Sunday, December 17, 2017

Slippery slopes facing today’s computers …

When we look closely at NonStop are we indeed treading on a slippery slope when it comes to assigning a role for NonStop? Can the new NonStop satisfy multiple business requirements?

Since my return to Windsor, Colorado, it has been nothing but sunny days. Sure, there was one overnight instance where snow fell, but for Coloradans it was more like icing sugar than real snow. Just a dusting that, by mid-morning, had mostly vanished leaving behind just a few dark damp spots and not much else! It is becoming hard to believe it is winter with Christmas just around the corner and yes, there are still golfers out on the course right next to our home. As our local weather station reported, it’s difficult to tell the seasons apart these days even as we continue to spend afternoon’s outdoors, grilling steaks and drinking beer!

Having spent almost the entire month of November at one vendor event after another, one of the overriding takeaways has been the blurred lines that are beginning to appear. Where once we had very distinct categories of computers and peripherals, and where we knew what their capabilities would be just by their size and indeed, the vendor badge appended to the chassis, this is no longer the case. When you first see the HPE supercomputer that is about to spend a year or more in space, it looks more like a large PC than a “real computer.” On the other hand, open the doors to expose some larger systems and all you see is, well – nothing. Cabinets that are mostly empty space with just one or two racks having anything on them at all, even as the individuals promoting them talk at length about what you can do with so much (compute / storage / networking bandwidth / etc.) capability on hand.

In its annual Car of the Year issue motoring magazine, Motor Trend, began by noting how, “The development pace of semi-autonomous features (is) starting the slow process of disconnecting us from traditional 100 percent human control. It’s a slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions that begs the meaning of what is to be an automobile. Our old friends the sedan, the coupe, the station-wagon and the minivan – the familiar car variants that our mom and dad and their moms and dads have no trouble defining – are in the midst of a major identity crises.”  Two messages stand out here – the disconnection between drivers and their cars and, more importantly perhaps, the identity crises that has arisen as automobile manufacturers cross the lines to produce car variants that are sometimes hard to rationalize. Open their hoods and what’s inside doesn’t really tell you anything about their capabilities on hand.

Let’s start with the disconnection aspect of the message above. When it comes to computers and to more advanced topics like automation and autonomous operation, nothing comes to mind more quickly than the robots we see today among us. While I was attending the HPE Discover event in Madrid, there was a lot of discussion following the release by Boston Dynamics of its humanoid robot, Atlas, doing backflips. According to WIRED magazine, in a November 15th, 2017, article,
BOSTON DYNAMICS' ATLAS ROBOT DOES BACKFLIPS NOW AND IT'S FULL-TILT INSANE, “To be clear: Humanoids aren’t supposed to be able to do this. It's extremely difficult to make a bipedal robot that can move effectively, much less kick off a tumbling routine.”  Furthermore, “Over the years, (Atlas has) grown not only more backflippy but lighter and more dexterous and less prone to fall on its face. Even if it does tumble, it can now get back up on its own.”

All I could come up as my contribution to the discussion was that perhaps we were all witnessing the evolution of American gridiron players. With as many problems as there have been reported about brain damage among the players, what better use of a 6’9” humanoid that can move effectively than to make them the heart of your football team – the offensive and yes, defensive lines! Even with ice hockey, a couple of these as defensive brutes might paint a different picture for some teams. If they lose a limb or worse, a head is knocked off then, no worries, a replacement part can be bolted on to them immediately and send them back out into the fray!

While not on the same page as these hulking humanoids, there were many specialized robots on display at HPE Discover with perhaps the ABB unit solving Rubik’s cube (in very little time) attracting a lot of interest. With very clever “eyes” it was able to view the cube from different angles and so, quite rapidly, do the math required to shift the planes to ensure the colors came out correctly on each surface. ABB and HPE took advantage of HPE Discover to announce the creation of a partnership that had as its goal, providing “actionable insights across industrial plants, cloud and on-premises data centers for higher productivity and innovation.” So, yes be it on the playing field or deep within a factory, the lines between humans and humanoids are clearly becoming blurred.

However, it is the identity crises occurring with computers as we have known them that holds more interest for IT professionals, including those who are members of the NonStop community. For so many years, we all knew what a NonStop system was just by looking at the cabinetry and oftentimes the NonStop badge appended to the side of the system. Then there was the console where simply a brief glance was all that it took for any system manager to recognize that there was a NonStop OS in there somewhere. But today, we are definitely descending a slippery slope when it comes to understanding what NonStop is becoming.

There are still many individuals out there who really do want to return to the workforce in support of NonStop. Time hasn’t been kind to so many of them as for a decade and a half the future of NonStop looked dim. Enterprises stopped investing in NonStop as solutions vendors have sought alternate platforms. However, with the resurgence of NonStop it is no longer the NonStop these individuals recognize and the skillsets demanded of them have become quite different. For NonStop programmers, all you need to know is a development environment like Eclipse in order to write code and when it comes to familiar roles for systems managers well, you better know a whole lot more about hypervisors and virtual machines than you may think as provisioning a NonStop system today with a shared nothing underpinning isn’t for the faint of heart.

No, NonStop is now just software and yes, NonStop is now just one more virtualized workload. As a premier scale-out option for many mission critical applications, the size of the servers it runs on can be anything from just a few processors to a roomful of them – the lines between systems have become so blurred that you really cannot safely say that indeed, NonStop runs here! It may have at one point and it may even return, but the provisioning algorithms have been working overtime to ensure the lowest-cost server option is being exercised in order to meet negotiated SLAs.

This isn’t bad news for NonStop or the community of experienced programmers and systems managers anxious to return to the workforce and to make a contribution. It’s just different and there are new skills to be learnt. But ignoring the opportunities and forsaking further skillset development is a slippery slope of an entirely different kind leading only to the nearest EXIT sign. And from the discussions I have had on several social media forums, nobody that I have talked to is ready to exit the market. Humanoid robots may be able to do summersaults and solve Rubik cube problems and they may even be more effective walking into hostile environments unsuitable to us but they are yet to prove themselves skilled in NonStop.

Few of us in the industry would have missed the most recent news coming from Google. As reported in the November 5, 2017, issue of The New York Times,
Building A.I. That Can Build A.I., “Google may soon find a way to create A.I. technology that can partly take the humans out of building the A.I. systems that many believe are the future of the technology industry.” Well, perhaps they can and perhaps the combination of summersaulting hulks capable of advancing AI will play a big part in our future but that doesn’t detract from the here and now, NonStop still needs a community to support its future growth.

Given all that we have seen and the expectations by HPE for future sales of NonStop – traditional and virtualized - that slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions together with systems indistinguishable from one another, each capable of doing any job we ask of them, simply means NonStop will likely be everywhere. And everywhere is a place I like and it should be well understood, being everywhere will demand everyone to be on hand. So yes, it may very well be hard to tell the seasons and it may be as equally hard to tell where NonStop is running but let that not be a distraction. NonStop not only needs a community to support it, but so does HPE and that isn’t something any of us should ignore!


Richard Buckle said...

Just added a new graphic - hope this provides a visual representation of what I cover in the subsequent paragraphs.

Richard Buckle said...

This was directed to the post,

So I have now added an updated comment to that intended post ... check it out and yes, look for the new graphic that has been added.