Friday, December 18, 2009

Lights are turning green!

I was out driving the other night when through the snow-laden clouds came a sudden burst of sunlight that created spectacular lighting effects! For just a brief moment the sky turned every color, from red through orange to yellow with splashes of violet and mauve thrown in as well. I was able to get off a snapshot of the sunset, as I approached Golden, Colorado, and I have included it to the left.

Natural lighting effects always provide us with a treat, and on those occasions when we see something special, it stays with us for many years. On a trip to SATUG, a few years back, there was a reception on a river cruise where we were treated to a colorful evening sunset that I will remember for many years. And on a flight from San Francisco to London, the Sunday evening that the San Francisco 49er’s were playing in their last Superbowl, I was fortunate enough to have a window seat. On the port side!

Leaning back against the airplane fuselage, straining to pick up the commentary on my airline headphones, as the signal faded I glimpsed the northern lights for the first time from a plane. I stopped trying to follow the game and just absorbed the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. Probably at its very best at that time of year and I was fortunate to find myself in the right place, at the right time.

At this time of year however, with Christmas only days away, the streets are full of strings of colored lights. Margo and I took the long way home last night, and turned into every cul-de-sac just to take a look at the festive decorations draped from rooftop gables and chimney stacks - some homeowners had gone a little overboard! The amount of energy consumed had to be substantial and, for the first time that I could recall, there was ample evidence this year of the “greening of the ‘burbs!”, as many of the light displays incorporated LED’s!

There have been many advertisements this year promoting the benefits from using LED’s and of the energy savings that came from using LEDs. Our local TV station has decorated its entire premises with nothing but LED lights for big savings on their monthly energy bill. Not just for use with decorations, LED’s are becoming more popular with any lighting application. The last car I bought featured extensive use of LED technology in the front and rear of the car. Car designers now have so many more options with the availability of LED’s, and I don’t think anyone can mistake a modern Audi, with its curved display of LED’s surrounding more traditional headlight enclosures, as it drives towards you!

I was reminded of all of this when I caught up with my good friend Adam Rubey. He owns the company Acoustic Visions that wired my Boulder home, installed the audio / video components, and programmed the controllers, so that even I can watch television! Adam regularly drops by with new ideas and suggestions as, after ten years, we have both come to realize I now have antiques that today could well find a home in any city museum. The monitors are still glass – not a single flat-screen in the house. No high-definition sets anywhere. The house is awash in cables and the lighting system relies solely on traditional incandescent light bulbs!

And what brought Adam to the house this time was the availability of a new generation of LED’s suitable for placement in the old fashion “cans” that pepper every ceiling in the house! Impressive enough, in terms of energy savings, that Adam has incorporated a new company (RAEnergySolitions - to aggressively pursue opportunities with LED lighting. Surely it was time for me to look at reducing my energy bills!

As I did the background research for this posting, I became aware that my old lights will be “outlawed” according to 2007 legislation signed into law by the previous president. “The incandescent light bulb, one of the most venerable inventions of its era but deemed too inefficient for our own, will be phased off the U.S. market beginning in 2012 under the new energy law just approved by Congress,” wrote journalist Marianne Lavelle in a December 19, 2007 article for US News and World Report.

While driving around Boulder, admiring the lights, I couldn’t help noticing the illumination coming from the enormous car-parks surrounding IBM’s facility at the bottom of the hill. Even through the heaviest snowstorm I can make out the rows of orange lights illuminating the vast lot. Many years ago, this facility had been the center of IBM’s printer manufacturing, but today the site has become a key data center in IBM’s consolidation initiative. IBM, in a move similar to the HP CIO Randy Mott’s, is eliminating thousands of data centers as it consolidates around just six mega-data centers, including this Boulder premise. This was going to save IBM $250 million in energy bills each year, according to ZDNett publication TechRepublic (July 31st, ’07).

I emailed Ed Sterbenc of Modius, and a long time friend of the NonStop community, to find out if data centers were capitalizing on LED lights and whether Modius were seeing any substantial replacement of lighting systems. “It is being discussed and there does seem to be some movement towards new-gen fixtures and LEDs,” he volunteered. But then Ed added “the bottom line, though, especially in a world moving toward "lights-out" operations, is that there just isn't enough consumption of power there, compared to Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC’s), Computer Room Air Handling (CRAH’s), and Blade Centers to generate much excitement about the incremental savings on a comparative basis.”

Why would I be interested in pursuing LED lights for my house? We can change the lights, but when compared to everything else, the savings may not be all that great! It has a lot to do with versatility and flexibility, Adam told me, adding “users can pick size, shape, color, Kelvin temperature and lumen output.” As for data centers, the potential to run off of “high voltage, low voltage, battery or solar with no I/R, no UV, and with very low heat and very little EMF,” has to be attractive and mesh well with any green plans!

In his first deployment in the area, Adam approached a local Toyota car yard. Typical for this industry, where acres of cars were on display around the large lot, bright lights bathed the rows of cars to attract prospective car buyers. He was able to swap out the entire system, replace with an LED alternative, and offer a new twist on the traditional approach to illuminating cars. Enough light was made available to highlight the car yard, but as prospective car buyers paused alongside a specific car, motion sensors would detect their presence, and communications between the lights resulted in just that individual car being bathed in a bright bean of light!

What about the data center? True, many are going to a lights-out operation – but there are times when illumination is still required. How useful would it be for the network of LEDs to be tied into the management frameworks such that, as a component failed, a path to that component would be illuminated with a bright beam targeting the item requiring attention! Perhaps it’s already deployed in some of the data centers just built.

During a “Green and Clean” event in Menlo Park, California, this past August and where Cisco, HP, and IBM shared their own experiences on “greening their data centers,” John Hailey, Cisco’s senior manager of workplace resources, talked of how he is looking ahead to new technologies, such as LED lighting, which is destined to be big and smart enough to adjust to daylight conditions and instruct nearby lights to follow suit. Hailey then added, according to a posting to TechPulse 360 (Aug 7th, 2009), “it means monitoring energy use at 600 buildings across the globe to reduce a $130 million electric bill. It means locating data centers where power is not just cheap and plentiful, but where it comes from less-polluting sources.”

We hear so much about locating data centers near alternative power sources – wind, solar, etc. and this “meshes well” with the story Adam told me. LED’s work efficiently and easily off of solar power sources. Perhaps they will play a major role inside data centers. At the very least, every data center manager should take a look at deploying them over their growing car parking acreages. This scenario did get a response from Ed Sturbenc, “as a long time amateur astronomer, I sure appreciate the effect the directional LEDs are having on the night sky!”

Wherever the deployment of LEDs takes place there’s little argument against doing everything we can to improve our use of energy. As Cisco’s Hailey told the assembled audience that Thursday evening in August “our customers and partners are demanding we be a green company.” Becoming even more frugal about our energy usage is going to continue, and none of us will miss illuminating any opportunity for energy savings, whenever they appear.

It may even be time to take another look at my own usage!. Who knows, perhaps I can program a clear path to the refrigerator and feel good about the savings I am making as I grab my last snack of the day!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Widening my options?

It has been terribly cold in Boulder these past few days. Anyone living in the US will have been hard-pressed to miss the weather reports featuring stories coming out of the Rockies and the nearby plains states. It was a deep freeze that came suddenly and viciously, and much earlier than the locals had predicted. And the usual run down to the coffee shop for my morning constitutional became a challenge in finding enough clothing to wear. The picture to the right is what greeted me the past couple of mornings as I walked out my front doors.

A walk through the garage is a sad journey. The cars of summer tethered to battery charges and the motorcycles serving no other purpose than places to support growing stacks of miscellaneous items that I will get around to putting away some time soon. Where riding jackets, gloves and helmets once hung, there is now just a variety of heavy overcoats. Reluctantly we hunker down indoors and catch up on the football, and on finishing off leftovers from the recent holiday weekend – now nothing more than the candy remained.

Our most recent visitors have left so there’s still plenty of wine to fortify me. But not much else - it’s just a time to sit down, kick back, and take it easy. A time to enjoy the simple things – and I do so like the simplicity of life that comes with winter! Perhaps I will get the Christmas tree out of the basement and set it up, but then again, perhaps next trip!

Growing up in Sydney, a little west of the northern beaches, winter in the US was summertime in the antipodes, and a time for swimming, snorkeling, and sailing. For laughing at the Santa’s at the shopping malls still clothed in red and trimmed with fur as if they were still ensconced in the northern hemisphere. Although this is my fourteenth winter in Colorado, winter in the Rockies is still an amazing novelty for me, so far removed from what I had grown used to for most of my life.

Today, we can just head for the airport and know that within a day, we can put winter behind us and step into the bright sunshine of summer. We have options, and we have the opportunity, to pretty much arrange our lifestyles so we are no longer constrained by the seasons. And with each year I wonder whether it will be last time I step out onto my front porch to be chilled to the bone and struggling to retain my footing, all because I want a cup of coffee from the local village café.

A few days ago Marty Turner emailed me with a pointer to archived copies of the Tandem Systems Review:

It took me to the September 1989 issue that included an article by Marty that provided a technical overview of the latest SNAX offering – SNAX/CDF (Cross-Domain Facility). In the preface of that issue, Editorial Director Susan Thompson introduced Marty’s article with the observation “connecting networks from different vendors is becoming increasingly important … users need the ability to quickly access other networks without taking the time to learn a new set of interfaces.”

Fast-forward twenty years, and we still have SNA with us despite all the naysayers and futurists having predicted its demise for fifteen or more of those twenty years. True, SNA networks of client SNA devices have pretty much been eliminated. Many of these networks, particularly in the financial services and retail industries, have seen wholesale migration of their client devices to low-cost PC technology and with TCP/IP – Ethernet connectivity became the preferred networking solution. Inside the data center however, it was another story entirely.

The bulk of today’s mainframe applications continue to depend on legacy IBM Transaction-Processing Monitors (TPM), including CICS and IMS. Mission-critical transactions, implemented using either CICS or IMS, were exposed to a lot of the infrastructure supporting the transactional environment, including the critical SNA “Virtual Terminal” access method (VTAM). Migrating these mission-critical applications over to support a modern networking topology like TCP/IP necessitated considerable code changes and given the critical nature (to the corporation) of these applications, any number of protocol convertors, network bridges and gateways, as well as terminal emulation packages were deployed rather than risking the potential impact a network outage could have had on the business.

Technologies like Local Area Networks (LANs), and protocols like Data Link Switching (DLSw) and High Performance Routing / IP (HPR/IP), all brought with them some measure of utilization of a TCP/IP fabric, but they all suffered with the ongoing presence of SNA – either higher up the protocol stack or inside the application itself. Adding extra controllers, running TCP/IP and SNA, and retaining skilled technical staff capable of sorting it all out, eventually drove the prices of these data center networks to exorbitant levels and corporations felt trapped within silos with few options for a way out of the tangled mess.

Finally, hardware vendors took some of the options away altogether. The new high-speed controllers, standard with most large servers today, simply stopped supporting even the switching and bridging options – yes, they could still connect, but not at the speeds of other TCP/IP components. One statement Marty made in his article stood out as I re-read it this week “SNAX/CDF widens the options available to users when they plan their distributed OLTP applications, and design the networks, that best suit their business needs.” At the time, these options for NonStop users were well-received and today, it’s not how wide a choice of options we have that is the issue, as we no longer think in terms of canyons to be bridged or seas to be crossed; now that the islands have disappeared, but rather the issue now is how to best capitalize on the one network fabric that ties it all together!

There’s a new product under development in Sydney called uLinga – an Australian aboriginal word for “to fly!” It’s an appropriate product name, under the circumstances, as it’s leveraging new technology on the IBM mainframe to allow SNA applications to communicate without the presence of the SNA “stack” – essentially, for the purposes of supporting mainframe to NonStop communications, removing the need to retain VTAM! uLinga is a product for the HP NonStop server that, when installed (replacing products like SNAX and ICE that may still be present in support of connectivity to the IBM Mainframe), makes the HP NonStop server a peer to the IBM mainframe as though it was another deployment of the same IBM mainframe technology.

No programming changes are required. Nothing! And there’s only configuration changes required on the NonStop side – the support for native TCP/IP across the latest high-speed controllers and adapters is immediate. The creation of uLinga is being undertaken by the team at Infrasoft Pty Limited and includes some of the original architects and developers that brought the ICE product to market in the early ‘90s. For those who may have missed the news releases earlier this week, comForte GmbH and Infrasoft announced a joint development and marketing agreement and already a number of conference calls and webex presentations have been completed.

According to Dr Michael Rossbach, “we are responding to customer demand for such a solution and by leveraging Infrasoft’s highly skilled development team with a lot of experience in developing solutions for the communication between HP NonStop and IBM mainframe systems, and comForte’s expertise in communication middleware and security solutions, we are well positioned to offer a best in class yet cost-effective software solution.” uLinga has been in the works for some time now and I expect to see it generate considerable interest.

I have been involved with communications products and technologies for nearly thirty years. And in the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit that I am on the board of Infrasoft, as well under contract to comForte. So I will exhibit some restraint over my enthusiasm for this new product, and leave it to others to provide more detailed information. But what really encouraged me to develop this post is that there continues to be infrastructure development being undertaken for the HP NonStop server!

Too many times I read commentary on how few companies elect to focus new development on the NonStop platform. Too often it’s easy to dismiss the NonStop platform for consideration as the centerpiece of a new solution! The Infrasoft developers had the opportunity to work on other platforms but, being experienced developers familiar with many other platforms, they have once again turned their hands to addressing current-era connectivity opportunities on NonStop.

Not every user will opt for the uLinga product. Just as not every user will feel compelled to pull the plug on SNA. However, knowing that there will be even more choices on offer shortly is something that encourages me as, after all, one of the key messages for NonStop is modernization and nothing will contribute more to this initiative than to see the need for a legacy protocol like SNA removed.

Sure I like options, but I like simple solutions a lot more! Connecting networks should not be the stuff that still demands the infrastructure complexity it once did, and with the increased loads of data that need to be transported fast – if we think there’s any potential for enterprise clouds forming behind the firewall, there’s just no room for SNA to retain a presence. And, the long-a uLinga on the option for an all-TCP/IP infrastructure the more, I think, we will see uLinga fly!

Monday, November 30, 2009

I want to see some passion!

It’s been a couple of busy weeks and this has been my first chance to write in some time. I was in Germany for the Connect Germany / GTUG IT Symposium that attracted NonStop users from all over Europe. The picture above was captured during an evening event at GTUG and is clear evidence of the tradition of Tandem continuing even after 35 years, and I was able to enjoy a few down nights with some great German hospitality.

I had the opportunity to participate in the event moderating a short, but well attended session towards the end of the first day on the upcoming 35th anniversary of Tandem. The interest, the enthusiasm, and the passion for Tandem and now, NonStop, platforms has not lessened with the years. Everyone associated with the early days were quick to recall stories and to share amusing anecdotes and the history of the company generates interest no matter the occasion.

Returning to California from GTUG, within hours I was repacking for the weekend drive to Boulder for the Thanksgiving holiday. I continue to be amused by the folks who ask me how Thanksgiving is celebrated in Australia, completely unaware of how uniquely American this celebration of the harvest has become. No, we didn’t grow corn and no we didn’t hunt turkeys and no, the local indigenous native population didn’t help us out – American Indians, after all, never did quite make it to Australia’s shores. But like every “New American” I have adapted and grown to enjoy the festivities at this time of year.

Our eldest daughter brought pumpkin pie but, as anyone from Australia will tell you, you don’t make pies from pumpkins! Where we come from, the majestic Queensland Blue was best served baked, with roast lamb. And no matter how much I was “encouraged to try” I just couldn’t bring myself to having a wedge. Mind you, I eventually did take a small bite, but just to be polite. And to keep the freshly whipped cream off of my fingers! When Australians celebrate important occasions, it’s best to leave vegetables with the main course as the king of desserts is the mighty Pavlova.

A combination of meringue and marshmallow, topped with fresh “real” whipped-cream, and best finished with slices of banana drizzled with the pulp and juice from a passion fruit, this is a treat everyone who visits Australia needs to sample. And no, I can’t accept that this wonderful creation came from New Zealand! Up there with Vegemite, Weet bix, Tim Tams, the mighty Pavlova has become a true Aussie icon and no celebration would be complete without a serving of Pavlova.

That evening we adjourned to watch the local football team, the Denver Bronco’s take on visitors from New York. It was only a couple of years ago that the New York Giants had won the Superbowl, and the Denver team, after a strong opening to the season - winning the first six games - were in a slump having lost their last four games. But the young coach, in only his first season with the Denver team, wasn’t going to let the situation deteriorate further. As the game developed, his enthusiastic support for the team and his passion for his players, became highly contagious. With each change of possession the new combatants literally raced onto the field anxious for another opportunity to attack the opposition.

And the lowly Denver team just beat up on the visitors and never gave them a chance to find a rhythm. Event the hardened television commentators found the impact the coach had on the players was the difference that separated the two teams! As we left Boulder and headed through the western suburbs of Denver and on up through the front ranges, we drove past a billboard promoting the Denver football team - “Welcome to Bronco Country: Passion!”

Clearly, the events of the previous night had involved passion in all its guises. From our vocation, to our foods to our sports teams, what really engages us is when we are in the company of folks who are genuinely passionate about what they do. As the sports commentators broadcasting from the Thursday night game observed so openly, passion is contagious and the actions of a few passionate leaders can alter the course of any event.

Last week, Nigel Baker emailed me a short report from a participant at an IBM data base show, their Information on Demand (IoD) event. Blogger Robert Catterall had posted a short piece on November 22, ’09 “Mainframe DB2 Data Serving: Vision Becomes Reality” where he described a presentation on a “reference implementation” of IBM’s System z mainframe deployed as a data base server.

Interested, I read further “you're not going to beat the uptime delivered by that configuration: formerly planned outages for maintenance purposes are virtually eliminated (… software components can be updated, and server hardware can be upgraded, with no - I mean zero - interruption of application access to the database), and the impact of an unplanned failure of a DB2 member or a z/OS LPAR or a server is greatly diminished … And scalability? Up to 32 DB2 subsystems (which could be running on 32 different mainframe servers) can be configured in one data sharing group.”

Nigel finished his email to me with “at least IBM users still have a passion about the mainframe and DB2. What have HP done lately to promote passion amongst … NonStop users and ISVs?” While the remarks made in the blog posting above may not be news to many in the NonStop community, and I am not underestimating the work needed to make the IBM mainframe almost as good as a HP NonStop server, it still serves as a reminder that passionate users (and vendors) within the NonStop community are a crucial ingredient in ensuring the NonStop platform remains relevant.

But are we seeing enough passion being communicated? There’s so much to be excited about – the support of NonStop on Blades, for instance, is changing much of the traditional “price baggage” that for so long has dogged the NonStop message – and the rate of customer take-up of Blades should be fuelling even more excitement. But passion truly does filter down from the top. And this is where I am on the same page as many others across the NonStop community – surely, we should be seeing a lot more passion today? How could you miss any opportunity to showcase NonStop on Blades!

At the final Q & A session at GTUG, Werner Alexis asked the executive panel about innovation – and in what innovative solutions NonStop was engaging. It brought a very passionate response from Winston Prather, VP and General Manager, HP NED, as he talked about the innovation associated with the move of NonStop to support industry-standard commodity hardware.

But there was more to Werner’s question and one we all need to recognize. Werner was looking for more excitement, more passion, over the application of NonStop to solving business problems in new and innovative ways. It’s certainly good news to hear about what HP is doing for the platform, but what is the platform doing for business? For the data center? And in support of new cool applications we tend to associate with the web and the Internet?

As Nigel reminded me – other platforms certainly attract their evangelists whose passion certainly comes through. No one should be left uncertain or unsure of how important the NonStop platform continues to be for HP. And no one should be left wondering about the support for the platform particularly by those who are its “coaches” – it should be visible to everyone in the community that the coaches are 100% committed to the success of the team!

Looking further afield, it was Shaun Clowes, Product Manager NonStop and Payments at Integrated Research who reminded me recently of how “the NonStop forms the centerpiece of important business operations … (for us to) provide insight about the value of the existing systems helps justify the investment in those systems. Having a system for insight that allows you to also see into the processes that surround NonStop (and the eventual merging of the NonStop into an enterprise cloud) is critical to managing the complexity and delivering the service levels and ROI that is demanded.”

Clouds, SaaS, ever-greater use of client-side mashups, all steer technology discussions to systems that are available and scalable. Are we just going to let IBM take the leadership mantle away from HP and NonStop? Or do we see the value that comes from being passionate about NonStop and are prepared to speak up?

I think we would all like to see a lot more passion coming from HP and the NonStop team – but should we be relying solely on their fervent zeal? Could it be that the group of writers, bloggers, community agitators, user group leaders, online forum participants will prove to be a much larger source of the passion for the platform?

Perhaps, the passion will even see new uses for NonStop materialize – every change inside a data center today has to only add to the opportunities open to leverage and to further engage the NonStop platform! After all, there was no shortage of passion at GTUG and I have no reason to consider others within the NonStop community any less passionate. And I for one will feed off it at every opportunity as I am sure everyone else will as well!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A good glass of Aussie Shiraz!

Following the last posting where I talked of how I enjoyed riding my motorcycle along the Colorado front ranges in the cool of autumn, I found myself this week relegated to doing chores. One item I had to complete was the smog-testing of our faithful old-world, heavy-weight, gas guzzling Cadillac SUV. It passed without any issues and I then drove to the county offices to renew the tags, and I came across something so completely different from my SUV: a brand new Tesla! And the picture above is of the Cadillac SUV parked behind this rather photogenic battery-powered coupe!

For those not familiar with the Tesla, it pretty much is the polar opposite of the Cadillac – powered by batteries with no emissions, and helped out by the folks at Lotus, wrapped in a very attractive package. But as tempted as I was (after all, it was the season to look at what the auto industry was bringing to market and to think about change), I really have grown fond of the old SUV. It would take a lot of extra mileage from a new car to offset the high prices demanded by today’s efficient hybrids. Every time I turn the ignition key in my Cadillac it starts, and it’s proven to be highly reliable. And it size is a serious consideration: I am still old-school and feel so much safer on the long cross-country drives than I do in a small car.

That night, after a quiet dinner at the local eatery, I pulled the cork from a 2001 Penfolds’ Magill Estate shiraz. An occasion I noted in a network update I posted to LinkedIn. If it ever came to a situation where I could only drink the wines from one producer I would be hard pressed to think of anyone other than Penfolds. My first exposure to the Magill Estate came while I was visiting Sydney, back in 1992, when I was a Program Manager with Tandem Computers and in the Distributed Systems Management (DSM) group. I was managing the NonStop NET/MASTER program and it necessitated frequent trips back to Sydney.

The history of NonStop NET/MASTER, I am the first to admit, certainly proved to be anything but spectacular. When I joined the project I was coming off a background that had been exclusively IBM, and IBM plug-compatible (PCM), mainframes. I had been successful introducing a line of small plug-compatible mainframes for Nixdorf as I had funded the porting of NET/MASTER from MVS to DOS/VS, a version that ran exclusively on the Nixdorf mainframe. In a single deal, Nixdorf sold twelve PCM mainframes to the Australian Federal Government. The deal clincher was that the IBM mainframe operators could monitor and manage the Nixdorf PCM mainframes using the network management tools they were already familiar with as they appeared as just another networked SNA device.

Talking with the executives of the company that developed NET/MASTER, the one system in an IBM SNA network that they struggled to manage was the Tandem. NET/MASTER was just a VTAM application and it was proving to be a big hit with bankers and retailers, and nearly every one of them had a Tandem front-ending their ATM and POS networks. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to all if some NET/MASTER components could be run on the Tandem, and surely, it wouldn’t be any more difficult than the port to DOS/VS undertaken for Nixdorf?

The senior Tandem technical folks from Cupertino took a trip to Sydney in late ’88 to consider the opportunity - a number of large banking customers were working behind the scenes to make NET/MASTER on Tandem a reality. And as I recall, following many glasses of good Australian red wine, a decision was taken to deploy NET/MASTER on Tandem. But then it all fell apart – for one reason or another, what was considered at the time as the world’s best network management implementation, was not ported, but re-implemented and not as a network management aid, but as a new system management subsystem!

It proved to be a classic “overkill,” and for the Tandem systems of the mid ‘90s, there just wasn’t the capacity available (as was routinely exploited on an IBM mainframe of the day) and the solutions struggled to perform. Although the NET/MASTER solution proved to be less than stellar by any account – but the problem it addressed remained. In a heterogeneous environment, where Tandem systems were a part of the solution, there were demands not only for Tandem to be well managed, but to be easily integrated into the enterprise management tool of choice. Visibility of the systems, the networks, and the applications being run, from a central “flight deck” became a necessity.

But the circumstances did change and the explosion in server populations changed the nature of the problem for good. As these servers were racked higher and higher, and spread deeper and deeper, the human factor took over and simple errors from missed messages often brought down critical applications, and as the pressure increased to protect private information many of these outages made it onto the front pages of major newspapers and into the evening news broadcasts on the major television networks.

The data center had to be automated and the servers charged with the oversight of the data center quickly became the most important servers of all. Across many installations, the trusted IBM mainframe became the central management hub filtering every event message and routing it to the appropriate application. Surely, just as we had seen upon the arrival of ATM and POS networks where 7 X 24 operations were mandated, the NonStop would become central to any data center managers plans!

It never happened! And the innovation I thought it would trigger, didn't appear! Not up until now, it hadn’t. In the feature I wrote some time back, on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 and posted as “Game changers!”, I reflected on how “NonStop servers can be deployed as critical components to monitor everything to do with a data center facility – whether a single building, or just part of the facility, or the entire global enterprise. Every major data center in the world, and the count of these facilities climbs quickly into the thousands and tens of thousands, could witness a NonStop server overseeing it all.”

A small start-up company, Modius, was porting their environment management application to NonStop. I added that “every time a customer took me on a visit of their ‘flight deck’ where the applications, systems, and networks were managed, I wondered why there hadn’t been an innovative engineer front-ending everything with a NonStop.” And then I concluded with the bold prediction “NonStop is poised for a new era of cool-ness! … a NonStop in every data center!

It hasn’t turned out to be quite this explosive and Modius continues to look for the best channel to work with - the typical HVAC salesman isn’t quite up to the challenge of a NonStop, it would appear. In recognition of this, I have just read where Modius has recruited Ed Sterbenc a former Tandem executive and well known to many of us. Particularly for those of us with roots in the old ICON division of Tandem Computers, and this “addition” bodes well for Modius. But the basic premise remains – for key manageability solutions the NonStop server remains an ideal platform. And it is the coming changes in the data center that may just fuel the interest once again.

As we move to cloud computing, particularly within the enterprise as we deploy the clouds ourselves behind the firewall, the expectation is that the cloud will always be available. Transactions are routed around downed servers, those experiencing peak loads will have secondary transactions routed to less stressed servers, and the same application may run on different platform / OS combinations when their SLA’s don’t mandate specific response times.

Relying on something other than NonStop for this level of oversight may prove extremely short-sighted and become a risky proposition for many data center managers. For many of these managers, the NonStop has almost been forgotten; running for many years without an outage of any kind. These same data center managers can be hard-pressed to even identify which of their servers is the NonStop - it’s in there somewhere – and no, I can’t recall what it looks like! The time may be right to re-evaluate the role of NonStop, and with so many of them deployed in critical situations it may surprise data center managers how effective a “tool” these servers have become!

I didn’t buy a new motorcycle, and I didn’t buy a new car. And no, I didn’t open an exotic-car dealership, either. Readers of the last blog may have been left speculating about the outcome. It’s going to take a lot for me to move away from my SUV – perhaps I will replace it with a more energy efficient hybrid as my green-side continues to develop. But the role the SUV fills, and the requirements I have for it, haven’t changed. I still need to navigate the winter roads of Colorado and make it through to sunny Southern California no matter what!.

As I enjoyed my glass of shiraz, and thought back on earlier projects, I couldn’t help but think about a future of NonStop with respect to manageability and the potential for NonStop to play an even bigger role. It still makes so much sense, to me even after all that was done with NonStop NET/MASTER. Isn’t it about time we revisited the very attributes that make NonStop so valuable to our business units and, as we contemplate moving to a different computing model, use it to keep everything operating reliably?

I am confident that some data center managers will recognize the value proposition as I am confident solutions providers will renew their interest in NonStop. After all, the server has been in our data center for decades in support of transactions – isn’t the stream of management events just another transaction stream? Perhaps we will see a NonStop in every data center after all!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fall, a time to buy?

I just stepped back indoors after taking the motorcycle out for a 75 miles late-Fall jaunt. With the continental divide well covered by early season snow, and plenty of evidence that there had been recent snowfalls along the Colorado front ranges, with loose grit in many of the corner apexes, it was good to catch a break in the weather. Just to enjoy the autumn colors, still present, framing many of the deserted back-roads that I ride, provided a pleasant change from the routines of the past few weeks. And the picture above is of looking back at a new line of "snow clouds" descending. Oh well!

Cutting across some of the main roads to get to my favorite highway, I passed a number of motorcycle and car showrooms. I thought that it may be a good idea to stop by and walk the deserted lots on my way back – after all, there’s nothing better to do on quiet days then to check out the new models.

I subscribe to many car and bike magazines and generally read them from cover to cover. I am not sure how my mind functions, but even the smallest details on even the obscurest model I somehow seem to be able to recall. Much of what goes on in my daily life, I seem to be having a tough time recalling accurately, mind you, but knowing that the cylinders inside a Honda motorcycle cruiser are now much bigger than those lying in the engine of a Dodge Viper, for instance, is something I read somewhere. Many years ago! So, with the new model year now in full swing and show rooms beginning to fill up with the ‘10s, it is always a great way to idle away a late autumn afternoon.

I have always been puzzled why the new models always start arriving in the Fall. It so happens that this is a byproduct of the impact of the July – August summer factory shut-downs that take place each year. As they restart, the factories begin cranking out the new models. Something a city boy from the Southern Hemisphere could never figure out. But in the run-up to Christmas many suburban driveways begin to display the latest offering from the more popular manufacturers.

It’s been a while since I bought a car. And it’s been much longer since I bought a new motorcycle. The current motorcycles are both ’03 models and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, it’s kind of un-American not to be seriously considering replacements. With a couple of ’08 cars in the garage, perhaps it’s not as urgent a situation – but I may have to get the oil changed, again, on the bikes and this would be a first!

Seriously, I really like riding motorcycles and driving cars and regular readers of this blog would not be surprised to know this – rarely a month goes by when I don’t manage to work into my blog something about bikes and cars. And the motorcycles and cars I own are not “garage queens” (for the most part) as they are ridden and driven on a regular basis. But with my new career and its focus on writing, I have little need or use for them to commute to work. No, I often take to the road simply to enjoy a break from the routine. And styling aside, whether a bike is two years old or ten, these days there’s little difference in how much they cost me to maintain. These things don’t seem to break, ever!

For those of us who have responsibility for the computer systems in our data centers, however, and who have the responsibility for matching user requirements to a budget, holding on to a server for more than two years can often prove to be a liability! In the months following the beginning of this century, and with all the clean-up work that went in to ensuring the Y2K “bug” didn’t put us all out of operation, I thought we would see a slowing in technology lifecycles and a fall-off in the pace of new product developments. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

The impact of the Internet, even with the bursting of the DOT.COM bubble, and the explosion in networking bandwidth; the need to comply with all sorts of government regulations from security to reporting “down systems;” and the continued gains being made in the power of chips and the shrinking of storage have all made systems we bought this century close to being obsolete! The “greening” of the data center and with it, a much greater appreciation for how much heat is being generated, has also made systems installed only a few years ago “too expensive” to continue to be supported.

As I listen to product roadmap updates provided by product management executives at user group events, I can’t help but pick up on the reports about the number of new systems being purchased and of the length of the pipeline (for new systems) that’s developed. It’s as though all the data center managers took a look out the window and saw that the season was changing and with it, realized it was time to buy a new model! While car showrooms are crowded with hybrid models and the motorcycle showrooms are catering for a graying population, computer “showrooms” are full of new hardware packages and on the pedestal, bathed in the spotlights, the new models are heavily Blades oriented.

Today’s modern Blade chassis has come a long way from lining the dark hallways inside of telephone exchanges, where I had, in fact, first encountered similar packaging. This past summer I had attended the HPTF&E event in Las Vegas and had walked through the inside of a container full of Blade enclosures (check out the posting of July 2, ’09 Common standards, uncommon advantages!) – what HP was calling the “Performance-Optimized Datacenter” (POD). And it reminded me of the many times I had walked through telco data centers. The beauty of Blades, however, is not in the packaging, or in the choice of chip sets used, but in the way engineers can more beneficially manage the heat being generated. Dealing with “hot spots” and ensuring data center managers do not have to upgrade or reroute their HVAC “plumbing” has many advantages in today’s business climate.

And the prices have come way down. For the NonStop community in particular, the support for Blades by NonStop has changed the pricing dynamics completely. And the product management presentations highlighting the “ramp” Blades purchases have produced, can’t escape noticing how steep the upward angle of the ramp has become! Compared with the inclines of other product lines, the ramp is more akin to looking up at a modern, Olympic sky jump platform!

About the only concern I would express when it comes to considering a transition to Blades is the roadmap for the Blades chassis itself. Blades will continue to be upgraded on a regular basis and in line with the chip manufacturer’s roadmap. In the case of NonStop, this is the Intel Itanium roadmap although, I would like to add, that a complementary x86 program would be nice to see. But regardless, Intel is on a tear with the program it has for the Itanium chip and when you consider the power coming with future Tukwila and Poulson multicore packages, NonStop will be getting access to unbelievable processing power.

The big question continues to be software and, in particular, the pricing of software particularly when it is infrastructure and middleware sosftware. Having a history with ACI / Insession and, more recently, GoldenGate, I have never been far from this debate. What value is reducing the price of the hardware if the cost of the infrastructure in support of the hardware just keeps going up? And does HP decry the cost of ISV-provided software because it’s messing up the value proposition of the deal, or because they would like to be able to keep all the funding budgeted for the upgrade? For the most part, software for NonStop is as expensive as it is today because it really does cost that much to develop and maintain.

Seriously, again. I really like being in the software business. But pricing is influenced by at least two important metrics: the size of the marketplace and the cost of the (human) resources. For the moment, these metrics continue to work against NonStop infrastructure prices coming down, in the short term, at least. Many ISVs in the NonStop marketplace understand this and are pursuing avenues to ensure their products can run on other platforms, in addition to NonStop,. Others yet, are migrating to programming languages where the pool of expertise is much larger. But it will never come down to commodity levels – users have the expectation that they will be supported and that expert services will be available, and how low the pricing for this can go will depend, in the end, of how big the NonStop marketplace becomes.

The ride back home grew much colder than I expected. I never did get the chance to walk around the lots or stop in at the bike shops I knew stayed open. There’s probably a lot I could find to talk about should a salesman come by. As an aside, with my passion for cars and motorcycles and my never failing memory when it comes to the fine details differentiating one car or bike from all others, there are some family members wondering why I wouldn’t open an exotic-car dealership that included a well stacked flower shop: at the end of the day you wouldn’t want to go home with a high-priced exotic without a bunch of yellow roses, now would you?

And I will probably make a visit to the showrooms sometime soon. While there’s so much more I could add to any discussion on software licensing, if a user should ask me, I am sure in the weeks ahead as I participate in even more user events, the topic will never be far away! See you at GTUG!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Real “stayers”

Suddenly, I was caught up in the fever that surrounds the annual running of the Melbourne Cup. A historic horse race held at the Flemington Racecourse, outside of Melbourne, Australia, it’s a long race of 3,200 meters (trimmed a few feet in recent times after the metric system was introduced). And it’s an ancient race, by Australian standards, having had its first running back in 1861. And it truly lives up to its billing as “the race that stops the nation.”

Visitors to the LinkedIn user group, Real Time View, will know of the discussion “Fast Lane” and of my social blog “Buckle-Up-Travel” where I frequently refer to events involving motor cars. And it was only a few weeks ago that “The Great Race” was held for Super V8s around the Mount Panorama circuit to the west of Sydney. On display on that occasion was an over-abundance of horsepower, but this week, it all came down to just a few horses.

While Melbourne enjoyed a public holiday, and the government of Australia was officially “adjourned” for the day so that dutiful members of parliament could all crowd around strategically-placed TV sets, it was a lot less formal in Sydney with business just turning a blind eye to all of their employees taking extended lunch breaks at their local watering holes. And the picture above is of me at sunny Manly Beach where it proved difficult to find a quiet venue for the evening on the day of the Cup.

But there had always been something that had bound the event at Bathurst with the event at Flemington. Both races covered a lot of ground –1000 kilometers for the cars (up from the old 500 miles), and 3.2 kilometers for the horses (down from 2 miles) and tactics and preparation played a very big role in deciding the eventual winner. Not for the fleet-of-foot or for anything lacking stamina, the events were designed to push both sets of contestants to the very limit.

When I first went to watch a running of the Bathurst 1000, back in the early ‘70s, the talk was all about who would lead for the first couple of laps, who would hang around and watch what developed, and who would preserve their car to be in contention for the last half hour! In other words, when it came to cars, running in The Great Race called for patience, and a measure of driver skill, so as to preserve the car for the final laps. But with time, and with the tremendous improvements that have come from technology improvements, watching The Great Race these days suggests it has become nothing more than an extended sprint. Certainly, teams send out two cars and often the lead car drives hard from the first flag fall, with the second car driving a little more conservatively should the team leader encounter any difficulties, but it looks to all watching that the cars are going flat-out for the duration.

Not so, for the horse race down in Flemington. Two miles is still a long way and horses bred for the shorter sprint events that dominate today’s racing calendar, are not up to the challenge. Horses that win the Melbourne Cup are clearly “stayers” and there’s nothing negative about using this word to describe the few horses up to the challenge of racing over this distance. Yes, they leave the gate as eagerly as any car leaving the starting grid, but it’s up to each horse’s jockey to manage the event. Not to get caught out wide for too long, and have to cover even greater distances; not to get caught too far back in the pack and unable to see the leaders; but just back a few and away from the fences. Running with a measured pace to ensure that the horse has enough to finish is the responsibility of the jockey but in the end, as with car races, every winner of the Melbourne Cup needs a small break and a little measure of luck!

It was only a week ago that I wrote about the user event in Canada – CTUG. And in another week’s time I will be off to attend the European event in Germany, an IT Symposium jointly held with GTUG. These events are giving me a new opportunity to look at the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) community that has grown up around the NonStop platform, and the pleasing aspect to this, from my vantage position, is that I recognize so many of them from the ITUG days. So many of the ISVs I knew from my time at Tandem Computers remain very active today, and the ecosystem in support of NonStop is as active as it has ever been.

The solutions providers are not always present at user events, as much as I would like to see more of them participating. For the bigger companies in the solution space, the economics are such that they can afford to hold their own user events and the likes of ACI, GE Healthcare, and those in the telco space have invested heavily in their own, or related vertical, events. The infrastructure and middleware providers, however, still rely on being seen alongside the primary vendor, working closely with NonStop product managers. These are the vendors who have proved, to the NonStop community, that they are “stayers” and have the stamina that the user community demands.

Many of the vendors offer solutions on platforms other than NonStop and a liberal sprinkling of products running on Linux / Unix / Windows (LUW) can be seen. For many products on offer this makes a lot of sense, as the need to use NonStop cycles for some features may be questionable. With the languages and tools underpinning these products, such flexibility is more of a byproduct, as the openness of NonStop today doesn’t preclude anything developed for LUW platforms running on NonStop any more than it precludes anything developed for NonStop from running on your favorite flavor of LUW. And for those vendors who have been part of the NonStop community for many years now, this has come as a huge relief as it not only gives them a bigger marketplace but the opportunity to recruit from among a younger generation of developers.

Managers of today’s NonStop ISVs are acutely aware of the messages coming from HP’s NonStop Enterprise Division (NED). Bringing costs down, pursuing standards, and integrating open “software stacks” with key NonStop middleware, is beginning to bear fruit as new vendors are attracted to the platform. In the presentations provided by HP to the CTUG community, two new solutions providers were identified. These were established companies that NED was working with, to port their offerings to the NonStop platform, and the expectation across the community that there would be new NonStop users as a result.

If the term “stayer” can be applied to the ISV community then it can certainly be applied to NED as well. The business environment has changed so much over the 35 years the NonStop platform has been available and, during that time, there has been times when the platform has faced serious challenges. At first, the competition came from other start-ups with alternate approaches, as the fault tolerant market blossomed. Then there was considerable pressure exerted by those commodity producers who turned to clustering – surely, the solution had to be a cluster of off-the-shelf boxes! More recently, the return of the IBM mainframe has made its presence felt with IBM determined to push the NonStop out of the data center.

But NonStop has truly proved to be a “stayer” and continues to thrive. The world has become even more tightly networked and there’s almost no business that is not connected in some fashion to the internet, and open 24 X 7 X forever. And the original attributes of NonStop are as important today as at any time in the past. Availability? Scalability? Data Integrity? Which of these key attributes has lessened in significance in the “always-on” world we live in today?

There was something historical about this past week as well. I managed to catch up with a good friend that I haven’t seen for many years, Len Rust. As the former head of IDC in Australasia, there wasn’t a trend or industry segment Len didn’t know about and from my early days with EDOS and Nixdorf I had depended on Len for insight into the industry. Len and I had met for coffee in the old Tandem Computers building in North Sydney. The coffee stand was new, but it was outside a restaurant that had been put to good use during my time at Tandem Computers.

Twenty years ago to the day, Steve Bailey and I had met for lunch in the restaurant to celebrate the Melbourne Cup. The horse I picked, in the restaurant’s “sweep” where tickets for horses had been drawn at random, was involved in a photo-finish – but clearly, my horse had! So a good bottle of Champaign was opened just a few minutes before I heard that my horse had finished second! But it did little to curb our enthusiasm. In the weeks that followed, Steve and I left Australia to take up positions with Tandem Computers and we have both remained close to the NonStop ISV community.

Probably too early to call either Steve or I “stayers”, or to think we are winners, but I get the sense that my own involvement with NonStop will continue for many years to come. New vendors! New users! After all, this is why many of us in the NonStop community have stayed in the race and why we have paced ourselves the way we have for so many years. Like good jockeys, we haven't strayed wide, or lost ourselves within the pack!

And if the experiences with the NonStop vendor community over the past few weeks counts for anything at all, this has to be good news for us all!

Friday, October 23, 2009

There's a pot of gold ...

I am getting ready to make a quick trip down to Sydney. In the last few hours as I pack to leave, however, I just had to comment on the recent NonStop user event I attended in Toronto, Canada (CTUG). The picture I have included above is of a rainbow and it has nothing to do with Toronto as it was taken on a recent trip through Cedar City, Utah, but is more symbolic than anything else I could include in this blog posting.

It was a different experience for me as it was my first outing to any user event as in independent “consultant” working for my own company, Pyalla Technologies, LLC. And I have to admit I was just a little bit nervous, unsure of what to expect. After all, having spent the last twenty years working for companies like Tandem Computers, ACI / InSession, and most recently GoldenGate Software, this time I was participating at a user event without a strong company-supported infrastructure behind me.

My participation, fortunately, came as a result of the generous support from Ernie Guerrera of NuWave Technologies, Inc. I have known Ernie for many years – several of these years as a competitor, back in the time when I worked for InSession which has competing offerings in the SOA and Web services marketplace. Today, NuWave has contracted with Pyalla for my writing services and I am hard at work on an assignment from Ernie.

The CTUG committee, led by Rick Teeuwsen, and well assisted by Dick Bird and Jack McAuley of HP Canada, put on a great event. While I was unable to attend the recent SUNTUG (Connect Florida) user event in Tampa, those who did participate told me of how the CTUG event reminded them of SUNTUG. CTUG saw the same strong user turn out, the same good support from HP, and very similar vendor participation. Chris Koppe, the incoming President for the Connect user community also made an appearance at CTUG, and it was good to see Connect actively supporting the NonStop community.

Events of the size of CTUG, and with the user turn-out that it attracted, ensure a strong HP management appearance. And this year’s event in Toronto was no exception. Randy Meyer who heads the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) Product Management team gave a product roadmap update and he was supported by Tom Moylan, head of sales in the Americas. While many financial analysts working Wall Street are trying to figure out if the recent economic recession has turned around and become a recovery, a quick exchange with Tom suggests that there are signs that NonStop customers are beginning to show a little more confidence in the economy and that the sale of Blade systems is beginning to pick up. He also gave us the latest score – 49 to 0. Remember this one, you will read more about that in a later post.

The lunch break gave me the opportunity to catch up with Rob Smink, solutions architect at CIBC. Several years ago, at one of the last ITUG events in San Jose, Rob gave a user presentation on his experiences with InSession products and we had enjoyed a couple of adult beverages on more than one occasion at that time, as I seem to recall. But quite a few years had passed since we last had the opportunity to catch up on what he was up to at the bank.

For me, the icing on the cake… was the icing on the cake – Randall Becker had arranged for a cake to celebrate the upcoming 35th anniversary of Tandem Computers. A large, and very rich chocolate cake and on top was an icing silhouette of a tandem bicycle. Before the closing reception started, the cake was cut, and I managed to get a slice with a portion of the tandem bicycle. For the participants with ties back to the early days of Tandem, it brought a flood of memories of our early days in Cupertino.

I have always had a strong connection with regional user groups (RUGs). For several years, when I was on the board of ITUG, I had the task of supporting the RUG leadership worldwide and of representing them on the board. During the time as Director, I developed strong ties with many of the groups and I enjoyed the opportunity this role gave me to participate at their events: BITUG, VNUG, OzTUG, SATUG, CTUG, FTUG, GTUG, and many more. At one point there were more than 30 active RUGs and the annual meeting of the RUG leadership packed every venue we selected for the occasion.

I am pleased to report that what I saw firsthand at CTUG last week really encouraged me. There is a sense of community that continues to thrive at the regional level. HP and the independent vendor community, as I attempted to illustrate with the details described above, will always support events that attract a strong following among the user community, and support from such an important stakeholder, as are the NonStop users, ensures that the drive to develop products will continue. Next month, I will be attending GTUG and I am expecting to see similar support for their event!

But given today’s economic climate, there seems to be a growing population of self-employed folks liberally sprinkled across the NonStop field; consultants providing services to others in the community. Perhaps, given of my own circumstance, I paid a lot more attention to them than I ever had in the past. And even among the vendors that were exhibiting, there were several consultants present.

In the last posting to my social blog site, covering an earlier outing on a Colorado race track, I needed to pay a visit to a nearby tire store. For more on this, check out: At that time I wrote of how impressed I was with the tire company, suggesting that after a “one and a half hour process (of cleaning the wheels and checking the tires) … the lads at Golden’s Big O tire shop simply told me it was free! I decided: my next set of tires? I am going to give them a chance to bid!”

Well as it so happened, after returning from a weekend a California race track only a week ago, I picked up a nail in a new tire and had to make another visit to this time the local tire shop. And again, they patched the tire, removing it from the wheel, and didn’t charge me anything. They sent me on my way with the simple request to “please consider us when it comes time to make your next tire purchase!”

There have been many times when I have had to visit tire shops through the years, and I recall I had to pay every time – but clearly, no aspect of business is free from competition. The value that comes from taking down my information, and registering me in a data base more than offsets the costs of fixing my tire. Just another example of where the information about the service has become just as important as the service itself.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the NonStop community fosters long term “fellowship.” Even when given the opportunity to work on different platforms and support other environments, many individuals that have faced life-altering career choices, have elected to become independent and to stay close to the NonStop community. The collective knowledge of the technology, products, and marketplaces these individuals posses probably surpasses what can be found anywhere else. Probably including what can be found these days within HP. And the opportunity to provide users and vendors alike with a variety of services only makes the community richer!

The photo of the rainbow above is a reminder for me that as the recovery begins to kick-in, there will be a considerably expansion of commerce. As the economy picks up and consumer confidence is restored, people will start to invest and business will become frenetic again. And there will be many corporations that make poor judgment calls in haste when it comes to information technology and products. However, across the NonStop community and, as evident from the continuing support for RUGs, there are individuals only too willing to help out.

NonStop users in particular, are very fortunate as to have access to this sizable pool of consulting and services talent. Rather than walking away from NonStop to find employment on other systems, or simply retiring, these individuals recognize how much added-value they can provide – particularly in these difficult economic times where budgets are so tight.

So many data centers are lightly staffed today and have no “bench” or “supporting cast” ready to be thrown onto the stage to help out. Big consulting firms will always be anxiously awaiting any opportunity to place contractors into these data centers, but their ranks are pretty thin when it comes to NonStop expertise. The NonStop consultants within our community can provide so much value in this respect.

And for the most part, they can be approached to help solve a variety of problems and to address even major concerns, for nothing more than a simple “please consider me when it comes time to make your next service(s) purchase!”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is there gas in the tank?

Just finished skimming through the October issue of NonStop Connect Now and read the item promoting an upcoming webinar (December 2, ’09) on the subject of 35 years of NonStop evolution. According to the promotion:

“Throughout these decades, NonStop has evolved continuously and has now become a standards-based, modern infrastructure that continues to meet the needs of the most demanding customers and applications … take a look at the evolution of NonStop and hear about its past, present and future.”

It occurred to me that we take so much of what NonStop has achieved over the past 35 years for granted, and often forget just how hard those 35 years have been. Today when we read of how, after 35 years, “NonStop has delivered on the promise of continuous application availability, unparalleled data integrity and industry leading scalability,” as the promotion piece above led with, how often do we simply forget all the hard work and long hours that a tightly-knit group of passionate engineers gave to the company allowing it to deliver on the promise.

The picture above came to me from Diana Cortes, after I had asked her whether she had any photos from the early days. And for sure, the fashion statements clearly suggest that this is from the seventies. But when I asked who the four men in the photo were, there was nobody who could tell me. Looking at the background, it’s evident that they are in a test facility of some sort – perhaps even manufacturing. And the systems are Tandem Computers certainly. So, leading with this photo is now symbolic for me – yes, they most probably will be recognized after this posting – as it symbolizes the generation of engineers who worked so hard to bring the Tandem Computers to market.

Last weekend I was, again, participating in a track session – this time at Buttonwillow, CA, many miles into the southern end of the San Joaquin valley. We had driven the car to the event via I5, the major interstate through the heart of the valley, and the journey to the track was uneventful. After two days of participating in the high-performance driver education sessions at the track we began the return journey late Sunday afternoon.

However, just as we were finishing for the day, the electrics inside the car failed – a fuse somewhere was blown. The car ran fine, but inside the car, we couldn’t bring the windows back up, adjust the seats, adjust the external mirrors, “pop” the trunk, or release the gas filler cover. We had no way to add gas to the car (yes, I know, Chevrolet had thought of this, I was later to find out, and Corvette’s had a manual gas filler cover release inside the rear of the car that was accessible to any who crawled through to the back!) and with the fuel range showing about 90 miles and the drive home was a little over 100 miles, I knew it was going to be a close call.

Situated between the valley and my condo, was a sharp mountain climb that is called the “Grapevine” with a summit of slightly over 4,000 feet. Not all that impressive for anyone from Colorado, mind you, but suddenly taking on the enormity of Mt Everest! Watching the fuel range drop significantly by the time we crested the summit I eased off the gas and just coasted. For nearly forty miles! Yes we made it home with less than a gallon in the tank – but all the time we were rolling down the hill, I was worried we would not have anything left if we faced another climb. There was no way we could make it back up to 4,000 feet, for instance.

And as I have been looking through early articles on Tandem Computers and at photos chronicling the events of years ago, I began to think of last weekends drive and whether NonStop still had ways to go to reach the summit, or whether it crested sometime back. And just as importantly, is there enough gas in the tank to push on and take NonStop even higher? But having written this, there’s just so much history.

Around the globe, at different regional events, the local offices of HP have been cooperating with user groups to celebrate the anniversary. Back in June at the HPTF&E event in Las Vegas, HP management ensured the date was not lost on the audience and made sure we all knew the importance of this year. In Scandinavia at VNUG a few weeks ago, as well as in India at InNUG around the same time, HP management highlighted the upcoming anniversary. CTUG will be holding an event next week and I have had a brief email exchange with Rick and Randall and perhaps there will be a cake involved.

At GTUG, in a few weeks time, there will be a lot more excitement – forget the cake, there will be a good old-fashioned, traditional beer-bust. The GTUG event will be a pan-European event drawing an audience from many NonStop strongholds: in an email exchange with Dr Michael Rossbach I asked him how he thought it would go, and about the memories he had of his early days with Tandem Computers. Dr Rossbach responded:

"I started July 1979 to work with Tandem and ever since then "je ne regrette rien" We had (still have) some critical economical times, we went through a lot of changes, but the excellent technique, the expertise and skill of the people, the commitment from everybody we were / are dealing with was something I really do not want to miss. And it is still pretty much alive and will be for the next decade. I am happy to be chair of the European NonStop event this year and to host the community. What better opportunity to celebrate the anniversary and to enjoy a beer-bust ‘Tandem style’ on Thursday evening".

The history of Tandem and NonStop, is well worth remembering, and very deserving of the celebrations being planned. But will we also be making time to consider the future, and the hopes we have, about NonStop and about its role for the next 35 years? And just as important as any celebration of its past, is NonStop evolving fast enough and aligns with what our companies are calling for – inexpensive, industry-standard, and open?

At the InNUG event, where HP management had invited the press, a report by Vishnu Anand appeared on India’s premier IT website, CIOL that referenced the 35th anniversary, and said “NonStop server technology was born 35 years back, and InNUG marks this fete at this year's event by emphasizing the need for Indian enterprises to embrace the technology to 'double the performance at half the footprint.’” CIOL then reported Santanu Ghose, Country Head, Business Critical Systems, HP India, as having said "NonStop, as a technology, has evolved with the times and the Blade offering will make tremendous business sense to enterprises operating in any possible industry vertical.”

NonStop has evolved with the times! Doubling the performance at half the footprint! There’s no question that what we are seeing today with Blades is the evolution of NonStop as it embraces commodity hardware packaging with industry-standard connectivity to storage and communications. Effectively dropping in price and shredding the old price-premium delta! And while there’s no mandate coming from HP for NonStop engineers to embrace modern, open source, software - those product managers who talked with me kept reminding me that it’s just the right thing to be doing. There’s a lot happening these days with NonStop development and the message championed by Randy Meyer “common standards, uncommon advantages” is getting more coverage from industry analysts and the press.

I had the opportunity today to enjoy a brief email exchange with Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manager of the HP NonStop Enterprise Division where I asked him about the upcoming 35th anniversary and he told me :“when I first took over the NonStop Division three years ago, I knew the technological history of NonStop – from its origins as the world’s first fault tolerant server, the evolution through various processor and form factor changes, and now our move to industry standard hardware and a modernized operating environment.”

Winston continued “what I didn’t fully understand then was the incredible passion and commitment this team has to our customers, partners, and each other; and the deep understanding of true continuous application availability that runs throughout the group. Of course this is not just limited to employees – whenever I have the opportunity to meet with our customers and partners, I see the same passion and loyalty echoed in them.”

There is a strong marketplace for servers and there’s a lot of passion remaining for the NonStop server. NonStop engineers continue to provide tangible differentiation so that the value NonStop provides still separates it from all other solutions. Uncommon advantages, for sure. Riding the Blades revolution, pretty much from the time it broke onto the IT landscape, is positioning NonStop for a lengthy future. Common standards, yes!

In closing, Winston added “whether you’re new to NonStop or have been a part of the community for more of our 35 year journey then you’d care to admit, I’d like to congratulate everyone involved with NonStop over the years. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this team for the past 3 years, and I’m truly excited for our future.”

I had serious doubts about making it home as I watched the gas tank drain away. But I made it. And for some time I had serious doubts about NonStop. But after 35 years and after listening to folks associated with NonStop for decades, I truly believe, the summit has yet to be crested! And there’s still plenty of gas in the tank.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let's talk ...

I had the very good fortune to spend two weeks back home in Boulder. It gave me the opportunity to revisit favorite spots in and around the town – and to catch up with old friends. Coming from Southern California I wasn’t quite prepared for the weather but then again, being exposed to seasons, has its attractions. And the photo here is of the bike parked beneath a tree in our garden that was putting on quite a show – fall in the Rockies is mostly about the color yellow!

But the coming of fall is not just about the display of colors, but about change. We saw days where the thermometer dropped as much as 30 degrees. One day it was 80+, the next barely 50! And the storms? On two occasions the continental divide glistened white with snow and one early morning, we were treated to one of the best electrical storms I have seen in years – lined up, one behind the other, weather fronts moved across the state with the regularity (and precision) of a metronome!

It was out of necessity that I also had to visit the local tire shop. The frequent driving between Southern California and Colorado was taking its toll on tires, brakes, and wheel alignments. Just as we experience problems within IT in “batches”, with rarely a single problem requiring our attention, so too did I find that I had two cars that needed new tires. And pretty badly – when measured tire tread depth returns a reading of 0mm’s then it’s time! And of course, it’s always good to try out new tires and to change to something different from what had been installed before!

I have often talked of change in these blog postings – it’s the one constant we all have to deal with. IT makes no allowances for our “comfort zones” and continues to throw new things at us – whether processors, storage, or software. And the rate of change makes no allowance for our need to pause occasionally, and to take stock (of our situation or our priorities). Just as the trees of the Rockies react to the stress of summer by shutting down and shedding their leaves, and the tires on our cars react to the abuse they receive at our hands (or should I say feet), we are reminded of how often we are called upon to make adjustments.

GoldenGate has been acquired by Oracle, with the earliest press releases hitting the wire services back in late July. For many of us working at GoldenGate, myself included, the news of the purchase was cause to celebrate. For the three years I had been working at GoldenGate, business activities had all focused on driving up the valuation of the company – and to make it attractive (and highly desirable) among vendors we considered viable suitors. And with the news of Oracle agreeing to purchase GoldenGate, we felt our efforts well vindicated. But then again, for those of us who worked in business development and who had responsibility for partner management, the immediate outlook looked pretty grim.

The nature of business development is to develop partnerships with high profile vendors that “accelerate” the sales growth across the company – a way to augment direct sales efforts by “bundling” features with the partner’s established product lines. But clearly, when a company is purchased, it’s by a much larger vendor as the price tag often takes it out of the reach of smaller vendors. The larger vendor is typically already well-served by partner managers and, just as importantly, probably has far more comprehensive connections into those partners than exists within a typical start-up.

This is exactly the situation with Oracle. In my case, the main partners I had been managing at GoldenGate were HP and IBM – and it was obvious from the outset that Oracle already had these two vendors well covered. All Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CEO ever needs to do is pick up the phone and call Mark Hurd or Sam Palmisano, and there would never be any misunderstanding or confusion by either Hurd or Palmisano about who was on the other end of the line!

So, once again, I am facing change and looking to add another entry into the log that is my career in IT. But how things have changed: the economic climate we all have to deal with has turned the old adage, about doors closing only to have others open, on its head as doors have simply been removed. Senior managers and corporate executives have to reinvent themselves and be highly visible agents of growth and of adding value – otherwise, there are few options. And I was quick to recognize that I had to turn traditional approaches (for my next “gig”) on their heads!

Welcome to Pyalla Technologies, LLC. And no, this has nothing to do with any Spanish seafood dish you may have seen on the menu of your favorite restaurant. Likewise, I can assure everyone, there’s no connection with ill-gotten gains so often associated with the recording industry! And I haven’t butchered anything from my wife’s Polish language either.

When I returned to Sydney in the late ‘70s, I started my own company, Uralla Holdings Pty Limited – and I really liked the sound of the name. It was just not something anyone associated with technology and gave me plenty of opportunity to start a discussion. Uralla was an aboriginal word and the name of a township in Australia’s New England district in the northern parts of the state of New South Wales. And like Uralla, Pyalla is also an aboriginal word.

Only a few tribes around Port Jackson used the word Pyalla. And it simply means “to talk.” Today, we may be more familiar with Port Jackson by its other name, Sydney Harbor. By naming my new company Pyalla Technologies, I am essentially conveying the story of “the lad from Sydney who talks technology!” or something along those lines. My wife, Margo, and I had returned from dinner the other night and, in less than an hour, had provided us with this surprising language discovery – and we quickly registered the domain and phoned our accountant.

By creating the new company, as I have already stated in a number of discussion threads on various online forums and user groups, I am declaring my intent to turn “pro” – although as best as I can tell, NCAA doesn’t have any rules covering situations quite like this. And no, I felt no need to rush out and hire an agent either. The IT profession hasn’t quite created an environment where this would be welcomed, although those in the recruitment business may argue differently. However, in today’s networked world where so much information is available with just a click of the mouse, I am quite inclined to believe it has become so much easier to communicate intentions and network on a scale unthinkable less than a decade before.

I plan to stay very close to the HP NonStop user community. And I plan to stay very engaged with the HP NonStop vendor community. My interests lie in all things related to middleware and infrastructure – whether communications protocols, or higher level services that we associate with SOA, or even the management and oversight of it all. It’s the data center that interests me most – setting it up, running it, managing it, and connecting it to those that depend on us: whether our customers or our business partners.

To this end, the new CEO of the Pyalla Technologies has accepted an invitation to join the board of Infrasoft Pty Limited, an Australian company focused on communications protocols as well as on Web services and SOA, and this will see me once again reunited with longtime associates from my days at Insession – Peter Shell and Neil Coleman. But I will also be working closely with several other ISVs helping out with white papers, essays and articles, as well as contributions to their social networking pursuits. Already, I am pleased to say, the work has started and I am absolutely thrilled by the reception I have received and with the enthusiasm with which my first inroads into the independent business world have been received.

For me, it’s the beginning of a new phase, a change of seasons, of adjustments better aligned with what I really like to do. Now there’s every chance. of course, that remaining independent may change as well – privatizing individuals is just as likely as privatizing companies in this economy. But for now, it’s a new world and I am having a lot of fun – fortunately, creativity and enthusiasm are still in great demand and I just love to talk (pyalla?) technologies!

While I may not have captured the title of “NonStop Talker,” a title I recently saw attributed to someone else, communicating and networking remain my first love in business and I will continue to write and to blog.

I will continue to be a presence in the HP NonStop user community – and yes, anyone can buy me a coffee at any time! In fact, I hope to start a regular “Coffee with Richard” series of virtual coffee shop meetings, where readers of this blog will have an opportunity to share their thoughts, discuss ideas, and either agree or disagree vigorously with what I will be talking about in the coming months!v

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Loyalty programs - an option for IT?

I have to admit, I am a sucker for dogs. Whenever I’d walk through a mall and see a pet shop, I take time to walk past the rows of puppy cages. My eldest daughter “rescued” a greyhound from a shelter and even in the heart of winter, when she was out of town, with snow piled high along the sidewalk, I still found time to take him for his constitutional walk. As the puppies stare at me through the glass of their cubicles, I find it difficult to just walk away. But these days, with the time I spend on the road, it wouldn’t be fair for any dog.

I had a dog when I was a child. It was a brindle-colored Boxer that we simply called “Loco.” He wasn’t completely normal – he would follow the bread delivery van and retrieve every loaf dropped off. My father quickly tired of compensating the neighbors after each visit from the baker. And when I went to Rugby practice after school, Loco would somehow manage to fix his teeth into the laces of the ball and run away with it. No matter how we all tried, we just couldn’t catch him and we would spend all of the practice session without a ball. I have had other dogs, after Loco, but he was always my favorite and one day, there may be another Boxer around the house!

There’s perhaps nothing more loyal in the natural world than a dog. The family dog has been the symbol of loyalty, and the number of times I have picked up a paper only to read of yet another heroic effort by a dog saving its master can’t be counted. Throughout life we too develop strong associations with people and places. We are often loyal to our home town, to our school, and to our friends. The picture at the top of this post is of me waving the flag for Australia! But these days loyalty is being institutionalized into nearly everything we do and there’s almost no mail delivery where there isn’t some form of enticement asking us to join some vendor’s loyalty program.

In the early days of my career, when I first started to travel on business, there was little attention given to the frequent flyer. There was a lot of attention paid to first class passengers, but for everyone else it was a pretty ordinary experience. And the cost of flying, back in the early ‘70s, meant that airlines didn’t see too many repeat flyers. So, no, frequent airline travel was rare. But today, we pretty much do everything we can to accumulate frequent flyer miles – and for many of us, our annual vacation is often greatly subsidized by the free air travel we earn over the course of a year. And it’s not just the airlines, as hotel chains quickly followed suite. Of late, I have even seen the cruise ships step up to support their most loyal passengers with upgraded cabins and deeply-discounted future sailings.

Across the computer industry, the story is quite different. For companies that really pride themselves on their marketing savvy, it’s been slim-pickings as far as receiving additional benefits for remaining loyal customers. Certainly, the sales teams are aware of lengthy business associations and work hard to retain a customer’s loyalty, but when it comes down to individual IT professionals, there is very little recognition. After all, it is often these individuals who determine future IT purchases and who stand the most to loose whenever a situation deteriorates and projects fail to launch.

For many years, the vendors have built a rudimentary program for their very best customers. Often participation in Customer Advisory Boards is solely the domain of customers with decades of association and where IT budgets often soar into the billions of dollars a year. Sitting around a conference table in a six-star hotel, along southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast, certainly is an occasion many customers would be reluctant to give up. No matter the state of the economy or the potential savings that could come from a switch in allegiance, or so these vendors hope.

Key Customer Symposiums and other targeted events come under the same heading – considerable marketing dollars expended on a handful of extremely loyal customers. It is true, I have to admit, that the vendors do learn a lot from these events and information obtained their always contributes significantly to prioritizing product roadmaps, but what about the remaining 99% of the customers? Those with relatively miniscule budgets yet they too exhibit loyalty and continue to purchase each new product as it becomes available!

For as long as I can remember, it has been the domain of the users groups to fill this gap – events and functions, even parties with celebrities, to help foster the sense of community at the grass roots level. It doesn’t matter to the users present whether you have a single server and a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, your presence is as welcome (and as enjoyed) as users with the most complex IT deployments. User group meetings, supported by the major vendors, have become extravagant and spectacular love-fests between users and vendors. While we see some recent downturn due to the current uncertain economic conditions – given all other options, vendors still enjoy the time in the spotlight these provide many of the executives.

I recently stopped by my Chevrolet dealer and saw a separate area set aside for Corvette owners, so I asked if the dealership had ever considered creating a loyalty program, along the lines of airline loyalty programs. I even took my question to a Corvette online forum for feedback. I went so far as to suggest to my dealer that I would think about proposing such a program. However, the responses posted to the online forum weren’t all that supportive.

And the general feeling was that, as much as they loved their Corvettes, unless a loyalty program offered deeply discounted (even free) services, no matter how many caps or custom shirts were provided, they would continue to shop around for their next Corvette – yes, the Internet has had a big impact on this community – and support the dealer who gave them the best price on the new car. (But return to their existing dealer for routine servicing, mind you, in nearly all cases!)

The airlines have been extremely successful with their loyalty programs as their recognition of high-value passengers have kept them captive for decades. Many are now too deeply entrenched in the program, with too many benefits, that switching airlines would only come with significant cost. Ongoing participation in the airlines program became a sure thing, and the ongoing participation by the member, unconditional!

But from all the discussions I have, and as illustrated by the Corvette owners, IT professionals just aren’t into protracted loyalty for the sake of a few “special occasions” and reward dinners. Even Apple users, for the most part, would change allegiances in a heartbeat if the new vendor came out with something measurably better and way, way “cooler” than what Apple was offering at the time.

Within the IT profession, loyalty has definitely become multi-dimensional. It’s not only customers remaining loyal to one particular vendor, and across the complex world of partnerships that underpin any successful vendor, partners expect their vendor’s team of professionals to be loyal to the platform as well. But again, in the harsh reality of today’s economic climate, I am seeing less and less loyalty on all sides. The new paradigm for IT vendors where teams, divisions, and whole business groups can be let go for just a short term quarterly bottom-line boost, no one can expect even the longest-serving professional to show much loyalty these days.

My dogs have been great pets. And to me, they showed a sense of loyalty that was unconditional. But was it? Of late I have begun to wonder how loyal they would have remained if I had stopped feeding them? What if a neighbor offered them food and spent more time with them – how loyal would they remain? Is there really any unconditional loyalty anywhere?

Is loyalty today just a one-deal term? And is this necessarily a bad thing for the IT community? Could misguided loyalty hold a company back if it’s IT staff just keeps hanging on to the same mix of products without looking further afield? What happened to all the loyal Burroughs, Honeywell, Nixdorf, Wang users? More confusing? What happens when IT decides to swap out IBM for HP, but stays with IBM Global Services, for instance? It would seem on further consideration that perhaps it is a very good thing that there are no loyalty programs for IT professionals.

After all, the IT industry’s strength draws from the speed with which new technologies and products can find a community and solve real business problems. I guess we just all have to come to terms with this fickleness and realize that benefits from retaining a degree of independence has outweighed anything loyalty programs could possibly have provided.

And perhaps, knowing that, our loyalties really are tied to the IT industry itself. After all, whether we work for Chase, Exxon, CNN – we are foremost IT professionals!

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