Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foundations are never glamorous but when it comes to NonStop, they’re making a big difference!

A solid foundation is important for any structure erected on a site and when it comes to NonStop, the NonStop Technical Boot Camp keynote presentations highlighted just how strong a foundation NonStop systems have today …

Planning for travel across the western states of the U.S. can be a gamble at times – will it snow or will we be blessed with sunshine? Over the years we have encountered almost every conceivable weather condition on the route that takes us north into Wyoming before turning west to that beautiful city by the bay. This year, the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) was held by the airport so our drive to San Francisco would mean tackling not only multiple mountain summits, but also some of the worst traffic in all the country. Naturally enough, we have left behind more sporting modes of transport in preference for the much sturdier Jeep. 

The picture above was taken just as we were about to leave for TBC. As you will note, work has now begun on the new home of our soon to be neighbor’s house and it’s been quite a project to get to this point – there was something amiss with the soil where they were excavating that needed more attention than normal, but nothing can be built without a sound foundation. And as we watched the proceedings over the past couple of weeks, the work proceeded at a cautious pace, but now, even as the snow began to fall, we can better see what the foundations will be supporting; the formwork already suggesting the layout of the home even as contractors waited for the concrete to be poured.

However, in a sign of things to come, the presence of snow at the outset of our trip was a little unsettling and yet, the rest of the drive to San Francisco was trouble free. I always pack the Jeep prepared for the worst – bags of kitty litter in case we get caught in a drift; chains we had made for the Jeep’s rear tires, but in truth, if the snow is that bad that we are forced to fit chains then we head to the nearest hotel and wait for better weather. We pack a shovel, candles, lots of water and a variety of snacks, just in case. The candles? It’s quite amazing how much heat a single candle can provide should we slide off the road and into a gulch.

But again, nothing happened, but I am reluctant to tempt fate and leave any of these items behind. When it comes to IT and to NonStop, TBC proved to follow a similar pattern. Oftentimes, the discussions on social media sites suggest that bad things are about to happen and, that as a community, NonStop users need to prepare themselves for the worst, but not this year. Just a lot of good news about the company, about the NonStop development team and about the NonStop products put a real positive spin on the goings-on of the event.

Right from the outset, Randy Meyer, VP & GM of Synergy, Blades and Mission Critical Systems, gave us the good news about NonStop we always like to hear. While HPE never gives out details of specific products, when it came to NonStop, Randy enthusiastically reported that for the third year in a row, NonStop beat its numbers! 

I am often asked for just what these numbers are – and I have asked many HPE managers this question through the years, but to no avail – when I look at what they potentially could look like, I have to admit that I continue to come up with a big number that covers everything (the systems, the storage, the network and yes, the software) then I seem to be attracted to a number between half a billion and a billion with perhaps the needle leaning more in the direction of the billion dollars, U.S. And as for the installed base I think the community is now somewhere close to 400 global enterprise customers.

At its peak, around 1990 (or a little before), sales of everything passed the two billion dollar mark but that included Ungermann Bass and Atalla and perhaps the pre-"spin-off" of TSA Inc. which, much later, became ACI Worldwide with revenues that in 2016 topped a billion dollars!  As for the installed base of NonStop systems all those years ago, a figure of close on 2,000 global enterprise customers comes to mind …

But the numbers don’t really matter anymore! It’s the transaction volumes that continue to climb with one bank here stateside already processing more than a billion transactions a month according to the data being provided by one NonStop solutions vendor. And the numbers don’t really matter anymore as HPE is truly focused on “high-value business” and there were many former NonStop users who probably should have looked at alternate product offerings.

At one time, Tandem Computers had a huge footprint across the newspaper industry even as it had an equally large footprint in police stations, but today, it’s clear that the value proposition of NonStop proves most appealing to financial institutions, retailers and of course, telcos. Manufacturing and distribution and yes, even transportation continue to see a sprinkling of NonStop systems around the planet but as a general purpose, fault tolerant system, NonStop has been deployed in numbers that support it being viewed as a niche solution. Now, after reading this I am sure there will be a number of NonStop community members that will take me to task over all this and so yes, I encourage you all to post comments! Could prove very interesting reading.

Terms like high value and niche aren’t to be scoffed at. Oftentimes, niches can be “owned” by just a single vendor and when you look at the data provided by industry analysts such as IDC, when it comes to the very highest levels of availability, what IDC calls availability level four (AL4), then the only legitimate system seen up at the top of this pyramid is NonStop. Yes, we all know IBM can provide a Parallel Sysplex cluster of mainframes, but you would be hard-pressed to acknowledge it provides fault tolerance out of the box. However, returning to the numbers game one last time, the number of nines supported is meaningful and very important to those processing customer transactions, 24 X 7.

Just ask any eCommerce company about lost business every time they report an outage and even stock exchanges, once the bastion of NonStop, but long since a haven for inexpensive off-the-shelf servers havn’t seen the levels of availability they once enjoyed with NonStop and more often than not, make the evening news with stories about their latest crash! Or hack! Yes, NonStop supports seven nines and beyond – that’s just what it does!

All of this is by way of a backdrop or introduction to what transpired at Boot Camp. We saw a lot more of the framework surrounding the future of NonStop even as we witnessed a new foundation being laid for NonStop systems, whether traditional or virtual. It’s all about the L-Series and no longer about the boxes. It’s all about compatibility being maintained across any deployment of the L-Series version of the NonStop supported OS and accompanying integrated stack. It’s all about what the application sees and there is no difference at the application level whether you run on a NonStop X system or on the Converged Virtualized NonStop, of which we all got a “sneak peek”, or on hypervisors deployed on any commercially available off the shelf x86 server cluster! Cool!

Yes, you read this right it’s all about the L and for the rest of the industry, catching L as they attempt to enter the niche owned by NonStop. And supporting a growing proliferation of foundations and frameworks, there is nothing stopping NonStop becoming a formidable presence inside the hybrid IT data centers or further afield, supporting real time streaming analytics platforms as part of the intelligent edge.

The return drive to Colorado, well, that didn’t go quite so well with Wyoming closing Interstate 80 part way across because of high winds, drifting snow and icy roads. We had always planned on stopping the night partway across and our hotel just happened to be where the boom was dropped across the highway. The following morning proved a difficult test of drivers’ patience but we made it out of these conditions intact.

As I was focused on negotiating the trying conditions it occurred to me, NonStop has really emerged from some testing times. It is so much stronger and a lot better suited to today’ needs. Yes, it’s a high value solution as seen by HPE but it’s also a very high value proposition for all those enterprises looking to stay out of the nightly newscasts. This was perhaps the biggest impression that was made on the community – run NonStop your way from a vendor who can support you any way. And that just has to be the money number for all of us!

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