Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prospects? Looking good ....

I made the trip downtown to the LA Auto Show this weekend. A few years ago I had been at HP World, but had stayed nearby and had missed the opportunity of driving into the city and to experience the “pleasures” of LA’s freeways. The LA Auto Show is a much bigger spectacle than the Orange County event I attended in early October (check out the posting of October 10, ‘08 “This one’s a keeper?”) and the car manufacturers used this one to showcase their new cars as well as displaying futuristic concept cars. The picture above is of the Lamborghini stand where a large crowd had gathered to take a look at a bevy of beautiful models on display – along with the usual “booth candy.”

As is typical these days, many of the up-market manufacturers had their cars roped off behind barriers. Whether this is done to create an air of exclusivity, or because the cars were just too fragile to stand up to the heavy volume of visitors eager to get in behind the wheel, I am not all that sure. But it does bring out my competitive nature, and I work hard to get invited inside the ropes. Yes, I could visit the manufacturer’s showrooms, but this is always a lot more fun.

This year, I started with Maserati and after a brief exchange with the salesman I was invited to view the cars more closely. Yes, I sat behind the wheel, and yes, I talked the salesman into giving me one of their magnificent brochures – more a book than a pamphlet. Armed with the glossy Maserati book I then headed for the Aston Martin stand! After a brief exchange with the booth staff I was once again invited back behind the ropes to look over the new DBS, as featured in the latest James Bond movie. Even though it was under lock and key, even for invited guests, I was still able to spend time behind the wheel of the V8 Vantage. Not as much room inside as in the just-released Maserati GT-S, but I managed to talk Aston Martin out of a “boxed” book on the DB9 / DBS. Now clutching both the Aston Martin and Maserati brochures ,easily recognizable even from a distance , I found my way to the Ferrari stand.

This turned out to be more challenging, as I overheard one of the Ferrari attendants turn down a request with the very curt response “I am sorry, but only current Ferrari customers are being invited to view the cars.” Time to change strategy! I am a prospect and I am comparing the Maserati GT-S with the new Ferrari California - don’t they share the same engine, transmission and brakes?” I enquired with as much fervor as I could muster. And then, maintaining eye contact, I added very quickly “if you don’t mind, and if there aren’t too many current Ferrari customers on the stand, could I take a look?”

“Come back in ten minutes and I will see if you can come inside the ropes,” was the formal response. After ten minutes, I caught the salesman’s eye and he nodded to the staff to let me in. I enjoyed a good twenty minutes sitting inside the various Ferrari’s on display, and the Ferrari California and the Maserati GT-S were indeed very similar mechanically, targeting the same audience, but they do not share the same engine and drive-train! For me, the Maserati looked the more appealing car and definitely the best price-performance offering at the auto show.

For as long as I have been on the vendor side of the community, I have always been interested in the balance that is needed between servicing customers and attracting prospects. With so much written today about becoming customer centric and for putting the customer first, do we forget about attracting new customers? Are prospects being given little opportunity to step inside the ropes, to better present their requirements and explain their business issues, or are we simply reserving time for our established customers? While there is understandable downside from ignoring your customers, isn’t there just as much downside – perhaps even more – from missing an opportunity to listening to prospects.

Recently I was in Campbell, California and, arriving early, I took a walk up the main street. I have to admit I was very surprised to run into the Golden Gate Showroom! I have included a picture of it here but no, Transactional Data Management (TDM) software wasn’t on display or being sold from this shop.

Showrooms, particularly those of car manufacturers, have played a significant role in attracting prospects over the years. While we still have far to go before we see major infrastructure software components for sale at the local corner shop, watching the crowds drawn to Apple’s stores suggests that the next generation of IT executives may find this an attractive option for them. But I am not holding my breath in anticipation that this will be something GoldenGate pursues any time soon!

Building the business model that strikes the right balance between the needs of the customer and the need of the prospects, shouldn’t be all that difficult. As I found it pretty easy to communicate the right message to the Ferrari salesman, and to strike up a dialogue with him – yes, I did have him open the hood of the new Ferrari California so that I could examine the new 4.7 liter engine in more detail - good companies will always be quick to respond to prospect inquiries. And these good companies will also be quick to recognize opportunities for their products and be able to easily steer the dialogue into an open exchange on their suitability and value proposition. Sami Akbay, VP of Marketing and Product Management at GoldenGate, suggested “companies that fail to find the balance between supporting customers and servicing prospects, will always run the grave risk of missing that one opportunity that can catapult the company to the next level! The vehicle for growth can only be fueled from successfully attracting a broad community of prospects.”

In the blog posting of October 10th, ’08 “This one’s a keeper?” I looked at how the economy was impacting the introduction of new technology and how the pool of prospects for new products was shrinking with each quarter I wrote of how … technology and product roadmaps are no longer the full story and holding tightly onto soon-to-be-legacy equipment has nothing to do with emotions but rather, non-existent cash flow.” The context for this observation was the declining availability of older systems from third-party leasing companies. In other words, prospects for additional major hardware components, including complete servers, were having a tough time getting what they wanted as more customers held on tightly to what they already had! With no lessening in transaction growth, what were they really going to do?

And I am beginning to wonder – will this generate another sea-change in system and server usage? As the transaction volume continues to climb, will this simply push customers into offloading less important transactions to more readily available platforms like Linux and Windows? Not as part of a grand vision or major strategy shift, but out of necessity and have we overlooked the prospects for this simply because we remained tightly focused on the customers of our current product set? Can we say we remain confident in our business model if we miss talking to these prospects?

I am a huge supporter of all things NonStop – from the first time I encountered the architecture I became hooked – but I see it now as a part of a bigger picture. Not as a return to application silos but as an integral part in our support of a “mixed workload” of transactions. Some transactions have to be processed, no matter what the circumstances. Whether I am an existing NonStop user offloading less significant transactions to commodity platforms, or simply an existing user of commodity platforms wrestling with how to “harden” the environment to better support a select group of transactions and a prospect for NonStop,, I really could benefit from stepping inside the ropes and looking at the options. But will I have to clutch on tight to my IBM and Microsoft brochures before anyone pays me any attention? And will my business questions find an audience?

For me, gaining access to roped-off areas in the exhibition hall is a game. I have done it many times before, and my intentions have not been completely honorable. But even as I continued with the game last weekend, I did see something I liked and will probably pursue the Maserati next year. And this is what bothers me the most when it comes to technology companies – without finding the right balance between customers and prospects, could we miss that opportunity that lifts us to that next level? Even for a company the size of HP, attracting prospects and working with them is not only just as critical, but potentially is all that separates them from stumbling and missing that one big opportunity!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Losing my connection!

It’s been hard to escape the news of the fires as they rage, wind-driven, down through the canyons surrounding greater Los Angeles. While is the fires are now subsiding, the past week or so has seen so much destruction and tragedy that it’s hard to imagine the city soon forgetting this year’s fires. Again, it has been the Santa Ana winds that have contributed to the fires’ spread and there has been little let-up in the ferocity over the past month. In October, it was the Porter Ranch fire that had brought similar tragedy right to our doorstep and the picture I have included here is from my condo looking east towards California Highway 118 as it climbs out of Simi Valley.

Television networks gave us continuous coverage of the efforts being made by the fire brigade, police, and service providers like telephone and power companies. With mandatory evacuations, the empty streets could be seen, grid like, alive with activity as crews rushed to hot spots with a freedom of movement rarely seen before on the streets of Los Angeles. As reporters brought us live video feeds from ground level, you could often see fire chiefs alongside of fire engines studying topology maps and looking for the best access routes that would give the fire fighters an opportunity to combat the worst outbreaks.

It’s never easy to reflect on developing tragedies of this scope, or to compare the actions of the emergency services teams with anything we experience in our business lives. After watching house after house burning to the ground, the scale of the damage quickly overwhelming the senses, I was reminded of the fire-fights that can break out within the operation center. And the anxieties emergency personnel fighting the flames faced did remind me of scenes I have witnessed inside data centers as potential business catastrophes were avoided by well-disciplined and smart network managers.

In a blog posting back on November 8, ’07 “The artists among us ...” I asked the question “is the operator who instinctively knows what actions to take, at precisely the right time, and pursuing a sequence of commands many of us struggle to comprehend, any less an artist than the conductor of our best symphonies?” I then went on to observe “as I have looked at some of today’s data center schematics describing in minute detail the complexities of the interfaces between servers, storage, and communications paths – I can’t imagine how much time would be involved if ever we had to pour over them to figure out what we had to do next to fix a problem.”

Of all the technicians monitoring today’s IT operations, it is the network manager who faces the biggest, and often the most visible challenges. It only has to happen to the CEO once, and everyone in the company soon knows that the company’s most senior executive couldn’t get access to information from his laptop or PDA at a crucial time – and with the investments made in IT technology - why couldn’t he keep connected!

Integrated within IT’s operation centers, the network center can be just a few screens managing a small number of phone lines, or highly complex control rooms dedicated to supporting a global enterprise. The picture below is of AT&T’s network operations center on the US east coast which is probably among the larger facilities managing a network, although I do recall seeing pictures of the EDS facility in Plano that was of similar size. Extremely costly to set up and operate, and just as likely to be in Bangalore as anywhere else these days, they are nevertheless extremely necessary and an integral part in supporting today’s mission critical applications.

In a recent conversation with Peter Shell, a former OzTUG President who has a long association with networks and network management, I asked him what he saw as the role of network managers today. “The network world is changing - look at where Cisco is going! With TCP being the ubiquitous protocol to deliver all kinds of services such as voice (VoIP), video-on-demand, messaging, etc the communications ‘pipes’ keep getting bigger and the network becomes more complex. Quality of Service (QoS) is important, as is redundancy, backup paths, as is negotiating with multiple carriers.”

“Can you afford to lose your network connection now?” Peter asked, and then explained how “the role of network managers has changed to where they are looking after a number of networking specialists - routers, switches, firewalls, security appliances, etc. Where it used to be a series of protocols that needed to be supported - SNA, TCP/IP, X.25, Netware, XNS, Appletalk, etc. these days you really only need to worry about TCP/IP. But above IP are the many routing protocols, IGRP, OSPF, RIP etc. that are important to the data center’s operations. More recently, there are the application-specific protocols such as SIP, VOIP, etc. that need to be managed. And just to add to the confusion, there is QOS and SSL/IPSEC. In former times, you could partition the network by protocol relatively easily but today, with it all being IP, it becomes more complex.”

The critical nature of the work performed by network managers often requires them to step in at times of disasters – hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, fires, etc. And the measures some IT groups take to make sure they can continue providing the service demanded of them, including redundant connections to phone networks, power grids, and even water supplies further adds to the cost and the complexity. As I tour these facilities I like to check out the back-up power generation capabilities, and the picture here is of two 750 kilowatt Caterpillar generators that are typical of what many have built into these facilities.

Watching the firefighters battle the outbreaks around Los Angeles these past weeks, it looked like little has changed with the years. There are now more planes and helicopters dropping fire-retardant materials to douse the flames at some of the worst hot spots, but it still comes down to the skills and experience of the fire fighters face to face with the flames. Each fire had to be battled separately, and extinguished, in order to get control over the “front” fanned by the Santa Ana winds. And so it is too that the actions of experienced network managers, using all the tools available to them, keeps the applications we depend upon from crashing down on top of us.

When it comes to NonStop, I have held the belief for many years that the platform is among the most ideal on which to run key network management monitoring and control applications. For years, the cost to do so has been prohibitive when compared to off-the-shelf “wintel server” platforms, but with the arrival of blades and the BladeSystem, could we see this all changing?

So much of what NonStop provides could even help keep the staffing levels manageable – a key component of any network center. Just as we purchase power from more than one grid and still install dual power generation capacity, and just as we lease redundant communications pipes and still replicate to a second DR site – surely the inherent architecture of NonStop has a role to play in the oversight of these operations centers?

The platform continues to become more open, and the ability to port applications has been greatly simplified – I wonder how long it will be before an innovative vendor realizes that significant product differentiation could be achieved by providing support for NonStop? When I look back at AT&Ts network operations center, I could easily see a NonStop configuration supporting it all. And so many automated routines could be reliably launched from the NonStop platform and simplify any recovery steps.

In Martin Fink’s blog posting of November 4th ’08 “The Unix Paradox – Innovation” he makes an observation as applicable to NonStop as to Unix, that “labor costs are one of the biggest expenses in the data center. As a result, vendors truly need to focus and innovate around automating as much as possible and that which isn’t automated needs to be made simple.” And in pursuing this, Martin suggests “automate the system (redeploy operations staff to higher payback projects that are no longer required to maintain the environment); reduce the amount of planned downtime; and make it simpler/easier to deploy and manage!” Automate, zero downtime, and simple – surely, a NonStop Martin!

It’s very easy to make comparisons between fire fighters battling the real fires and the actions of our network managers in times of crises – but the tragedy we watched unfold as families lost their homes is heart-wrenching with implications way beyond what IT faces on a routine basis. And it’s something that doesn’t warrant any trivialization at times like this.

But it did remind me of the many IT fires I was involved with early on in my career and it does reinforce the value-add we have today with NonStop. Will we ever see NonStop in the heart of tomorrow’s IT operations centers – I wouldn’t rule it out, nor would I too quickly dismiss vendors giving it a second look with the new blades packages.

Vendors will continue to innovate and for some of them – battling the current mix of offerings from IBM, HP, and CA – this could be a real opportunity to break from the pack! Furthermore, network management can be considered as nothing more than infrastructure “application-ized” and infrastructure offerings on NonStop are bountiful. And perhaps, better equip tomorrow’s network managers with a platform that will make sure their CEO never again complains about losing his connection! Well connected CEO… hmm… that’s scary indeed!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Innovation – simply put!

I am still working from my Simi Valley office, where I will remain until the Thanksgiving weekend. I am still an early riser and have drifted into a pattern of heading to the Starbucks next door, joining other early rises, for the first coffee for the day. But now the days have grown shorter, and it’s always dark. The picture above I snapped this morning, as the full moon above the corner coffee shop was quite a sight.

And as much as I dislike many technologies on offer these days, to be able to simply pull out the blackberry and check all that is going on back east, or in Europe, is something I really find very beneficial. Twenty five years ago, if you had suggested that I would be able to do my email from a small, handheld device, while sitting in a coffee shop, I would have found it pretty hard to believe. But today, it’s all about these small devices that we have become so dependent on.

Looking back twenty five years, IBM and Microsoft were still sorting out the first consumer PC and now many of us are relegating it to play a secondary role – something we turn to only when we are back in the office. More often these days, business people who travel on a regular basis stand more chance of interacting with a PC when they use an ATM, print a boarding pass at an airline kiosk, or simply check-in at a hotel using a touch-screen terminal. For the rest of the time, it’s a quick check of the PDA and perhaps a couple of lines responses or two, and a few short phone calls.

The way we work continues to evolve and today, looking back at the time we spent around the water-cooler, the coffee machine, and just hanging out in break rooms before heading to our office or cube, it’s hard to imagine anything productive or creative being done. It’s now a case where, irrespective of where we are physically, we can be working and participating in a more productive environment than any of us thought possible. And our dependence upon these small devices has seen their global adoption skyrocket.

But what we have become so accustomed to has had a huge impact on the technology in support of it all – not quite as magical as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz - but sometimes, not too far removed. A reoccurring theme of my postings has been Innovation, and for me, while the number of hand-held devices deployed worldwide attracts a lot of media attention, I have a lot more interest in what’s going on behind the curtain. There are many levers being pulled and a lot of strings being manipulated. And for the most part, it all works.

Earlier this year (February 4, ’08), I posted the blog “Disruptive technologies and radical innovation ...” where I wrote “HP bladed architecture with its support of any number of operating systems including NonStop, has the potential to become another disruptive technology. By leveraging a very inexpensive building blocks … HP customers will be able to focus on buying the best application for a given business issue with little need to consider the mix of hardware and operating systems required.” I went on to comment about how this will represent a very important milestone in the history of Tandem – this time, with the use of commodity packaging, the old argument of relying on expensive hardware will be finally put to bed.

If what’s behind the curtain truly is important and what we depend upon for much of what is communicated across our companies, surely having the option to run the most critical components of our business logic on NonStop with minimal pricing penalty will be welcomed by many businesses. Already proven in support of ATM, POS, and Mobile Phone networks globally, NonStop is a key participant behind the curtain. But even as we commoditize the hardware and simplify it down to just a few unique packages – are we doing enough in support of the business logic? Can we move it around as easily as we plug blades into today’s BladeSystem? Even solutions not originally designed to run on NonStop could really benefit today from leveraging the NonStop technology.

Just a few weeks ago (November 5, ’08), in another blog “It’s up there, in the clouds!” I remarked that “for me there will always be a collection of key infrastructure components – we need to secure and protect our business logic and data, we need to have a standard way to describe the interfaces between the applications embracing our business logic (and as services, this seems the easiest way to me) since we are constantly upgrading and changing the applications, and we need to ensure our data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365!”

A little later in the same posting, I went on to add “as we see cloud computing gain broader appeal … those tasked with putting it all together will find no lessening of their responsibilities to secure, interconnect, and make available business logic and data.” Again, a reference to what I believe will be a time where the underlying infrastructure will attain a level of sophistication that the business logic will be free to be deployed on any of the commoditized hardware packages. By simply pulling a few leavers, the wizard now within the cloud, will be able to respond to changes and move critical components in support of business logic onto more reliable platforms, such as NonStop.

Recently, Starbucks introduced one of the cleverest and simplest pieces of technology to the stores. As is the case with everything in America, we absolutely have to be able to buy our lattes from a drive through window. But we also want the cups filled to the brim. But as soon we have deposited the cups into one of the 12 or 15 cup holders provided by the car manufacturers we come off the break and pull away from the window. And through the small opening in the lid coffee flies out and into areas we all find impossible to clean.

Solution? A slender small “stopper” - not much different from the swizzle sticks spearing the olives we find in our martini glasses, it has a shaped end that completely fills the small opening in the lid. Brilliant! For those unfamiliar with this innovation in car cleanliness, I have included a photo. And I refer to this as I am often reminded that it’s the simplest solutions, or designs, that prove the most effective.

At GoldenGate, so much of our support these days is directed at migrations – one time platform changes that are typically associated with moving away from a platform, as well as ongoing multi-data center support where change is constant and keeping data synchronized becomes crucial. The shift from strictly replication to complete Transaction Data Management (TDM) has seen the company more actively involved providing the key infrastructure component that ensures the data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365!

The ability to play such a leadership role came about when the original architect of GoldenGate created the any-to-any, decoupled, asynchronous architecture that anchors the product to this day. With this capability, Sabre was able to deploy one of the first successful look-and-book infrastructures that since was emulated by many others. And creating innovative infrastructure that broadens our options, can only be beneficial to us all.

In one of my earliest postings (November 25, ‘07), “Preventer of Information Services?”, I made the observation “for me, innovation is always about the interactions between individuals, not about dependence on the creativity of a single individual. It is the free flow of information and the presentation of different points of view that triggers an innovative idea.” And I have to believe that wizards are out there, and the support for any application to run on NonStop as easily as it runs on Linux or Unix may only be a “small ‘stopper’” away.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize this as my 100th posting, and I think it’s fitting that in this post I continue to link NonStop and Innovation. Of all the reoccurring themes in the postings I have made, this is the one that interests me the most. And I have to wonder, what will be changing most in the next twenty five years – the devices we rely on or the infrastructure behind it all?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is it time we folded our (big) tent?

It is with a lot of sadness that I write this blog. As I sit back with a coffee here in Simi Valley, I can’t keep my thoughts from wandering to Mannheim, Germany where, in a few days time, the HP NonStop community will be gathering for the first ever Community Connect Europe (CCE) user event. This will be only the second European user event that I have missed since the early ‘90s and even though our company, GoldenGate. will be well represented, I have elected to skip this one. So here I am in Simi Valley and the photo you see is of me enjoying coffee at my local Starbucks!

My first opportunity to attend the European ITUG event came in 1991 when it was held in Munich, Germany. I was working for Tandem Computers in Cupertino, as the program manager for NonStop NET/MASTER, and had stopped by Amsterdam on the way over. But I didn’t make it to Munich that year as I had to return to Cupertino for personal reasons, and it wasn’t until the following year, when the event was held in Nice, before I finally made it to my first European ITUG user event.

I was reminded of this yesterday in a conversation I had with Bill Honaker, a former ITUG Chairman. For the Tandem party, on our last night in Nice, Bill lent me his “official” ITUG Board Member badge, and I wore it for the remainder of the evening with no inkling that years later I would be elected to the ITUG Board.

Throughout the ‘90s and into this decade the community enjoyed enormous support from Tandem and, with the acquisitions, from Compaq and HP. As Chairman of ITUG, I would always find time to walk through the exhibition floor before the opening sessions and I would always stop by the support desks manned by Tandem – Jack, Jimmy C, Todd, John – they were always first to show up and slaved for days to make sure the demos could be supported and the vendors had access to the latest NonStop servers.

Last night I received an email from Nigel Baker, relaxing on Sydney harbor, and observing “thought you might like to know that I have spent the late afternoon (after having spent the early afternoon on HMAS Vampire) in hot sunshine, drinking a few beers, at Cockle Bay – a delightful, 80 degrees!” Nigel has been associated with ITUG events for as long as I can recall and I caught up with him, by chance, at “the Duke” in Cupertino only a week ago. His passion for all things NonStop continues to remain strong, and we reminisced about the work that went into setting up the exhibition hall and how the excitement built with the every stand that went up, and how you could just feel the buzz growing in the final hours before the first sessions started.

I have talked often and enthusiastically about ITUG events, including the many regional events. A few days ago I was in an email exchange with Steve Bailey, formerly of Tandem Australia. Steve had moved to Cupertino about the same time I did, in late ’89. Steve put together the Tandem Australia operation in Sydney, in the late ‘80s, to support Tandem customers in Australia’s northern states. And it was Steve who encouraged me to actively pursue the creation of an ITUG regional group in Australia – igniting the enthusiasm that remains with me to this day. Over many lunches, and numerous bottles of wine, we somehow came up with the name OzTUG, which was quickly accepted by the community.

Steve has returned to Sydney and is back in the software solution business and his email update brought so many memories flooding back. And I can just see his passion and enthusiasm still burning deep and am looking forward to catching up with him again shortly. Steve, as does Nigel and Bill, highly values the user community and he is a constant reminder to me that grass-roots organizations, as we saw flourish with OzTUG, often develop the strongest “networking” ties and foster the most open and supportive dialogues.

But I will skip this year’s CCE as I am concerned about where the new Connect organization is headed. I am starting to question the value of user run events of this magnitude being held, as they often are in competition to HP’s own “big tent” marketing events. Regular readers of this blog know that for the past year, I have been predicting changes for the user groups and have been party to the formation of the new, unified community. With the arrival of the BladeSystem, with it’s NonStop Backplane and the opportunity to mix and match different physical blades (as we saw with the prototype Fred Laccabue and Randy Meyer unveiled on the HP stand at HPTF&E) a single hardware “package” can now support any mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, and Windows. But are we now running the risk of diluting the intensity and perhaps reducing everyone’s enthusiasm, by holding too many events?

HP is evolving the products very quickly today and it has become obvious to many of us that the technology that used to separate the different groups is fast becoming a commodity, made up of almost identical components. There really is little difference these days between the server families and it is almost ridiculous to continue to think strictly in unique hardware terms when talking about the NonStop, Unix, or Windows product families. But there was a lot more going on within the user communities that fueled the interest in getting together, apart from this understanding of where the products were headed. It had become apparent with the new millennium, that the business model adopted by user groups was broken and unsustainable.

Sources for education could be found elsewhere. Major users would simply come to Cupertino and engage in direct dialogue with NonStop management – there were few surprises in the product roadmaps for the majority of users. End-users were finding it increasingly difficult to talk about their own usage of NonStop – a “hole” in the program that simply widened with time. Today, just “googling” phrases can unearth material on a scale that user events could never hope to cover. And events began to compete for shrinking HP marketing dollars at a time when HP marketing really wanted more direct control over the content, messages, and format.

With an unsustainable business model and competing HP events, pursuing a joint undertaking, seemed to make a lot of sense to me. But I no longer feel at ease with the direction it appears to be taking. Increasingly, Connect is emerging as just another event, and not a community of the type we were looking for. While there are the Chapter Leaders calls, and the Connection magazine - encouraging signs, for sure - there is very little evidence that customers are thinking about themselves as Connect users rather than users of the individual platforms they remain extremely loyal to. Yes, a little Unix and Windows trickles into NonStop sites and yes, Linux is making inroads into the world of OpenVMS – but it is these mainstay operating systems that still determine the “tribal” allegiances.

The demands on volunteer’s time is overwhelming many of them – and the pool for qualified “talent” is drying up. As I look back at the time I was ITUG Chairman, for 2004 – 2005, with the support of my employer, I was giving up two days a week in support of the business of ITUG. Throw in all the days traveling and the weekends devoted to meetings, it really does add up – but today, very few companies put any value on this level of participation and seriously question the return on the investment in time that it involves. Increasingly, the volunteer base has shifted to where it’s become liberally populated with vendors as they can justify the time and the travel given that their businesses encourages close ties with the community. While at the regional levels such vendor support is good to see – at the big events, it can lessen HP’s enthusiasm!

The Connect by-laws apparently support the “perpetual leadership” model, and I have to believe that it is a hole in the bylaws, and not in any way an intentional provision allowing the president to step into vice presidency over and over again? Regurgitating the same old group of volunteers is simply not an answer – and can only lead to the formation of a “club” model where we all end up in deeply padded, comfortable, wingback chairs reminiscing about the good old days over a warm brandy! Eventually, HP will move on and invest more deeply in its own events as they watch the community turn-out drop off. But I am not writing to tell you that I am giving up – that I am throwing in the towel.

I will continue to watch and track these events – and the performance of the volunteer board. For now, I will remain independent – user groups remain incredibly valuable and I have seen solid growth in those communities that are very tightly focused. And I will participate, as best as I can, in regional groups and look at what develops, closer to the grass-roots level I feel at ease with. The recent meteoric rise in user participation at GoldenGate’s events, for instance, is just one pointer to how well-run user events can still attract a sizeable participation.

As for Mannheim, I will miss the networking with good friends and the early morning walks through the exhibition halls. I will miss the final night’s party as I will miss all the sidebar chats over coffee. And I will miss the opportunity for impromptu “brainstorming” with HP developers and product management that I enjoy so much.

Is the future of a user-run organization going to return to the hands of regional communities? I am beginning to believe that it may … and I don’t find such an outcome all that difficult to accommodate. After all, finding the time to meet locally and to enjoy regular meetings develops a much stronger affinity for the platform and solutions – and isn’t that what’s really all about?

And I continue to wonder – have we done the right thing? Should the big tent events be left to HP and is it OK to let them go down that path. After all, I liked listening to Matchbox Twenty this year!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It’s up there, in the clouds!

I am back in Simi Valley after spending a week in Boulder. The temperatures continue to remain mild across Colorado, with no sign yet of winter. Mornings can be cool but the trees still carry residual colors from the fall. The picture I have included here is of a popular walking trail where I live – and the cannels remain full as water is drained from the nearby dams in preparation for the snowfalls that will eventually arrive.

There are two cannels that flow alongside the walking trails and they date back to the era of steam, when steam trains first pushed through from the east coast. The land on which the houses were built was originally owned by Union Pacific Railway, and the cannels that spread out from the front ranges were part of a complex water-delivery system that filled the water tanks by the railway lines. The train drivers never knew how it all worked or what was involved in getting the water track-side, and they didn’t need to. But today, these original infrastructure components are still in use, but now being utilized in different ways – to deliver water to the farms of Boulder county, as well as to decorative ponds at the top of our development.

As the land around us was developed, my local community retained access to these cannels and today water is pumped up to the ponds with a network of pipes allowing gravity to supply water to common-area sprinkler systems. No matter how dry the land becomes at the height of summer, this mix of old and new infrastructure insures our walkways and parks remain green and lush!

Complex infrastructures from the past are usually not reusable. More often something better comes along, and once-dependable infrastructure is quickly abandoned, becoming nothing more than a historical footnote. When it comes to the IT industry we have shown scant interest in preserving older technologies, preferring to jump on every new technology that brings with it the promise of lower costs and improved productivity.

I have written a number of pieces this year about “cloud computing” including a posting on the topic on May 12th, ’08 that I called “The Clouds in Spain” where I referred to a presentation given earlier in the year by Martin Fink, Senior VP and General Manager of HP’s Business Critical Server organization. Martin talked about the move from monolithic to polymorphic computing, a reference to what we could expect from future cloud computing configurations. By way of explanation of what he meant, Martin then proposed “what if you went to the store and you purchased a generic vehicle … (and) every time you go out, your vehicle morphs to your need at the specific moment. This is the power of polymorphism.” And I remembered this when I came across a couple of recent publications as I was writing my recent article for the Tandemworld electronic newsletter – http://www.tandemworld.net/

InformationWeek has a white paper on this topic “A Walk In The Clouds: Cloud Computing Analytics Report” that can be downloaded from http://www.cloudcomputing.informationweek.com/?cid=nl_wp_bi_IKRnwsl110408 . This white paper contains a number of observations on how we have reached the point where cloud computing looks an attractive option, and it starts out by recalling the good old days! “Consider that many CIOs remember when everyone sat behind dumb terminals and connected to all-omniscient mainframes … Users didn't care about operating systems or hardware, just the application.” It then goes on to suggest how “many enterprise users possess two or three different devices, and frustration is rampant as they attempt to synchronize information across disparate form factors and OSes. They just want to get to the applications and data they need, when they need them … Those old days are looking pretty good.”

It seems to me that over-exposure to the infrastructure may be the issue!

In his Newsweek column of November 10th, ’08 “Technology Shifts”, columnist Daniel Lyons comes up with perhaps one of the simplest descriptions of cloud computing I have seen of late. “The basic idea is simple enough. Instead of storing your data on your PC, you store it on a server on the Internet. You don’t know, or care, where that server is located. Your data might, in fact, be scattered across a bunch of different servers. It’s just all up in the sky someplace (hence the name ‘cloud’).”

As I read the complete article, I was reminded of how complex we have made IT and how difficult it has become to address basic business issues with simple and elegant solutions. Have we layered so much infrastructure that addressing pressing business issues in any reasonable timeframe has become next to impossible? And is this now stifling any chance we may have had of remaining innovative?

But what about grid computing? On-demand computing? Software as a Service? Isn’t cloud computing just another competing model? Not exactly – as the InformationWeek white paper goes on to explain. “A few years ago it seemed grid computing, where resources could be allocated on the fly and IT managers needn't worry about capacity, might save us. Grid computing never quite materialized, however, and vendors began to develop software as a service offerings that promoted the idea of applications delivered on demand, without the need to manage and deploy infrastructure … Now, SaaS and grid computing have evolved and coalesced with concepts like virtualization, collocation, and outsourced Web hosting to form a concept called ‘cloud computing.’”

Looks more like an evolutionary step and an attempt at putting some distance between us and the infrastructure we’ve never been all that keen about!

There’s rarely something really brand new or extraordinary, technology-wise, appearing on our IT landscape. It’s not as if we are throwing away generations of technology and replacing it with something totally new. As Dr Don Norman, of Northwestern University, wrote on his web site recently, “Our technology is cumulative, each new one adding to the ones previously acquired … The automobile is a continual source of maintenance. And of course our electronic gadgets continually require attention. I must constantly update my virus checker, install software updates, reboot the computer, the cable modem box, the WiFi connection and transmitter. If every device only needed attention once a year, I would still be fixing, maintaining, or adjusting something every day.”

For me there will always be a collection of key infrastructure components – we need to secure and protect our business logic and data, we need to have a standard way to describe the interfaces between the applications embracing our business logic (and as services, this seems the easiest way to me) since we are constantly upgrading and changing the applications, and we need to ensure our data is available and recoverable 24 x 7 x 365! These continue to be among the more critical infrastructure components but even within these components, there remains an evolutionary process with many basic elements being reused. At the lowest level, for instance, event monitoring and processing has changed very little from the time it first appeared.

As we see cloud computing gain broader appeal - and here I see HP on the forefront of this development and the new HP Integrity BladeSystem (including support of NonStop) a critical building block well-suited to the assembling of clouds – those tasked with putting it all together will find no lessening of their responsibilities to secure, interconnect, and make available business logic and data. Those working inside the cloud will continue to face the accumulation of more and more technology.

And these technicians will take over much of what concerns folks like Dr. Norman who concluded “all the backup equipment adds to the burden - we have to back up the backups and worry about whether they really work, and test them. I seem to spend more of my time being a mechanic and maintenance person than doing my work - or for that matter, just relaxing … Just doing things is getting harder and harder.”

Perhaps infrastructure itself is destined for the clouds – unseen by any user!

Cloud computing certainly holds out the hope of a far more flexible future where accessing information at any time from anywhere in the world becomes a lot easier to achieve. But complexity will always be with us – it’s just the nature of our industry. We may mask it, and even bury it far from sight, but it will always be with us. While it is very early days still and has yet to be embraced by the HP NonStop community, the very nature of an “always-on” cloud screams NonStop to me, and with its new found openness and ease of integration with other applications, NonStop has to be viewed very seriously.

Just as cannels were dug to pipe water to where state-of-the-art steam trains needed it, will we become, just as those steam train drivers of yesterday, unaware of the infrastructure deployed in support of our applications? And will this free us to become more innovative in our approach to problem solving?

For the most part, I expect much of what we have today will just sink back into the landscape but then again, I have to believe some of it will find a new use and be revisited in ways we had never thought of – up there, in the sky somewhere! Among the clouds!

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