Thursday, April 30, 2009

Feeling Good? Or praying for a guardian!

For the better part of three months I have been converting to Mac. I have a new MacBook Air and, with the frequent travel that I do, I was drawn to its lightweight design. But I am not finished, and there are still a few small things I need to do before I can finally switch off my PC. I will persevere, mind you, as it was at Tandem in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s where I was first exposed to the world of Mac.

This weekend I am off to Prague to participate in the European BASE24 User Group (EBUG) conference, and I was hoping that I would be giving my presentation from the Mac. But it’s not to be. The picture I have included at the top of this post is of my Simi Valley office, littered with supporting peripherals and documents from both systems, and only after posting to the blog did I notice the jar of antacid tablets next to the PC!

My company emailed warnings to us all, a few weeks back, about the potential damage that could be unleashed come April 1st, as the much-publicized Conficker worm “activates.” As I read the email, I was anxious to comply so I began to follow the instructions for ensuring I had the latest anti-virus protection in place, but I soon became a little confused. When I went back to IT I was politely told that, as a Mac user, none of these warnings were for me. The infiltration of the worm was only affecting PC users –there are some benefits after all from working on a Mac.

Our eldest daughter is a school teacher and she works with the younger crowd. Each year, checking that the students have all been immunized, is an important undertaking. I can remember how, as a child and even though the vaccinations were available, very few of us had them. But today, it’s mandatory and the regulations now in place forces community wide conformance – or no education. And for that, I have to say I am pleased.

Is there too much intrusion by legislators and is it all really necessary? Is regulation a form of insurance? Is compliance just a “feel-good” experience? In other words, do we really go out of our way to see if the steps we take are effective, or are we simply feeling good in just going through the motions? Just as today, in most countries, you cannot drive your car without proof of insurance, does our compliance with the rules (immaterial of what’s a stake or even putting the “remedy” to the test) all that concerns us?

As a society, Australian’s like to have a drink. We go to the beach and we pack the “esky” full of beer. We go to the cricket, or the footie, and load up with as much of the “liquid amber” as we can carry. A few years back a commercial that aired on television depicted an old, dilapidated “ute” loaded down with cases of beer in preparation for the annual visit by the “shearers.” Before the ute heads out, the driver jumps back into the liquor store to get a bottle of sherry “for the misses” but when it’s tossed on top of the ute, the axles snap and the ute collapses on the ground. The only response coming from the driver, “I guess we overdid the sherry!”

But the culture had to change, as the death toll climbed each year (among the worst in the world), and legislation was the only option. The blood alcohol level was dropped to .10, then .08, and finally .05. “Peter Perfect,” Australia’s most famous racing car driver, even changed his racing number to “05!” The police, enforcing the law, equipped special transit busses as test facilities, and then would park them down a side street, pulling over everyone as part of a “random” breath testing program to ensure “compliance!” Within a few short years, what was socially acceptable changed radically. Designated drivers became routine and “protected” through the night – and stories about driving with a buzz were no longer tolerated or considered funny under any circumstance. Complying with the regulations quickly changed Australian society.

IT has changed, as our businesses have changed, and as they have pursued greater market share. Every company can maintain a global presence, and provide real time support, for their customers and business partners. The infrastructure in place that connects us all has ceased being just in support of entertainment and our hobbies, and crossed over into the mainstream of business. Everyone is networked to everyone else – and it’s still only early days as we climb the upward slope of the technology lifecycle, far from showing the maturity associated with other more familiar technologies such as newspapers and television. The internet has changed how mainstream business is done, and the NonStop platform is, once again, squarely in the middle of it all.

Not everyone, however, plays by the “rules” – with so much commerce being undertaken on the web, with so many financial transactions passing between anonymous parties, the temptations to cipher off “just a little” has become a major concern. The teenager who abuses the phone system to make free calls is slowly being overshadowed by the professionals, and each time I return to a former Eastern Bloc country I am reminded of how many smart people there are out there! The corner store is no longer the target, but retailers and banks. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one day I awoke to the news that a country’s central bank was hit by rogues with PhD’s who redirected wire transfers between countries and stole billions of dollars!

But again, as with child vaccinations, having our cars insured, not drinking and driving – governments are being forced to step in and legislate. Systems have to be secured, identities protected, money and goods shipped only to trusted parties. The scale is just so much greater these days and it’s no longer individuals cashing a couple of bad checks or a credit card holders failing to make payments – fraud is now big business. Economic times have forced highly educated individuals into well-run organizations intent on penetrating any business capable of providing them with something of value.

The NonStop computer, to the best of my knowledge, has never been broken into – but the open system message has the potential to change this – the more commodity applications find a home on NonStop, the more I anticipate something ugly coming along for the ride.

What never ceases to amaze me is that up until the legislature was introduced, and rules put in place, financial institutions were not prepared to take the precautions. Rather than implement sensible security measures, they were prepared to lose money from fraudulent transactions and to write it off as a cost of doing business. It took the Payment Card Industry (PCI) to create a security standard, with stiff penalties imposed for non-compliance, to get the leaders of these financial institutions to start implementing safety measures! And the NonStop user community sits squarely in the cross-hairs with PCI, given more than two thirds of credit card traffic continues to pass through NonStop and its role in support of mission critical applications.

The PCI regulations simply call for financial institutions to comply with a few items. Build and maintain a secure network. Protect cardholder data. Maintain a vulnerability management program. Implement strong access control measures. Regularly monitor and test networks. And maintain an information security policy. The more I look at what’s being called for the more I am perplexed that it even has to be spelt out like this. The NonStop folks I interface with have, for the most part, been aggressively pursing activities like this for years!

PCI is calling for compliance and reminding financial institutions of the penalties associated with non-compliance. Jay walking is illegal, and punishable with costly fines. It never ceases to shock me that we need to be told this, and to be reminded that stepping out into traffic doing 55+ mph can be pretty reckless. It wasn’t until I was stopped, and threatened with a ticket for crossing the road against the red light where I live in Simi Valley, that it became obvious I still needed a little gentle reminding after all. Non-compliance could have fatal consequences.

There is going to be an interesting round table at EBUG 2009, I’m told. The three otherwise competing security vendors will be hosting a round table to gather the requirements from the BASE24 users so that collectively they can work on addressing them before severe penalties for non-compliance will kick in for these companies. In a rare, harmonious show of unity, the security vendors will be attempting to shield BASE24 users from the unkind eyes of the regulator’s auditors.

It’s not so much the fear of being defrauded that prompts financial institutions to take security measures, but being found non-compliant within their community, and being locked-out of the network, that frightens them the more than anything else. NonStop applications may not have been penetrated yet, but it’s no excuse for failing to comply with the regulations.

As for the Mac – I should have it all sorted out soon. As for being secure, and feeling good – there’s something reassuring in knowing that the origins of the NonStop operating system are in a kernel called Guardian!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The horse isn't dead, and neither is the Viper…

It was quite a weekend. I headed back up to San Francisco on my way back to Boulder, Colorado, to meet with GoldenGate partners and being there I took some time out to travel Highway 35 “Skyline Boulevard”. This is a highlight for many motorcycle enthusiasts who take pleasure in diving deep into the corners before whipping their bike through impossible-looking turns. And the picture above is of a famous café midway along the boulevard where refreshments can be had at Alice’s Restaurant.

And the comparison didn’t escape me – last weekend in the Southern California canyons behind Malibu with a visit to the Rock Store and this weekend along the Northern California ridgeline behind Woodside with a visit to Alice’s Restaurant. And both provided amazing scenery and an opportunity to take advantage of the open road. Of course, while stopping by Alice’s I had to get another T-shirt, as it seemed the right thing to do.

In between the meeting with GoldenGate partners I had the opportunity to flip through newspapers business journals and the many car magazines which I always seem to have nearby. Among the collection was a May 2008 issue of Motor Trend and there was a column titled “The temple of doom.” Author Arthur St. Antoine opened with the observation “the world is running out of oil. Global warming threatens our very existence … in fact, cars as we know them are doomed … life is awful and getting worse.”

And the thoughts expressed by St. Antoine mirrored thoughts I had been having this week as I have followed the much publicized antics of Sun as first IBM, and then Oracle, made offers for the company. IBM initially appeared to have won the deal, but after a very short period of due-diligence, revised the offer price downwards and Sun walked away. Later, when Sun attempted to restart the discussions, IBM expressed little enthusiasm, bluntly telling Sun executives that the deal was now dead. No second thoughts on the part of IBM in this instance – for some reason, they wanted out, and fast!

Imagine the heated exchanges that must have followed between CEO Schwartz and Chairman McNealy. Shareholder lawsuits were being prepared. Key stakeholders were furious as an easy out was taken off the table. But then Scott turns to Larry and probably opens the exchange with something like “want to really get Gates upset – how about you owning Java? MySQL?, and a whole lot of smart people that we have done a poor job managing over the years?” What a deal, Larry!

“And Larry,” Scott probably added at some point. “Remember Grid Computing and how you liked it but how it’s now yesterday’s news? Well, I have some pretty exciting cloud solutions – that’s sure to really get up Bill’s nose and upset his plans for .NET global dominance!” Against this background it is no wonder Larry Ellison immediately called Java “the single most important software asset we have ever acquired.”

Now that Larry has his hands on Sun, he must be waking up each morning not believing his good fortune. But for the industry, will life become awful and get worse? Will, for instance, Larry simply “propriet-ize” java? Already owning BEA, with its wonderful collection of web and application server products, and Java development toolkits, will there be one development program for Oracle, and another for all the partners Sun has attracted over the years?

In a recent Motley Fool column, writer Anders Bylund reported on how he called Tibco’s CEO, Vivek Ranadive, “for a candid rundown of what this merger of not-quite-equals means for his business -- and for Silicon Valley at large.” When asked about the many Sun partners committed to Java. Ranadive was reported as having said "The Java community is going to be concerned.” Ranadive then noted how Ellison "likes to buy commodity has-been companies" and dismantle them by gutting R&D efforts on the newly acquired products. "I'm sure it'll be highly accretive at the start, but it's the end of innovation."

Later in the same article, Byland noted that with the acquisition, “Oracle is also buying into a slew of open-source projects under Sun's wing, including database platform MySQL, the OpenSolaris operating system, and MS Office competitor” This apparently drew a chuckled response from Ranadive "Oracle and open source? That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one!" Oracle certainly doesn’t have history on its side when it comes to supporting initiatives across the open source movement.

IBM may now be having second thoughts, but for many companies that have elected to keep the stack provider separate from the platform vendor, this is beginning to appear as though the infamous Borg of Star Trek were more firmly entrenched in the valley than up Seattle way. Returning to the Motor Trend column referenced earlier, the writer added “why do I bring all this up here? Because the same Armageddon mentality now runs rampant in the auto world. People talk about alternative fuels and smaller cars and the ‘end of the golden ages’ as if it’s all downhill from here.” Again, “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated” comes to mind.

Looking at the key verticals Sun competes in, the telco and financial services markets stand out and here they will come up against stiff competition from HP and IBM as they continue to eat into Sun’s market share. These markets are also important to NonStop’s future as well, as they are two extremely significant and profitable marketplaces. But can NonStop shore up its relationship with partners while attracting new entrants, something extremely critical for any future play in these markets?

It is against this background and with these concerns in mind that I have been impressed with a number of regional activities that are under way and that are aimed at finding new partners and at driving more solutions to NonStop. With solid backing from developers in Java, as well as C/C++, and a commitment to middleware offerings that mask the “NonStop within” from the average developer, there is some evidence of traction developing in the partner community.

In the blog posting of February 19, ’09, “Game changers!”, I wrote of the work being done by Californian company Modius and I reported on the port of “their application onto NonStop. Modius provides a Data Center Infrastructure Manager (DCiM) product that is a ‘complete measurement and monitoring solution for generating a single, real-time view of all business critical facilities across the enterprise, including all major data centers, server rooms, branch offices, wiring closets, etc.’ … NonStop in every data center, wow and we should be leaving the management of the data center to NonStop.

In the blog posting of March 19, ‘0, “The Great Divide!”, I took a look at a company in the UK, Erudine, that “have brought to market a ‘Behavior Engine’ with the ability to duplicate business logic – not by cloning code, but by cloning the logic and (optionally) modifying it’s behavior.” And the thought I had here was with this capability, there would be no limit to what application could be built on NonStop adding “after all, when it comes to us ‘learning new things on your HP NonStop’ perhaps we should be letting HP NonStop learn some new things as well!”

Finally, in Asia Pacific – Japan there’s been work to help Opus with the port of their Electra financial switch software. A relatively small company out of India they see the potential to exploit a measure of uncertainty surrounding the availability of future releases of BASE24 on NonStop and although it’s far too early to argue that ACI faces a competitor, I am encouraged to see solutions providers coming to NonStop no matter the circumstances. Opus, with the help of NonStop expertise in the region is doing a very deep port and have implemented a mix of C and C++ code on top of NonStop Tuxedo (as the TP Monitor) and NS SQL/MX (as the data base). The company has been particularly impressed with the scalability NonStop affords, and I will be watching the progress they make in the financial services marketplace as I will be watching Modius and Erudine.

Talking about new partners with new solutions and infrastructure has been something only lightly touched upon in previous blog postings, and when viewed alongside of what we see happening at Oracle, there may be a lot more solutions providers taking a renewed interest in the product offerings of HP. And NonStop should score points with many of them.

The Motor Trend column concluded with “most of us long ago traded horses for cars, but you can still ride a horse. I’d bet that in 2050 you’ll still be able to drive a vintage Viper – and your tire-smoking fuel-cell Vette. How can I be so optimistic about the future? Hey, I have history on my side.” And across the IT landscape we know all too well that change is constant, and watching Sun be swallowed up within the greater Oracle is only the latest example of change and there are no signs I have lost any of my optimism.

Partners are everything in today’s vendor ecosystems – and should you mess with them, they are hard to re-recruit. There will be many looking at their options following Sun’s assimilation into Oracle and I am very positive about the impact this could have on NonStop. After all, with NonStop there’s history, and over the years, it’s been pretty good! Like the horse, and the Viper, NonStop is here to stay!

Friday, April 17, 2009

And that is the point!

This weekend I took advantage of the weather that makes Spring time in Southern California famous worldwide, drawing so many of us to its shoreline. The picture above shows the Santa Monica pier where I had lunch on Saturday. On the right day, the mix of light and scenery can be extremely intoxicating, and finding a little local seafood, and a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, makes for a very mellow day.

After driving the coast road to Santa Monica, on Sunday I opted to take a parallel course, a few miles further inland. This time I drove down the Mulholland Highway, east of where it becomes Mulholland Drive and one of the favorite addresses for the rich and famous of Hollywood. However, for me the have-to-go-to place on Mulholland Highway is the Rock Store, where everyone with an interest in sports and custom motorcycles, and high-performance cars, just has to go.

This is a favorite hangout for California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rides to the Rock Store whenever he’s in town. And of course, he’s often accompanied by Jay Leno. On Sunday, even before we pulled to the side of the road, there was a swarm of people at one end of the unpaved turn-in, and sure enough, there was Jay.

Jay has to be the biggest fan of everything mechanized and there’s hardly a vehicle developed, anywhere in the world, where at least one example hasn’t found its way into Jay’s Garage. Some of the vehicles have never seen a production line, hand built by Jay and bordering on the bizarre, and we ran across Jay driving his most adventurous foray into car building to date. Not his Jet Bike that’s powered by an Allison 250-C18 Engine that’s usually found inside the smallish Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, but his brand new EcoJet car!

Riding with Jay was Jim Hall, his chief engineer who oversaw the development of the EcoJet with the goal, according to Jay, “to design and build a car that ran on environmentally friendly, renewable bio-diesel fuel and that didn't drive like a Prius.” Jay also said, according to his web site, that it “makes harvest time the only time of year when there'll be plenty of fuel available, but that's beside the point.”

Jay was only too happy to talk about his inroads into more eco-friendly transportation as he showed off his bio-diesel fueled jet car. Should readers like to now more of the EcoJet pictured below, check out Jay’s Garage at:

“The heart of the EcoJet is a 650+ horsepower Honeywell LT-101 turbine engine, which sits inside a modified Corvette Z06,” Jay explains on the web site, and clearly visible behind the rear glass window in the photo above. Essentially, this is the same engine that is found in the Coast Guard’s rescue helicopters, and certainly ensures the EcoJst exceeds the goal of not driving like a Prius!

With an exhaust temperature at idle of 850+ Fahrenheit and standing, as I was on Sunday, only a few feet away from the horizontal outlets, it’s hard to imagine this vehicle as your daily drive. And the picture here is of me, somewhat overwhelmed by it all, and contemplating whether to bring out the marshmallows!

Jay certainly knows how to pull a crowd, and his behavior and antics ensured a large crowd quickly gathered around him. The on-duty police that were present (two patrol cars had pulled off the road) were just as curious about the car as everyone else.

And it reminded me of how our behavior does group us into tribes, as I recalled in my last post When two tribes go to war ..., and to modern-day equivalents – the groups, clubs, associations, and societies we are so often drawn to. When I served on the ITUG Board (2000 – 2006), I saw first-hand the value that came from participating in NonStop user groups. For me, being part of this group and having access to unfiltered information from other vendors, users, and HP was reward enough for the time I spent in empty hotel rooms and stranded in airport lounges.

This past week had me engaged in a lively email exchange with a couple of past Chairs of ITUG and we reminisced on what we liked most about the NonStop community. Each of us felt our time had been too short, and the transitions following our departures weren’t always as smooth as they could have been. I am sure incoming Chairmen couldn’t wait to see the last of their predecessors but too often the experiences and history that is part of the richness of the user community went with the departure of past Chairs.

However, there is a part of the community that does enjoy continuity of leadership well beyond anything I experienced on the board of ITUG – and that is the Regional User Groups (RUGs). Part of me remains envious of the bond that they enjoy with their community – there’s never any confusion when I ask participants who their RUG leader is. It’s always an immediate response that it’s Fred, or Bill, or Kathy - followed by a raised hand pointing me towards the individual.

As the seasons change, and the greens of Spring become the golds of Harvest, so too we see the times changing for user communities. At one time there were 30+ active RUGs worldwide, with a few more just waiting to be recognized. When RUG leader receptions were held at the start of each ITUG Summit, the room was always full to overflowing. There are far fewer active RUGs today, and the list on the Connect web site is a dramatic reminder of how times have changed.

But the community is evolving – the days of the all-NonStop shop are long gone. Back when NonStop provided an intelligent, fault-tolerant, front-end to much larger mainframe environments, the NonStop staff were as loyal to the product and to their colleagues within the NonStop community as they ever were to their peers within the data center. But as specialists were swapped for generalists, as the data centers were outsourced, and as management began to trade numbers of nines for more homogeneous solutions, the “community” that was NonStop began to quickly erode.

There is still a NonStop community but today, to paraphrase the physicists with their laws on energy conservation, it’s just different. As with energy that cannot be created or destroyed (in an isolated system), it only changes its form, so too has the community changed its form. It’s now online, in chat rooms and participating in forums – a virtual community spanning the globe.

I am often reminded of how sites running NonStop are alarmed by the shortage of skilled staff, but perhaps they shouldn’t be. A knowledgeable and highly skilled talent pool remains and it’s a community whose “form” has simply changed. Today, whether it’s iPhones, Blackberries, Laptops and Netbooks, it continues to be well-informed about NonStop, and I have to wonder if this “virtual” resource could be better utilized. I am not trivializing or downplaying the shortage of experienced NonStop technical skills (that’s real enough for many of us), but rather, focusing attention on the manner in which we elect to tap into the resources that still exists.

In a separate exchange with one RUG leader I remarked on how one result of social networking is that the skilled resources we need are out there, connected to one social network or another, and I asked if RUGs could view themselves as being well-positioned to connect skills with needs, virtually? Not supporting a jobs-board as of old, but with RUGs supporting and promoting entrance paths into the wealth of knowledge they know is present across their region!

Jay Leno did return to the Rock Store, and the picture here is of him and the EcoJet approaching me as I crossed the road. What really caught my attention, this time around, was the instantaneous appearance of mobile phones with cameras, as everyone began to snap photos and immediately email them to all their friends. Those few who were present to see Jay were only the tip-of-the-iceberg and the virtual community was many times bigger, scattered around the globe. But within seconds, they were all as well-informed as those who were present.

As the community increasingly becomes virtual, will the role of RUGs be as a clearing house for ideas, and the go-to place for access to NonStop expertise? Given access to a VPN these highly skilled resources can equally be at home migrating to a new NonStop, running QA tests, and even diagnosing complex integration problems.

Do we really need to see them on-site, populating cavernous expanses of cubicles, before we value their contributions and come to appreciate the knowledge and expertise they have? After all, unlike the time of change that comes with each season, the skilled resources we need remain active within social networks, and the knowledge they retain cannot be as easily dismissed, as Jay had so easily done with his EcoJet car, with a “but that's beside the point!”

As well-networked as we are today, I have to believe such a shift will be practically impossible to derail and the importance and influence of the RUGs will only get stronger. I have to believe that this is already becoming widely understood and I will be anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When two tribes go to war ...

Last weekend I was in the Bay area again, where I found time to return to Los Gatos. For me the area between Cupertino, Saratoga, and Los Gatos holds so many memories and I seem to gravitate back to familiar haunts each time I’m there. It was early in 1988 when I began to commute between Cupertino and Sydney, Australia, and I would catch a return flight to the Bay on a Saturday, and head to Los Gatos first thing Sunday morning – for coffee at a small café on Santa Cruz Avenue. It’s still there, and this Saturday afternoon found me sitting by the front window.

Located not too far from the café is one of my favorite car dealerships in all of California – Ferraris of Los Gatos, now called Silicon Valley Auto Group - and with each visit to Los Gatos I somehow manage to find the time to stop by, and to check out the showroom. On Saturday, there were two Bugati Veyrons on display – not too shabby at all! And the picture at the top of the page is of the view across the lot from the rear showroom.

Get to know Jack (who has been there for as many years as I can remember), and there’s not a car he will not let you sit in, or pour over from every angle, for as long as you want. Business doesn’t look good, unfortunately, in this down economy and the foot-traffic was as light as I have ever seen it – with the market for exotics way off the highs of only a year ago. Where have the enthusiasts gone?

In the café, I had picked up the Wall Street Journal and read an article, “The End of the Affair,” that laments the end of our love affair with cars. “A key to any comeback by Detroit,” the subheading read “is connecting with car fanatics.” The story goes on to add “perhaps most worrisome for the industry is the recent disappearance of that iconic American character: the new car enthusiast, otherwise known as the tuner, motor head, speed freak, buff, nut, and zealot.”

All is not completely lost – they are still out there, watching as inventories rise and prices tumble. But today there is a new breed of car buyer who focuses on “practical matters such as price, fuel efficiency, and reliability,” a far cry from the past when sales made to the fanatic were solely driven by the “romantic allure of a new vehicle.” Two groups of car buyers, each responding to “internal wiring” the other group couldn’t possibly comprehend!

In the March 9, ’09 issue of BusinessWeek, was an article “The Next Net,” and the author observed that “the mobile Internet is generating oceans of data about people’s movements and predilections … companies … are sifting these data to place people in behavioral tribes.” The author then explained how one company’s computer, analyzing the data from mobile phones, after a few weeks, “usually has enough data to place (an individual subscriber) into a tribe – a group of people with common behaviors.”

Tribes? The thought that we could be grouped into tribes made me a little uncomfortable, but then again, thinking back to the way we buy cars perhaps we’ve always retained some genetic link with our past.

For as long as I can recall, the computer industry has fostered tribes – whether you believed in mainframes or minicomputers, or centralized versus distributed computing, or even networks with SNA versus TCP/IP. Preferences for any of these solutions influenced our behavior and we just naturally gravitated to other, like-minded users.

Tribes evolved from the communities unified by the deployment of the same solution. They tenaciously defended their position and aggressively fought to neutralize competing viewpoints, as if they were a threat to the tribe. Verbal sparing was often intense with emotions running high – participants who changed their positions were betraying the core values of the tribe and were subjected to public condemnation.

On April 7th, 1964, forty-five years ago this week, computing history was made with the announcement of the System/360 mainframe by Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Perhaps there’s no deeper division than exists between the mainframe tribe, and everyone else. As vendors have fallen by the wayside, there remains just IBM and HP as the lone dominant forces within the data center. I can recall Jimmy Treybig unveiling the latest Tandem product Cyclone, in October 1989, and proclaiming that Tandem would be “one of three” – alongside of IBM and Digital – as the only viable options for enterprise class computing.

With Jimmy as chief evangelist, innovative fault tolerant transaction processors captured the imagination of those of us working for Tandem Computers, and we enthusiastically championed the fundamentals of fault tolerance, scalability and data integrity. And today, our passion for continuous availability within the enterprise can be traced back to those times. With our behavior shaped this way, is it any wonder we became a tribe?

I was reminded of this as I sat through an early presentation on the z10 mainframe last year. The IBM speaker was talking about the reliability of the mainframe – and about the considerable improvements they had seen in the manufacturing process for the new multi-core Power chips. When asked about how many “nine’s of availability” the z10 provided, the presenter pushed back with “Nines! What is this obsession with nines! Leave the number 9 to the Beatles!” There was a little light laughter from the audience but to this day, IBM doesn’t talk as fervently about availability as does HP with NonStop.

Bill Highleyman, the author of many papers on the subject of availability emailed me recently to say “I don’t see much coming out of (IBM) on continuous availability. Sysplex is about it, and it is not used very much I believe.” And when I approached a major solutions provider familiar with IBM's approach when facing an existing HP NonStop user, and asked how IBM positions their mainframe against NonStop, the response was similar to Highleyman's. "Continuous availability isn’t part of IBM’s pitch when comparing the mainframe to NonStop," was the response. Instead, “IBM has the mindset of productivity through highly configurable tools, without regard to performance (or availability)!” It is this kind of rhetoric between the two companies that drives their adherents together as tribes.

In the posting of March 5, ’09 “Tough Neighborhood” I wrote how “the standards set by early Tandem products were uncompromising when it came to availability … everyone who worked on Tandem was part of a community focused on continuous availability.” I then added how “NonStop hides so much magic inside the box that today, many CIO’s have become reluctant to move off of NonStop.” This is a far cry from the messages coming from IBM where it’s productivity and performance that are given more prominence.

And over less issues have “two tribes gone to war!” to paraphrase the song by “Frankie goes to Hollywood.” Perhaps not in the conventional sense, but IBM wants to retain supremacy inside the data center and with NonStop, HP has a legitimate challenger with greater availability straight out of the box. IBM wants to do everything in its power to marginalize the product, labeling it legacy and proprietary!

Yet it is IBM that continues to manufacture the mainframe from proprietary components. In the posting of March 26, ’09 “Knives in the Library” I wrote of how IBM has no plans to adopt industry-standard blade packaging continuing to rely on outdated, proprietary “Book” packages. While HP can deploy Blades in support of all of its operating systems, only the mainframe can use IBM’s Books and this will severely limit future mainframe’s open story. Perhaps the IBM tribe prefers to ignore open systems after all!

The war between the tribes is sure to heat up further in a deteriorating economic climate. And I am reminded again of one of my favorite quotes from Road and Track writer, Dennis Simanaitis. who wrote in September, ’08 of how “there are plenty of maybes, a fair amount of hard news … and even more hype!” I am a new car enthusiast, and from my behavior, easily recognizable as a member of the car fanatics tribe.

IBM may want us to leave the number 9 to the Beatles, but for the NonStop tribe, availability will always remain a “call to arms” and, should IBM elect to ignore it, restraining the combatants may be difficult. And should we be surprised? They have filled in the swimming pool but the skills we developed growing up in the tough neighborhood that was Tandem remain, and we stay as focused on availability as ever. There is probably no greater “worse case scenario” today than a “down system” – surely, we should be doing everything in our power to eliminate the system itself as a likely source of an outage.

Building reliable systems is all well and good, but if the package cannot deliver continuous availability, then it is under-serving its core constituency and for the tribe that is mainframe, this could be a vulnerability that generates the hard news nobody at IBM cares to read about.

And from this member of the NonStop tribe, this isn’t more hype!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prepared, body and soul!

I spent a “long weekend” with the car at a racetrack – the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. This was the site of the NASCAR Auto Club 500 event held in late February and the plan was to spend three full days learning the course, as I hadn’t previously driven it. The picture on the left is of my car on a hoist, as mechanics give it a thorough track-worthiness inspection.

But this weekend didn’t go to plan. While nothing on the car failed, and there were no incidents, I never made it out onto the circuit itself. Even though the car was prepared mechanically, it turned out that I wasn’t prepared emotionally. On arrival Friday morning, instructors approached me and proposed I pursue a different schedule; to better prepare me for future participation with more advanced drivers.

This was a real surprise and a little intimidating, catching me completely off guard. Especially as only a few weeks earlier I had been informed that continuing in the program, driving the car I had, was only going to make further progress questionable.

Having never driven on this circuit, and only six weekends into the High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) program, I was overwhelmed and mentally unprepared for these changes to my program. So I balked, not at all confident with the information provided and made the decision not to participate. Driving onto a racetrack when not in synch with everyone is never a good idea.

For nearly two years, I have been blogging on this site. I have also been active on other NonStop-related community sites – Connect, the ACI Forum, as well as in discussion groups that are supported by these sites. I have also been active in a number of user groups associated with online communities such as LinkedIn. And I have been a regular contributor to electronic newsletters like TandemWorld. For more information about these sites, to the right of this posting you will find a selection of links under the heading of “Links to related sites.”

And just as with taking a car onto a racetrack, I thought about how much preparation any of us makes before engaging in social networking. What preparation do we need before we put our thoughts and ideas into the public domain – essentially for all time?

I had an email exchange recently with Randall Becker, well known for his contribution to the Canadian Tandem User Group (CTUG). Randall just launched his own blog site Indestructible computing and we talked about adding links to each other’s sites. But when it came time to talk about content and what Randall was considering covering, he remarked to me “right now, I’m having a crises of … well … shyness! Posting to blogs is rather permanent and we are what we post.”

Within my own company, GoldenGate, there’s been a substantial investment made in wikis, and everything I ever wanted to know about the company, its products, and its customers can be found there. But adding a blog to the web site is an entirely different matter as it does open up issues – and not just the shyness of the company’s executives.

As anyone that regularly blogs can attest to, the commitment in time is significant and developing stories that hold the readers attention doesn’t come easily for most executives. And then there is the need to provide something of quality that marketing can expend energy on promoting that doesn’t end up embarrassing the author for the same reason Randall noted – it’s all rather permanent!

HP too continues to assess, and test, the use of social media. As one manager I know suggested “it has an important place as one method for communicating with each other and with customers.” While it would be difficult to associate shyness with any of HP’s product managers there’s some of the same concerns as has been raised within GoldenGate – commitment, good story telling, and marketing resources.

Probably the most vocal advocate of social networking that I know is Mark Whitfield of Insider Technology – there’s barely a week that passes without an email about a posting Mark has just published. “I read an article that businesses were not taking enough advantage of social and business networking sites,” Mark emailed me before adding “there is no doubt in my mind (and) based on my own experience, that LinkedIn has the lead here for professional-fronted networking … it seems a professional necessity to collect a higher number of connections and recommendations than the next IT Guru!”

Business may not be taking full advantage of social networking, and often for good reasons. In a recent article in InformationWeek (March 23, 2009) “Can Enterprise Social Networking Pay Off?” the writer points out that “suggest bringing in social networking tools into your company and wary corporate managers are likely to raise a host of issues …. (and it) also raises policy questions around content control, compliance, and moderating employee behavior. These are important concerns.”

In a posting I made on March 30, 2009 (and re-posted April 1, 2009), Social NetWorking "NotWorking"? I referred to the same article and suggested “for executives of any company, there's always the concern that they may look foolish or poorly describe something about their company or products that is already widely known across their community.”

This was born out when one blogger told me of a CIO who was let go after commentary he had provided in a blog – nothing to do with shyness apparently but simply a case of being poorly informed. Along similar lines, and being cautious, Lisa Partridge of XYPRO Technology added “my concern with Facebook – I don’t use twitter – is that a person only has a single profile; it’s very personal … maybe (it’s better) to join a ‘HP NonStop’ fan page!”

Maria Olivero, a former colleague of mine at Tandem Computers, pointed out that it wasn’t just CIO’s who had to be careful. Given the permanent nature of anything written to social networks – particularly the more popular ones like Facebook and MySpace “you don’t want a potential boss refusing to even meet with you because of something published on Facebook!”

In talking with Randall, he made it very clear to me that for consultants like him, differentiation becomes a major consideration. “While it is easy to disappear within the fog that develops quickly at sites like Twitter and Facebook, other sites like LinkedIn are gaining traction across the industry and are becoming important for consultants,” adds Randall before adding “it’s one way to build credibility for those consultants looking to become industry leaders, and much sought-after for speaking engagements.”

But the stakes are becoming a lot higher. Fortune magazine (March 30, 2009) published an op-ed piece by Glenn Hutchins, co-chief executive of technology investment firm Silver Lake, titled “After the Panic, Innovation” where he suggested that innovative technologies on the immediate horizon include social networking along with cloud computing, software as a service, virtualization, etc. and how the “economic and social benefits that will flow from this tsunami of innovation stand to propel another quarter century of prosperity."

There are still limitations to social networks, however – not every user can gain access to the information being provided. Sam Ayers, a former ITUG Board Member, explained how “companies, such as banks, telcos, etc. actively work from both, a technical and policy perspective, to prevent their general employees from participating in external social networks and forums during normal business hours.” For Sam, there still needs to be support for traditional means of sharing information adding “really good email lists and web sites are more important at this point (to these users) than social networking.”

As I think back on the weekend and how I had prepared everything but myself, I can’t help wondering about the misgivings that I had and what steps I could have taken to mitigate the impression I had of impending doom! The actions of my instructors were probably well intended, but all the same, I needed to walk away and regroup. But just as taking a car for a high-speed lap of a racing circuit generates a lot of satisfaction, those who manage their shyness and actively engage in open dialogues with the community, experience emotions that are very similar.

Social networking is not going away as it heads towards even tighter integration with traditional applications, and the more at ease we all become with using the tools, the better off our community will be. After all, there really isn’t a monopoly on good content or on profound perspectives, only the potential for a vast sea of varied opinions and shared experiences that can go a long way in helping us develop more confidence with the decisions we make.

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