Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On the move …

A temporary change of residence is a reminder that oftentimes situations develop that necessitates a move. Given how HPE executives have identified three pillars supporting their strategy – hybrid IT, the intelligent edge and services, NonStop too is on the move and hybrid IT is its target!  

We pulled the company command center out of storage for a smog test – yes, these diesel pushers still need to pass the same smog regulations as cars do, but you have to take them to a special testing facility capable of handling the biggest of transportation rigs. There are lots of places that smog test cars, but only a few equipped to handle an RV. The RV did pass its smog test and is now all good to go for the next two years – hard to believe but 2017 will be the sixth summer we have ventured out onto America’s highways. For Margo and me, the picture above is also a reminder of where we once lived as the RV is parked alongside our former home in Boulder that is barely visible through the trees. Yes we have become temporary tenants in our former Niwot home.

It is common knowledge among many in the NonStop community that we are on the move – figuratively and literally. We have rolled the dice and are having another house built but as it turns out, there is a month or so where we will be homeless. You guessed it; we will be making the company command center our place of residence.  For the NonStop community, it wouldn’t take much to initiate a conversation about NonStop being on the move. After a lengthy period of simply holding onto its market and making sure the requirements of a core group of customers were being met the potential for NonStop to return to the mainstream and to be a force to reckon with is tantalizingly close at hand.

Could we see a real resurgence of NonStop and could enterprises begin valuing the NonStop attributes as highly as everyone in the NonStop community has been for decades? After all, no business likes to live through outages and no service provider, no matter how big they may be, can really dance around leaving their users floundering high and dry without and compute capabilities. The most recent outage at Amazon, and their S3 data storage offering, being the latest example of a major corporate embarrassment!

According to the data coming from the NonStop team, shipments of NonStop X systems are beginning to roll. The NonStop i family of systems – those Itanium based – may have held down the fort a little longer than some of us anticipated, but with 2017 the NonStop X family is on the ascendency and why not? With the last vestiges of proprietary components and packaging gone – it’s just an assembly of Intel x86 servers with InfiniBand interconnect fabric – the price/performance metrics reflect the reality that HPE has never before made a NonStop system this powerful, and for a lot less money.

As a user you still have to negotiate of course – wait for the last day of the quarter / year, naturally – but there are deals to be done and savings to be made. And this all leads to new applications being considered for NonStop. As one vendor told me late last year, there was so much headroom remaining on the NonStop X system that his company migrated two applications from Unix back onto NonStop and I am hoping to hear even more about situations like this as the year unwinds.

NonStop is on the move in other ways as well. It’s been almost two years now since we first heard of vNonStop, or more correctly, Virtualized NonStop (VNS). I understand from HPE that the primary driver for VNS was the telco industry following its collective move to Network Function Virtualization (NFV) – with NFV, any telco function “may consist of one or more virtual machines running different software and processes, on top of standard high-volume servers, switches and storage devices, or even cloud computing infrastructure, instead of having custom hardware appliances for each network function.” In hindsight, perhaps HPE had no other option than to pursue VNS for the telco marketplace but the upside here for the NonStop community is that yes, we now do have VNS.

VNS is no panacea. There’s a big price to be paid for running virtual – talk to anyone who first experienced VM on IBM Mainframes back in the 1970s. There’s also an issue of supported hypervisors and unless you are really into OpenStack, the real commercially-viable VNS solution may have to wait until VMware is supported. Even when VMware is supported, there is still the issue of the hardware itself. True, it only needs commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), hardware but ultimately, the HPE NonStop team may be in a position to provide cheap x86 servers and all the associated switches and connectivity capabilities for less than it might take an enterprise to assemble a working cluster of x86 servers themselves. So the HPE NonStop team will not be entirely out of the systems game, no matter which way you cut and dice the offerings.

Where the move to VNS may develop traction and prove to be a financially-sound alternative is where an enterprise has already populated a private cloud with x86 servers. Those enterprises having container loads of x86 servers delivered to their loading docks will likely not be paying very much for their hundredth plus 2 or more x86 servers. On that scale, and with that degree of leverage that they might wield, those 2 or more x86 servers may essentially come for free – thrown in as a deal sweetener. No matter, the point is where private clouds begin being populated by racks of low-cost x86 servers, firing up VNS atop VMware may prove to be a cost-effective solution for some of the biggest users of NonStop. Think of VNS as taking advantage of the white-space often found in x86 server farms of this size.

And what would we find running on VNS is these situations? Here the moves by HPE IT tell an interesting story. By now the NonStop community should be very familiar with how HPE’s own IT is testing VNS supporting NS SQL/MX as a potential DBaaS offering and this makes a whole lot of sense for two reasons. It helps reduce the count of databases reported as being supported today – some 25,000 database instances – as it adds to the story of HPE using its own products. Within Silicon Valley the mantra “eating one’s own dogfood” still carries weight, even among the most jaded of investors.

What I have written here should be familiar to every reader. We have been watching NonStop on the move for a couple of years now and it is occupying center stage within the Mission Critical Systems product portfolio.  The only real question remaining for HPE – will the company finally go all-in on NonStop? Will HPE put its marketing muscle behind NonStop and will the NonStop team move heaven and earth to make sure NonStop truly participates in hybrid IT – one of the three pillars supporting HPE’s strategy for the enterprise.

The NonStop team still has a lot more to do to ensure NonStop stays on the move. They have come a long way in a relatively short time and Karen Copeland and Andy Bergholz are to be congratulated for their achievements to date but there is more that needs to be done and it all involves a new level of cooperation and participation with the bigger HPE. Will the bigger HPE want NonStop? Does HPE value the capabilities of NonStop as much as other products and solutions in its overall product portfolio? Will Mission Critical Systems be “weaned out” of HPE? There are only a few short months to go before 2017 HPE Discover in Las Vegas but already my level of curiosity has risen – how big a spotlight will be directed towards NonStop?

Much of this will be addressed in a follow-on feature, to be posted next month, where I will cover the just completed NonStop Partner Symposium that Karen Copeland put on for the NonStop vendors community. This is an important opportunity for one of the most critical stakeholders in all things NonStop. NonStop users have an event focused on their needs – the NonStop Technical Boot Camp. Enterprise management have their own event too (even when NonStop may be a secondary consideration) – HPE Discover. Seeing the NonStop vendors community being accommodated in this fashion is certainly a step in the right direction, but again, and further to the questions asked above – will NonStop become a featured product in the much bigger HPE Partner Symposiums / Summits that are scheduled to be held in just a few weeks’ time?

And that’s where the story stops for now. For their part, the NonStop team are doing everything they can to ensure NonStop doesn’t become an island. As every stakeholder in the NonStop community is coming to appreciate, as we watch the NonStop team reach out to the bigger HPE – isn’t it about time to see HPE reach down and give this NonStop team a hand up? After all, NonStop Team certainly has done more than enough to earn a presence on center-stage, under the spotlights. C’mon HPE – extend that hand! We all know that you can, so isn’t it about time you acknowledge just how well this new NonStop physical and virtual aligns with all of your major initiatives? If you aren’t sure then there is a community out there only too willing to help you better understand NonStop! 

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