Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Time out with the boys - did we cover everything?

Following back to back user events and electing to drive between San Francisco, Simi Valley, and Las Vegas so as to not have to face long check-in and security lines, I took the opportunity to take some time out racing cars again with the new Connect Vice President, Margo Holen.

And I have included a picture of her just prior to a group "download" session where the lead instructor critiques us after being on the track. I have to say, Margo seems very much in her element - and, as I once heard in a movie, I complemented her on her nice driving shoes! Color-coordinated and all.

This was our second outing as we worked our way up from the lower novice rankings, and this one proved to be a real challenge. Prior to arriving at the ButtonWillow track, we had gone to the web and printed off a very detailed track report provided by the Porsche club. It described the lines through every corner and identified landmarks that would help with turning into a corner. It even gave advice about which corners to just forget about as they were less important than the corners that followed. In one four-corner sequence, you had to drive off the racing line in order to be in the right place for the last two corners and then have an opportunity to get the best from your car in the short straight that followed. Giving up on a corner, any corner, just didn't seem right.

However, all our planning was for nothing as the first news from our instructor Fulton was "today, we will be driving the circuit counter-clockwise!" As I drove out onto the course for the first time, and with no real sense of where it went, I was soon to discover that this was the most difficult track of all to drive, and technically required drivers to adapt to many new combinations of corners and to handle a number of undulations that unsettle the car. Adding to each drivers stress levels, the weekend was particularly hot with temperatures climbing as high as 110 F!

But the cars were OK. They ran a little hotter but they were never the problem - the cars still needed their drivers input and it was up to the drivers to adapt to the track, and to corners that were unfamiliar, to the extremely hot conditions and to the dirt that was thrown up as cars put two wheels off the track. By midday Sunday, the attrition rate had climbed to where it looked as though only half the drivers remained. Those drivers uncomfortable with the conditions and not prepared to continue, elected to leave the weekend's program.

The weekend came as I was preparing to fly to London. All part of a schedule that I knew would take me away from home for three weeks. But the weekend break was a time to clear the mind, and to focus on something else entirely, but when I returned to Simi Valley I was as mentally exhausted as I was physically and some five pounds lighter.

Monday morning had me wrapping up loose ends, and attending to email correspondence that I had left unanswered during HP's Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E). Late in the morning I received a phone call and, as I answered, a synthetic voice began "this is a United 'cancelled flight' status update - your flight between Los Angeles and Denver has been cancelled!" I needed this flight, as my flight to London was a new service out of Denver and I had negotiated a good promotional fare. Compounding the issue, all other flights to Denver were full and, "would I consider flying another day", was the suggestion provided by the reservation agent I called.

Thinking quickly and once again, adapting to the new conditions, I began to negotiate with the reservations agent. Can I fly direct to London out of Los Angeles? No - that flight is boarding. Can I fly to San Francisco? Again, no seats on the connecting flights. How about Burbank to Denver? Yes, there's one seat left but you need to be at the airport in one hours time - and with normal driving conditions, the trip to Burbank from Simi Valley is about 40 minutes. With few other options, I took the seat and threw everything I needed into a bag and made it to the airport on time.

I always take time to plan before leaving - I go to mapquest and print off maps of where my hotels are located and where all meetings were to be held. I always know where I am headed. However, these days and with the turbulent times the airlines are having, nothing can be taken for granted. I don't have it all figured out, all of the time, but I am really having to become very flexible and learn to be a whole lot more patient, when it comes to travelling these days.

Arriving in London, I had thought I had put all the changes behind me but no sooner had I taken a seat on the Heathrow Express to Paddington than the conductor came down the aisle opening windows - apologising for an air conditioning failure that the operator hoped to correct once they returned to Paddington. London was going through a period of warm weather and the train was a hot-house but with the windows down, it remained a hot-house only a lot more noisy! I switched to London's famous Underground - only to find the timetables disrupted as "there is a person on the line" according to the announcement over the PA system. Finally, I arrived at St Pauls station only to find the escalators inoperable with a sign saying "sorry for any inconvenience, but the station is undergoing a major infrastructure upgrade!"

With the HPTF&E sessions still in the back of my mind, I recalled a number of discussions I had participated in when it came to planning server and operating system upgrades. This was particularly relevant as HP had announced that NonStop would be supported by Blades and the Integrity NonStop BladeSystem would be the first offering in this new product family. Much anticipated, and openly depicted in product roadmaps for some time, it was still an exciting development for all event participants.

While some event participants have expressed concern over the shortened product lifecycles and the availability of ever-more-powerful products, for most of us having access to these new servers would facilitate even more applications deployment on NonStop, with even greater savings. But integrating a new server into an existing fabric of servers, and to do so with no downtime for mission critical applications, has now become an extremely important consideration for the data center manager keeping in mind the Service-Level Agreement (SLA) he has to meet. For them, maintaining fall-back positions every step of the way has reached new levels of criticality!

But even here, these data center managers have to remain flexible, and be able to adapt to changes that happen at the last minute and often without warning. No matter how many migrations are planned, there's always something unexpected occurring that forces adjustments along the way.

In today's IT world the design of the data center, and the way everything is connected and tightly integrated, has to take into consideration that change will be ongoing. There's just so many components these days scattered across not just two data centers, but increasingly three and often as many as five or six data centers, as enterprises operate globally. During HPTF&E, HP's CIO Randy Mott provided a video clip of how the HP data centers have been set up under his direction. Six separate facilities spread across three cities. Each data center built with deep false flooring for power and cooling, overhead gantries carrying the wiring, networking facilities with switches and routers isolated from the rest of the equipment, all well thought out and deliberately constructed to accommodate an active life full of continuous and ongoing upgrade programs.

And the transition to new servers small or large, is not a one-way street even for sites that are as big as HPs! At every step along the way, the ability to switch the application back to the original server, with no loss of data or interruption of the services, should always be a part of the plan. Having the tools to keep data bases, for instance, current and synchronised on both the old and the new server, just has to be taken in consideration as you never know when management elects to reverse the direction of the transaction traffic and falls back to the older server.

Smart data center managers are rapidly moving away from the old Disaster Recovery (DR) site and fully integrating within their operational environment so that there's never a concern about a site's "currency". If it is an active participant in the overall operational environment, then there is less concern about directing the transaction traffic at it as the applications are all "live" with minimal exposure to an older code base or data base release.

Driving back to Simi Valley after a weekend at the track, I heard a new song from Alanis Morissette, where she sings:

"And what it all boils down to, is that no one's figured it out just yet ... 'cause i've got one hand in my pocket - and other is hailing a taxi cab"

Turning up at a race track and finding the direction had been reversed! Getting ready to head overseas to find I had to rush to a different airport! Rushing into London with the infrastructure failing and in the middle of upgrades! Rolling in a new server only to find that changes were made to the application code after copies were made, or tables in the data base changed, or any one of the networked target servers being integrated going down unexpectedly all forces us to adapt.

What it all boils down to is that for sure I haven't got it figured out - and if United keeps cancelling flights and laying off pilots, and London's infrastructure makes rail travel an unreliable and miserable experience then perhaps, as Alanis sings, I will hailing a taxi to my next meeting ... wherever!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The last dance, at Mandalay Bay …

This years HP Technical Conference and Expo (HPTF&E) went out with a big bang and while the prospect of a big bang is something none of us would support in the real world with any enthusiasm, in Vegas it’s completely different! As I entered the auditorium for the last time yesterday evening, “air movement” pushed me around as the floor “swayed” underneath me – no one was pushing the button on a warhead test, and it wasn’t an earthquake either. It was Matchbox 20 entertaining the community late into the night, and I have included a picture here taken from alongside the stage. We lasted for a set of two or three songs, before the sheer physical impact of the sound “encouraged” us to leave. No, we aren’t 20 anymore …with or without matchboxes!

HP has to be congratulated for the support they provided throughout the event, and with the quality of everything they did for the community. But as we slowly awake this Friday morning, it’s now all behind us and we face the trip home with some of us even back behind our desks by mid afternoon.

Yesterday morning had started slowly for me. I joined my work colleagues early for the usual Starbucks latte but, after the twenty minute wait to place the orders and another twenty minutes before the coffee was made, the staff had somehow misplaced my order. All week, the service had been pretty tardy at best – but being told that my cup of coffee was now back at the end of the line was too much.

So I walked out, letting them do with my coffee as they please. I know that there were a number of attendees standing in the line, and so let me apologize right up front and I sure hope my expression of irritation didn’t upset you too much. Mornings are not the best of times for me. As a T-Shirt I recently ran across said “Just hand over the coffee, and no one will get hurt!” Over the years, service in Las Vegas hasn’t come all that far, and for any patrons that aren’t leaving behind $100 chips, the level of service being provided can be pretty poor.

But across it, service is becoming a very important aspect of our implementations with Service-Oriented Architectures gaining in popularity. I know a number of users are still a little uncertain about the move to SOA and I know some within the vendor community thought that perhaps the interest in SOA would be a lot higher. However, I am not sure that it is as much a product for users as it is for other Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and System Integrators (SIs). Purchasing a new application today that does not support SOA, or contracting an SI who custom-builds the delivery and presentation, may not be the wisest of choices.

Externalizing interfaces as services is absolutely crucial today in order to have a heterogeneous environment present itself consistently to the outside world. In many ways, SOA is at the very core of application integration and has become the standard way suppliers, partners and customers would prefer to have their data delivered. And it is absolutely essential for the NonStop user as it masks so much of the underlying technology, unique to the fault tolerant architecture of NonStop.

In part, this broad acceptance as an “integration-technology” has come about because of the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, and of Browser interfaces, but it also has a lot to do with the development frameworks and run-time environments we are relying on. And with new IT professionals coming out of our universities every year, the adoption of SOA will become even more widespread. We have come a long way from the old 4GLs and report writers!

As the event headed into Thursday afternoon and the ITUG closing session began, Dr. Christoph Boehm, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the ActiveBilling GmbH & Co. and a key business unit within Deutsche Telekom AG, gave a presentation on “Six Sigma production and cost reduction: how SOA helps achieve both at Deutsche Telekom”. Central to the presentation was the view that they had adopted where everything was described in terms of services. Not applications, but services. And services sat atop transaction management that in turn represented another level of abstraction before getting to the applications and hardware / operating systems and were behind the products Deutsche Telekom supported.

Services were any interaction with customers, management, and suppliers and pulled their data from any mix of complete or partial application deployments in place. Re-combining applications externalized via SOA allowed new products to be developed quickly, and allowed a very large corporation, such as Deutsche Telekom to remain competitive with new entrants into the marketplace – a key concern to all in management.

There was also a direct connection between services and quality that I found particularly interesting. Every service has a cost, including the services provided by the call center. So, one key objective, for Deutsche Telekom, was to minimize the usage of that “service”. And from the quality statistics provided (e.g. invoice quality >99.9%; timeliness >99.8%; etc.) they seemed to be delivering on their commitment.

Following the presentation by Dr. Boehm, the traditional ITUG Q & A panel session began. And as I listened to the interaction between the audience and the panel made up of senior HP managers from all regions, I couldn’t get the thoughts of service and quality far from my mind. Is there a commitment to NonStop? Yes, with certainty! Continuing to work with ACI? Yes, and absolutely – since the announcement, for instance, there have been six new customer wins in EMEA! Are new applications coming to NonStop? Now a growing list – the latest an application offloaded from the IBM mainframe and onto NonStop in Japan! Will there be an ongoing support for older systems? Just ask us, and tell us what you need!

Just being on stage, these managers were providing the community with an incredibly important service! For years, it has been an accepted protocol within the ITUG community and the NonStop management team always enjoyed the opportunity to be on stage and to hear first-hand what are the current issues of the day. And over the years, while some tactical issues are raised, and there were a couple raised again this year, the issues began to have much further horizons. Users are becoming more interested in the bigger picture for NonStop within HP. And I find this very important. As Connect develops its own style, and as the Connect community extends its reach across many platforms and countries, there is a commitment not to loose the identity that is NonStop.

And perhaps the best example of all is the closing Q&A session – a historically high-point of every event going back more than a decade. Someone in the audience expressed concern about how the traditional “Corvette” club was now being thrown into the “Chevy” club and whether the special characteristics of the car will be lost in a sea of everyday drivers. As a Corvette owner the image struck an immediate chord! But then the new Vice President of Connect, Margo Holen, made the observation “perhaps the comparison between Corvette and Chevy clubs isn’t the right image – rather than looking at the clubs, perhaps we should be looking at the distribution channels. Dealers would be seriously impacted if they didn’t have the rest of the Chevy lineup to sell! I would imagine GM wants its dealers to serve all customers, and some folks would have a Chevy pick-up, in addition to the ‘Vette, so even the boys in the club could be happy to go to the one-stop-shop model.”

The HP NonStop managers, we all anticipate, will continue to provide the community with their attention and this service for many years to come. Winston Prather, VP and General Manager of the NonStop Enterprise Division has assured the group that, going forward, “there will be a uniquely NonStop-centered track in the Conference, as well as the NonStop General Sessions, like the one we are enjoying now”!

As he introduced the panel, Connect director, Jay McLaughlin, gave a promo boost to that night’s function featuring Matchbox 20 and quoted the lyrics of one of their songs “… let’s see how far we’ve come! let’s see how far we’ve come! … Oh well I guess we’re gonna find out … let’s see how far we’ve come ..”

And I have to agree with Jay, looking at the direction we are now headed with Connect, that we have come a long way and as long as the service from the HP NonStop Management Team remains at the levels we saw yesterday, we may be singing this song for many years to come! And as some of the attendees were dancing their last dance at the evening party, I was thinking that perhaps, if I’ve switched to decaf, I could become a nicer person in the morning.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Vegas!

24 hours! In Vegas, does 24 hours have any meaning? Does anyone really recall all that they did over a 24 hour period? I only ask because we have been living in a world where clocks are not visible, and the artificial light doesn’t help with keeping track of time either.

The night before last was a blast!. It started when a number of us were given the full “paparazzi” treatment as we ran the gauntlet of bulb-flashing, high-fiving, anxious-to-spot-a-celebrity crowd surrounding the VIP entrance to the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay. HP with Connect jointly put on a special reception for a select number of IT executives and I managed to wrangle a pass. In all my years of attending user events, I have never quite witnessed anything like this before – but then, a number of the IT executives really are “rockstars”! They really have excelled at their profession! Martin Fink and the BCS team excelled as hosts and quickly became engaged in lively exchanges with the users present.

But the night was early and an hour or so later the full user-group party kicked off at the House of Blues, and the early-arrival VIPs quickly joined in. And for the first time, I really began to sense a new level of enthusiasm for the NonStop platform. Whether it was the blades announcement or not, something definitely electrified the community in a way that has been absent for quite a few years.

It was only a couple of hours later that we gathered at The Hotel for a breakfast reception hosted by the Asia Pacific / Japan (AP/J) team. This is developing into a tradition among the NonStop crowd, and Herbert Zwenger and his team do a terrific job in making us welcome. Herbert reminded us that it was his very first attendance at an ITUG Summit that convinced him that the NonStop platform had the potential to develop into a significant business opportunity for the team in AP/J. And he’s been an staunch supporter ever since!

Herbert now has responsibilities beyond NonStop, and has been aggressively pursuing a “mainframe replacement” strategy and over an 18 month period, has seen some 50 + mainframes converted to HP Superdomes. One user even added a NonStop into the mix to handle financial transactions. Replacing this many mainframes is an incredible achievement, and came as a big surprise to us. But the region has also become the center of several significant new wins for NonStop and Herbert assured us that there was a lot more to follow.

It was then a very brisk walk from The Hotel back to the top floor of the South Convention Center for the SQL/MX SIG meeting before backtracking to Starbucks for coffee and a little more networking. Then it was back to the exhibition hall. Did anyone notice that the NonStop ISVs were positioned between two full-length corridors? There’s something about redundant paths after all … While on the trade show floor I stopped by a couple of the bigger ISVs for an update.

Sheila Johnson, the CEO of Xypro and an exhibitor at every ITUG Summit that I can recall, had recognized the same elevated levels of excitement among the community that I had observed only a few hours earlier at the House of Blues. And I have included a picture of the two of us on the Xypro stand on the left of this blog. “Our customers had become a little worried about the long term viability of the NonStop platform even with the Integrity announcements. But with the blades announcements there is a very clear renewal of confidence about the future of NonStop,”

“The economics and flexibility that blades offered will really help expand the marketplace for NonStop,” Sheila added. Looking around the trade show flow, she went on to tell me that “this is our biggest marketing event of the year – it’s where customers get an opportunity to meet with our developers and where we have an opportunity for open discussions with HP’s product management and development teams as well. We also strongly support Regional User Group events and hope that they will continue. This is all very important to our business.”

Just down from Xypro is the stand of comForte, who earlier in the week had announced a sizeable expansion to their operation. I had covered this briefly in the posting on Monday, June 16 2008 “The path well-trodden – to Mandalay Bay!” and I wanted to catch up with Dr. Michael Rossbach, the CEO of comForte. The announcement that comForte had acquired Unlimited Software Associates, Inc as well as the Intellectual Property Rights for the security solutions from Baker Street Software, Inc. and Cross-El Software Solutions, Inc. had indeed “generated a lot attention – even from other vendors!” explained Dr. Rossbach.

“HP product management’s strategic thinking is that they would like to see some consolidation among the smaller vendors, as this brings some stability to the ISV community,” he went on to add. For the immediate future, Dr. Rossbach will be focused on integrating the acquisitions into comForte, but already he is looking for other potential acquisitions. A few years back, and with almost 90 percent of their revenue coming from the NonStop platform, they began to consider development on other platforms but the NonStop marketplace turns out be a surprisingly “good market to be in and with the arrival of blades, will only get bigger,” he concluded.

I was headed into the Business Continuity SIG meeting when my phone rang and reminded me that I was being expected at a reception for volunteers working on the upcoming European event in Mannheim, Germany later this year. So I had to bail from the SIG meeting and get back to The Hotel. This is a very important step in the life of the next user community as this will really be the first event held by the community and I have always believed in a strong global presence.

From The Hotel it was back to the Exhibition Hall for the final trade-show reception and after several passageway conversations I made it in time for the opening. My company, GoldenGate, was sponsoring the food and beverage and many of the company’s executives were present. I still found time to talk with many of the booth staff on the HP stand, and just couldn’t help but be impressed with the size of the commitment made by HP this year.

The next event for the day was completely different – and could only happen in Las Vegas. A colleague visiting HPTF&E from Australia had invited me to witness him and his wife renewing their vows at the Elvis Chapel in the city center. With a number of HP Australia friends in attendance, out come a singing Elvis impersonator and “Elvis” sang his way through a “re-exchange of rings!” Only in Vegas! And I just had to include a picture of it here! After the event it was back into the taxi and on to the EyeCandy bar for one last nightcap and more intense discussions with HP!

There is a lot of serious business conducted at user events, and during the 24 hours, there was an almost continuous stream of impromptu meetings. But there is also a lot of fun from the lighter side of networking and from catching a quick exchange with old friends. Many friends I only ever get to see at user events, and it is a testament to the NonStop platform that it continues to draw us back year after year no matter the name of the event or its location.

I am not sure exactly when I slept or when I had a meal – but from the first cocktail at the House of Blues to the last glass of wine at the EyeCandy bar, it’s an intense nonstop 24 hours of interaction with friends, customers, committee members, my own colleagues with whom I work, and with HP. And that’s exactly why we return year after year and why the event has so much meaning for many of us. The “electricity” is back; there’s a distinct “buzz” to be heard, and I saw Elvis! What more can you need!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blades drawn at Mandalay Bay!

It has been a tremendously eventful morning and I have just returned from giving my presentation. This means that I can unwind for the first time this week and relax a little. I can also begin to break down what I heard this morning at the General Session, and look at what the future holds for HP as well as for the user community, although many of the details I will discuss in a later blog posting, after I have had a little more time to reflect.

But as Ann Livermore pointed out – this week there were just two press releases, BTO Software for Change Management Automation, and the Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeServer. As Martin Fink and Randy Meyer told us later - just two announcements? From a company the size of HP? This was a remarkable achievement all by itself! But for attendees at HPTF, it was all about Blades. Everything to Blades!

Prior to Anne taking the stage, we heard from Randy Mott on how far HP had come with their IT Transformation, and how the clock was winding down. All the goals Randy committed to accomplish have to be met and completed by October 31, 2008. Even so, I saw no evidence of Randy sweating, or being overly concerned about how much time was left.

What has been accomplished so far is pretty amazing, in terms of taking an extremely large infrastructure – 85+ data centers, 750+ data marts, 18,500 switches, 420,000 ports and more than 6,000 applications – to where today there’s just six data centers in three cities, and where only 117 data marts remain (597 data marts have been retired), and at the heart of each of the six data centers are Neoview complexes made up of 128 servers (256 processors) and 182 Terabytes of storage, each. Some of the timelines (for information access turnaround) have seen improvements of as much as 48 hours!

In short, Randy placed some bets in terms of investments and as he now oversees an IT department with the data centers in place, he realized a reduction in IT spending from a little over 4 percent of revenue to just 2 percent of revenue – even while the pace of acquisitions and mergers didn’t slow down for one moment.

In a previous posting, back on November 11, 2007 “We all just wanna be big rock stars!”
I quoted a report in the Financial Times (Wednesday, Nov 7th) that reported “Randy Mott’s trail-blazing project to overhaul HP’s technology could set the standard that other companies need to follow …his techie rock star status was further enhanced by five years as CIO of the personal computer company, Dell.” And watching Randy on stage this morning I was reminded of this article and could easily see some elements of the rock star image. Yes, he made some bets alright, and for now looks like they are really paying off.

But today, there were more surprises in stall. As Ann ended her presentation featuring blades, and after she had shared how excited she now was in bringing mainframe-capable NonStop computing to a low cost industry standard blade package, she humbly apologized for Mark Hurd being unable to join the conference. There was an audible groan from the packed-house audience, and I stopped taking notes. But Ann soldiered on and began to respond to questions videotaped the night before.

“What about the commitment to HP-UX?” to which Ann responded “We love it and are committed and you should not be worried about HP’s commitment to Unix!”

More questions followed before someone asked “What about EDS!” And as Ann began to turn to the audience, from out of the curtain folds a strong voice boomed “Perhaps Ann, I should respond to that question!” and onto the stage walked Mark Hurd. The impact was immediate and cheering broke out. Mark’s answer was brief “for legal reasons I can’t get into too much detail but this will double our service capabilities and elevate us to “best in business’” after which he stepped off the stage. But more was to come.

The next question asked was whether HP believed Intel was committed to the Integrity product line when a new voice again responded “Perhaps Ann, a chip guy should help out on this matter!” and onto the stage walked Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel. Paul quickly pointed out how, according to IDC, “Itanium is the fastest growing server platform in the world!” The picture at the top of this posting is of Ann, Paul, and Mark on stage - as with Paul’s entrance, Mark returned.

In a well-rehearsed sequence, the audience was able to hear from the CEO’s of two of the most dominant players in IT today and the impact from their presence stayed with the community for the remainder of the day. It was one of the most dramatic stagecraft “orchestration” I have ever seen and the audience was ecstatic!

It was clear, the Blades announcement was a really big deal, and HP wanted all attention focused on this breakthrough innovation, and even though no mention of Connect was made during the General Session, Mark Hurd met the night before with Nina Buick, Connect President, and wanted to know all about our new user community!

As the morning came to an end, for the ITUG community there was a brief break before everyone settled down for a NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) update at the ITUG Opening Session. This time Winston Prather and Randy Meyer would be presenting high-level roadmaps and giving us more information on the Integrity NonStop Blade Server. But before they took to the stage, we heard from the Scott Healy, the ITUG Chairman, and Margo Holen, the ITUG Vice Chairman for the time before last – there still will be an ITUG closing session, with the traditional Q&A, when 30 years of ITUG will come to an end. I have included a picture of Scott and Margo addressing the community.

You may recall from the blog posting last night how Scott was a little nostalgic, yet strongly believed the creation of Connect was the right thing to do – but for ten to fifteen minutes he and Margo turned back the clock and it felt like the old ITUG days. It is so sad to see that “the gig has ended!” Yes, Margo will now become Vice President of Connect and move to the Presidency in 2009, and Scott will complete the year as Immediate Past President, so a very strong ITUG voice will be heard on the board of Connect but after nearly 30 years of active engagement at all levels of the community and across many countries, it was still a sad day for many of us.

Winston Prather and Scott handed out the Availability Award. The finalists were Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd.,BELGACOM, BV Zahlungssysteme GmbH., First Data Asia Pacific, MasterCard Worldwide, and VISA, Inc. Master Card won in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In 2007 VISA was the winner, and this year Master Card took the infinity statue again.

Scott and Margo maintained the ITUG heritage and spirit and recognized all those who helped make this event as successful as it was, and later, at the User Group party made sure the traditional user recognitions were made.

Randy Mott had made his bets in terms of data center transformation and Ann was clearly committing huge development resources to blades. I guess it was then no surprise that our ITUG community leaders were also making big bets. Perhaps it was just Las Vegas after all, and there was something in the air. But with each card being turned over, I could only see Aces appearing and I can only see a positive outcome develop. Scott and Margo certainly do have to be congratulated and while neither of them would ever consider themselves candidate rock stars – they certainly seem to be reading the community well and I can only add “let the good times roll!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mandalay Bay Opens!

For many of us who have attended ITUG events over the years, we are used to the first general sessions of Monday morning. Back in the early ‘90s these were marathon events that went on until the luncheon adjournment. Adapting to the format we first saw last year, where the event kicks-off on the Monday evening, and where many of us can fly in that day, has certainly grown on me – I like it!

I have to say, I wasn’t sure, early on, but the format of a Monday through Thursday event with the “Welcome Reception” first up Monday nigh, really is appealing. Earlier today, with only an hour before the attendees could walk into the Exhibition Hall, I took one last photo (included here) and what a difference to noon – carpets cleaned, the garbage collected, and the night’s refreshments arriving.

This year, HP’s booth is visibly bigger than the booth they had last year and there are a lot more exhibitors as well - to see the event growing like this is very encouraging. But the big news of the night for the user communities was the unveiling of the new Connect logo – unfurled from a small tower erected for the occasion. From hereon out, we are all part of just one user community, Connect.

I had the chance to sit down with Scott Healy, the former Chairman of ITUG and just asked him as directly as I could – what did he consider was the “driving factors” behind this move to create a single user group. We had just seen the new logo unveiled and the picture I have included here is from much earlier in the day before the crowds arrived.

His response kind of stopped me in my tracks with its bluntness and forcefulness. “The driver?” he said, pointing across the exhibition hall and at the HP stand, “it’s over there! It’s in that new cabinet of blades running anything from NonStop to Linux to Windows!

I knew for several years that this was coming and I see it as the way of the future. And it’s just so important to me that the NonStop users became part of a user group that supported NonStop in the new heterogeneous world.”

Early this morning, very early West Coast time, the press release on the NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem went out and perhaps the best coverage came from the UK electronic publication, The Register. Under the headline “NonStop takes on modern touch” journalist Ashlee Vance opens with the comment:

“When HP talks about "blade everything", it means freaking everything. The hardware maker has pumped out a blade server running its NonStop operating system and software of all things.

“The NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem will fail to shock loyal HP customers. We spotted the server on HP roadmaps almost a year ago.

"The company is pretty proud of itself for bringing the NonStop software loved by financial, telecommunications and government customers over to the c-Class chassis. It's a sign that HP is moving away from very specialized cases and innards in favor of a shared hardware base.”

Ashlee also quoted Randy Meyer, well known to us all and the Director of NonStop systems at HP and someone who just wouldn’t hold his punches. According to Randy:

“What we have been doing over the last period of years is moving toward industry standard hardware as it gets more and more reliable. Now we can drive down costs while maintaining the NonStop capabilities of fault tolerance and massive scale."

And this is exactly what Scott was refereeing to – HP is moving to a model where the hardware packaging becomes ubiquitous and any of the supported OS’s will run. Given such a move to a standardized packaging – all communities will share a future of common hardware with only the nuances of the operating system identifying their ancestry. Over time, this may even get blurred as the blade system pushes the operating systems and infrastructure software behind common manageability and standard, and universal APIs. Future developers building solutions around common frameworks and runtime environments may never know that the environment supporting their deployment could be any mix of NonStop, Linux, and Windows.

“Doesn’t it make sense then that all users are represented by the one user organization?” Scott concluded.

I then asked Scott whether he had any misgivings over the decision to create a new organization. And for sure “there’s some nostalgia” he said, before going on to add “I have only been in the NonStop community since 2001 and I often come across users who have been associated with NonStop for more than 30 years. There’s a lot of history but now it’s up to the incoming team to build on this beginning and make it thrive!”

Finally, when we talked about his views on how the executives of HP would view the creation of Connect, Scott pointed out that “as a HP shareholder, as a HP customer, as a HP partner, and now, as a member of a HP user community, I would expect Mark Hurd to be very enthusiastic over a community made of folks as committed to HP as I am. I get the sense that HP really is reaching out to all of us that support HP!”

And this is when I really started to think back on the events of the day. We have witnessed first hand the creation of a new organization. It’s not really a merger as much as the development of something new. And I like this – I had a lot of experience with earlier attempts at merging but the trust, openness, and transparency that exists today (across the different user communities) just didn’t exist back in my days. Scott agreed – in the end, it was the people that made the difference and this impressed the heck out of me!

Tonight I had to juggle a couple of dinners, and be in multiple places, as well as handle many phone calls. I caught up with my colleagues and watched as bets were placed on various card games. Not everything resulted in wins – and that’s pretty much to be expected in a Casino like Mandalay Bay. But the more I see HP producing products like NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem and the more I listen to smart people like Scott, the more encouraged I become.

I am not a gambler by nature and I am reluctant to place bets no matter what the odds – although Tiger Woods seems to be a sure thing these days – but the future of the user groups as is the future of the new bladed architecture, seems to be on very solid ground.

I can’t wait to hear the early feedback of customers on either count, and I am sure I will – as now the event is officially open! And I raise my glass in a toast to ITUG’s Last Chairman of the Board of Directors, who now serves as Past President of Connect – thanks Scott for leading us into the future!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The path well-trodden – to Mandalay Bay!

Well, we are up and running! No doubt about it, – as groups begin to form around the registration desks and the familiar trademarks of all events become visible. Badges on traditional HP-sponsored lanyards hanging around necks, sizeable agenda books firmly in hand, bags slung over shoulders, we are beginning to look like serious event attendees. And as we begin to cluster at the coffee shops and in quite nooks, the hard work of thumbing through the agenda, looking for the sessions that most want to see, begins in earnest. Some attendees pre-registered for the sessions, but many are still making last minute decisions.

The picture here is of me catching up with incoming Connect Vice President, Margo Holen at the Starbucks, just as the Convention Center forks into separate North and South sections, and one of the best networking places at Mandalay Bay. I hope to catch up with Margo and Scott Healy later this evening and post another blog with their views and comments following the welcome reception tonight.

Yesterday, I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon with Dr. Michael Rossbach, CEO of comForte. Overnight, and timed for maximum impact at HPTF&E, comForte released a press announcement in which they said that “they have entered into an agreement to acquire Unlimited Software Associates, Inc and the Intellectual Property Rights for the security solutions from Baker Street Software, Inc. and Cross-El Software Solutions, Inc.” I will be very interested in “the buzz” this generates on the exhibition floor, and it will be something I will take a look at this evening.

For some time, I have thought that there would be consolidation within the NonStop ISV community. There is a real need for larger ISVs to emerge, and be active in the community, and demonstrate a wider global reach. Users within the ITUG community would like to be able to benefit from some amalgamation, and have the expectation that this could translate into more efficiencies that not only give them more product options but drive down some of the costs!

While I am talking about comForte and their announcement, there was a time when many more companies timed new product announcements with the ITUG Summit. And it brings to mind the long tradition we have developed over many years of ITUG events. The first ITUG event I attended was Nice, in ’92 and I have now participated in more than 25 major events – initially with Tandem, later with InSession Technologies, and then for many years as a volunteer. The past two years, I have been part of the GoldenGate team. This experience has given me the opportunity to see the event from many different perspectives and provided me with the basis whereby I can make comparisons and better assess how it all goes. The blindingly-obvious truth, however, is that the circumstances we face today are just so much different to what we faced in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

I remember the fall of ’89 when the Baseball World Series featured a Bay area contest between San Francisco and Oakland, and where both teams featured batting line-ups that looked more like they were from their NFL football counterparts – the 49ers and the Raiders. They were really very big players. It was also when Tandem Computers unveiled the Cyclone and, at about the same time, IBM began (finally) shipping the ES/3090 mainframe and Digital unveiled the VAX9000 mainframe. These were all very big systems! And yes, it was also the week where Northern California suffered from the tragedy of the “big one”, the Loma Prieta earthquake, and natural phenomena that I don’t want to experience ever again.

I recall writing an article in Computerworld Australia under the headline of “Big is Back” that tied all three occurrences together and how that perhaps, as the pendulum of IT technology swung away from distributed, and back to centralized, computing that I thought having these major vendors all behind big systems would see us return to the heyday of the late ‘70s when powerhouse mainframes dominated. But how wrong I was to become, completely missing the up-tick in interest in TCP/IP, Unix, the early days of open systems, and what evolved to become the Internet. Less than two years later, publications were reporting the considerable fall-off of interest in big systems with companies like IBM, Amdahl, and Hitachi Data Systems all suffering double digit decline in product shipments.

And so today, before the full extent of HP’s announcements can be assessed, I am very cautious about predicting where success will lie – and which products will gain traction with the community. On one hand, I am quietly optimistic that HP will get it all right and we will be witnessing the first days in a major sea-change in the fortunes of NonStop! But making predictions, “especially about the future” as Baseball’s legendary coach Yogi Berra would say, remains as hazardous as it’s always been …

I was recently asked what I thought the major concern of IT executives was these days, and I answered correctly, “Costs!” I was then asked what I thought was their second concern, and I answered again, “Costs!” And I would have kept responding the same way to any other question. Costs, and the further elimination of costs, are the priority for every IT executive I talk to today. And in the early years of the 21st century, what is paramount for most attendees is how to drive out costs yet meet the Service Level Agreement (SLA) levels that they have agreed to. And at the core of these concerns today are the costs of people, of energy requirements, and of the overall hardware and supporting infrastructure, needed to support business.

Looking back at the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, when I first attended ITUG events, the interests centered on data base, system and network management, and the shift to industry-standard components (Cyclone was the last CISC machine with chipsets developed in-house). So it will be very interesting to see what is next on the horizon and how HP, and their supporting ISV and Solutions partners, respond to today’s issues of costs. I have to believe that they are as aware of this as we all are – and I will be watching the remainder of the week with a lot of interest in all that is announced.

The hours to the official opening of the exhibition continue to wind down and the activity out on the floor is no less frenetic as fork-lifts “buzz” through the aisles - one of which I captured in the picture here - with vendors anxiously looking over their shoulders at the clock. I will be spending a lot of time inside the exhibition hall over the next few days and already I have seen some pretty interesting signage on the HP booth!

Not only will I be walking the aisles, but I will be meeting with the leaders of ISVs and with executives from the user group’s board and I will be attending presentations by HP product managers, in order to provide coverage on several key hardware and software announcements. I will be taking time out to talk to many of the attendees who really do hold the key to the success of the event – will they be coming away convinced that HP is addressing the issues of cost? Will they be confident that the ISV and Solutions partners remain firmly in support of HPs products and provide the kind of applications they need? Will they find the solutions that they really need to address the business problems they face?

But most importantly, will we see enough to remain firmly in the HP camp and be enthusiastic over the promise for the future?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Clear Skies over Mandalay Bay …

In the early daytime hours of Sunday, the hotel, casino, and convention center are all unexpectedly quiet. I awoke to brilliant blue skies – a feature of this time of year. And the heat! Yes, there are a few all-nighters playing the casino’s slot machines. And stragglers are wondering back into the lobbies from other venues on the famous Las Vegas Strip.

But the activity within the Exhibition Hall is frenetic, as the assembly-crews race to beat the clock for Monday’s opening reception. And the picture I have included here is just 24 hours after the one I included in last night’s post – I have been involved in a lot of exhibitions and each time I am amazed at how chaotic it all is right up to the opening of the doors. And nothing is any different this year – although I have to admit, some of the stands look even bigger than in previous years.

I sat at Starbuck’s underneath the moving escalators that take you up to the Luxor hotel and to the shopping arcade that connects it with the main casino. It is perhaps the quietest nook in the whole Mandalay Bay complex and a great place to just watch the continuous movement of people between venues. As it’s the weekend, most visitors are attracted to the outdoor beach complex that is a feature of the hotel. But by late Monday, there will be clear evidence that a user event is under way, with the numbers of vacationers beginning to be matched by the IT crowd. And the buzz that the event generates will quickly become apparent as the coffee shops, bars, and restaurants fill up with attendees and the serious side of networking begins.

For me, Tuesday’s general sessions will be the highlight! Not to say that Monday night’s Welcome Reception isn’t something I look forward to, as well. While there are many users who aren’t too keen on some of the clearly marketing activities that have become an integral part of the general sessions, I am far less bothered. Knowing what HP is planning to do, and where they are in their development cycles, is incredibly important. Yes, sometimes these sessions can go overboard – last year, gymnasts descended from the rafters and performed some spectacular stunts as part of the message of turning IT upside down – but hey, it’s HP’s time on the stage and I can go with it.

Last year, we heard from Mark Hurd and from Randy Mott. I found the presentation from Randy to be one of the best of the event’s, as he outlined the progress he was making with the “server-consolidation project” across HP. Randy made it very clear that he was working with a three year timeframe and, by my reckoning, he only has about six months to go so I am anticipating a pretty dramatic presentation this year. But I also suspect that the best presentation may come with announcements featuring the bladed architecture, and I will be most anxious to see what is actually unveiled on this topic!

Over the weekend, members of the incoming Connect Board of Directors had been meeting and, after a luncheon adjournment today, the separate boards then met. The photo I have included here is of the ITUG Board of Directors meeting for the last time. I can only predict good things emerging from the formation of the new group but, as a former ITUG Chairman with a lot of history with ITUG, and with very fond memories of all the folks I have worked with, I have to admit that I experience mixed emotions. But again, I truly believe that this is the right thing to do and the best way to represent all HP users!

And the message I took away from this was not one of an ending, but of recognition. And not so much about a beginning either, as the different organizations had been cooperating for some time, but of reconciliation. I have always been a firm believer that the user community must take the initiative and to visibly demonstrate to the primary vendor, HP, that a strong user community is at the core of all parties interests!

This evening, Nina Buik the incoming President of Connect and the former President of Encompass, held a small reception for current user group board members and their spouses. After the usual small talk, conversations quickly turned to expectations for the coming week. “I see the potential for exponential growth of Connect! And why?” she went on to say “this will happen because the larger chapters will be the first to see the value from a worldwide community - led by advocacy.” As I took in her observation, she went on to explain “advocacy, with a global reach will be part of everything we do and it’s power to influence HP will be derived from the strength of its numbers. The big chapters see this immediately and as they become affiliated with Connect, the smaller chapters will follow.

When I asked Nina about her expectations for the HP general sessions, and what will be said, she expressed a real desire to see Mark Hurd, as HP’s leader, “simply state that he is aware, as are all of his team, and that they are all fully supportive, of the user community and it’s newly created board, and that he directs such a message as much to HP folks as to the user community.”

And this is why we come. It’s not really to enjoy the clear blue skies over Mandalay Bay or to spend time on the beach. The famous nightlife and the casinos are not the attraction either. But there are only a few opportunities each year to hear from HP executives and for me, this is the highlight! This is what provides me with material for months to come! And this is what brings me back each year. And for many of us, it will not be the heat of the day that will hold our interest – but the heat generated from the excitement surrounding the event itself!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Road to Mandalay (Bay)!

After the better part of this week in the San Francisco Bay area, I have now arrived in Las Vegas for the HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E). Last week I was at sea level enjoying three perfect days of sunshine – not a frequent occurrence and much welcomed by the locals. The picture I have included here is of me looking across at the Bay Bridge that runs nearby the offices of GoldenGate Software.

As readers will have seen in the previous posting I was at the GoldenGate Real-Time 2008 event, where the theme was “Where Information Meets Innovation”. And the event turned out to be an excellent warm-up for the main event from HP this week in Las Vegas. No more so than during the final panel session of the event where CIOs were given an opportunity to present their views on data and where one of the panelists warned us all to be on the look-out for complacency!

In the sport of motor racing, one thing that often happens is that a racer continues to improve until he reaches a stage where no matter what he tries, he just doesn’t get any faster. These drivers will then tinker with their cars in an effort to go faster, or talk with other competitors to see if there are “secret lines” through corners that perhaps they are missing. They sometimes even go looking for different race tracks. But it’s usually not the tracks or the cars, but the drivers where the problem lies. Racers often reach a certain comfort level and find it hard to brake through it and really race at the limit. And it’s the gradual development of complacency while in this comfort zone that impedes any future “break-through” achievements.

And so it is with data center operations. How many of us reach a level of comfort with what we are supporting, and with the tools we are using? How many of us even feel uncomfortable when called upon to do something a little differently? How many of us experience mixed feelings when the systems we have been using for 3 or 4 years are upgraded or replaced and we face something very unfamiliar for the first time? How many of us even look back with some nostalgia to the days of batch, where every step in every run was scheduled often days, and sometimes weeks, in advance?

In his introduction to the panel, Alok Pareek, GoldenGate’s VP of Technology, presented a high-level view of concerns being expressed by CIO’s as reported in the popular press. He had assembled the points made about things holding back enterprises which represented many of the key inhibitors to moving out of their comfort zones. Among the concerns were “deriving value from the data”, the need for “faster, (more) accurate data”, the provision of “uninterrupted services”, “scalability”, and “cost”. Alok then went on to make a comment that put a whole new spin on why the IT industry continues to spawn new entrants when he simply observed “between the promise of (a technology, a product, or a service) made by vendors, and the reality that eventuates, is the “gap” that provides the impetus for new vendors to step in and innovate!”

The problem with data today is that it is “isolated, not easily accessible, and (we need) to release its value through better integration”, Alok said. By doing so, we support much faster and more accurate analysis of changing business operations and can respond, even innovate, accordingly. Alok then asked “why do we continue to question real time data (integration)!”

As the panel moved on to costs, there was a hidden gem that I guess shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me - “processing the data as it arrives, is going to become necessary as it’s the most efficient way to deal with data.” And that, one big benefit from moving from batch to real time is that you “smooth out the processing – (it’s) now a continuous process with less pressure and contention for switches, bandwidth, etc. Arguments were made that suggested that data is at its most valuable where it is captured – in the office, the street, , whatever. And once the data has been captured, in percentage terms only a small component is ever subject to change – often as low as 1 percent. “Sure, the data will contribute value in summary form when fed into analysis applications, but for the most part, it’s of most value locally.

“Separate the processing of data from the delivery of data (and) for these reasons you want to process the data as its coming in! Process continuously (and) serve it up to the users when they need it! Think about how to process continuously as this will give you huge leverage over cost!” Again, the arguments were made which pointed out that following this model allowed you to deploy smaller simpler nodes, rather than depending on clusters, and that these reduced complexity, operational overhead and this lead to significantly reduced costs. It also facilitates more flexible data recovery scenarios – as you can, according to one panelist, “bring Disaster Recovery (DR) redundancy into your core operations – load balancing, etc. - such that at all times, you know every server, every site, every link of the total system architecture is working and will less likely fail when called upon in a DR situation.”

I took a good look around the audience and even though it was an early-morning session hard on the heels of a lengthy, previous-evening, networking opportunity that continued on into the early morning, many of the participants were furiously taking notes. Comfort zones were being sorely tested and any remaining complacency was being shaken. And then, a question from the audience “we have heard (a lot) about spreading out our processing – scaling horizontally, as it has been suggested – but it would appear to be at odds with the hardware vendors product directions as they continue to develop and promote fewer, larger, CPUs, and bigger disks, and will we be locked into this “fewer, but faster / bigger components scenario where scalability becomes mountainous?”

And maybe this is my cue, as I arrive in Las Vegas, having traveled the “Road to Mandalay”. In the days ahead, perhaps HP product roadmaps will address these issues and be less at odds with what the panel of CIOs was endorsing. In a break with the past, perhaps it just wont be more of the same “fewer, faster, bigger”, but rather help us get even more value from our data.

As you first enter the cavernous complex that is the Mandalay Bay convention center and hotel complex, it takes a while to recognize that it was Rudyard Kipling’s poem that inspired much of the architecture:

“Come you back to Mandalay, where the old Flotilla lay:Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?”
Everywhere there are planters of bamboo, the occasional strands of vines, and the lobby store is the “Rangoon”. There’s the Shark Reef and Aquarium to add a little more to the sense of the exotic Far East everywhere you look. And as I ventured out this morning, the lyrics of Sting’s song “Desert Rose” with its Moroccan melody and Algerian chorus added another layer to the atmosphere.

Yes, we have returned to Mandalay. It may not be the British Naval flotilla that is the attraction – I have included a photo of the exhibition floor in very early stages of assembly – but as the events of the week unfold it will be equally as impressive, I have to believe. Will HP hardware product roadmaps be a continuation of the past – will they too, like IBM back in February, be taking the wraps of their latest high-end server or will we see some divergence and the commencement of a new, less mountainous path? Will all the hype of the past few months surrounding a bladed architecture present us with new options and perhaps some relief from the demands to add capacity in ever-increasing chunks? I happen to think there will be relief and I am expecting to see some real product “fireworks” along the way!

This week I am high up in the desert where the dry air and heat is far removed from the moist, marine-air surrounding San Francisco Bay. It is a hard climate and the drive out through the desert landscape was in stark contrast from only a few days ago when I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway along the California’s Pacific coastline from Monterey to Cambria. The desert forces you out of you comfort zone and, if you remain complacent and inattentive to your surroundings, can seriously injure you. Kipling’s poem goes on to observe:

“On the road to Mandalay, where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!”

And after GoldenGate’s Real Time event in San Francisco, I have to say that while the only “flyin’-fishes” may be in the resort’s aquarium, that I am expecting thunder out of Mandalay Bay!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The changing face of user groups ...

This weekend I drove to San Francisco for the GoldenGate Real-Time 2008 User Conference. Coming as it is the week before HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) it represented the start of an extended period of user and vendor interactions. This year, GoldenGate elected to move away from Las Vegas to the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square. And the photo I have included here shows the American and Australian flags flying over the Powell Street entrance – a complete coincidence, I was to later find out, but nonetheless for me, a reminder of the strong connection that exists between the two countries.

After all, following the successful American war of independence late in the 18th century, England had nowhere to ship its convicts. Between 1716 and 1776, almost 400 convict ships ferried 50,000 convicts to the American colonies as the English cleared their prisons two or three times a year. One day, the ships departed for Maryland or Virginia and the next, for Botany Bay. Without the American Revolution, Australia would have likely remained unsettled for another fifty years and just as likely, would have been French. That’s my theory, and I am sticking to it!

Fortunately for the English, the voyages of Captain Cook and the lands he had discovered and claimed for England, had provided the English authorities with a fall-back plan. Following the turn of events in the new world, the English government quickly transitioned from viewing Australia as an alternate destination to where it became the primary offshore penal colony for the next 100 + years. This was probably the first recorded instance of a nation having a backup plan in place in case of a disaster. And of continuing with the forced migration, with no disruption to the routine prison clearings!
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I have included a second picture here direct from the exhibition floor where the evening reception had been held. With as many user and vendor events that I have attended, the turn out was pretty impressive. And much of the credit for this event lies with Deirdre Mahon, Senior Director of Corporate Marketing, pictured here, whose organization was responsible for overseeing the whole show!

The following morning, the event kicked up a gear and the sessions and panels began in earnest. With the images of the flags very much still in mind, I was less shocked when the general session opened with some very good presentations that referenced history. Perhaps not drawing on experiences as far back as the 18th century, I was encouraged nonetheless that time was given to review how things used to be in IT. And it certainly reminded many of us of how far we have come, and explained why the new hires in our IT shops are approaching business problems with solutions we would never have thought of.

The event opened with a general session and with an introduction by Larry DeBoever. Today, Larry is a member of GoldenGate’s board of directors, but I remember being introduced to Larry back in 1997 at a Meta Group “METAmorphosis West” conference in San Diego. I had been working with another META Group analyst, Nick Gall, who introduced me to Larry and we exchanged a few words. The META Group had purchased Larry’s company the year before and was keen for Larry to launch the Enterprise Architecture Strategies (EAS) service. I didn’t attend his session in 1997, as something else was on at the same time, so when I heard him ten years later at the 2007 GoldenGate event I was determined to be awake in time to hear him again. Larry is a really good source for eye-catching headlines and he’s very quick with synthesizing complex issues down to just a single phrase. Back in 2006 when Garter was talking about “Right-Time” as distinct from “Real Time” and trying hard to convince IT that there were still legitimate cases for not doing something in real time, Larry responded with the remark “Batch is Dead!”

What he really meant by this was that batch, as a design point, is dead – and there’s now no requirement to engineer a batch process. By way of contrast, Larry went on to suggest that all new data integration projects have real-time data streaming as a key design point. Real-Time business operations are now main-stream – no longer just for selected industries like financial services. When asked to revise his remark of 2006, he went on to remark “Batch is Dead–er” and then highlighted that “the rate of change, and the number of cycles associated with change, is being compressed into less time. And this compression is accelerating our ability to innovate as we continue to deliver change in the (new) compressed timeframe!”

Perhaps the one remark from Larry that generated the most conversation during the coffee break, also had its roots in history. “A little over ten years ago, NonStop would cost three times what a batch processor would cost. Many of us have failed to realize that it is now one of the least expensive platforms and continue to live with the hangover from those days!” Finally, before closing, and as part of a discussion about the drivers behind real-time deployments, Larry pointed out how our world is heading towards the “self-service (of) everything!”

A little later in the general session, Donald Feinberg, a Vice President and Distinguished Analyst with Gartner, gave the keynote address on “Continuous Information Availability – Why, How, and When …” Very quickly, Donald asked the audience to think back to our IT programming experiences of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. “Remember how we relied on subroutines? Well objects are just subroutines and SOA is just about even bigger objects!” And remember the early data bases where the talk of the mid to late ‘70s was about fully inverted files – where the fields within a record were indexed to the point where all the fields were indexed and the record thrown away? Well, today we have revisited that and many of the really fast data bases rely on this approach!”

I have to admit I was a programmer throughout the ‘70s and I remember where I was when I wrote my last line of code. I had been working with data base management systems, like IDMS and Datacom, and really liked Datacom as it was an early example of a relational data base and a precursor to the SQL data bases that soon followed. From the hierarchical data bases, to the networked data bases, on through the inverted and relational implementations that finally gave way to the SQL Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) we rely on today – much of our time was spent migrating.

No sooner had we adopted one approach and begun to ship our data to it, then something revolutionary came along and we had to abandon what we were doing and migrate to the new technology. “Through 2012, the predominant model for new, emerging information management technologies will be via extensions to, and evolutions of, the original Relational DBMS model including Open Source DBMSs!” Donald explained.

But migrations are not over … as the price of storage declines and as new types of data materialize, we are constantly facing the need to upgrade. And as Larry pointed out – the cycles are compressing all the time and the opportunity to innovate based on the last change, is decreasing all the time.

From touching on the early days in programming, and how much of the discipline remains with us but with new terminology, to acknowledging change, and how it’s only accelerating, Donald brought up the topic of mission-critical applications. Two of his definitions really hit home when he said “if a service goes down, and you loose money, and have to close down, then it’s a mission critical application! If an outage to a service results in your company’s name being on the front page of a newspaper, then it’s mission critical as well.” In other words, mission critical means different things to different IT shops.

In his wrap up comments, Donald reinforced the model of horizontal scaling that has become more prevalent of late, is the right way to go given today’s technology. While Donald rarely names vendors, or talks about specific offerings, he too called out the NonStop saying for many scenarios covered in his talk, “NonStop is really good!” On the back of that remark, he added, and “Unix is dead!” I cannot overemphasise the buzz in the room from comments like this being made about NonStop, and I just have to remain hopeful that the powers-that-be within HP also embrace a similar message with the same degree of enthusiasm as exhibited by these well-knwon analysts.

Batch is dead – or, dead-er! Unix is dead (invest in Linux)! No new data base model – just continuing evolution of the Relational DBMSs! And through it all, migrations! And no time left to do them – no possibility of taking our systems down! Last year, the theme for the GoldenGate event was “Where Access meets Information” and this year it’s “Where Information meets Innovation!” To those that can keep riding the ever compressing cycles of change, migrating without any impact on their business and without any headlines in the newspaper or exposure on CNN, and innovating from the timely information on hand, will come market leadership!

And as I look at the flags waiving in front of the hotel I can’t stop smiling thinking about a question being asked now of the applicants for the Australian visa: “Do you have a criminal record?”, and the answer that is obvious “I did not know it is still required … " And I have to ask myself another question "are user group meetings offered by vendors, of any less value or of any less importance, than any other regional user group meeting?"

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My road to the vendor side ...

I try to avoid starting a blog posting with references to the weather! It is a bit like saying - I like your tie! Or, I like your shoes! But returning to Boulder has been a bit of a shock, and I really did have to check the calendar. Yes, it is June 5th! From early afternoon yesterday, the rains came. Hard! And through breaks in the clouds, I can see the snow falling in Estes Park and across the Continental Divide as well as the Front Ranges. I am being advised that the snow level is down to 8,000 feet.

But it’s June and it’s BBQ season – I wanted to ride my motorcycle on the peak to peak highway this evening, but it’s now out of the question.

The limited amount of driving I have had to do has been hazardous, with signs on the freeway announcing “Pooled Water on the Highway”, but having the SUV in the garage helped a lot. Not sure how long it remains viable, given how gas prices have soared, but there are still times where the vehicle’s ground clearance and its all wheel drive capability has its upside.

But I am not ready to give up on living next to the mountains – and the picture I have included (above) is the winter view we have of both the Continental Divide and the Front Ranges, and the picture to the left is what I awoke to following a day of rain and snow!

I first experienced living near the mountains when I moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1976. Waiting in the lobby of Alberta House in London for my immigration papers, I was surrounded by pictures of the Canadian Rockies highlighting places like Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. It came as quite a shock when I arrived in Edmonton to find the mountains were nowhere to be found. The city is in the prairies but once settled in, I took every opportunity to drive up into the mountains and I enjoyed each time I had among the peaks.

I have mentioned in a previous blog the opportunity I had to join a Caterpillar distributor in Edmonton, and to work in their service bureau. But what I left out was that this opportunity turned out to be the changing point in my career – that period in my life when I knew that my career was in IT, but not as an end user. For the two years I worked at the Caterpillar distributor, I slowly gravitated to the vendor community and I found working in a service bureau was the ideal place to make the transition. My manager, Mike Day, turned out to be a great mentor and I will always remember working for him.

There had been time sharing operations available for some time. However, by the time the mid-70s arrived, a number of purpose-built service bureaus began to appear. Want your payroll processed? There’s a center across town doing just that application! Want your statements printed? There’s another center we know that have just opened a printing shop – all we do is supply them with a spool-file tape! The easy access to companies like FedEx and UPS guaranteed a reliable infrastructure could be put in place.

As I noted in that earlier post, the Caterpillar Distributor, R. Angus (Alberta) Limited (RAAL), was quite progressive in spinning off its service bureau into a subsidiary, R. Angus Computer Services (RACS) and looking for complementary business. However, the pricing for the services was never completely figured out and, for much of its life, remained heavily subsidized by its parent, RAAL. Although the service bureau had two mainframes, adding a second site and ensuring continuous availability became a lengthy exercise with requirements far outstripping the capabilities of the day. And was basing the solutions on an IBM mainframe even the right technology choice?

Suddenly, the Athebasca Oil Sands reclamation project exploded onto the scene, and the mining operators began to “devour” Caterpillar tractors at a ferocious clip. And devouring was the operative word, as oil sands found their way into every moving part of a $300,000 Caterpillar scraper rendering it completely useless after only a few months. RAAL had hit the “mother load” as far as customer demand for its tractors was concerned, and interest in the service bureau waned rapidly. Shortly after that, the bureau was sold to a New York service company, Advanced Computer Techniques (ACT) founded by a real industry character, Charlie Lecht, who went to school with one of the RAAL executives.

I had been brought to Edmonton to help out with selecting a general purpose Data Base Management System (DBMS) software product, having come in on the end of such a project when I was in London. At the time, the “Big 5” for any IBM mainframe shop was Cincom’s Total, Cullinane’s IDMS, a product called System 2000, Software AG’s ADABAS, and a mixed bag of offerings from IBM including DL/1. As RACS was an established CICS shop, with their customers accessing data on-line, it would be ideal if the data base software selected worked well with CICS!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t part of the game plan for most DBMS providers who were anxious to add a data communications component to their DBMS offering. So, ignoring all the cue’s I had picked up on, and putting to one side all the experience I had accumulated working with Cullinane’s IDMS product, I selected a brand new DBMS offering with only limited references - choosing their complementary data communications offering thinking that I could simply replace the entrenched CICS environment.

The approach I took in selecting this product, Datacom DB (with Datacom DC), so appealed to the Dallas, Texas based vendor that they invited me to present at their user group conference. And so my path to the vendor community, and my interest in user groups, commenced. And in my last days in Edmonton I worked hard on convincing the management of RACS to become the Datacom distributor for Canada – even though Alberta was a long way from the lucrative IT belt of Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal.

Service bureaus have all but disappeared. Some large corporations operate businesses that look a lot like the service bureau’s of yesterday, and ADP comes to mind. But today, there’s so much talk about Software as a Service (SaaS) and, before that, Application Service Providers (ASPs) architectures, that I can’t help but feel we are revisiting an old model.

Only this time, there’s no need for FedEx and UPS there once was, as everything is hooked together via the Internet. But many of the problems remain similar – pricing of the services is just as difficult as it’s always been, ensuring continuous available through any number of disaster scenarios remains an issue, and finding the right mix of technology continues to be a challenge!

Will the imminent arrival of cloud computing help out at all? I am sure it will make an impact – there’s a clear fit between building a cloud and providing SaaS – and I will be watching it closely. The leaders within HP BCS certainly acknowledge that, with the new bladed architecture together with the support of shared blade infrastructure, the basic pieces are beginning to fall into place for a very compelling solution.

And I am convinced there will be a number of major customers who gravitate to this architecture. But are we just revisiting the past? Is the possibility of pooled water on the highway ahead of us coming at a time when everything else suggests it shouldn’t be? Do we have the SUV warming up in the garage ready to overcome any barriers across our path? Will the apparent prolific compute-power, coming with newer HP platforms, marginalize former problem-areas faced by service bureaus and allow us to smoothly transition to this new architecture? Could we be witnessing the emergence of a HP server dynasty!

What happened with all that Datacom knowledge – well, it turned out to be the key that allowed me to return home to Australia. After first trying to join the organization in Dallas, but not having the right immigration papers to support such a move, their distributor in Australia appeared on the scene and in urgent need for training as they had just sold Datacom to a large service bureau! It was the perfect match so within weeks, I returned home.

I have stayed in the vendor community ever since and probably will remain associated with a vendor for the rest of my career. But looking back to my time in Edmonton, and to my experience at the service bureau, I will always appreciate the mentoring I had and the opportunity I was given. The only downside I can look back on is that, as I was leaving Edmonton and as the local ice hockey team moved from the old World Hockey League to the National Hockey League, a young kid showed up – Wayne Gretzky – and I missed the creation of hockey’s most famous dynasty!

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