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

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