Friday, June 30, 2017

Shipping containers are being repurposed; could we see something similar happening with NonStop!


Seated at a bar made up of repurposed shipping containers prompted me to think of NonStop. Just as shipping containers can be repurposed, with the arrival of Virtualized NonStop can we see NonStop being repurposed as well?   


It was way, way back in 2009 when I wrote a post to this blog site about how HPE was packaging up shipping containers loaded with blades and peripherals and marketing them as a specialty POD – actually, as a “Performance-Optimized Datacenter” and to read more about this, check out the post of July 2, 2009, Common standards, uncommon advantages! I have no real idea of how successful this market campaign proved to be but I only heard that the program was discontinued sometime last year. 

And the reason? HPE was moving beyond blades, where today it was all about hyperconverged infrastructure, hybrid IT and yes, Synergy. Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss Synergy as just software as the more I have dug into HPE Synergy, the first thing I noticed was that it included a whole new approach to hardware packaging to where blades have become legacy technology. Ouch!

I was reminded of the POD this week as I was writing an article to be published shortly on Banking Tech, a publication and web site I support these days. The article focuses on shipping containers and, in particular, the considerable re-purposing of shipping containers that is going on right now. Here in Boulder, inside the local mall, there is a bar that is comprised solely of two 40’ shipping containers lying side by side, slightly offset, out of which a bar operates serving a variety of local craft beers. There’s another one too that was set up a little earlier in Estes Park and, by all accounts, they are both proving to be very popular.

However, setting up a bar in a container is probably not the best example of repurposing of shipping containers. Want to develop a mini hydro-power station in a box? Well, the city of Melbourne has done just that with a shipping container. Want to build a swimming pool that you can take with you when you move? Well, that too is being done with shipping containers – 20’ and 40’ – proving ideal for the purpose.

Need to erect a shopping mall quickly following a natural disaster? Well, check what Christchurch did with shipping containers and the unique shopping experience that they created in the heart of Christchurch following a massive earthquake. After five and a half years it may be winding down but it certainly provided a unique shopping experience. Want low cost housing in the east of London? Well, Container City I and II may be the trick. Shelter for our homeless veterans then yes, it’s being done already in Orange County, California – new housing made from shipping containers.

Point is, the standards that were embrace in the 1960s across the transportation industry not only proved to be disruptive but spawned a number of unrelated industries, not even imagined at the time. Unfortunately standards too are subject to becoming legacy and of late it seems to be happening at an accelerated pace. The big deal here is that the demise of the IT expert or specialist is happening within enterprises across all industries leaving decision making in the hands of new-age managers prone to jumping aboard the next technology wave totally driven by what they just saw in an airline magazine.

There was a time not too long ago where we called this McDonalds Architecture. You know, the arches that symbolize McDonalds,  take another look; did you know there was a bell curve immediately followed by another bell curve that symbolized how quickly architects oftentimes jump from one product or technology curve to the next? And then, of course, the next one, ad nauseam!

With the amount of marketing weight HPE is throwing behind simplifying the transformation to hybrid IT, we already are beginning to see vendors looking at their options with some of them beginning to view the process of transformation as an open invitation to move in different directions. Consider, for example, the homogeneity of the simplification efforts of HPE – for enterprises the investment in Synergy isn’t going to be minor. It’s a big undertaking. However, how many enterprises out there will be all-HPE? So yes, NonStop with its history of being a player among many within the data center has thrived when there has been considerable heterogeneity present.

Could the roll-out of something like Synergy benefit from NonStop for simple connectivity to the rest of the enterprises IT infrastructure? Unfortunately, once you start thinking along these lines it’s hard to see how this could be simplified but surely, there are standards? Ethernet comes to mind and with Virtualized NonStop (VNS), there is RoCE – RDMA over Converged Ethernet.  The Synergy solution does not support RoCE enabled mezzanine cards today, but I can imagine Synergy does have a robust roadmap that may include RoCE support in the future.

And yet, Synergy with its frame that will fit into any regular, industry standard, 19’”rack, “is designed to accept multiple generations of compute, storage, fabric and management modules. It is built on industry standards so it fits easily into existing and new data center environments while preserving the ability to leverage existing storage and connectivity resources.” There it is again, standards. But what standards? Well, it is not about blades anymore, that’s for sure, as today blades have become legacy and are a part of what we are now referring to as traditional computing.

“The direct-connect midplane delivers 16.128 Tbps of bandwidth and is future-proofed with a photonic-ready design that could exceed bandwidth requirements for the next decade.” OK, so photonic-ready is picking up on some of the deliverables from The Machine project from what I could see while on the exhibition floor at HPE Discover. But midplanes are scary things – and rarely provide standards as each vendor tailors them to their own needs – will a Dell or Lenovo 2 or 4 socket “board” plug into the Synergy midplane and work? I haven’t seen anything to suggest that likelihood.

So it’s not blades per se but rather modules, or resources, the items you need today to better support “a broad range of operational models such as virtualization, hybrid cloud and DevOps.” If you do want to know more about HPE Synergy then check out the easy to follow write up that describes Five Steps to building a composable infrastructure with HPE Synergy.

As I look at the containers being repurposed the various transformations that result are kind of mind-boggling. Who knew? However, there is genuine excitement surrounding the repurposing of NonStop – taking it to the virtual world. Again, who knew? I am often asked about the marketing effort HPE is putting behind NonStop, particularly now that the new NonStop X systems are shipping. Well, no surprises here – there will be very little marketing effort. But rather trying to syphon off marketing dollars for NonStop X, the NonStop team is moving NonStop closer to where the marketing dollars lie.

That’s right, VNS isn’t just a cool piece of technology but rather, a really big jump out of traditional systems to where it can finally gain some of the bright spotlight being directed at all things related to simplifying hybrid IT. VNS is aimed at both today’s NonStop users as well as at building a new NonStop user base. And yes, looking at as I tend to do of late, it represents a very effective (and qquite legitimate) repurposing of NonStop!


There is nothing on the VNS roadmap suggesting there is anything under way to bring VNS to Synergy. For the moment, the priorities of the NonStop development lie elsewhere and to some extent I covered that in my previous post, Right time, right place – NonStop lights up the horizon! However, as noted earlier, there are always unintended consequences from actions taken by a major vendor such as HPE even as there are unrelated “industries” likely to appear – for the most part, I am expecting them to surface among the service providers looking to better integrate Synergy with whatever else may be in the data center and where VNS may be of assistance.

Another source may indeed be solutions vendors well versed in NonStop who see opportunities to better differentiate their solutions by capitalizing on both Synergy and VNS. But even with Synergy not making an appearance on any NonStop roadmaps, VNS or otherwise, I cannot imagine that at some point, their paths don’t cross. Perhaps it will come down to whatever happens within HPE’s own data center where NonStop has a presence already.

In many respects the age old truism that the good thing about standards is that there will always be plenty of them quickly comes to mind. Shipping containers started out with 20’ containers only to add 40’ containers into the mix. Now they are almost any size with US containers following a different standard to Asia-Pacific and Europe. We now see containers that are 8’ 6” high even as we see others that are 53’ long.  


Synergy may be unique to HPE even as NonStop provides unique capabilities but ultimately, for it all to work in HPE’s favor, Synergy may need VNS as much as VNS might benefit from Synergy. And not solely for the marketing dollars (although they will help)! Redundancy is highlighted in the Synergy documentation but as well know, today’s enterprises need more than just redundant elements. In wrapping up this post, it is worth noting (as was covered in that previous post to this blog), anything that is manufactured will break and it is NonStop’s ability to recover from breakages that will ensure the ongoing viability within the data center and yes, for the next decade, too!      

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