Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seeing through the haze – for NonStop, integration leads to convergence

Our memories may fade but when it comes to NonStop then, after all these decades, it’s still the premier fault tolerant system available today!

We are preparing for a return to the road as we look ahead to upcoming events. Not just HPE Discover in Las Vegas but key Regional User Group (RUG) meetings as well. With just one road trip we plan on hitting Dallas for N2TUG and then pass through Phoenix and Scottsdale on our way to Las Vegas for 2017 HPE Discover. It may be the beginning of summer, where the temperatures in this part of north America really start to climb, but having the opportunity to spend time out on the highways, driving the company command center, is always something we look forward to doing. Each time we do it we find new things to look at and new places to stay and even though we may be old hands at all of this, there are still moments where our memories about a place isn’t as strong as we had expected them to be.

With the passage of time, the details become hazy. More often than not, memories I recall aren’t quite as accurate as they were just a short time ago. I am often being left to double check my facts before committing them to paper or as is more relevant today, the internet. And yet, when it comes to technology, I can recall with clarity almost every product and feature with which I have had a connection. Whether it was selling and installing operating systems for IBM mainframes, standing alongside the first Nixdorf ATM as it was uncrated in a Sydney warehouse, giving presentations on SNA following IBM’s introduction of token ring LANs, or simply promoting the latest NonStop system as it came to market.

I will always remember one of my last duties as your ITUG chairman of the whirlwind trip that took me from Copenhagen to Beijing to Seoul and then to Taipei as part of the NonStop team launching the HPE Integrity NonStop line of systems based on the Itanium chip set. Being welcomed into Beijing with a title of chairman didn’t do any harm either and I will always remember the warmth of the NonStop community with which I engaged at that time. But are the memories I have of Tandem Computers and, of late, NonStop, still relevant to today’s marketplace? Has the haze that so often clouded my memories altered reality? Or have the changes taking place with NonStop proving to be more substantial than everything that has come before – has the time come to take off my rose-tinted glasses and really look at how good NonStop has become?

The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are mine to see on clear days
You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze

I can see for miles and miles …

These lyrics come from a popular song by The Who, I can see for miles. Margo and I joined with many from the NonStop community when, a few years back, they performed at a HPE event in Las Vegas. Just seeing them on stage performing brought with it many memories from my youth but about that, I will leave for another post. However, it was the reference to seeing “right through the haze” that has had me thinking about just how clearly we view the roadmaps for NonStop and just how clearly we see NonStop supporting our business. Yes, the technology that is NonStop is impressive but do we all share more than that with our colleagues – do we really see the contribution NonStop can make to our business or are we simply sitting back, hopeful that our crystal ball will be more revealing?

On the other hand, when it comes to crystal balls perhaps their role has lessened when it comes to seeing what’s coming next for NonStop. In fact, with what we now know, it’s as if there have been many doors thrown open, each of which calls for greater NonStop participation. What I mean is that even without the aid of a crystal ball, with just the inclusion of a few words here and there and a label thrown in for good measure, we can see what’s happening with NonStop with a lot more clarity that we could have seen only a year or so ago.

With the passage of time, the details become hazy. Have we driven through this township just a short time ago? Isn’t this road looking familiar and haven’t we seen this vista once or twice already? While it is true that landscape can look familiar, it is true that the solutions provided on NonStop can look familiar too. And this is no accident and is a reflection upon what NonStop does best. However, with what we are seeing coming from HPE is that we are crossing into new territory where the landscape no longer looks familiar.

These advances for NonStop reflect real business needs – some of these needs being driven by changing external forces, including financial and market presence whereas others by changing technology, such as cloud computing and the emergence of the IoT. Businesses want to cut costs, reduce their dependency on technicians (do we even want an IT department?), respond to market changes more quickly (can we support mobile devices?) as they look to innovate their way to attract new customers.

What NonStop does best is to provide the premier fault tolerant system to a world that now runs 24 x 7! A world where “almost” is simply not “good enough.” With all the bravado that they can muster, all of the big technology providers promote how well they have built in redundancy and yet, as we saw with the Amazon S3 storage outage, it is still not as continuously available as mission critical applications expect. No, almost available is not continuously available. What fault tolerance brings to the table is a manner of operational support that allows business to meet these needs to minimize financial loss from outages and any subsequent conflicts even as it satisfies the requirement for fewer technicians.

The HPE NonStop product management and development teams have been doing an outstanding job lifting the fog that has oftentimes surrounded NonStop. The group embraced standards and openness, as it moved to the Intel x86 architecture, and it added support for virtual machines. And yes, the integration we seeing being supported by such items as NSADI along with a willingness to talk about hybrid IT – the integration that results clearly points to further convergence in the future.

This is now becoming well-known throughout the community and is beginning to make an impression with leading industry analyst groups, including Gartner and Forrester Research to name a few. And as members of the NonStop vendor community continue to increase development funding for hybrid middleware and solutions, NonStop will likely become even better known among those tracking industry trends.

HPE Discover is always a litmus test of just how well NonStop is fairing within the bigger HPE. Last year, HPE CEO Meg Whitman welcomed Home Depot to the stage, one of only three or four parties to be on stage with Whitman. As she introduced Home Depot she made a specific reference to NonStop that was a surprise to many. I was sitting in the blogging community area and those bloggers turned to me and asked if I could tell them just a little more about NonStop. This year, we may not make it back onto the stage with Whitman, but it will be interesting to see whether NonStop continues to make inroads into verticals like telco and technologies like the Edge and IoT.

It is very true that with the passage of time the details become hazy. However when it comes to the memories I do have about the early days of Tandem Computers, for instance – and I arrived at Tandem just as the VLX was unveiled with stories circulating within the company about an upcoming smaller and lower-priced CLX – there is nothing hazy about them at all. The attributes of NonStop instilled in me all those decades ago remain.

Those earlier times are still very clear and with clarity come an appreciation for where Tandem, now NonStop, is headed. What the latest NonStop systems bring to the table is a capability that at the low-end should see inclusion in the Edge and IoT initiatives even as at the high-end should see inclusion in the Hybrid IT initiatives. And no, I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me that there will continue to be a strong market for NonStop for many more years to come.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What are we really telling the CIOs today about NonStop?

When asked to talk with the architects and builders working on our home, we have to be careful about what we ask for and much is the same when we talk about NonStop with our CIOs – are we ensuring the right message about NonStop is always being communicated?

I swore I wouldn’t build another house and yet, here we are some twenty years later, and having another go. Building isn’t for the faint of heart nor should anyone building a new home from scratch think that it can be done on budgets created early in the process. But perhaps the biggest issue that comes up early in the process is that there is a huge difference between the opinions of the architect, the project manager and the builder. When we last built a home – the one we just sold after a marathon effort – the architect, the project manager and the prime contractor were one and the same. But this isn’t the case today and you quickly realize that in dealing with these individuals you have to change the language you use even as you are oftentimes left to reset your expectations.

Many years ago I wrote a number of posts to this blog that looked at different roles and responsibilities we come across within IT today – posts that I listed under the label of C4 - Artists and Technicians. The individuals referenced in those posts included CTOs, CIOs, data center managers, architects and even the CBO – yes, the Chief Blogging Officer. The common theme across all these posts was simply to remind readers that the old lines that separated programmers from analysts from operators not to mention the EDP or MIS manager, is long gone and with their demise, we need to be cognizant of the language we use when interacting with rich variety of skilled IT personnel now on hand.

Few of us could have predicted the rise of DevOps just a decade or so ago and for people who baulked at the creation of systems programmers versus application programmers versus database administrators – it really is important that we explain technology carefully even to those we expect should know exactly what we are talking about. When it comes to NonStop and the NonStop community, it is of more importance than many of us care to admit, but the wrong phrase at the wrong time can set an IT organization down a path we may not have anticipated. If we are looking to expand the market presence of NonStop then we should always consider carefully what we tell our managers and what explanations we provide when it comes to exactly what resources are needed to ensure NonStop systems continue to support mission critical applications.

There have been many examples through the years where we have experienced a divide even as we share a common language. Take for instance the early discussions between data center operators and those responsible for telecommunications. Whereas the request to “scratch a data set” may mean the operator needs to delete a file, to those working with phones, it may mean defacing a telephone. What brought this to a head this week was a conversation with a member of the NonStop vendor community who told me of how CIOs he talked to couldn’t find college graduates who knew how to program NonStop! Ouch – even as I cringed at what was said I did understand the sentiment, but really?

By comparison, these CIOs knew of many talented college graduates who knew how to program Linux and Windows and I have to admit, my countenance fell as an overwhelming sense of sorrow quickly set in. When it comes to today’s NonStop systems who on earth programs NonStop! And the very same can be said about who on earth programs Linux? Surely, even the most talented and experience CIO should realize we don’t program NonStop or Linux, but rather, we program in C / C++, Java, Python, JavaScript and so on.  Some vendors may be using low-level languages to better interface with the Operating System but that is the role of vendors and that is one of the main reasons we buy their middleware and solutions – so we are not exposed to programming at this level.

When was the last time we heard a CIO ask for someone to program the equivalent of Pathway? Or, EXPNET? Clearly, we write programs to run under the monitoring oversight of Pathway, EXPNET, and so forth. Furthermore, with most NonStop users buying solutions from prominent vendors these days, the extent of “programming NonStop” is either via script modifications / extensions to what the vendor provides, changing some table entries, or should programming be involved, utilization of one of the programming languages already referenced.  The HPE NonStop team has covered a lot of ground over the past few years to ensure even the least experienced college graduate can bring with them their skills in one or more of C / C++, Java, Python, JavaScript, etc. and be productive on NonStop almost immediately.

Maintaining this “handle with care” or “needs special attention” attitude when it comes to NonStop isn’t doing any of us any good. Before anyone throws water all over my arguments, I am not saying that within the NonStop vendor community there remains a need for architects knowledgeable in all things NonStop who steer development projects down the right path – they will always be valued and their value is commensurate with the experience they have accumulated over time. However, with this said, it doesn’t rule out just how straight-forward it is to have Java or JavaScript code redeployed on NonStop with the rest of IT unaware of the port.

When it comes to mission critical applications, there remains the need to deploy them on platforms that provide the very best uptime possible and this remains the almost exclusive domain of NonStop. After decades of effort, no other vendor can provide the level of uptime – and yes, with it, the ability to scale out, ad nauseam. This is what we need to be telling CIOs today – forget about programming NonStop and instead, tell them how NonStop supporting a new application will ensure its operation 24 x 7 and hence, be better suited to running those mission critical applications without outages or loss of data, and yes, can be written / maintained in exactly the same programming languages / frameworks as are supported on other platforms, including Linux and Windows. And this message is going to become even easier to convey with so much being discussed about transformation to hybrid IT!

It’s becoming a lot easier because of more work being done by the NonStop development team as they add more and more features to NonStop SQL/MX (NS SQL). Among the most obvious inclusion that will help sway conversations in NonStop’s favor is the Oracle compatibility NS SQL is gaining. Just as you don’t program NonStop, Linux or Windows, when you dive into the languages popular with college graduates you will find considerable dependence upon SQL support and for many developers, this simply translates to Oracle. Now, no worries; you will be able to leverage these skills while writing programs for NonStop systems. And why NS SQL? Well, it’s that hybrid IT story again.

As the team at NonStop gets more exposure to this major initiative of HPE, they are seeing more interest in having NonStop a part of the hybrid and in particular, having NS SQL accessible from Linux and Windows on the basis of DBaaS! Many of the IT folks I have talked to weren’t expecting this development but if you track the presentations coming from HPE IT for more than a year now, you will see NS SQL occupying center stage when it comes to supporting mission critical data. Again, mission critical runs 24 x 7 so why  would you continue to rely on any other SQL not designed to run, out of the box, 24 x 7 – something that NS SQL has being doing since it was first released back in the late 1980s.

In talking to the architects, project managers and builders working on our new home I need to be careful of what I say as every now and then, I only add to the confusion. Likewise, we do have to be careful about what we tell our CIOs. We don’t need NonStop people so much as we need C / C++, Java, Python, JavaScript, etc. programmers and should they have skills in SQL, all the better. Many years ago, I was first recruited to be an applications programmer and in time, I became a systems programmer with responsibility for communications and data base management systems and I view this as a natural progression. If you are seriously concerned about having architects on hand, why not give the programmers a start and let them develop additional skills over time. After all, almost every programmer working on NonStop today didn’t suddenly come into work as NonStop architects … but they did get a lot of encouragement along the way. So, once again, let’s all tell the same story and let it be the right story – you need programmers and that’s all you need!   

Monday, April 10, 2017

NonStop and Hybrid IT; a natural for HPE!

HPE continues to emphasize the three pillars of their strategy, hybrid IT; the intelligent edge; and services. It’s only natural for the NonStop community to look at where NonStop fits and it is clearly hybrid IT.  

Coincidences and somewhat serendipitous situations often occur in our lives. For almost no reason at all, something will just appear or simply happens which take us completely by surprise to the point we are oftentimes left scratching our heads. “Didn’t see that coming,” being the operative thought whenever this does happen. And yet, perhaps it is because we have something on our minds that we become more sensitive to such incidents and let them take on more meaning than we would otherwise grant them. 

Stuck in traffic on a minor road in Boulder, Colorado, waiting for the traffic lights to change, I just happen to glance at the license plate on the car ahead of me – AUSS1E. Go figure; there is another Aussie in Boulder. What a coincidence! But then again, Boulder has attracted residents from all over the world – if you like to climb rocks, run marathons and cycle to the top of 14,000 foot peaks, then this is your place. It had only been a short time before that occurrence that Margo and I had been taking a serious look at the possibility of taking some time off to travel back to Sydney but no, Margo wouldn’t accept this coincidence as a sign that we should move quickly to confirm our tickets.

Out of a newly formed habit, I am now looking at the badges on cars to see whether or not they are hybrids as, in the city of Boulder, hybrid drivetrains seem to be everywhere. It is like buying a new car in black thinking your choice is unique only to return to the road and find almost every instance of the model you chose is black – why hadn’t I seen so many of these cars before? The HPE strategy anchored on hybrid IT continues to be the center piece of pretty much every official communication coming from HPE executives and that is no coincidence. If you have as yet not taken a good look at all that is happening around HPE and missed the emphasis being given to hybrid IT then you may just want to do a search. You may be surprised by what comes back as a result – it’s everywhere!

Among the more common definitions of hybrid IT to be found on the web are the explanations that tell us that hybrid IT is an approach to enterprise computing in which an organization provides and manages some of its IT resources in-house but uses cloud-based services for others. Gartner, on the other hand, has been a little more adventurous when it said that hybrid IT is all about transforming IT architectures and the role of IT itself and that hybrid IT is the result of combining internal and external services, usually from a combination of internal and public clouds in support of the business – a reasonable push promoting new-age IT as being solely based on a combination of private and public clouds. HPE, on the other hand is very public in its messaging that hybrid IT “is designed to accelerate your business, not work against it. (Hybrid IT) leverages the best of traditional IT, private cloud, and public cloud to enable the right mix to meet the needs of your business.” To hear more from HPE on hybrid IT, you may want to visit HPE’s web site and check out the pages, Why Hybrid IT?

Including traditional IT as part of hybrid IT is important. Very few enterprises I have looked into are preparing to dump their entire current IT infrastructure in favor of private clouds even as they turn to public clouds for some additional resources. Private cloud usage will come, but initially, it will be integrated with existing IT infrastructure if for no other reason than these enterprises will be looking to parallel run some applications – particularly those less-than mission-critical initially - and for a number of these organizations, the potential cost-savings may not be immediately realized. As with the introductions of all new technologies, architectures and services, there could very well be an escalation of expenses before they trend back down to what the industry believes should be achievable. Personally, I am suspicious of anything that looks too good to believe as in all likelihood, for many enterprises it will be exactly that; too good to be true!

Then again, looking around at what NonStop customers are considering it’s no coincidence that they are talking about mixing NonStop with open systems such as Linux. For many this is a first step down the path to hybrid IT. Concerned about the possible additional expenses involved, it’s almost a no-brainer to trialing applications spilt between NonStop and Linux, especially when Linux applications can now more readily capitalize on NS SQL running on an adjacent NonStop system – for data critical to the business, having access to a fault tolerant SQL on NonStop may be among the most cost-effective ways to get a toe in the water with respect to managing a platform that straddles two different operating systems. Clouds may still be a ways off for most NonStop customers but building expertise this way will prove highly beneficial down the road.

Ultimately, what HPE is promoting as hybrid IT, combining traditional IT with simple Linux server farms followed naturally enough by a mix of both private and public clouds seems the more realistic approach to take. Remember Sun, all those years ago (at the height of the dot.com boom), when one of its chief scientists “coined the phrase, ‘The network is the computer!’” as reported in the media? Well it’s just not that simple and so it is with hybrid IT – the data center is no more a cloud than the network was a computer. Our teenage offspring may think that their smartphones only need the net to function but IT professionals are fully aware of all the systems operating, mostly out of sight, on the other side of that net.

HPE CEO, Meg Whitman, when addressing financial analysts recently, following the release of the Q1, 2017 financial results, stated for the record that, “during the past few months, we’ve been preparing HPE to compete aggressively following the spin mergers of ES and software. To that end, we’ve been making significant changes to our organization, all during the final intense months before the ES separation and as the Software separation (was) underway. In just the last quarter, we’ve reshaped the entire Enterprise Group business to better drive the three pillars of our strategy, hybrid IT; the intelligent edge; and services.” While none of us could say that we didn’t see this coming but a trimmed down HPE focused on hybrid IT is really good news for NonStop and I can’t help wondering – is what we are seeing implemented within HPE’s own IT where NonStop is playing a very serious role, a foretaste of what’s to come for NonStop?

In other words, call it coincidence or call it simply serendipity, given the right amount of attention (with just a little more illumination coming from the HPE spotlight), is there more NonStop engagement within HPE than we may have previously thought? Is there traction developing between NonStop and the major initiatives supporting the three pillars of the HPE strategy? Now, as I look around at the NonStop community that I know so well, I am beginning to see signs that NonStop is doing a lot better than many are prepared to acknowledge. It didn’t even take me buying a NonStop system of my own – yes, please, in black – for these signs to be recognized.

Traditional NonStop systems operating in combination with server farms and clouds? NonStop, a part of hybrid IT?  Solutions looking to leverage the latest with NSADI for better execution across NonStop and Linux? From everything I am seeing of late, then yes! And more, yes! No matter how you look at the events unfolding there is more sightings of NonStop than I have seen in a while and for the NonStop community, there is a lot to be thankful for and gaining more and more of HPE’s mindshare is probably just the beginning. After all, when you think about it – with NonStop and the CLIMs dating back a decade or so - what other group within the HPE Enterprise Group has more experience running hybrid IT “in a box” than NonStop does? As best as I can tell, even with more than one glance at the greater HPE, no other group whatsoever!