Monday, August 1, 2016

Time to reach for the big guns – fighting for NonStop has begun!

Parking next to an impressive infantry field piece brought up images of big guns and when you consider all that’s surrounding HPE and yes, even NonStop are we seeing the emergence of a big gun in the mission critical transaction processing marketplace?

It was hard to ignore the potential metaphor when we first saw the transporter with a self-propelled artillery piece, albeit on the smaller side I have to admit. Nevertheless, the damage it could unleash at any point was unquestionable and just sitting alongside it was cause for something other than casual conversation – no, the driver of the transporter was not prepared to discuss what it was, where it had come from or talk about where it was headed. On the other hand, the color scheme wasn’t very desert friendly and as it was headed to the West Coast, we assumed it was off to the Far East.

Experiencing life on the open road is something Margo and I have come to enjoy immensely and there are few NonStop events we cannot reach with our mobile command center. We have found it useful in attracting customers and vendors alike to drop on by for a visit and no matter the adult beverage of preference, there will always be very little resistance on our part to shaking a martini for anyone who goes out of their way to spend time with us. Retirement? Well, heck no! Bizcations? Well, heck yes – while Margo collects shells by the seashore I have the perfect office set up and I am happiest when looking out across an unfamiliar landscape.

Naturally, the symbolism didn’t escape me as I drove right up alongside this big gun. While I am sure there will be those in the NonStop community that point out to me that this really isn’t a big gun. Useful as it would be in a battle, there are a lot bigger guns at the ready for generals in need of something more forceful. However, when it comes to technology in general, and IT specifically, I am coming to the opinion that HPE couldn’t have called up a bigger gun than Intel nor could they have produced better munitions for the fight than what we see today with NonStop X.

Intel is the big gun in the chip business. For a while, IBM was really hyping the Power 8 chip in the lead up to the introduction of new Power Systems (as well as the mainframe), but now all the talk is about the upcoming Power 9 chips. And for good reason; while the Power 8 looked good on paper, there were some pretty dreadful “unintended consequences”, according to my contacts deep within IBM. And yes, the report of May 11, 2014, by the team at financial analyst company, Motley Fool, didn’t hold back on its punches in any fashion. Yes, power at a price isn’t always the desired outcome major vendors are looking for.

“Intel's success has never just been due to performance leadership; a 6-core POWER 8 about matches a 15-core Intel Xeon, and the 12-core variant of the POWER 8 would utterly embarrass it in performance. The problem for IBM is that the equation for data-center dominance isn't simply about performance, but is instead about performance per watt per dollar. While it's too soon to get a read on the performance per watt of the IBM POWER 8 (although it's likely that this kind of performance doesn't come cheaply), the real problem that is likely to plague it is the cost.” And this is exactly what has transpired over the past two years – IBM couldn’t manufacture, or indeed sell, on the scale of Intel.

“Intel's Xeon E7 (Ivy Bridge-EX) is a 4.31 billion-transistor machine weighing in at 541 square millimeters built on a quite mature 22-nanometer FinFET process in factories that have to date pumped out hundreds of millions of 22-nanometer FinFET processors. While the volumes on this part are low, and while yields on this chip are almost assuredly trickier than a 1.4 billion-transistor Haswell notebook CPU, they are probably better than the IBM POWER 8's at this stage of the game,” concludes Fool analyst, Ashraf Eassa.

And yes, remember all the messages from HPE NonStop product management – we are simply following the Intel roadmap and, without elaborating further, could we see NonStop running on Broadwell? “This is Intel speak for their new
14 nanometer die shrink of its Haswell microarchitecture. It is a ‘tick’ in Intel's tick-tock principle as the next step in semiconductor fabrication,” so Wikipedia tells me. As of this post, NonStop X is based on Xeon E5-2600v2 series processors so, even as “Some of the processors based on the Broadwell microarchitecture are marketed as ‘5th-generation Core’ i3, i5 and i7 processors,” the images of the big guns persist! Well, IBM is still playing around with 22-nanometer FinFET processors – get the picture? That’s a big gun alright, but perhaps guns, with bigger bores, aren’t what is required in this gunfight.

There is a reason why NonStop is riding the Intel roadmap and there is a reason too for the naming convention HPE chose for NonStop – ever wondered what all those numbers and letters meant? A NonStop X NS7 X1 suggests one of the numbers refers to the generation with all indications supporting that the X1 simply means the first go-around of the Xeon chip. Doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that in time we will see X2, X3, X4 and so on – but don’t take my word on that. Check this out with your friendly NonStop product manager.

Suffice to say, as virtualization takes hold within NonStop development and supports regular, commercial off-the-shelf hardware, including Proliant as well as CloudLine as best as I can tell, perhaps these Xn suffixes tell us another story. Or could it be the occurrence of the first X telling us an even bigger story – will NonStop i and NonStop X be joined by a third line comprising servers taken straight from the stripped-down x86 server vaults and packaged in ways to meet customer needs (of the time)? Could we see something like NonStop O (for open) become the follow-on to NonStop i and NonStop X – it’s fun to speculate like this, even as it’s pretty harmless. However, just a few years ago when NonStop looked to be anything but strategic to HPE, such musings would have not been possible.

Turns out the big guns for HPE have nothing to do with size or indeed performance. Rather, the big guns are those that the users can aim directly at legacy and traditional applications – with the price points established for NonStop X there really isn’t a mission critical application that wouldn’t benefit from running atop a fault tolerant NonStop system. And maybe, just maybe, the NonStop community we are all part of today isn’t alone in its understanding of just how important this is to users everywhere. Did you all see the news late Friday, July 29, 2016?

According to one financial publication, HPE could go the way of Dell and become privatized.  No real surprises here for many HPE watchers who not only raised an eyebrow when HPE split out HPES with the intent to combine with CSC (on an equal basis) but openly discussed the possibility of further sales. I think by now we have all read stories of HPE looking for buyers for much of its software businesses – Autonomy, Mercury, Veridata, etc.  However, even as this Friday’s news reports raised the level of noise,
pushing the stock price of HPE higher, with one report suggesting that according to Barrons “multiple private equity buyers were kicking the tires … considering a possible buyout.” 

I am not quite ready to jump on that bandwagon. I will hold any further comment about this for a later post as I have to believe that there will be further reports in the coming weeks. But HPE provides value and HPE has brought NonStop into the very heart of its operations, and there are those who see considerable value in HPE as it continues to support the Intel x86 architecture across its product portfolio. 

On the other hand, no private equity firm appears to be looking at IBM and I suspect that too is a story unto itself. No value to be unearthed over there; move along! While it’s true IBM has sold off practically everything of value and would have sold off the Mainframe if it had been able to find anyone that was interested. IBM’s strategic initiatives in clouds and cognitive processing are moving very slowly and in some aspects, have begun to falter, losing ground to the competition – with all of its guns firing in support of clouds, it only grew its clouds business 30% in the latest quarter whereas Microsoft grew its cloud business by 150%!

It’s always important to be able to lay your hands on the big guns as and when you need them - yes, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you brought the biggest gun to the fight. However, how we measure today’s big guns is vastly different from what was considered important just a decade ago. Today, it’s all about following standards, being open, tapping vast pools of talented staff and yes, let’s not forget, it’s also about price. And with adoption of the x86 architecture I believe HPE has pulled out the biggest gun of all and no matter what features come with Power 9 the market is beginning to understand IBM’s Power will only ever be second to Intel – the numbers simply speak for themselves.

Symbolism still has its place and watching the big gun on the trailer continue on its way, the symbolic nature of it heading towards the west coast where innovation and technology thrive – NonStop may not yet be the biggest gun within HPE but it has become a lot more visible as the big gun in fault tolerant mission critical transaction processing. In doing so, clearly the prospects of HPE are “looking up” as a result. Whether it becomes an extended family of NonStop i, NonStop X, NonStop O or whatever – the fact remains; NonStop is on a roll and taking aim squarely at blasting away at the days of being typecast as proprietary, closed and “too expensive for us!”    

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