Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mall insights, and NonStop 2016 in review …

With the last post of 2016 we can look back at all the news surrounding NonStop systems and simply acknowledge just how quickly the world of NonStop is changing and yes, changing for the better …

Struggling to exit the local shopping mall with packages in both hands, as Margo and I left it almost to the very last day to finish our Christmas shopping, I took the opportunity this gave me to have a good look around at both the shops and their customers. So much has changed since I went back to strolling malls worldwide a decade or so ago – yes, I had lived in Edmonton, Alberta, as plans were being drawn up to build the West Edmonton Mall, pictured above and still the largest mall in North America (sorry, Minneapolis) – but after the birth of my daughter, Lisa, I found a Saturday morning filled with exploration and yes, of course, fresh donuts, an affable escape from normal routines.

The popularity of malls has ebbed and flowed through the years. Visitors to Silicon Valley who spent time at Tandem Computers will recall both Vallco Shopping and Valley Fair Malls and their trajectories couldn’t have been more opposite if they had tried. Vallco suffered a slow death whereas the mighty Westfield came in and completely resurrected Valley Fair and I can’t recall a trip back to Silicon Valley when I haven’t stopped by the Valley Fair Mall. As with much of what drives success today, those malls doing well have morphed into much more than a string of shops as they include food courts, many of which are now upscale eateries – think steakhouses, popular seafood restaurants and sushi bars – along with theater complexes and even gymnasiums. Someone in Texas will probably email to tell me that somewhere in the Lone Star State there’s a cathedral integrated with the local mall.

Looking back at the three months since the lead to Halloween, it’s as if the country has made a beeline to the mall at some point even as our shopping disposition has changed radically over the past few years. Our last minute visit to the mall only came about when the need arose to take a good look at a potential gift to check out it’s suitability for small children. All of our other shopping this year was done online and for the past week there have been almost daily deliveries of packages. With the combination of inclement weather and crowded parking lots it’s so much easier to shop with clicks than stroll through bricks and mortar. But again, looking back even further than just a couple of months, the number of mall closings hasn’t gone unnoticed and yet, there they stand. Changed in ways unimaginable but still capable of attracting crowds. Monuments to our need to watch fashions, check sizes, touch material and smell the aromas of freshly prepped meals.

When it comes to changes unimaginable, as I look back at the year that is coming to a close, for the NonStop community, 2016 has all been about speed and responsiveness. Traditional systems were being supplanted by alternate methods for computing. The cloud has arrived even if all the cloud really means to many CIOs is that the data center exists somewhere else and its oversight is now someone else’s problem. The arrival of clouds has brought a renewed sense that costs have to be brought under control and that there is a limit to just how much business will pay for systems, software and services. The recent spin-mergers announced by HPE are just a reflection of a return to focus and that generalization and multipurpose aren’t cutting it any more. Even longstanding practices of outsourcing are coming under increased scrutiny as 2016 has represented a period of re-thinking as cloud operators put outsourcing practices under the microscope.

For me, the highlights for 2016 have been many and varied with the most obvious change being the return to favor of user events. The two big events that brought this into perspective were BITUG and Boot Camp. I attended both and it was hard to miss the enthusiasm of all who participated and if you wanted to catch the action, it was always on the exhibition floor no matter how big or small that area was. Of course, there was HPE Discover 2016 in Las Vegas and that didn’t disappoint – the general sessions were all well attended and the background music was more appropriate this year – but over the years it has become purely a HPE marketing “big tent” event and not necessarily a priority for the NonStop community.

It was at Boot Camp that the community was given a brief peek into the future – virtual NonStop (vNonStop) running on a simple commercially available off-the-shelf pair of x86 servers, with Ethernet for the interconnect fabric. If traditional systems were on the way out here, sitting on a table, was possibly one future for NonStop. Maybe not inside the data center but certainly a candidate for consideration for developers, testers and those needing to pilot new applications. Not forgetting that with IoT and the need for edge products, there may be good reasons to begin thinking that x86 servers will start showing up on the edge. As we come to realize that some sensor events are more important than others, fault tolerance will become more relevant and could lead to yet another sea-change with the mission for NonStop.

IoT included in NonStop presentations was a highlight for me as I have had a strong premonition of late that we haven’t really understood all that deploying edge products entail. If a big box retailer fully digitizes the pricing of its entire store and integrates it with their supply chain, down to individual items, than events will be coming thick and fast with many of these events important enough to warrant the presence of fault tolerance. Does an entire retail store warrant edge products as is being promoted right now – again, it’s all a matter of perspective. In a paper to be published shortly, Top 20 Predictions for 2016, by CTO and Cofounder at Striim, Steve Wilkes, that I reference in an upcoming post to the Striim blog, you will read “IoT Platforms will grow in strength and capability incorporating device registration, management and communication features as well as integration, analytics and machine learning.”

According to Steve, “Simple IoT use cases such as the real-time tracking of the movement of people or packages via geolocation and time windowing will become prevalent across healthcare, travel, manufacturing and logistics.” Steve also notes how, in order for timely responses, “Reliability and security concerns will push real-time analytics to edge locations for IoT. This will become evident through connected cars, home IoT hubs, retail store-based gateways and other localized technology. Anonymized data will be pushed to the cloud for deeper analytics.” Reliability eh? I feel the need for fault tolerance in ways I haven’t felt for many years!

NonStop SQL also is making a huge comeback and has made significant strides in its return to center stage in the database arena. There is clearly an emerging division in database offerings with so much discussion centered on data lakes, operational stores, and OLAP. Analytics is on an unstoppable march and will impact every touch point we maintain with customers. But online transaction processing, or OLTP, is still a requirement and when it comes to recording a transaction without any possible interruption in our 24 X 7 world, NonStop SQL now has no peer. Watch for some really big deployments of NonStop SQl in the coming year and watch too, just how much advantage of NonStop SQL HPE itself makes as it further evolves its own transaction processing models. 

Getting to clouds and pushing out to the edge will also see transformation within the central hub – be it a hybrid of a traditional data center with private clouds or fully public cloud based. Making it real simple to integrate NonStop with private (and shortly, I am predicting, public) clouds just makes sense for NonStop development to pursue and already we see the benefits that can come from having NonStop X systems connected to open platforms at the interconnect fabric level. We saw this being demonstrated all year and I am predicting too that in 2017 we will see some sizable solutions vendors capitalize on such features, with OmniPayments being at the fore of such a possibility. And did you see the performance demo late Monday night at Boot Camp – just how well NonStop scales out was showcased by OmniPayments pushing past 5,000 tps and certainly, another highlight for me as I look back at 2016.

Successful malls are reinventing themselves as they work hard to address the changing needs of society. In cities where environments are extreme – think not just of Edmonton but Singapore, the Middle East and yes, Florida, being able to stroll some place warm (or cool) continues to entice many of us from our homes. Shopping will not be the only option at future malls but in essence, they are taking over from the village green. Mix in the pub, a church or two, some light-hearted entertainment and a place to entertain the kids for a few hours and you have history repeating itself. And so too for NonStop. The world of IoT and Analytics is going to need databases both OLAP and OLTP as it will demand fault tolerance all the way to the edge and even as it will demand high performance at reduced cost and in 2016, we all saw for ourselves, NonStop delivered. As for 2017, I just cannot wait to see how this all is applied as the ball has now been passed to solutions providers and I am expecting to read more about the rollout of the new NonStop throughout the coming year.

Happy New Year and bring on 2017!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Extremes of weather, locations and systems and yes, NonStop too relishes extremes!

It’s in the very DNA of NonStop – you want extreme availability, scalability and yes extreme performance and now SQL? Then you got it! And NonStop could prove extremely beneficial for you …

Staring out the back window of our family room what greeted me was a chilled landscape. Overnight the temperatures had dropped some 30 to 40 degrees from the day before. The poolside chairs seemed to be looking on forlornly at a pool and spa no longer serving any purpose. For more than 15 years we have come to expect chilly weather, but this year, with the return of that dreaded Polar Vortex, the overnight lows are having us checking the plumbing each morning to ensure pipes haven’t frozen even as we have raised the thermostats setting. What is depicted above is Boulder, Colorado shivering in -2 degrees, Fahrenheit.  

Texting our good friends in southern California brought us little sympathy. Even though they had been out on the coast celebrating a boating festival, when they returned home they felt compelled to remind us why so many people prefer southern California at this time of year. Taken only a few hours later than my own photo the difference couldn’t be more extreme. Palm trees, clear skies and just out of sight, a grill and bar about to be put to good use as “grillin’ time” had arrived. If all goes to plan in a matter of weeks, Margo and I will be joining our friends, poolside, with thoughts of shivering on chilly Boulder mornings all but forgotten.

Temperature extremes, just a thousand miles apart, are something the good citizens of the U.S. grow accustomed to and there are reasons why so many of them have winter homes in the Sunbelt states. It’s also one reason put forward as to why Silicon Valley continues to be the engine of technology, disruption and innovation. It’s a lot easier to step away from your office and walk to a nearby coffee shop when you don’t have to dress like it’s an Arctic expedition. There may be the occasional moisture-laden breeze blowing in through the Santa Cruz cutting but it’s nothing compared to what much of the rest of the country has to endure and the correlation between warmth and creativity cannot be easily discounted. The once mighty technology engine along route 128 circling Boston used to be competitive to Silicon Valley but those days are long gone and I put much of the discontent that arose at companies dotting both sides of that highway, down to Boston’s miserable winters.

Many years ago I predicted Australia’s Gold Coast as having the potential to be a smaller version of Silicon Valley. My premise was based on there being a great climate, a university nearby albeit a private endeavor about which I have heard little since – Bond University. A major metropolis just up the road in Brisbane and of course, there’s the motion picture studios we heard so much about this year given the restrictions the rest of us have to observe when bringing out pet pouches into the country. According to news releases, late in November, 2016, the “The Queensland Government established Defense Industries Queensland to help create a smart, connected and efficient defense sector within the state.”

Unfortunately, even with the key ingredients of a thriving defense industry, a university and really good weather, the article I wrote for Computerworld was among only a few submissions I made that never saw the light of day. As I had written the article while living in Silicon Valley, the only response I received from this publication’s editor echoed much of the sentiment in Australia at the time, “you must be dreaming!” And yet, there is no hiding the growing expectations of many cities across the globe that they too will be the next Silicon Valley. On the other hand Silicon Valley with its universities, warm weather and proximity to multiple government agencies is really more than the sum of the parts and as such is seen today as the engine behind extreme disruptions. 

When it comes to extremes it would be hard to ignore just how extreme NonStop continues to be – after so many decades have passed, extreme availability and indeed extreme scale out, remain the cornerstones of NonStop systems today. From every corner of the globe have come attempts to build systems almost as good as NonStop, but over time, they have all faded into the background. Perhaps the biggest complement being paid to NonStop today is that modern server farms allow individual servers to fail with what constitutes a modern day load-balancing algorithm that redistributes the workload even as transactions come to a halt and data is lost.

I know as I have experienced it many times with the only explanation provided by the site that there has been an error, and, can you start over? Whether it’s an ecommerce transaction or simply posting to a blog, not a week goes by without being informed I have to go back to the start and re-enter because what I had been doing didn’t complete. And yes, the dreaded “unexpected error” message is always heartwarming as it is highly informative. Whenever I mention this to my peers unfamiliar with NonStop the only response I get is that well, get over it. Get back to work!

To say that when working with applications running on NonStop, they keep me working, may be a bit extreme but the sentiment isn’t lost on anyone familiar with NonStop. Perhaps the single most important aspect of NonStop that is so often overlooked is the extent to which NonStop development has gone to ensure backward compatibility. If you wrote if for a NonStop 1, you can still run it today. Try explaining this to your friends submitting to open source projects. And a fully operational mixed workload RDBMS and SQL where maintenance can be performed without taking down the database.

If you missed the post of October 2, 2015,
How many DBAs does it take to change a light-bulb should it not be NonStop? you may recall this quote. “We update statistics and query plans on a monthly basis, for most objects and we do it on the fly!” Rob Lesan, formerly of AOL and now part of the vendor community, confirmed all of the above before adding “maintenance? Truly, we run reorgs, statistics, splits, column adds, etc. all without taking anything down. It’s the NonStop fundamentals!” Talk about extreme SQL well, it doesn’t get more extreme than this – show this to your Oracle or SQL Server DBAs and see what conversation then develops. 

Furthermore, as HPE IT embraces NonStop SQL/MX and looks to deploy as a DBaaS, it’s not because they have to as in NonStop SQL/MX is a HPE product, but rather, the advantages that come with NonStop SQL/MX simply make alternatives a nonstarter. Like the majority of stakeholders in the NonStop community, it will be an interesting year ahead for everyone as we watch and wait for more news coming out of HPE IT on this major undertaking and I am sure those of the NonStop community making it to HPE Discover 2017 in Las Vegas will be looking forward to hearing more about this project.

If you want to think more about extremes, just think that HPE acknowledged they had 25,000 databases that they supported. If NonStop SQL/MX reduces this count by 20% or even 30% think of how many licenses to vendors apart from HPE can be retired. But again, this all comes back to the innovation that went into NonStop – looking at every aspect of the full NonStop stack, from the metal to the user interface, to ensure there is no single point of failure with no requirement to ever kill a process. And today with active-active data replication solutions readily available for NonStop two, three, five and more centers can be integrated to the point where even forklift upgrades can be seamlessly accommodated with zero downtime. Extreme? You have to believe it; nothing “steady as you go” or even “middle of the road” when it comes to NonStop.

As a society we are often wary of extremes. When it’s really cold we stay indoors. On the other hand, when it’s particularly conducive to imaginative blue-sky dreaming, oftentimes we find ourselves drawn to such environments. Silicon Valley is extreme. NonStop is extreme. That NonStop was created in Silicon Valley is understandable. Perhaps as NonStop X and vNonStop enter the mainstream a larger proportion of the user community will come to realize that systems don’t have to break and applications don’t have to go down and that service can be provided 24 X 7 without interruption. Extreme? You bet, but then again, shouldn’t technology that we value, as all about us undergoes change, be extreme? Or, am I still just dreaming?       

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Will “The Machine” be everywhere? Is there a plan for NonStop?

Progress continues to be made on The Machine with the first working prototype unveiled at HPE Discover 2016 (London). Could future NonStop hybrid systems leverage future iterations of The Machine?

This week I came across an article in, of all things, Composites Worlds. It was in response to a Google search for technology appearing in manufacturer’s prototypes that eventually is adopted within existing product lines. The article began with, “Already used in series production of structural carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts for BMW’s (Munich, Germany) i3 and i8 models, high-pressure resin transfer molding (HP-RTM) is viewed by some as new technology. To others, it is merely modernization of early RTM processes, like that used to build Dodge Viper parts 25 years ago!”

In several auto magazines it has already been highlighted that perhaps the single most important outcome of the development of the hybrid BMW i8 was not the new power unit but the fine-tuning of the almost-continuous forming process for carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. Once the dominant material for exotic and super-expensive F1 and Indy cars, where lightweight and strenght influenced the choice of materials, mastering this manufacturing process (as evidently BMW has now done) is likely to prove a game changer for BMW.

This past week HPE Discover 2016 (for Europe) was held in London. While much of the material presented was a repeat of the HPE Discover 2016 (for Americas) held in Las Vegas the attendees in London were given a more complete update on The Machine. I happened to be in the audience in Las Vegas back in June 2014 when then HPE CTO, Martin Fink, first unveiled the HP Labs project that would lead to the manufacturing of The Machine and I was among the crowd that sensed an imminent sea change in the design of the computers that had been in use for half a century. So this update on The Machine was as interesting to me as was the article on mastering the production of carbon fiber-reinforce plastic! 

And why? Repositioning memory and moving it to the center of a computer while pushing the processing to the periphery, all while upping the amount of memory that would be in the center (no need to think of storage hierarchies), and then relying on optics / photons for super-fast access, well, it doesn’t get much better than this! As the news broke about The Machine in the summer of 2014, I published the post
This changes everything! and at that time I remarked that when Martin Fink walked us through the technology all you needed to remember was that “electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store.”

Furthermore, I also observed how The Machine was essentially going to be four projects – the development of the special purpose processors, the photonics and the massive memory as well as a new clean-sheet operating system and stack and how, with the announcement of The Machine, it would carry the hopes of HPE for the next 25 years. At the conclusion of Martin’s reveal back in 2014, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, then told all present in the auditorium, “This changes everything!” But will it change everything, really? Or has The Machine become little more than a much-hyped “concept” and a “styling exercise” similar to what we so often see at car shows.

Through the years I have attended many car shows from London, to Sydney to LA and even Denver. And I have to admit that oftentimes, I made my way to these futuristic displays highlighting where auto manufacturers were devoting their resources. It’s also rather serendipitous that the Composites World article at the top of this post referenced the Dodge Viper and the BMW i8, as car shows influenced me to buy the Viper a few years ago just as they influenced me to buy the i8.

However, having admitted to how easily I am influenced by car companies’ concept cars, I see a lot of similarities with HPE and The Machine. HPE has continued to invest in The Machine even when much of the industry remained unconvinced that the project would lead to The Machine changing everything. And yet, here we are, two plus years later, and HPE has unveiled the first working prototype of The Machine. In reality it was a hybrid utilizing rather unique, and clearly “prototype”, packaging.

There was no evidence of memristors present in this package. The picture at the top of this post was included in the November 29, 2016, article in The Register,
RIP HPE's The Machine product, 2014-2016: We hardly knew ye. While I am not a big fan of this publication or of the flamboyant nature of its reporting, nevertheless, it is widely read and has often included coverage of NonStop systems. More importantly, the article did include a couple of useful PowerPoint slides that were part of the update provided in London.

I have since talked to a number of HPE senior managers in marketing and development and it’s very important to recall the mission of The Machine. With the headlong rush into analytics, big data and IoT the volume and velocity of data was going to stretch the boundaries of conventional processing to the limits and beyond. Already, experts were dialing back our expectations telling us we couldn’t expect to process all the data and yet, with The Machine, the simple response was, “why not?” The intersection between real time analytics and online transaction processing was nearing reality and for the NonStop community, this intersection now looks to be close at hand.

And yet, in time, even with filtering hierarchies “lightweight, as well as heavy,” the sheer velocity of data arriving at our data centers is going to push the boundaries of conventional computing not only past accepted limits (the end of Moore’s Law) but generate considerable headshaking about just what we could do next (the end of
von Neumann architecture). With the prototype of The Machine demonstrating an increase in performance that was 8,000 times that of existing computers, suddenly these headshakers had something to consider and we can only assume 8,000 times is just the beginning. And yet, will this prototype carry over into production and will transactional systems like NonStop have an opportunity to leverage the properties of The Machine?

It is this last bullet point on the HPE slide above that The Register reproduced that had me rethinking much of what I had expected from The Machine. While it proved to be the lead-in for further speculation, on the part of The Register, for me it simply reinforced a belief I have held for some time. Could a hybrid comprising NonStop with an instance of some derivative of The Machine lead to better integration between the world of transaction processing and analytics? Could a hybrid of vNonStop treat an instance of The Machine as a specialty co-processor – one with unlimited memory capable of handling the biggest in-memory database?

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t heard of any NonStop user considering such a hybrid configuration. Indeed I haven’t heard of any user experiencing any problems with the performance of NonStop X. In fact, when it comes to NonStop X I have been hearing the exact opposite – how can we capitalize on all the added performance on offer today? Furthermore, with vNonStop coming to market in the near future, NonStop will have a lot more opportunities to capitalize on all the cores on offer where there’s potential to eke out even more performance.

As we come to understand more about The Machine, we know it isn’t leveraging an x86 architecture so there’s no prospect of NonStop running on The Machine. Analytics should run really well on any derivative of The Machine even as NonStop will run well on NonStop X and with vNonStop, on any x86 server. OLAP meets OLTP – it may be an oversimplification but the world of analytics is intersecting with transaction processing. And let’s not forget that this may play well to those in the NonStop community already deploying Striim, for instance

So, what does The Machine really bring to the table for today’s NonStop user? NonStop still needs to find ways to attract more solutions to NonStop even as NonStop needs to convince a much broader community that it’s really easy to consume NonStop in terms of adding NonStop key attributes to their solutions with little to no additional effort. The work NonStop development has underway with NS SQL/MX to make it compatible with Oracle for instance, is adding considerable value to the NonStop value proposition. None of these programs draws from The Machine in any way and yet, I am still left to wonder, should we still concern ourselves with what HPE tells us about The Machine?

On the other hand, don’t be dissuaded from following progress on The Machine by what has appeared in The Register as other news correspondents have proved to be more upbeat about the future of The Machine. As a concept there is still a long way to go and for the NonStop community, it’s more a case of looking over our shoulders at what may show up in products by 3PAr, Aruba, and even high-end High Performance Computing.  

In the December 6, 2016, article in Forbes magazine,
HPE Discover London 2016: Company Did What They Needed To Do, its reporter Patrick Moorhead told his readers that as, “Whitman wrapped up Day 1’s General Session with the announcement that HPE had successfully demoed the first memory-driven computing architecture - the Machine is now officially in prototype mode. This is a really big deal as I can count hundreds of detractors who said that would never happen and that what they did was so hard to do.”

According to Moorhead, Whitman told the attendees that “HPE’s roadmap for the next several years would include the incorporation of various Machine technologies (such as silicon photonics, advanced non-volatile memory, and memory fabric) into HPE’s portfolio. She went on to say that HPE is also taking steps to, in her words, ‘future proof’ their new product lines, so that they will be able to continue incorporating the new technology as it develops.”

Furthermore, Moorhead saw “The Machine has enabled HPE to build an IP war chest which can be valuable in many ways … As I said in the introduction, HPE didn’t have to say everything, but they said what they needed to say. I’m encouraged by the focus and innovation I’ve seen demonstrated at the past several Discover events—I’ll continue to follow with interest.” And if The Machine is all about reinforcing yet another image of innovation within HPE then I can’t really argue with that.

We may not see The Machine anytime soon other than as a concept on display in exhibition halls. But there may be some potential to leverage aspects of The Machine as they become available – could we see a specialty co-processor that’s akin to a (really big) CLIM in NonStop’s future? If not CLIM, per se, a follow-on to Moonshot? I am not going to rule out such a possibility and the good news for NonStop? When it comes to game-changers within HPE then, as a community, we do need to think seriously about how far we have come with NonStop in such a very short time and as we think more deeply about NonStop then perhaps we can see that we already have our game changer. And it’s NonStop!