Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CIOs? Relevancy?

I was sitting in the San Francisco airport Red Carpet lounge, late last week, looking forward to getting back to Simi Valley. I was unwinding after spending a few days in London followed by a bit of fun at GoldenGate’s annual sales kick-off event. The photo I’m including here is of me overlooking planes moving around the gates and whether it was the cold temperature, or watching an Air Canada flight taxi to the runway, I was reminded of the years I spent living in Edmonton, Alberta. As Gordon Lightfoot used to sing:

"Oh the prairie lights are burnin bright. The chinook wind is a-movin in Tomorrow night Ill be Alberta bound!"

I had left Sydney in the mid '70s and moved to London but after a little less than a year, I took the plunge and migrated to Alberta, Canada. I had accepted a job as a data base administrator with the local Caterpillar distributor – R. Angus (Alberta) Limited (RAAL) – running CICS/VSAM on dual IBM 370/145s but with plans to roll-in a new data base management system.

The company had spun-off their data center as a service bureau, R. Angus Computer Services (RACS). RAAL remained the major customer of RACS, with the data center manager promoted to an executive position that closely resembled what we now call the Chief Information Officer (CIO). After little more than a year, RACS was sold to Advanced Computer Techniques (ACT) of New York, a service and consulting company founded by Charles Lecht and shortly after that, I left RACS.

And so today, watching the plane’s taxi, recalling the words to Gordon Lightfoot’s songs, and thinking back to those times at the data center, made me think back to one of the sessions at the kick-off I had just left. We had a panel of CIOs give us a pep talk about pitching to them, to better prepare sales teams for the types of dialogues they should anticipate when they do get their “fifteen minutes with the CIO”! We found out that the CIO’s wanted to know the relevance of a product or service and how it would help solve a particular business problem, the value proposition of that product or service, and any business knowledge we could bring to the table.

Surprise! Surprise! CIOs talk to each other, we heard, and the sales teams need to build accountability and integrity with CIOs as this really is the starting point for any business relationship. Even though they may not answer your phone call, so I learnt, CIOs do want to form relationships with good suppliers as it is crucial for their own success. CIOs make the big dollars, and that’s fortunate because they end up spending a lot of time sitting on the beach, between jobs – they really are extremely anxious to work with the right mix of credible partners! Successful partnerships allow CIOs to “live to fight another day”.

Where a strong partnership with a CIO develops, then the value proposition flows both ways. Later that same day, the CEO of GoldenGate, Ali Kutay, recalled how shortly after taking up the position of CEO, he visited a number of big customers to listen to their views on the company’s products. During a visit with the CIO of a major hospital, Ali asked him where he saw the most value from using GoldenGate and was surprised when the CIO told him that it was in mitigating server downtime during planned upgrades and migrations.

“From their perspective, the ability to migrate servers, infrastructure, and even applications with zero downtime gave them a comfort level that they would not otherwise have had,” Ali told us. He then added “they were able to introduce new technologies knowing that they had a fall-back position, and that critical patient history wouldn’t be lost!”

In good times and in bad, CIOs will always have a list of strategic initiatives being pursued. The only difference will be the depth of the list – in bad times, the list will be a lot shorter with perhaps only three of four projects making the cut. And it should come as no surprise to any vendor that the tendency, in bad times, is to stay with the incumbents and avoid all risk-taking. When money becomes scarce, it’s not a good time to become adventurous – as those working for a CIO will often recall, that’s the time the CEO or the CFO drop by to ask a few questions!

There has been a lot of debate recently about the role of the CIO and their relevance as a C-Level executive. Early last year, InformationWeek published a report “Defining the CIO” where they observed that the role of the CIO had come “under the microscope over the past year or so” adding that “the past five years revealed an up-tick in the number of CIOs reporting to CFOs – a sign … that IT was still being viewed as a cost center, not an innovation machine …” As the CIO panel wrapped up their presentation and called for questions from the audience, I decided to ask them whether they viewed their roles as still being relevant? And whether their position as a C-Level executive was still warranted?

“Good question”, came back the response, “and to some extent, our success has led to our own undoing”! The focus CIOs gave to open architectures, and the passion they showed pursuing this, made it happen. Today, so much has become open, and we see this especially with the HP NonStop platform. There wouldn’t be any support for OSS, Java and Application Servers if it wasn’t for the emphasis CIOs gave it. As you talk to the NonStop community, it can all become a little confusing and I have read reports referring to Unix on NonStop as the open support was misconstrued to be a Unix implementation! This focus on open architectures brought in other C-Level executives, as CIOs developed strong arguments in support of open, and now many of these C-Level executives feel comfortable talking about technology and want to remain involved.

In a related blog that I posted a few months back, I looked at the role of the CTO. I asked the question “will we see the role of the CTO within the user community simply fade away being replaced by a Technology Leader” and suggested that, for many users, the team approach headed by such a leader may be preferable. I have also begun to view some of the more gifted IT folks as artists, as they do sweet the details just as any other artist does, and covered that in a blog posting as well. And to develop the good artists, you need to have a pool of them so that simple competition helps the artists to hone their craft. I have even suggested that we have to allocate more support in developing architects as good architects are sorely needed at many user installations.

But does any of this insight equally apply to the CIO? And in light of the rush to relocate many of them under their CFOs, are we seeing another high-level team approach develop? When it comes to technical issues, I do tend to favor a team approach. And the same applies to anyone setting architectural directions as errors made here can be catastrophic in the long term. However, when it comes to CIOs, a team approach doesn’t cut it; the leadership demanded of them requires a pretty special person in order to be successful.

One of the CIO panel participants recalled that the only time he ever over-ruled one of his staff was when his CTO pushed for adopting a “custom” frame relay network rather than deploying a more generic TCP/IP backbone. He then went on to add “it just didn’t feel right, and when the CTO said he would quit before supporting any move to TCP/ IP, I let him!”

I recall with fondness the days I spent in Edmonton; the climate created a special camaraderie, but the days in that data center were the last I spent as an end user. As I step out of the Red Carpet lounge and head for my flight home, I recall another line from Gordon Lightfoot’s song:

“No one-eyed man could e’er forget The rocky mountain sunset Its a pleasure just to be Alberta bound!”

Yes, the attrition rate for CIOs is very high and yes, you can find many of them sitting on the beach between jobs. But no, none of them that I have talked to would want it any other way as they force themselves to adapt to doing more, of more, with less! It’s a position that I respect so very much, yet it is one of the very few positions that I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to pursue.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Neoview; a new view?

I have just spent a couple of days in London catching up with HP as well as with the folks from BITUG. As usual, my trip to London was eventful – with flight changes, faulty equipment, security lines, and flight delays, but I managed to make it into the City in time to catch up with the BITUG leadership.

We met at a restaurant called the Paternoster Chop House, located in a square just behind Cheapside and in sight of St Paul’s Cathedral – and I have included a photo of the restaurant. Paternoster Square takes its name from Paternoster Row – a street from medieval times, where the clergy of St Paul’s would walk chanting the Lord’s Prayer “Pater Noster”, being the prayer’s opening line in Latin. With so many of the clergy to be found here, many of the nearby premises formed the center for book publishing in old London. Much of it was severely damaged during the Blitz of World War II, but today the London Stock Exchange has just taken up residence by the Square.

After lunch, we caught up with Charles Penney, a former BITUG Chairman who was heavily engaged with last year’s joint BITUG and European ITUG event. Charles led us across Cornhill to the Counting House Pub, across the road from the Bank of England and just up the street from St Paul’s. Purchased recently by the Fuller brewery, it’s been transformed into a showcase pub with much of the old décor remaining. While the real history of the premises isn’t all that clear, it came as no surprise to me to hear from a local London tour company that “within the maze of alleyways nearby, Charles Dickens placed the counting house of A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge”. However, it remains recognizable as a former banking establishment and, with the onset of evening, it continues to draw the financial community to its marble counters.

The following morning, I returned to the City to catch up with Dave Barnes. Dave produces the widely read Tandemworld Newsletter that is another channel that I plan to support with commentary. We met for lunch at an eatery in Poultry Lane, a busy thoroughfare between Cornhill and Cheapside that dates back to pre-Elizabethan times. It become the center for London’s poulterers, who processed fowls and feathered game before sending them to be prepared by the scorches in, yes, Scalding Alley. Now you can find some of the best looking banking branch offices that I have ever seen, with one of Lloyd’s so modern that I just had to ask Lloyd’s Neil Barnes, and a BITUG committee member, about it. He told me “the branch you saw there (now being called a store) has been open for less that a year, but the Bank is trying to move all it branches to this style.”

What I took away from the few days I spent in the City was the resilience of the establishments and how each, in their own way, responded to changing market conditions and client requirements. It was a testament to this resilience to see how counting houses – what used to be back office settlement offices – had become wonderful pubs; the poulterers and scorches have had their former premises turned into banking stores as modern as any I have seen worldwide; and the former lanes traversed by the clergy of St Paul’s Cathedral been transformed into a thriving restaurant and trading square.

And it was against this background that I have had many conversations lately with HP, and with HP users and partners, about the NonStop technology. This year will be particularly revealing as we witness a number of crucial new product introductions.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the top-end NS16000 / NS1400 NonStop Advanced Architecture models, featuring the latest Intel chip technology, will remain at the top of the NonStop product pyramid – but over time, I see this product family taking on more of a “bespoke” image as it’s appeal narrows to a small number of industries that really demand the capabilities the models in this product family provides. Perhaps it could even involve more engagement from the services groups of HP.

Furthermore, and purely as more speculation on my part, I find it hard to believe that the current low-end NS1000 models of the NonStop Value Architecture will remain a parallel product line once we see the new Bladed Architecture packaging begin to ship sometime mid-year. Transaction processing will always have mission critical elements, and the support of these elements will always benefit from the NonStop architecture. But will this technology be supported by a dedicated server package or will it be a configurable component of an industry standard server package? Will we see a product emerge that allows users to configure a variety of different operating systems, based on optimal price points, and where only mission critical transactions will be routed to a future NonStop instances? With common hardware underpinning all servers coming from the BCS group, could NonStop just become one more OS option? I believe that this could become an eventuality and where NonStop could be just part of a much bigger picture with no unique hardware dependencies beyond its need for access to more than one processor!

But what really has me rethinking my observations of where HP is headed with NonStop is the Neoview OLAP application. While I haven’t devoted mush space to this Business Intelligence (BI) solution in previous blog postings, I am beginning to suspect that it will be with Neoview where we see more about the likely direction NonStop will take. As potentially the biggest application ever to exploit NonStop technology, it will drive more NonStop processors off the production line and out the factory door than any previous NonStop solution. The sheer numbers involved – with typical packages based on server configurations of 128, 256, and even 512 NonStop processors – it will only take a few more deals for the presence of NonStop servers in support of traditional OLTP applications to be left far behind. And I have seen enough from the Neoview executives to believe that they will be successful in the short term – already the press releases announcing major wins has begun to flow, and on a pretty regular and routine basis.

In a recent email exchange with Ron Thompson of Cail, I asked him a couple of questions on this topic and Ron responded “Neoview is the future of NonStop. From an HP Executive perspective, they need to consolidate all their computing platforms into a single architecture with numerous system configuration options to address a variety of needs.” He also went on to add, more soberly, that “my only point is that, given HP is so very strong technically, how more successful could the company be if they could just tell a much better business story in front of the Customer?”

London’s City financial district has changed many times across the centuries. They have proved resilient and often forward-thinking as they have adjusted to changing market conditions. The buildings, the platforms in support of the business, have remained and the streets and passageways between them are all still very visible.

The NonStop architecture has always been valuable to the application, to solutions exploiting the unique availability, scalability and data integrity attributes they support - you just wouldn’t purchase a NonStop without there being an application fully dependent on these unique attributes. So will we see the NonStop architecture be as adaptable and as resilient as London’s City?

From the custom, bespoke NonStop servers needed by the most demanding applications, to being a configuration option of a multi-OS package of blades in support of mission critical transactions, as well as to participating in a complete integrated hardware / OS / application package (as we now see with Neoview), the influence of NonStop technology on future HP product families is beginning to be more visible. And all these product families relying heavily on the data base infrastructure products NonStop has spent years refining and optimizing and now positioning for any combination of transaction processing and data warehousing.

And in particular, as Ron has already observed, with the arrival of Neoview I believe we will soon see this very special use of NonStop technology become the most complete NonStop offering propelling it to be the newest, and most compelling champion ever, of the NonStop story!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The check-in desk two-step!

I have arrived in London and walked into the lobby of the hotel that will become my residence for the next few days. Once again, I face the ABC’s of travel – Another Bloody Country, Another Bloody Check-In! But after getting a room and returning to the lobby for coffee, I took the time to look around. What caught my attention was how the hotel lobby had been designed and the photo I have included here provides a really good view of the layout.

The most important area for any hotel is the registration desk, as you just want to check-in, and go to your room. As you head towards it, you will always pass the concierge desk and welcome the opportunity to unload your bags before looking for your hotel loyalty and credit cards. After completing the check-in process, and as you head for your room, you pass by the lobby gift shop where you can easily pick up a local paper and a couple of bottles of water.

Clearly visible in the picture above, on the right-hand side, are these stations – and just as visible, but on the left-hand side, is the lobby bar as well as the coffee shop. Passages between the bar and coffee shop lead you back to the restaurants. All well thought out and the result of years of watching traffic patterns, its arranged for getting guests in and around with the minimum of stress.

There may be some arguments that first thing in the morning, the coffee shop may be the most important service we need, whereas in the evening, it’s the bar that takes on even more importance. But throughout the day, there’s no real competition – the smooth and timely performance of the registration desk is central to every resident’s peace of mind. And it occurred to me that the hotel realized that there were dire consequences if they didn’t measure up to their customers’ expectations with timely turn-around of the most important processes, such as registration, and that these applications were just as mission critical to them as other applications may be for other corporations.

Whenever I think of mission critical, I always think of military operations, and the critical and often dangerous nature of mission objectives, and where failure may bring serious consequences. And I have to admit that I often think of the David Bowie song Major Tom, and its chilling lines, “Ground Control to Major Tom your circuit's dead, there's something wrong; can you hear me, Major Tom?”

With modern military operations, there’s also the element of urgency with actions unfolding rapidly and in real-time. It was during the time of the cold-war when the term real-time first appeared and it was used to define the time from first detecting an incoming missile, to when it was intercepted and destroyed. Failure to take-out the incoming missile typically ended with catastrophic results – essentially, you had just run out of time!

It’s the same today with our mission critical applications where interacting with others – clients, our partners, and so on - really impacts us negatively if we can’t complete the interaction. I have seen many situations where those we are working with go elsewhere if we fail to turn around their request in a timely manner. The Sixth Edition (John Wiley, 1996) of the IEEE Standard Dictionary, supports this observation and proposes that one of the more commonly accepted standards for a system to be considered real-time in today’s computational world, is “an event or data transfer in which, unless accomplished within an allotted amount of time, the accomplishment of the action has either no value or diminishing value”.

Mission critical solutions may not need to be real-time, but real-time applications are almost certainly mission critical as the criteria for running them in real-time reflects how essential they are for the day-in, day-out, functioning of a company. Today, the definition of mission critical has evolved to mean “any computer process that cannot fail during normal business hours; some computer processes must run all day long and require 100 percent uptime”. adds that mission critical applications are “indispensable. Usually describes applications such as databases or process control software that are deemed essential to a company's operation and that typically run on mainframes …”

Working as I do for GoldenGate, the best definition I have come across was on a web site that simply said “literally, any operation that cannot tolerate intervention, compromise or shutdown during the performance of its critical function. These environments also monitor, store, support and communicate data that cannot be lost or corrupted without compromising their core function”. We take providing access to data in real-time without loss or corruption as the “raison d’être” of our business.

I had been staying at the London hotel with Sami Akbay, GoldenGate’s VP of Marketing, and I heard him talk on this theme as well. But he introduced another perspective for me when he told a group of IT folks “"mission critical solutions exist at the point of intersection between the data arriving in real time, and the real time demand for that data!" In other words, the applications running at those intersection points will typically be mission critical.

The HP NonStop Server has had a long history being associated with mission-critical applications. They were indispensable in their role of supporting critical client-facing applications. For the user of an ATM, the operator responding to an emergency 911 call, or the nurse dispensing critical medications, any loss of access or interruption of the service is not an option. Furthermore, in today’s internet and web applications, users have the ability to click elsewhere if the application aborts. Any degradation in the service will drive users to other providers and poor business experiences can close down a service very quickly.

Mission critical solutions also need to be configured with redundant servers. Alok Pareek, GoldenGate’s VP of Technology was speaking to a group of IT managers and reminded them that “"Mission critical applications cannot be left to run unprotected and without some redundancy. Maintaining consistency (of data) on both systems and in real time, is what elevates the application to being viewed as mission critical. It would be hard to imagine any server being configured, without a second redundant server, to truly support a mission critical application. It makes little sense to me!"

And as HP NonStop Server users know all too well, there will always be applications that will be designated as mission critical. There will always be a sub-set of incoming transactions that require mission critical support that the HP NonStop Server continues to provide on of the best platform options. Whatever happens with the NonStop technology in the future, as far as what systems will look like, there will always be the need to direct incoming mission critical transactions to where they will be serviced by NonStop. The intimate relationship that continues today between NonStop, and mission critical transactions will be something I will pursue with many more blog postings. Perhaps, with the arrival of the new bladed architecture, it will be the ability to configure NonStop in support of mission critical applications that sees the further evolution of NonStop whereby it becomes an option on any future bladed architecture configuration!

Recalling the words of another song, I began to reconsider the meaning I had given it many years ago. When the Eagles came out with Hotel California, they sang “'Relax,' said the night man, 'We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!'” Maybe this had nothing more to tell us other than the designers of the systems in support of the front desk didn’t fully understand the need to be mission critical!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wake up call!

I have arrived back in London after spending an enjoyable weekend in Denver. It has been a while since we were able to spend time at home and we took time out to entertain a number of our friends from IBM. Over a glass of wine we were able to cover a couple of topics I routinely return to in these blogs – issues to do with the data center. No surprises this time – the picture I have included here is of a few of us gathered in our bar area.

The data center has always interested me – how it’s put together, how operations are set up; the division of responsibilities between application, system and network management. I have also been interested in learning about the views of those close to the systems and the steps they take to ensure uninterrupted operations. And coming from a mixed IBM and Tandem background, I’ve seen just about every combination imaginable.

I have been to the data center of one well-known U.S. retailer, where the only time they paid any attention to the Tandem was when there was a lot of noise coming from the console printer – loud enough to warrant someone going over to take a look. A few years back I was in the data center of a well-known Australian building society where the only thing the data center manager could tell me was how many MIPs they now had on the floor, and how disappointed he was that their new models no longer had any console lights. How could he convince his executives about the capabilities of the new system if they couldn’t tell if anything was running?

But whether we talked about IBM mainframes or Tandem OLTP systems, what is common across most data centers today is the variety of technology deployed. The single-vendor shop is long gone, relegated to being another relic from the ‘70s. Once client-server computing took hold, in no time we were seeing a very diverse mix of equipment being rolled in to support our business applications. Decisions were being made about the types of hardware purchased based on their suitability for supporting an application, as we slowly edged away from our former position of simply buying applications based on our installed hardware architecture.

As we moved into the ‘90s we really had mastered the integration of platforms, storage and communications. Not unlike cabling a modern, high-end, component hi-fi system, we developed the skills where we could plug and play with pretty much any piece of equipment our company brought into the data center. We were comfortable connecting cables to interfaces in much the same way we plugged any CD or DVD device into a home stereo.

But hidden behind the scenes were still a lot of applications running in complete isolation. We had figured out how to connect all the hardware, but getting the applications seamlessly integrated was still something we weren’t as comfortable doing. Yes, we had piloted some object technologies and deployed object brokers. Yes, we had standardized on system and network management protocols and could consistently interface with running applications with some consistency. But it was the exception, rather than the rule, to find infrastructure in place that would support a diverse mix of applications and that allowed data to unambiguously flow between the applications that required access.

It was with this in mind that I just read a Computerworld article “8 Blazing Hot Technologies for 2008” where I saw that hot technology number 3 was Integration! According to the Computerworld columnist “IT departments have been building islands of applications and data for years, and despite repeated attempts to integrate them, many of those islands persist. It's time to get serious and build bridges, so users can get all the information they need in one place at one time.” Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., a Nashua, N.H.-based IT consultancy, was reported to have said “If you're a database administrator, an applications author or a business analyst, you're on the hot seat here, since you'll need to understand which disparate sets of data need to be integrated … IT shops have a choice of technology to do the job, but the most important decision is to get started!” Computerworld also reports: “It's time to get serious and build bridges, so users can get all the information they need in one place at one time.”

If you read this sentence a few times, the question that comes to mind is why is it only now that Computerworld thinks integration is a problem? Why all the excitement when most of us have been wrestling with it for years? What has really changed here?

As we gathered around the bar, and sampled a glass of wine or two, we began to share stories about our own observations. For some time now, we had all noticed the rise of the “integration architects” and the “integration managers” – new positions within the company staffed by senior folks charged with really getting this all to work. According to some research we had done, there weren’t just 20 or 50 people claiming to have this title, but thousands! A whole new demographic within our community! And a very diverse group at that, with just as many ideas about pursuing integration as there were technologies available.

While riding the moving escalator at Heathrow airport that takes you down to the London Underground, I moved past a series of billboard posters promoting HSBC Bank. Under the banner “another point of view can sometimes open up a whole new world” there were pictures of cricket players alongside ballet dancers, with headings of Tedious? And Riveting? Another poster , immediately followed , with the same grouping of cricketers and ballerinas but this time, the headings were reversed Riveting? Tedious?, followed by the observation “a different point of view is simply the view from a place where you’re not!”

Integration, and the rise of integration architects and managers, shouldn’t be taking us by surprise any more than reading in Computerworld that it will be blazing hot topic in 2008. In the NonStop space we are beginning to see very serious deployments of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and for me, this has to be key in any integration planning. Integrating the data on the back-end and making sure the applications externalized as services have the right data, and it’s as fresh as it can be, is equally as important.

And where one integration architect may view SOA as the solution to modernizing legacy applications and giving them a whole new life, another integration architect may see it as just an easy way to pull new information from public web sites. Wrapping old applications with SOA, or getting access to completely new ones with SOA, doesn’t lessen the value that SOA brings to the table and while the integration architects may hold strongly differing views, they’re really not that far apart. They’re deep into solving integration issues and seriously helping the data center remain relevant in supporting today’s rapidly evolving applications.

We are never going to see the return to homogenous technology deployments centered on the offerings of just one vendor. Even where we enjoy strong relationships with a major vendor, they will be promoting different product lines and partnering with different solutions providers. We may not all enjoy the same degree of comfort undertaking application integration and not take to it as easily as we did integrating hardware, but there will be integration architects and managers within our companies aggressively pursuing integration.

As I walked through the lobby of the hotel here in London, I couldn’t help listening to the song being played. It’s by the group Maroon 5 called “Wake Up Call”, a song I particularly like. In the opening verse it says:

“And it’s not my fault, Cause you deserve What is coming now! So don’t say a word”

This has to be the anthem of every integration architect as he pursues the integration of major applications. There’s no value in maintaining silos, and if an application remains isolated, you can’t blame the integration architect. It’s not his fault. To continue with the song, its chorus asks:

“Don't you care about me anymore? Don’t you care about me? I don't think so!”

And I sure hope, that in the end, this is not the refrain of those applications left behind!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Virtualization? A bargain at any price!

I am now back in Simi Valley having spent another working weekend in Colorado. This time, I was in Denver with a group of IBM Mainframe colleagues and we spent a lot of time discussing a variety of topics from systems, what we used to work with back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when it was all punch cards and single digit megabyte disk drives, to a little sports and the occasional politics. If you couldn’t recall what a typical ‘70s programmer looked like, check out the photo!

And talking of politics, today I listened to the Sting song “Englishman in New York” where he sings “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York”, and it reminded me that this is an election year in the United States. While I happen to be a legal alien, I’m an Australian living in California and as far from New York as you can get on the mainland. The predicament I face is that, along with many others, as legal aliens in the US and remaining Australian citizens we have no vote. Anywhere. We cannot vote in Australia as we are no longer Australian residents, and we cannot vote in the US as we are not US citizens. We have no opportunity to influence decisions anywhere in the world!

Essentially stateless, with only minimal acknowledgement by Australia (yes, we can enter the country via the Australian-only passport lanes but that’s about it), we develop no particular ties with any country. I have developed a network of friends from different countries through business as well as through my extended family, and see little value in identifying with one country over another. Yes, I get extremely loyal and vocal when it comes to global sporting events where my Australian heritage comes through, but at most other times I live in a kind of virtual world connected, as it were, by the email messages that are routinely exchanged. My country is not something I can look out onto anymore, but rather, is populated with experiences and memories spread across time and distance.

It is against this background that I had a lively conversation with my IBM colleagues about virtualization. According to an e-newsletter I received, Unisphere’s “5 Minute Briefing” (January 7, 2008), there were seven trends to watch in 2008 that would have the most influence in the shaping of the data center. Top of the list? More server and storage virtualization!

The systems I first worked on in the data center were mainframes – the IBM System 360 and then later, the IBM System 370. For many years I kept my original System 360 green card, as well as the System 370 yellow card that followed. In true Dilbert fashion, I had them inside my shirt’s pocket protector. I was also one of the first to buy a TI calculator with hexadecimal support. But two technologies really impressed me back in those days – Virtual Machine (VM) and Systems Network Architecture (SNA).

I have spent a lot of my life in and around SNA. In the mid 80’s I was working for Netlink, an Australian start-up company that built SNA Protocol Converters and SNA Concentration Hubs. I later joined Tandem Computers where I became part of Product Management with responsibility for SNAX. And then, in the late ‘90s I was deeply involved with Insession’s ICE implementation of SNA on NonStop.

SNA gave the networking community a way to isolate an ever-changing physical network from the mission critical online applications of the day. Network managers gained a simpler way to administer all the network resources as SNA overlaid an easy-to-manage logical “virtual” network on top of the typically highly-volatile physical “real” network.

When SNA was first introduced I recall many of these network managers were concerned about the overhead that the separation of logical and physical networks would bring and how this added latency would prove to be unacceptable. But by the mid ‘80s, nearly every major network had switched to the new architecture as the value provided by such virtual and real isolation outweighed any perceived latency aspects.

“In its ultimate manifestation”, according to PCMagazine, “network virtualization treats all servers and services in the network as a single pool of resources that can be rearranged and redeployed in real-time to meet changing user and transaction requirements”. Today we rely less on SNA and more on TCP/IP but the results are the same – network managers can manipulate every resource (IP addressable) to rearrange or redeploy to best suite incoming transaction mixes.

VM, on the other hand, was as close to magic as anything I had seen up until then. With only a few commands, system programmers could initialize another “guest” machine. With other commands, they could dynamically add a string of disk drives and give guest machines almost instant access. It showed me that there really didn’t have to be any relationship between the hardware, and what operating systems I ran.

The enormous flexibility that came from the managed separation between each guest machine allowed many corporations to configure a number of test and development configurations right alongside of production configurations. But again, just as with SNA, many system managers had concerns about the overhead that came with the VM hypervisor but quickly put such issues aside as the systems became more powerful and as users valued the flexibility.

“With virtualization, you can dynamically fire up and take down virtual servers (also known as virtual machines)”, according to Infoworld in a February 12, 2007 article, “each of which basically fools an operating system (and any applications that run on top of it) into thinking the virtual machine is actual hardware. Running multiple virtual machines can fully exploit a physical server’s compute potential — and provide a rapid response to shifting datacenter demands”. With the enormous increases in processor power we are seeing, it only makes sense to me to cram more virtual machines onto them to fully exploit them. It makes little sense to map just a single operating system instance to today’s multi-core microprocessors.

For HP and the HP NonStop community, there is a lot of excitement building around the much-anticipated “bladed architecture” product suite. While the technical specifications of this new server have not been released, for anyone who has sat through any public product roadmap presentations it’s looking likely we will see real product sometime in 2008. And it would have to be a pretty safe bet to assume the underlying chip technology will be something a lot better than a single-core Itanium chip. And while I have no specific knowledge of HP’s virtualization plans, knowing the heritage of the BCS executives, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see some leverage being made of open source projects such as Xen.

Unisphere’s special report “Seven Trends Shaping the Data Center of 2008” identified Virtualization, SOA, Mashups and Web 2.0, Software as a Service, More IT Governance, More Vendor Consolidation, and More “More with Less” as the trends making the most impact on the data center as “end users and vendors alike seek to better integrate solutions that have greater impact on the business”. And as for me, I totally agree with Unisphere that virtualization will become the most important consideration in future data center decisions.

As with previous break-through technologies and architectures, there will be road-bumps along the way and, as in the past, I have to believe there will be concerns over latency. Early adopters will need to be wary about under-configuring their systems and will take time to optimize their configurations as “your mileage will vary based on driving conditions!” And it will not hurt either to remember that, just as we found when we first used Virtual Storage (VS) systems, “to get good performance from virtual memory, make sure you give it lots of real memory!”

Reminiscing with my IBM friends certainly highlighted how far our technology has come. Virtualization, like everything before it, will not be a free ride. However, the sheer breadth of its capabilities, as it exploits today’s microprocessor technologies, as well as the flexibility it provides as it helps us consolidate our servers, makes it a very real bargain at any price.

Furthermore, it has opened my mind to the reality that any day now, we may be able to select applications completely independent of operating systems and hardware platforms. We could select the best solution that met our business requirements and deploy them on platforms best suited to the experience, knowledge, and vendor relationships that we had invested decades in nurturing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I got my new horizons!

I have really enjoyed the break from blogging and, I have to admit, spending the New Year in Southern California wasn’t all that bad! I had left Boulder on New Years’ eve and had seen 0 degrees Fahrenheit show up on the car’s thermometer, but the next day I was having pizza in Santa Barbara and enjoying a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit! The drive back home down the coastline in the early evening, with the views of the sea under cloudless skies, is a drive I never get tired of doing.

That night I pulled out a Moody Blue’s concert DVD that was recorded back in 1992 at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. And I thought it was pretty appropriate to start off the New Year seeing them sing “I have my hopes to comfort me, I got my new horizons out to sea” from the song New Horizons. I have the feeling that 2008 will see a lot of new products and solutions coming from HP even if, for the moment, they are just over the horizon out of sight. But I do take comfort knowing that HP’s support for NonStop shows no signs of easing up!

New Year also brings with it New Years’ resolutions, and one news report did catch my attention. Not long after New Years’ eve’s celebrations had wound down, experts were reporting that most resolutions would be broken within a few days. It appears that it takes about 21 days to develop a new habit or routine and then another 6 months to integrate that routine with other routines already wired into our behavior. For me, the interest arose as one routine I am working on is to regularly visit a number of social networks that I like.

While I was at ACI in Omaha a few weeks back, I was asked if I would be interested in participating in a new social network they were just rolling out. While I have concerns over the change in direction ACI has taken recently and wonder about their future support of the HP NonStop platform, I am always interested in working with a user community and so I agreed to provide opinions and commentary. It’s still very early days with only minimal content – mostly from moderators as they set up different topic forums – but I will be very interested in the kind of network that develops around the site.

It came as no surprise then when Nina Buik, President of Encompass, emailed me to inform me that Encompass was investigating technology that would best meet their needs as they too introduced a new social network into the Encompass community. Check out her latest posting “Fishing for friends or customers? Social networking communities provide a feeding frenzy for all” that can be found at Nina does a great job of explaining the value that social networks provide, as well as giving some good tips about the software needed to support such a communications vehicle.

I will be definitely watching how this develops and will be looking for any and all tie-ins to the ITUG community. I just have to believe that, with time, this will have a positive impact on all HP user communities, and I could easily see it expanding to embrace NonStop topics as well. Whether it’s using something pretty basic, such as the business-oriented Linked-In site, or the more feature-rich offerings like MySpace and Facebook, there are many options out there and their number is increasing rapidly. Social networking and web dialogues, that encourage individuals to get together around a common interest, are becoming an increasingly important way to share information.

As an Australian living in the US, there would be no way for me to stay on top of my cricket and rugby without access to such sites, and if you wonder onto some of them, you will see me posting comments - particularly about the cricket! As you begin to develop the social networking habit, you will see that the number, and variety, of networks you access grows considerably and that it’s not uncommon to find that four or five networks draw you back on a regular basis. Provided, of course, you suffer from insomnia or bouts of loneliness, on your weekends as keeping your need for information under control will always be a challenge.

I am not yet convinced that there will ever be a substitute for face-to-face networking, particularly for my generation, where participation in events, conferences, and seminars is how we stay current with IT. Talking to participants is where I usually first hear about a new technology or solution, and where I can first see real enthusiasm about a product directly from those actively engaged in deploying them. But more often these days, I am finding that with time and budget constraints I can’t always attend them all and I don’t get to listen to everyone I should. Social networking helps me stay connected when otherwise I wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Not every social network is effective nor do they always attract return visits. There’s never any guarantee that they will attract a following. It takes effort and time to narrow your focus and to target just the sites where the value is clearly tangible. It’s not easy – not just for those providing content but for those who have to find the time to read. But the knowledge that there is a place to go and read about NonStop, and to catch up on topics of interest and issues facing the community, helps develop a growing readership.

I do believe there is real value from social networks, and I hope that this blog develops into such a place. I see how they can effectively complement other forms of networking and may sometimes offer the only way we can comment on a subject that interests us. And I do believe the sense of community that develops around them will only get better with time and with greater awareness of their existence. The Moody Blues song New Horizons goes on to ask “Where is this place that we have found? Nobody knows where we are bound?” and then later “I'm beginning to see! Out of mind, far from view!”

Yes, we are seeing the number of social networks growing rapidly and we know that many of them are providing value – but where the journey leads and how dynamic these communities become, we will all just have to all wait and see. It’s the start of a new year, resolutions have been made (and many already broken), but as far as integrating my interest for social networking into my daily routine, I am anxious to see how it all goes. Just by reading this blog posting you have become a participant in this explosion of information sharing. And for this, I thank you and wish you a happy New Year!

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