even easier to port what we like to NonStop. But we absolutely must find the right way to sustain a thriving software industry that will remain focused on NonStop!

If you were at all curious about what my first three Wishes for NonStop were back in 2008, while the words were a little different they called for industry standard blades capable of running not just NonStop but Linux, Unix and even Windows; they called out the need to embrace virtualization and the benefits that would likely come if we could programmatically provision NonStop. If you want to read these three previous posts, then follow the link, Wishes that is listed under Labels. There is also now a label for Wishes – Preview where you will find this post included as well. 

But I have to admit, before wrapping up this post, that in the years since 2008, HPE NonStop has taken incredible strides to bring NonStop into the mainstream and with the new NonStop X family has succeeded in a manner that has taken me by surprise. There’s a saying that you need to be careful about making wishes in case they come true, but I have to admit, I wish big! So, look for the post of February 2017 to read more about my wishes for where I would like to see NonStop head over the course of the next three years. 

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