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!

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