Saturday, December 29, 2007

Grading HP? Need to do much better ...

This will be the last blog entry I post for the year. I have enjoyed writing this blog and I have welcomed the steady flow of comments that have been posted. I am back in Boulder and I plan on taking a break now for 10 days or so with the first posting likely during the week of January 7th.

The photo I have included here is from my home in Boulder and yes, we have seen plenty of snow. While nowhere near the levels of last year, when three back-to-back blizzards shut down all activity around Denver and the Front Ranges, the temperatures have been every bit as cold though and this morning I arose to 0 degrees Fahrenheit! I head back to Southern California on the weekend and I am looking forward to basking in the mid, to upper, 60s that they are currently enjoying! At least there will be an opportunity to see if the Colorado University football team can win its first bowl game in many years.

And this is the first holiday season in many years where I will not be spending any time back in Australia, and I will missing the tennis grand slam event as well as the cricket test matches. This year, it will be a very powerful Indian cricket team playing the “home side” Australia that is now rebuilding after winning the world cup for the third successive time.

As I look back on the postings that I have made, I kept to the topics I committed to early on - the platform, the system attributes (or fundamentals), together with a recent addition, data bases and business intelligence. But as I went back through the coverage I provided, I thought it may be valuable to look at what I saw unfolding for the various stakeholders in ITUG.

HP, as the primary vendor, is a major stakeholder and there were a lot of changes as well as interesting developments. We have seen the NonStop Advanced Architecture (NSAA) and the NonStop Value Architecture (NSVA) product lines subject to continued investment as they track the Intel roadmaps. We have seen models specific to the telco market introduced. We have had revealed to us that the investment HP has made in the platform since the acquisition of Compaq top the US$1.2 Billion mark. While this has been unfolding we have seen the appearance of the first product roadmaps that show the new Bladed Architecture packaged and have seen how they are being positioned between the NSAA and NSVA product lines.

We have also seen the first customer deployments of the Neoview platform. Early indications seem to suggest that it is developing a following in the retail space as well as some early penetration within manufacturing. While I was in Singapore I was sitting at the hotel lobby bar when a guest slumped into a chair and called for a beer. He turned to another hotel patron and said “I have just working flat-out installing disk drives – more disk drives than I have ever seen in my life before!” As I had seen he had a HP shirt on I couldn’t help but ask – Superdomes? NonStop? “No, it’s one of those new big Neo systems and I swear they must have a petabyte of disk going in – perhaps more!”

Small world! OK, so when you sit at a bar, you never know for sure who you are sitting next to – and I am pretty sure this guest was unaware of me. But early next year I am planning on providing a lot more information on how the sale of Neoview platforms is progressing.

HP NonStop partners are another major stakeholder, and for many of them, it’s been a tumultuous year. I can’t write anything on this subject unless I address the 800lb guerilla in the room. Yes ACI! I suspect by now we are all familiar with the contents of the press release of December 17th “IBM and ACI Forge Global Strategic Alliance” with the tag line that read “Deliver Integrated Electronic Payment Solutions for the Financial Services Industry.” Like most of you who follow NonStop and are familiar with the history of Tandem on first reading this, I was very surprised. But I have to admit, the absence of and ACI vendor stand in Brighton, and just a much smaller presence earlier in Las Vegas, had me wondering. So now we know!

I had the opportunity to be in Omaha a few days after the announcement and quietly, over drinks and coffee, observed that in all reality not much was changing. We had all known for some time that ACI was intent on complementing its business on NonStop with something equivalent on IBM – and this had been articulated for many years across a number of conferences. It was also well-known that following a number of acquisition, ACI had built a portfolio of products that ran across a broad number of technologies – indeed, no one platform would support the entire product suite from ACI.

Selecting the System z as the single platform was the surprise part though – but if you were to try and match the attributes of today’s NonStop server in terms of scalability, availability, and data integrity then I am not sure there was any other IBM platform could promote that would be equivalent. But then, while System z has many detractors I, for one, like the System z as I spent the first ten years of my career on and around this platform and just about every bank I know has one tucked away somewhere in the data center.

NonStop and System z have recently been selected by their respective vendors to anchor major server consolidation programs - a clear sign to me that both of these platforms should be no longer viewed as legacy. Surely this label has been finally shredded given these decisions at HP and IBM. You just don't continue to invest in legacy - even if "legendary!"

Now, the whole ACI product suite never did run on NonStop – it was just the payment engine that depended on NonStop and BASE24eps will be supported for some time to come. But historically, the option to run the payment engine on System z has been actively promoted for three or four years with only a handful of users electing to go down that path – this latest deal, where closer integration with key IBM infrastructure is planned, represents the third round of development for the crew working with System z.

I plan to provide a follow-up posting on all of this in January but for now, why don’t I see that much changing? Before joining GoldenGate I spent almost a decade working at ACI (and Insession) and remain very supportive of many of the folks who work there. Like everything in our industry, it will be the customer that drives the final outcome – vendor alliances, strategic or otherwise, have never really forced any customer to change without considerable due diligence first. And in this case, we are talking about a market segment that is the most risk-averse of all market segments and where a potential payback from changing a platform has to be weighed against the downside from any potential negative outcome.

Finally, as users and as members of the user community, we are the other major stakeholder. Following successful joint events in the US and in Europe, and looking how some regional groups are broadening the product lines they cover, the coming year may usher in a whole new era of product and user group convergence.

As someone with a heritage in NonStop I do want to know more about development with Unix and with Linux. And I know there are others that are interested in Windows as well. I see a future where applications will run in isolation from the underlying operating system just as I see the operating system executing independently of the hardware configuration. I see virtualization being considered at all levels across the hardware, operating system, and application mix.

I plan to provide a lot more coverage of the user community and the events they hold. I plan to attend as many regional events as my time and priorities allow. But I really have a sense that the coming year will see major changes in the way we, as users, interact with our primary vendor, HP.

For the next couple of weeks, I will be taking it a little easier. I will continue to respond to the emails I receive and I will be updating the overall look-and-feel of the site. I have been pleased with the feedback from the simple poll I posted, and will take all comments to heart.

Australia may have lost the Rugby World Cup this time, to a great side well-deserving of the title, but we continue to dominate the game of cricket. I was reminded of this today when an Australian columnist, Peter Roebuck, wrote “simply, the Australians keep playing good cricket, and periodically play great cricket.” On the other hand, I am still not sure we can say the same about HP NonStop sales and marketing teams. There are some great individuals but collectively, I would be a lot more content to see them just being good. And on that note, I look forward to the coming year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Different point of view!

A while ago I was traveling the back-roads behind the South-Eastern Coast of Australia and on one occasion drove up the Illawarra Highway and over the Macquarie Pass. This is a pretty spectacular road but not for the faint of heart as it’s hairpin bends (switchbacks) and step climbs mean that you will not see any 18 wheelers (or, 22 wheelers, as is often the case in Australia) using this highway. But the pass does support one of Australia’s southernmost sub-tropical rainforest, and to suddenly drive into the forest’s gloom is quite a memorable sight.

I first tackled this road back in 1970 – and on my first motorcycle. I elected to make the climb up to a village pub in the small town of Robertson just the other side of Macquarie Pass. It was an exciting first ride as my headlamp stopped emitting light about halfway up the highway and remained non-functioning for the rest of the night. The ride down as I tried to pick out the apex of hidden corners was a ride I will always remember.

On my most recent trip up this road I once again stopped in at the pub at Robertson just for old time’s sake. Robertson produces a good local cheddar cheese so a cold lager with some cheese and crackers made it worthwhile. But as I settled into the bar, I couldn’t help overhearing the local’s having a healthy debate over the issues of the day. Central to the exchange was the concerns over selling land (mineral resources) to foreigners and how, in the words of one of the locals, piece by piece the whole country could end up in the hands of offshore developers. “Why are we selling it one holding at a time? Why don’t we just sell the whole bloody country, and then we could all go live in the Riviera?”

The picture I have included here is by a local South-East Coast painter, Max Mannix, which captures the casual nature of the folks at the bar, and reflects the attitude of the locals as they debate such heavy topics. And it was against this background that I caught the Lou Dobbs report on CNN last week where they reported on the subject of “Best Careers for a Changing Job Landscape” from a recent US News and World Report article. The magazine reporter was seeing “more students are graduating from college at the same time that employers are off-shoring more professional jobs. So, many holders of a bachelor's degree are having trouble finding jobs that require college-graduate skills.”

CNN then went on to highlight that, for the first time, the US News and World Report had added four careers that didn’t require a college degree “biomedical equipment technician, firefighter, hairstylist / cosmetologist, ad locksmith / security system technician” to their best career list. This really floored me – best career options were now being promoted on the basis of least threat to being off-shored rather than on the basis of value they will bring to the community. Don’t pursue engineering or science as you will not be able to compete! Get a job as a firefighter or a hairstylist, as we don’t see much off-shoring potential with these vocational choices!

The fear of off-shoring has now created a situation where we are now telling our kids – the gigs up! Let’s find something else to do now! We are essentially letting them know we are more concerned about them having a job, rather than taking on a career with global challenges. In effect we are writing them off before we even put them into the game.

Off-shoring has its upside and many corporations have picked up on the most significant element, the economic advantage. But as I look at what’s now happening in the marketplace, I am becoming concerned on three levels.

The first level is something I call development creep. Nearly every offshore project I have been involved with starts out on the understanding that it’s about support and maintenance of older products. It often includes products and features often no longer considered mainstream or current, which are frequently based on older infrastructure technology and / or programming languages. But after a couple of years, I see these off-shore companies approaching their partners and begin to solicit new-development opportunities. Their argument is that it’s just becoming too hard to keep any group of programmers together without some development projects and so, over time, development creep begins.

But the price paid by the partner, and eventually the ecosystem of ISV’s supporting that partner, becomes pretty obvious. The reach of these new-development projects often overlaps with what ISVs offer – and I have seen this overlap happen a number of times. Left unchecked, development creep will collapse any viable ISV ecosystem as the primary vendor looses credibility with the partners it had attracted.

The second level is something I call direct funding of our future competitors. Whether we even realize it, or not, the fact is that any off-shore community learns quickly when presented with real business problems to solve. And with their predisposition to only want to use the latest architectures, infrastructures, and technologies, this focus accelerates their movement to the front of the curve.

But the price paid by the industry is that, over time, we end up funding a future powerhouse with only limited resources remaining to stay competitive. And I find this very real and I am becoming extremely concerned. I do not want to appear to be an alarmist, but I do want to make sure we are all aware of this potential and that we act with measured caution when we select projects for off-shoring. Clearly, this off-shore funding is what we see today fostering the reluctance of our student populations to take on careers in IT.

The final level is what I call leadership-ciphering, and by this I mean the shrinking pool of IT on-shore activities is lessening the opportunity for real leadership to develop. As you cut away at our entry-level positions and remove the need to even have junior IT positions staffed, how do we really expect to nurture the next generation of IT Architects, DBA’s, and Operations leaders? Even if we do provide ladders that bridge to higher positions, what good will they be if there’s no one around to climb the steps?

Of the three levels, this last one is potentially the most damaging. By taking a short term view and off-shoring to a partner, we begin to strip away at our own ability to apply IT as a business differentiator. We quickly turn to a short-list of global service companies tuned to rolling out variations on a couple of themes, and then wonder why our application of technology to solving business problems isn’t generating the benefits it once did.

But before I go any further on this topic, I want to say I am not anti–globalization. I view the actions of company’s that set up their own operations in a foreign country and then build a company operation around the development of the local community, is something I view very positively. Balancing the development needs across different locations and accommodating different cultures are all key ingredients in promoting innovation. Globalization is quite different to "contract" off-shoring where little consideration is given to anything other than handing over key intellectual assets to anyone who can do something similar for less. And really, the days of savings of 70 percent are over as most of us, with today’s shifting currency valuations, struggle to eek out even 20 or 30 percent savings!

Whether we think in terms of abandoning our sovereignty and letting others exploit our natural resources (let’s sell the whole country!) or we just let other nations capitalize on our intellectual resources (let’s not compete in engineering or the sciences!), the end result is much the same and it’s pretty depressing.

I have developed a different point of view on this. It hasn’t just surfaced but rather, has been slowly percolating to the top. Isn’t it time we seriously challenged the “business norm” of just stripping our ability to compete and allowing our financing to slowly build our future competitors? Isn’t it time to encourage our students to once again, tackle the difficult curriculums of engineering and science?

Firefighters and hairstylists will always be needed, but do we really want to build our society exclusively around these kinds of skill-sets? Or are we going to sit quietly by and wait for new jobs as we become the low-cost off-shore center of the new economies we finance? In the spirit of my mate, back at the pub in Robertson, “why do we off-shore our projects a piece at a time? Why don’t we off-shore all of IT and go live in the Riviera!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Virtualization? Unreal, mate!

I wandered into Second Life last night and took the opportunity to check out what was going on, and the picture I have included here is of my avatar, RT Writer. Earlier this year I had attended a vendor event where there were a number of demonstrations of Second Life and I have become a casual participant in this virtual community. I really like the opportunity it gives me to fly over islands and be teleported between them.

The whole concept of a virtual community intrigues me, as does the investment some corporations are making. Last night I wondered onto an IBM island – the picture is of me at an IBM Australia site – and continue to be highly impressed by the number of islands IBM owns. I even boarded a motor yacht, the Palmisano, located between IBM island’s 7 and 8 and took a leisurely stroll through its interior.

Second life is one of a growing number of virtual communities, and the trick with creating these worlds is to make sure that you have a rich enough experience that you really do look forward to returning. It’s still early days, and the technology has a ways to go, but I can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future where more and more business will be conducted within these virtual worlds. It’s not something I want to encourage just yet, but I can see a time when participation in a virtual user community becomes a viable alternative as well.

However, I am reminded that when it comes to virtualization, it’s not a virtual community that comes to mind, but a virtual platform. Indeed, even more immediate practical innovation may appear as a result of platform virtualization than we will see from virtual communities any time soon. In my September 13th posting “A Taste for Virtualization” I quoted from InformationWeek (August 13th) that Ann Livermore had said “Innovation has just begun!”

For those managing data centers, there is a huge push to consolidate the servers. The economics from simple server consolidation are overwhelming – not just because of the hardware savings that come with better economies of scale, but because we can better manage and automate energy consumption, as well as more effectively secure, the resultant configurations. Simply put, less moving parts, less opportunities to infiltrate.

It is not just server consolidation however, the very building blocks that make up the engines within these servers is changing as well as we welcome a whole new world of multi-core processors. Layered two-way, four-way, whatever, these powerful multi-core processors really do need a layer of abstraction between them and traditional operating systems. We need to move to a technology that hides the rapid advancements going on at the hardware level, without forcing us into constant, expensive, operating system upgrades.

As I researched this topic I was particularly interested in a couple of statements I came across on Wikipedia on the topic of virtualization. These included “a technique for hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources from the way in which other systems, applications, or end users interact with those resources.”

Wikipedia also stated that “the common theme of all virtualization technologies is the hiding of technical detail, through encapsulation. Virtualization creates an external interface that hides an underlying implementation.” Finally, “platform virtualization is performed on a given hardware platform by host software (a control program), which creates a simulated computer environment, a virtual machine, for its guest software. The guest software, which is often itself a complete operating system, runs just as if it were installed on a stand-alone hardware platform.”

All the signs are there that, as the new bladed-architecture rolls out, it will have the ability to run many HP supported operating systems. And for me, just as importantly, there will be a layer of virtualization, or hypervisor, sandwiched between these operating systems and the multi-core processors.

HP will have virtualization options – indeed, they already support a number of third party offerings on their other platforms – and it is just not an IBM-only feature as I recently read. HP, Microsoft, and even SUN following its announcement of a $2 Billion commitment to virtualization at last month’s Oracle OpenWorld, will all support virtualization one way or the other. Earlier this year InfoWorld quoted a Forrester report that said “fifty-one percent of North American companies are either testing virtualization technology in their data centers, or have already deployed it.” I just have to believe that virtualization options for the NonStop user will most likely begin to appear sometime late in 2008.

For more than a year we have seen HP product managers’ present slides showing a mock-up of a proposed future bladed-architecture server where, overlaid in different colors, they present an image of a multi-racked tower supporting a mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, and even NT. It is clear to me that this will be a lot more than just a simple hybrid and that by the end of 2008, you will be able to consolidate any number of HP-supported OS’s using HP’s own virtualization product offerings.

And why stop at HP-supported OS’s?

What’s grabbed my attention recently is that Platform Solutions, Inc (PSI) of Sunnyvale, CA, has released a new server line - the PSI System64™ Open Mainframe™ Servers. On the front page of their web site ( is a description of their Open Mainframe Servers, where you can read that these are “Intel Itanium2 based Mainframe servers for z/OS. System64 Provides PCM compatibility for z/OS and mainframe applications, general purpose engines for Windows, Linux, and HP-UX, and device virtualization for bridging mainframe and distributed architecture worlds.”

This year I saw for myself their prototype running on a “run of the mill” HP SuperDome with HP-UX, NT, and zOS all running. So it’s not a big stretch to anticipate this becoming an option with the new bladed-architecture servers as well. Why would you want to do this? For some corporations, it may make commercial sense to include them in any planned server consolidation as well. This is not to promote the HP’s bladed-architecture servers as a replacement for IBM System z mainframes, but just as an option for those corporations keeping a mainframe around just to run a few legacy applications.

Right now, PSI and IBM are sorting out their differences, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a zOS option become available on HP bladed-architecture servers, co-existing alongside of NonStop, Linux, HP-UX, and NT. While the outcome of any legal squabbles cannot be accurately predicted these days I have to admit that from all I have read, PSI has a good story – much of the heritage stems from their former days as a business unit within Amdahl I recall.

However, the real power and flexibility from running multiple OS’s in a single bladed-architecture server only comes when they are plugged in on top of a hypervisor – a layer of virtualization spanning all the blades. Logically assigning computer power to the respective guest OS’s, and automated so that the incoming transaction streams can be analyzed, and the right balance maintained between the different OS’s, makes all the sense in the world to me. Oversight would come from a single integrated management console tied in directly to the hypervisor, operators both manual and automated, would have full visibility to the guest OS’s.

I have no insight into HP’s development plans in this area nor have I been the recipient of any inside scoop here. I have only been to the same public presentations as everyone else. But I am convinced that HP is headed down this path and I am just as convinced that they will produce a full-featured hypervisor either from a partner or internally developed, and that the flexibility offered will be unlike anything we have ever dealt with before.

I remain just as excited by where this is all headed, and can only imagine what innovative business solutions will appear as a result. Platform virtualization will not allow me to fly, as I can do as an avatar, or be teleported to different lands, but unlike the time I spend in Second Life the impact on my business will be way more impressive!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

May I remove this label?

I have just returned from a quick trip up to Silicon Valley for meetings with HP among other commitments. On my way home from dinner last night – and I have to give Evvia, a Greek Restaurant in Palo Alto, a plug as the food there was excellent – an Ice Hockey game was being broadcast. Coming direct from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, the commentators were talking about an incident, where clearly one teams “skater” had been hit hard by the other teams “goon”.

In the game of Ice Hockey, from the time you show any talent whatsoever, you quickly become tagged as either one of the elite, a fast and skilled skater with great puck-handling skills, or as a goon! The later character is the very physical and aggressive player you only ever send out onto the ice after your opponent elects to take a cheap-shot at your best skater. But every so often, a good skater will make a tough play only to hear much later that he has just been labeled a goon, an association that will take years to shake off.

There’s only one thing worse than watching ice hockey on TV and that’s trying to follow it on the radio, so after a few minutes I changed channels where I was able to relax a little with a Pink Floyd anthem. But being labeled, or tagged, brings with it a lot of baggage and nowhere is this more visible than within our community, whenever a technology attracts the dreaded legacy label.

The discussion of what is legacy and how bad it is to be labeled legacy, has appeared a number of times in my postings already. But I think we do need to take a look at whether NonStop really deserves any association with this label. I may be crazy and perhaps there’s a lot of renegade spirit still with me, but I just can’t accept any association of NonStop and its position in the marketplace as a dying, or less than strategic, platform.

My passion for NonStop was sorely tested this week in a conversation I had with Sami Akbay, our VP of Marketing here at GoldenGate. Like many companies, GoldenGate depends upon the NonStop marketplace for a lot of its business, but the company is adding support for other platforms to develop the additional growth our investors require. While Sami acknowledged my zeal for NonStop, and my enthusiasm for enterprise class servers in general, he was very cautious about accepting my story about how modern NonStop had become, and how ideal it was in addressing many of today’s business problems. And the picture I have included here is of me in one of my more philosophical poses.

So then, when does technology become legacy, and when exactly does it acquire the dreaded legacy label? Is there a line that’s crossed that determines this, and when exactly do we know for sure that its time to wind down our investments in a platform and operating system? Back on October 17th, I wrote a posting that I called “You can’t survive if you aint got jive …”, where I quoted Scott Healy, our current ITUG Chairman, who suggested “IT shops are multi-platform today and we all have to deal with inter-platform issues like interoperability, the integration of data, and an almost constant world of change.” And this really is my first litmus test for whether a platform deserves the dreaded legacy label. If you can’t easily integrate it with everything else – at the application, as well as the data level, then you have a problem.

Later, in the November 27th blog posting that I called “What do you mean legacy?” I made the comment that while “I am excited to see the recent growth in NonStop – the transition to the Intel Itanium chip is certainly bestowing a new modern look on an incredible technology.” A vendor such as HP wouldn’t have included the NonStop platform in the migration to Intel if it’s future wasn’t seen as being extremely bright – too much money is involved in switches like this to just let any old platform participate. And this is my second litmus test that I apply to any technology being considered legacy. If you can’t see the primary vendor investing in it – and keeping it current with the latest components, then you are going to see big problems sooner rather than later.

In a blog posting on October 2nd, I challenged us all when I wrote “Is it any coincidence that HP and IBM are electing to collapse their hundreds of servers down to a much smaller number? Is it any coincidence that the platform of choice for both vendors happens to be servers that many in the industry sometimes refer to as legacy?” My third and final litmus test is then pretty obvious. If your vendor isn’t deploying the platform in support of its own applications and taking advantage of its value-proposition, then why should you be taking a risk he does not want to take?

There are many who think that if you are not on the latest Windows NT, Unix, or Linux operating system, then you are on a legacy platform. But I am not so sure – I think it’s all about the applications we run. In looking back at my earlier comments, what I failed to cover was the applications these servers were to run, and this is a very important consideration. Building Enterprise Data Warehouses (EDW) with data being integrated in real-time, and applying business intelligence to solving thousands of daily operational questions, is about as modern an application as you can get. I am less inclined to label a platform as legacy when it is supporting applications like this!

NonStop brings real value to today’s modern applications and I am not surprised to see open source running on NonStop, nor am I surprised to find the latest Java code executing on NonStop. The increased usage of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) with its SOAP, XML, HTTP protocols directly leveraged from the explosion in Internet and Web connectivity, further highlight how modern the NonStop platform has become. Bill Highleyman, a former ITUG Chairman recently observed that “if HP could start making a big pitch, not about the underlying platform, but that it brings fault tolerance and scalability to the everyday world of SOA, SOAP, and all the other commonly accepted open standards of today, HP might make a go of it!” In other words, Bill is championing the exact same thought – for goodness sake, look at theses new applications that NonStop supports. They are as new as anything you will find on any other platform! With NonStop we do have the “diamond in the rough” – isn’t it time we polished it?

Recently I had an exchange with Chris Rooke, formerly of NonStop Marketing, on this very topic, and he observed “I have been using the word legacy in reference to ANY application that has been around for a while, rather than a particular platform per se. I have never received any direct push-back when doing this - the market tends to use (legacy) in a disparaging manner and in regard to mainframes and other OS’s that are not more modern and ‘sexy’ by some measure.”

Chris wrapped up this exchange with a very interesting observation “any legacy of life can certainly be classed as good or bad when looked at more dispassionately. So, as grey-haired marketers, it is our DUTY to make sure the less-than-grey-haired market base understands that …”

I don’t think NonStop can be considered legacy by any serious student of technology – it passes the three critical litmus tests I run. But my voice is barely a whisper across the industry, and so it’s up to all of us to be more forthcoming whenever we see NonStop misrepresented as legacy. It is true that a disproportionate number of users still run a mix of Guardian-based Cobol applications, and it’s just as true that the average HP salesman in BCS, as Bill Honaker, another former ITUG Chairman tells me, “just doesn’t want to learn what the NonStop box is – so it doesn’t get sold as an option, even if it’s the best solution.”

Again, you may still think I am a little crazy. You may think that my renegade pirate spirit distorts my view on technology, but I do believe that, as a platform, NonStop will be perceived as modern platform, with a bright future! And I fully believe that HP executives see this bright future as well, and do not side with those who too quickly mislabel NonStop.

And, the Pink Floyd anthem playing on the radio channel I switched to that night? Of course, “Shine on you crazy diamond!”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Need to take a brisk walk!

Some of you have remarked about my weight and that you have noticed, as I introduced photos from different periods of my life, how much slimmer I looked these days. However, the photo you see here is from last weekend as I returned from Chicago – and you will notice how I am keeping clear of the moving walkways. I had known for some time now that my weight wasn’t what I wanted it to be and, during my physical last year, my doctor suggested I exercise regularly.

Back then, I wasn’t exercising at all and my family began to have a little fun at my expense suggesting, at one point, that I resembled a beach ball! Wicked woman. So I have taken up walking here in Simi Valley, as well as in my Boulder neighborhood and my colleagues will often be surprised by the roadside noise when I answer the phone. As many of you have been reading, I don’t spend all that much time in either city, so I have begun to map out walking routes at different airports. Chicago, Terminal 1 Concourse C, is a good one and a half lap option as is Denver, Terminal B, from one end to the other and back. And at London’s Heathrow, Terminal 3 – a brisk walk to the end gates provides another work out.

It’s not only the walking I’ve been doing, but I have also cut down on the quantity of food I have been eating. I have also begun to be selective, and I am finding that I enjoy eating less, of quality servings, a lot better than eating fast-food. It was against this background that I overheard our eldest daughter Anna, complaining bitterly about her experience with migrating to Microsoft’s Vista operating system. She was particularly upset with the way Vista supported, or not, other applications and hardware interfaces, as well as how big it had become.

Anna is the Technology Teacher at Platt Middle School, here in Boulder County, and is very familiar with today’s PC technology. Not only did she object to Vista having packed on the extra pounds, but it was terribly slow as well. She then went on to tell me “there are issues with printer drivers – HP claims that the driver was bundled with Vista when they shipped it, which it wasn’t. Microsoft pointed at HP and, of course, recommended buying a new printer. It’s also VERY slow to boot up, even though I don’t seem to have a lot of programs loading on start-up. My main frustration, however, has been that software from other companies is not yet designed to run on Vista seamlessly - kind of putting the cart before the horse. And then there’s MS Office Suite 2007 – and it too has a lot of issues”!

When I was putting material together for another blog posting on architects and artisans a few months back – Kim Brebach, a former colleague of mine at Nixdorf Computers, pointed out that there were very “few people who still write elegant code, instead of ‘bloat-ware’. Look at Vista – 15Gb of lumbering code for a PC Operating System”?

Isn’t it time we put Operating Systems, and Infrastrucutre Middleware on a diet? Isn’t it time they were all made to exercise and get back into shape? Shouldn’t we be going back to our favorite vendors and saying “enough is enough”? Is it just my observation, or are we being provided with more bad code than ever before, and aren’t we seeing rapidly deteriorating product and feature quality as a result?

Palmer King, a regular attendee at SUNTUG, as well as a reader of this blog, supported my view and said “I agree with your point, but alas, I’m not sure why. I’m guessing, but I think we have fallen back into the same trap we saw in the late ‘80s / early 90’s where management pushed for timelines regardless of the concerns of engineers. It’s the same trap NASA fell into with the Shuttle program.”

There is a very visible rush to produce applications quickly. There is enormous pressure on all of us to deliver new solutions in support of our business endeavors. We have traded quality for quantity. Palmer reminded me of the Dilbert comic strip where Dilbert asks his managers “Is it OK to do it wrong as long as we do it really, really, fast”?

Peter Shell, former President of OzTUG and someone with many years of experience developing infrastructure middleware, thought I may be over-reacting when I suggested the quality of code was deteriorating. “I don’t necessarily agree that we are seeing a rapid deterioration in code quality, but I would agree that code is being released that is not as good as it once used to be,” he said, adding “and there are a few factors that are causing this – compressed timeframes, budget restrictions, backwards compatibility, and environment complexity.”

Some of this is beginning to creep into NonStop code, and this is a real concern for me. It’s not quite to the same degree as on other consumer or commercial software, but it’s beginning to become a lot more noticeable. When I put the issue of quality of code on NonStop back to Peter, he remarked that he “hasn’t a whole lot of info on the NonStop. Personally, I think the hardware is much more reliable, however, and it’s the available software that seems to create most problems.”

At the European ITUG user event, there were a number of questions raised during the Business Continuity SIG, and Panel Sessions, about the quality of NS SQL/MX. Mostly, anecdotal and often unsupported in terms of what had been reported to HP, but nevertheless, enough to suggest that NS SQL/MX wasn’t of the quality of earlier versions of NS SQL. As I recall, new releases coming out in 2008 aimed at improving quality.

Like everything these days, there’s no escaping the cost of quality, and the trade-offs we are forced to make between the quantity of code we provide and its quality. Let’s face it, good code is expensive to produce and, as Peter noted above, budget restrictions are playing their part, and the standard of Quality Assurance (QA) groups has begun to suffer. “Quality of anything, costs money”, observed Neil Coleman who worked with me at Insession, and “in software development you can cut development funding only up to a point – beyond that, nothing gets developed. But you can cut costs significantly in post-development activity, namely in QA.” Neil went on to suggest that we wont see the impact of the reduced QA efforts immediately, as it only becomes obvious that quality has become poorer much later and, by then, it is often someone else’s problem.

We are living and working in an ever-changing environment, with continually shifting user requirements. And a lot of the problems I am seeing start with this – poor requirements-gathering processes, that leads to poorly documented requirements. As Neil reminded me “I tend to think that ‘rapidly changing environment’ is a bit of an excuse used after the event when in fact the real culprit is the lack of agreed-upon requirements before development projects even start!”

I don’t want to appear reckless here, or wrongfully suggest that the quality of code being developed in support of NonStop is in decline. And in particular, I don't want to appear to be focusing solely on SQL/MX either even though I believe good data base product offerings are crucial to the long term viability of the NonStop platform. Furthermore, while I have no insight into the internal processes within HP NonStop development, I am very concerned about all the headcount cuts that have been made public and I am looking for assurances that it will not get any worse.

I know the management team very well and I have a lot of confidence that they will manage through this. I have seen an up-tick in the investment dollars being directed at NonStop development, and have to report that this is very encouraging. But have any of the headcount reductions over the past few years contributed to a declining requirements gathering process? Are there simply less eyes looking at user’s requirements these days?

I don’t see anything similar to the public questioning that’s going on in the press over Vista happening anytime soon over the NonStop Operating System and its associated infrastructure middleware. And we are a long way from developing similar frustration levels as are visible among Microsoft’s user community. Our daughter Anna’s last comment to me was “honestly, I feel like perhaps I should have listened to my friends and bought a Mac”!

This is not a likely outcome from any of us, but nevertheless, diligence across the ITUG community is very much needed. We have to engage our peers more routinely at ITUG meetings and events, for instance, and to be wary of any signs that there’s further erosion of quality surfacing. And we really do need to keep an eye on any signs of our software becoming bloated, no matter what the excuse! The real problem though is that you can’t just take your software on a brisk walk down Denver’s terminal B. You have to design the “slim lines” into it and make it fit, lean and mean, as you create it!

Friday, December 7, 2007

For RUGs, it's a bigger picture!

In 1988 I was kicking around the Sydney offices of Tandem with not a whole lot to do. I had returned to Australia from North Carolina and had pursued a job with Tandem Computers with the intent of returning to the US just as soon as I could. I had been working in Raleigh, North Carolina on an L1 visa but had to re-apply for a new L1 visa and for this I had to return to Sydney.

It was while waiting to get to Cupertino that I was encouraged to work with some of the local users – folks from the banks as well as some local ISVs, etc – and to see if we could form a user group. I jumped at the chance and over a couple of really lengthy lunches, we came up with the business plan for OzTUG.

By the time the group held its first meeting, late in ’88 I recall, I was working as a Program Manager within the Distributed Systems Management (DSM) group, and I had my new L1 visa. The picture here is of me about to drive down to Monterey for the weekend - a dreadful car by today’s standard but back then, living in California with that convertible – what a blast!

But RUGs have remained my passion, and readers of this blog will have read about me participating in many RUG events this year from SATUG in South Africa, to N2TUG in Dallas, and more recently VNUG and FinTUG in Scandinavia as well as attending both the major ITUG events in Las Vegas and Brighton. It is with RUGs that you can see what’s going on at the grass-roots level!

I have often been asked what makes a successful RUG, and how do you maintain community interest in RUG-related activities, and after all these years I have a pretty good idea. Recently, I had followed up with a number of folks actively engaged with RUGs and their opinions aligned pretty well with my own thoughts. Three observations really stood out from the rest.

First, it’s all about the users themselves. There has to be a real desire by a couple of key users whether from the end-user stakeholders or the vendors. And there has to be a sustained commitment from them over many years. In a recent email exchange with Bill Honaker, a former ITUG Chairman, he pointed out “RUGs have always been very dependent on dedicated local volunteers”. And then he added “I still think it’s the best ‘bang for the buck’ for a company that relies strongly on NonStop technology for business continuity and that there simply isn’t a better place to keep current on the usage trends of customers around the world”. Steven Moriarty, another former ITUG Chairman pretty much took a similar stance, and then added “if our RUG members are isolated and do not see the overall purpose or understand the mindset and business of their IT environment, they will miss opportunities to better integrate and use their NonStop equipment”.

Second, there just has to be an enthusiastic supporter in the local HP offices. Dave Russell is really very supportive of BITUG and I have observed how much effort he puts into making sure that there’s always good content at the meetings. He emailed me recently to say “I always ensure there are appropriate HP people presenting at the SIGs, and often help with user speakers”. He then added “I arrange the SIGs room, coffee and lunch, the badges, and so on”. But HP does support regional liaisons whenever they step forward and volunteer. Diane Funkhouser of HP Dallas, and deeply involved with N2TUG responded to my question and told me “I get good support from HP for my RUG – they provide a location for most meetings, often provide food as well as speakers, and have given us some really good give-aways (a camera, an IPOD, even clothing)”.

And then finally, content is important. Aligning the presentations and organizing discussion groups around the interests of the local community is just so important. For years, ITUG has known that “content is king”, but in the process of putting together the program for a global event, often has had to cut back on some topics. Hartmut Hoffmann of HP Germany, who has been involved with GTUG for as long as I can remember, wrote to me to say that “GTUG is the event for all German manufacturers, retailers, and logistics customers as they are not covered by other HP NonStop events - we do not have many standard application solutions in the German marketplace and I need to encourage them with their own development and with their work with local technology ISVs”. Bill Honaker added that “our SOAP education course last month was almost full – the largest we have held – and we’re planning a first quarter meeting around SOA in general”.

We come together at RUG meetings worldwide for many of the same reasons we attend global ITUG events – to talk with each other about our own situations, to be educated on the latest from our primary vendor, and to participate in forums where we can join with others to advocate for change. It has been these three activities that have contributed to the success of ITUG and they have been reflected in the local activities of the RUGs.

But there’s mounting evidence that the condition of each RUG varies enormously today as I have seen the emergence of four or five super-RUGs at a time when others have slid back. Some RUGs are not even functioning any longer. It was 2003 – 2004 when we peaked with active RUGs at about 35 and looking realistically at further growing to 40 – but since then, with the loss of a number of key individuals, the drop off has been significant.

Jay McLaughlin, VP of Sales with HP NonStop partner - USA, and the present ITUG Director responsible for RUGs, made some interesting observations recently when he told me: “I think it is best summed up by saying we are in a state of change. What the end result will look like is hard to say. When I first got involved it seemed the majority of the RUGs were looking to ITUG to help manage, and set the standards, for them. However, the changing landscapes of the NonStop world and ITUG, have seemed to reverse that trend back towards the feeling of a "grassroots" movement. From my standpoint, I look at the RUGs like our kids, and they each need a different level of nurturing that is constantly changing. Each one needs a different style and level of support - SunTUG (very independent) vs NRTUG (looking for assistance) for example”.

We are also seeing other changes across the world of user groups. Those that operate “close to the metal” and down at the operating system level, are seeing their membership struggle, while those communities focused on application software, are beginning to attract much larger followings. Oracle OpenWorld is now closing down parts of Howard Street in San Francisco to accommodate the crowds that flock to this event.

My good friend Graeme Philipson, who I quoted in my last blog posting, added at that time “I think the conventional user group, tied to a particular computer architecture, is past it’s ‘use by date’ – everything is so commoditized now; specialized ones still work – the Netezza event I attended in Boston was a great success, as I believe the Teradata events are as well”. Graeme then concluded with “Yes, it is a technology ‘food chain’ thing with communities around PC’s, for instance, dying whereas application software user groups seem very successful”.

Back in my September 24th blog posting “What did you have in mind, eh?” I said that I would be blogging to generate further discussion within the community on topics like platforms, system architectures, data base and business intelligence, but is it time now to really talk about where our community is headed? As we see stronger alignment with the HP Geo markets, with more Business Critical Server (BCS) centered event structure with broader participation by our good friends from Encompass, are we all happy to follow this direction? In Florida, SUNTUG has decided to cooperate with Encompass, and to include more than just NonStop in their programs.

I am beginning to see that, as the interest in what really goes on at the hardware level, with chip sets, and with interconnect fabrics and so forth, becomes less important, it is the successful integration of applications that is grabbing the most attention. Platform roadmaps will always remain important to us all as we like to get an idea about where the investments are being made, but where successful deployments are being made carries a lot more weight with today’s users.

And I do have to admit that I am not as concerned, or as unprepared for this, as I was a few years back. User groups will continue to evolve and will continue to redirect their focus, but this is only natural. We no longer discuss the merits of Assembler sub routines and in-line macros, the optimal way to sort fields, or the latest tricks with Job Control Languages. Our eyes are now lifted to more distant horizons as we contemplate the advantages we can leverage from others as we integrate business intelligence, enterprise resource planning, and so forth into the very core of our business.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

An "anniversary", of sorts ...

I have been blogging for a little over three months and I am very encouraged by the engagement that has developed with the ITUG community. There's very few postings that haven't generated additional comments and this is a very pleasing result so early in the lifecycle of this blog. I am including a photo here of me working on this posting from my neighborhood Simi Valley Starbucks coffee shop, where the staff are no longer surprised by the hours I keep. And yes, this is early December in Southern California.

A number of you have asked me how I find the time to write these postings and it’s rather straightforward. These days, and with the time I am loosing to travel, I end up spending most of my days in airport lounges drafting potential topics. One of the dreadful byproducts of this pattern is that I have a minor case of insomnia and even now, as I write this, it’s well before dawn. A few years back I used to joke that I had my body clock removed at a tender age but now I fear that I may have just broken it!

For as long as I can recall I was just as impatient as many of you about the minimal coverage of NonStop by industry analysts. I was always pressuring HP and before HP, Compaq, to see better coverage of NonStop. But the longer I waited for coverage to improve, the more my frustration grew. It has only been recently that I came to realize that perhaps the problem was really with us, the ITUG community, and that the time had come for us to develop our own analysis and commentary!

In the posting of September 1st, “Blog Launch”, I made the point that “The content, in the end, will only be as exciting and as meaningful as you dictate”. I went on to add in the posting of September 24th, “What did you have in mind?”, that “I am writing to generate further discussion”! And this is a very important element that keeps me motivated – this two-way dialogue is now well established and I look forward to reading every comment posted.

Over the past few months I have also received a number of supportive emails about the blog. And one of the emails that I received was from Bill Highleyman, a former ITUG Chairman and widely published himself, really hit home. He said:

“It’s been a long time since the NonStop community had such an insight from an outsider into things NonStop (outsider in that Richard is not an HP employee). Ever since the sad passing of Terry Shannon and the end to user-wide posting of advocacy issues, we in the NonStop community who were not able to go to the ITUG events had little insight into what was happening in the NonStop marketplace. Richard not only understands the NonStop market inside-out, but is fortunate enough to travel around the world and keep up with users and third-party vendors. His candid views and insights are invaluable to all of us in the NonStop community. Keep it up, Richard.”

Another email along similar lines from Greame Phillipson, an Australian friend of mine and a much better journalist than I ever will be, built on Bill’s thoughts here when he emailed me this week with:

“The web has vastly changed the way people communicate. It has disintermediated publishers, market researchers, agents and many other information gatekeeper functions - including user groups. As you are showing, blogs and social networking sites, and google searches and various Web 2.0 functionality is altering the whole dynamic of cooperation. No user is an island, entire of itself.”

I have to admit I didn’t know what “disintermediate” was – but Graeme pointed me at Wikipedia where I found that it was an economic expression simply meaning, cutting out the middleman. And with the web connecting everyone these days, disintermediation is flourishing! From the very posting I wrote, I wanted to make sure everyone knew that, with this blog, I was opening another, complementary, communications channel geared towards those within our ITUG community who favored on-line dialogues.

Another email that really hit home was from Pam Taylor, the Vice President of the SHARE User Group, when she said:

“I think the key point that Richard is making - and everything I'm learning and observing in my day job indicates that he is right on target - is that we must, sooner rather than later, pay attention to what's happening in the on-line world of communities.”

The readership is not only growing, and for this I am extremely thankful, but it is reaching a wider audience. Computerworld now carries a link to this site from its Tech Dispenser page – a separate web site accessible from the front page of Computerworld, listed on the left side of the Computerworld home page. If you take a look at the bottom right of the Tech Dispenser page you will see a label “Full List of Blogs”. Click on the link, and you will go the Contributing Blogs page, where ITUG-Connection Real Time View is listed:

And Computerworld is not alone here – the Business Intelligence site, B-eye-Network also includes a link accessible from the front page under the tab BeyeBLOGS. Check out the link here to see the full list of blogs with links provided and again, you will see the reference to ITUG-Connection Real Time View:

One last observation I would like to make is that I have been encouraged by Nina Buik as well. Nina is the President of Encompass, and the first observation she made was:

“I enjoyed reading your blog entries. You provide well-informed insight with a nice blend of humor and wit.”

Nina has now included a link to our blog on her home page, under Helpful Links you will find a link to “Richard Buckle’s ITUG Blog”. In case you missed it, the ITUG web site has been updated and under the tab OnLine Resources you will find an entry for Blogs – and on this page you will find links to both this blog as well as to Nina’s.

I am pretty sure that this is what many within the ITUG community has been looking to see for quite some time now – more “buzz” around the NonStop platform. From the very first exchange I had with Randy Meyer, the head of HP NonStop Product Management, I was encouraged to do as much as I could to generate such a buzz and we all have been surprised by how quickly this ITUG blog has been linked to key pages across the IT industry. It usually takes a while for blogs to gain traction outside of their immediate target audience, and to see theses links forming, as quickly as they have, has come as a pleasant surprise to me.

None of this would have happened, of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that NonStop is now part of HP. In my very first blog on August 20th, “Introduction”, I noted that “Tandem has found a great home within HP”. It is this elevation of the NonStop platforms position within HP that has made this possible, and I can only ask HP to maintain its focus on the platform, to encourage more applications be made available (adding Neoview as a NonStop application is a huge win for NonStop), and to support it’s broad base of ISV partners.

There is still a huge “wow!” factor with NonStop, and users that I talk to are still amazed NonStop has little real competition after all these years. There are other great platforms out there, and enterprise users have a number of options, but when it comes to “best in class: for availability then the NonStop platform is hard to beat.

And so I can only reflect on my earlier comment – we cannot keep blaming HP for “keeping NonStop a secret”, when the solution is so obvious. It’s all about us, and collectively, we have the means for lifting the visibility of NonStop even higher. I look forward to your comments as much as I look forward to doing my part in generating more buzz!

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