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!

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