Thursday, September 21, 2017

Look for the signs – NonStop community has much to watch!

Visions, missions, tactics, strategies – how does it all come together for NonStop and just how many paths is NonStop going down that will prove advantageous for the NonStop community?

Reading one of my favorite car magazines (and the source of many anecdotes for posts and articles already published), Road and Track, I came across a feature story on the Nürburgring – a magical place for all car enthusiasts and where Margo and I had the good fortune of laying down laps during a track-only day (no busses or motorcycles, just Porsches, Ferraris, Lotuses and Nissan GT-Rs).

Our time on the ‘Ring was back in late 2010 and you can read more of that in the post Respect the ‘Ring! of September 23, 2010, to our social blog Buckle-Up-Travel The Road and Track article, Master’s Program, informs its readers of how, “At most tracks, it’s not uncommon for a first-rate professional racing driver or even a talented club ‘shoe to be up to speed after as few as a dozen laps.” Then adding, “Not at the’Ring. You won’t come close.” More revealing yet, “Like any track, there are references that a driver can use to let them know exactly where they are, where the car should be positioned, and what the driver should be doing. (The) difference here is, there are easily 10 times as many of those reference points spread out over 14-plus miles.”

The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, for instance (depicted above and with Margo behind the wheel), is always exciting as it has few signs forewarning you about what comes next. All of which is to say that signage and reference points are important on race circuits and I am sure there are other activities where much the same can be said. Here in Colorado we understand and appreciate how downhill racers know every inch of their run down a snow-covered mountain. When it comes to computers, sometimes it’s more difficult to spot signs and catch important references. It also requires a completely different set of skills most of which take a very long time to develop.

For starters, what does strategic really mean and who really does set strategy? Where do we turn to for confirmation that something is relevant, important, and even strategic? Is it our favorite vendor or our primary vendor? Is it an industry analyst or simply a journalist we know well? Turns out that it is a combination of all of the above that somehow we need to weight and prioritize based on our experience with all parties. Not all information is the same nor does it necessarily reflect the real story – you just have to check the tangible reference points that are all around us.

For the NonStop community it is proving to be a very difficult time. The initial euphoria that came over the community when news first broke that NonStop wasn’t being spun out to Micro Focus as part of the offloading of non-core software assets gave the NonStop community a real boost. NonStop isn’t non-core after all. Furthermore it had escaped being relegated to a couple of part timers determined to keep the torch burning brightly, albeit with somewhat limited funds as had happened to OpenVMS. No, NonStop was proving to be special and something HPE valued more highly than other assets it had accumulated over time. However, being core or at least, not part of the non-core software portfolio, isn’t translating into strategic and that is where the concerns lie – if it is core but non-strategic, what does that mean?

Again, it’s time to check our reference points as we look for familiar signs that will help guide us with the decisions we have to routinely make. Do we continue to invest in NonStop systems? Do we bring additional applications to our NonStop platform? Do we invest in middleware and infrastructure products that will help lift our productivity? Will we even spend money sending staff to events and summits held in support of NonStop? Just as importantly - whereto Mission Critical?

The answers today are not that clear and with the passage of time following the completion of the various spin-merges and offloads, the silence coming from HPE is, as they say, deafening. Could it be that it is a simple case that HPE doesn’t know? Could it be that HPE has as yet not focused its own resources on looking at where NonStop could take them? Might it even be a case that NonStop has been forgotten? We often talk about “best-kept secrets” but when it comes to NonStop it isn’t productive to think this way, as it’s a bit of a cop-out reflecting the lack of any real marketing effort being expended by HPE.

At this point I am observing a paradox. NonStop isn’t strategic for HPE – just look at the HPE vision and you will see references to simplifying hybrid IT, empowering the edge / IoT and then offering services in support of both of these pursuits. As HPE adds additional products and indeed vendors to better support this vision and, essentially, map it into a workable strategy, there’s no specific reference to NonStop. Quite the contrary, look at project New Stack unifying management across on-premise systems and clouds private, hybrid and public as well as Simplivity and Synergy and there is no references to NonStop whatsoever.

Indeed, it would take considerable new development to bring NonStop into play and have it participate in any fashion – and yet, look at the strategy behind these products and you could see real advantages of having NonStop participate. No, NonStop isn’t strategic and isn’t making a contribution to HPE’s strategy at this point. And yet, it is still holding down a place in the HPE slideware pulled out on every occasion – so what gives?

There is no shortage of evangelists supporting NonStop nor is there any shortage of references highlighting exceptional use-case scenarios. We often look to finance and telco industries to find references to NonStop but in reality, NonStop clings to handholds in almost every vertical from manufacturing, distribution, entertainment and yes, even healthcare. With all the security issues we read about almost daily and the outages of critical infrastructure components we hear about almost as often, you would think a lot more attention was being paid to reliability but it just isn’t the case. The assumption is that all systems, no matter who the vendor is, provides 24 x 7 capabilities and outages by any of the systems was just an unfortunate incident most likely attributable to human error. A situation that will always be present as long as there is human engagement involved! So why even consider a NonStop system and all the added expense that would involve?

However, evangelism alone isn’t going to cut it – we need a lot more and we need it from all stakeholders. The simple truth is that NonStop will do very well without being strategic. When you consider other manufacturers you will see there are numerous categories for their products – strategic, tactical, utilitarian, general purpose and yes, even halo! Point is, champing at the bit to push NonStop to the top of the list of strategic products isn’t really going to get us anywhere – what is more important is returning to the topic of HPE having a strategy for NonStop. And this is where the signage is better illuminated.

Being strategic and having a strategy are very different pursuits and are oftentimes, unrelated. We expect HPE to be able to articulate a strategy for the company as a whole – we all want to be better informed about where it is headed. But when it comes to individual products in the portfolio, strategies will vary by marketplace, region and even personalities. Just take a look at the reference points surrounding NonStop today and you will get a good sense of not only where HPE sits with NonStop but where you are relative to a strategy for NonStop, best described as a holding pattern.

There are two very distinct and yes, quite separate NonStop paths today and they contain numerous pitfalls for both users and vendors alike. What may work when following one path will not necessarily work when following the other path. HPE will continue to make NonStop systems – it’s strategy for NonStop systems is to continue to follow the Intel roadmap that will give us the latest x86 chips as Intel regularly ups the performance. The key piece of the strategy here is that the marketplace for these NonStop systems will be existing users with only marginal increase in the NonStop user population at best.

In developing virtualized NonStop (vNS) however with vNS, HPE is taking NonStop down a completely untested path and here’s where the problems arise – we have no reference points. We are approaching blind corners and cresting hills with no visible signage as to where the road is headed. Having said that, there isn’t a firm strategy for vNS as yet and for the NonStop community it appears that the strategy for vNS remains a work in progress. And yet, vNS is anything but in a holding pattern – it may turn out to be the only outcome for NonStop that becomes strategic but for that to happen, vNS may not be solely resident within HPE.

When looking at these paths down which NonStops are headed, there may not be ten times the reference points we need to check but there is still much to observe. Hopefully with the NonStop Technical Boot Camp fast approaching, we may learn more even as these reference points consolidate and we come to see just a simple sign. For now, what matters most isn’t whether NonStop is strategic for HPE but rather, does HPE have a strategy for NonStop and will that strategy embrace the NonStop we know today even as it lifts the veil on the NonStop we all see coming. NonStop systems will likely be with us for a couple more years but as for vNS, well-executed and well-supported by HPE, it’s influence may be felt for decades to come!


Keith said...

I cannot say much about your main points, but I believe you are incorrect about one of the less important statements you made. You said that people today assume all computers have 24x7 capability. I think that is wrong. Microsoft did a fantastic job of training one or two generations of computer users that all computers regularly crash. THAT is the assumption that I believe nearly everyone has today. They don't even believe that there could be a system that does not exhibit that behaviour.

Richard Buckle said...

I agree with you Keith and I should have qualified my source - it came direct from (biggest global IT analyst group) who said to me that we cannot claim 24 x 7 as a differentiator nor can we talk about any real time being a benefit as all vendors are providing this level of availability today.

Hence my inclusion to see who might pick up on this ... I for one, was flabbergasted to here such push-back on NonStop!