Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Migrating solutions; more good news!

It was late summer 1977 when I found myself in Boston working with a banking customer, installing the data base management system, Datacom/DB, and migrating their applications from IBM’s DL/1. I became involved with the installation as I was familiar with the programming language, PL/1. I cannot recall the specifics of what transpired, but I can recall that I made sure the work continued past the weekend and into the following week! For sailing “history” fans, they may recall that in the early weeks of September, 1977 the America’s Cup was under way and I spent the weekend at Newport, Rhode Island.

Australia was the challenger and its latest 12 meter yacht, Australia, faced a formable foe in Robert Edward Turner, better known as Ted Turner, as well as “The Mouth from the South” and even “Captain Outrageous,” aboard the heavily modified Courageous. The picture at the top of the page was taken in my Boulder office where behind me on the wall hung silk-screen prints promoting the America’s Cup of ’83 (the US defender lost) and of ’87 (the US challenger won it back). These prints were offered in support of the Dennis Conner, the skipper who indeed lost, and then won back, the Claret Jug or as it’s even more widely known as, the Auld Mug, to/from Australia, my home country by birth.

This past week, the America’s Cup race has been making the headlines as once again, it was surrounded in controversy. From 1956 till 1987 the rules called for yachts built to the “twelve meter rule” and from 1992 to 2007 a new yacht formula was introduced, the “international America’s Cup class” (ICAA). For the event just completed, a best of three series, instead of Ted Turner or Dennis Conner taking center stage, it was BMW Oracle Racing’s Larry Ellison aboard the technologically advanced, rigid-wing, trimaran USA-17. The team they beat, the Swiss defender Alinghi, showed up for the event off Spain in a much less technical catamaran that ultimately proved not up to the occasion.

Both teams, and on very short notice, had to develop yachts from scratch working with not much more that a blank sheet of paper. Gone was the ICAA formula, a legacy from the times when this was just a competition! But in the end, it proved difficult to match the superior speed that a triple-hulled vessel produces – with or without the rigid-wing aerofoil. Sitting on a jetty, watching the competing yachts head to sea, as I did in 1977, seems so long ago and a far cry from what is transpiring today.

The characters at this level of yachting still exist and Ellison appears to be a worthy successor to the likes of Captain Outrageous and Dennis the Menace! And migrating systems from one infrastructure platform to another, as I was so keenly driving in '77, continues to dominate much of the exchanges I have had with customers, vendors, and HP these days. There may be a more serious aspect to it than we associate with competitive sailing, but there’s still a strong cast of characters willing to try something new.

In an article I posted to the blog on February 1st, ’10 “From beneath the swirling mists …” I wrote of a new partner to the world of NonStop busily porting a .Net application to NonStop to address the needs of the retail industry. Encouraged, I have to admit, by the uncertainty that surrounded ACI Worldwide’s December ’07 announcements to switch platforms, preferring the IBM System z to the HP NonStop Server, the vendor saw plenty of opportunities ahead. It appears that now, however, they haven’t acted in isolation when it comes to jumping on the uncertainty over ACI Worldwide’s platform strategy, as in India, Opus Software has elected to pursue the porting of their Electra Switch software to the NonStop as well.

"We developed a lot of experience with existing product offerings but in time, we found that traditional payment systems have issues such as time and costs to modify, proprietary tools and difficulties in adding new functionality. We architected electra to eliminate these issues and provided customers with flexible and change management friendly solution with an extensive, intuitive and rules driven approach to processing and interface definition,"said Ramesh Mengawade CEO Opus Software and Electracard Services.

Opus Software has for many years been providing services in support of payment engines, including BASE24, but viewed the prospect for further business in Asia, the east coast of Africa and potentially even new business further afield in Europe and America, could be better addressed with a product of their own. Opus elected to create the subsidiary, Electra Card Services (ECS), to focus solely on providing product into this marketplace and has had early success in its home country of India.

In a recent email exchange with Sandeep Kapoor, Director , NonStop Business APJ, he informed me of how "we are very excited about the prospect of Opus providing additional solutions in the APJ marketplace and fully expect them to prove to be just as successful on the global stage. They are demonstrating the new price-performance (TCO) value that comes with the NonStop Blades offerings.”

Following early work with NCR, Diebold, and others, the Electra Switch product was first introduced for Unix users, but with the change in platform strategy by ACI Worldwide and the availability of much lower cost blade configurations, it became an easy decision for ECS to port to NonStop. The pursuit by HP of a "converged infrastructure" strategy that acknowledged partners needs for flexibility and that today, included the NonStop platform, they could see no barrier that prevented them from porting to NonStop. With Electra Switch on NonStop it allowed ECS to grow from simply pursuing “green-field” opportunities, in emerging markets, to more aggressively market to established tier 1 financial prospects.

"From our product perspective we started with a clean sheet, with respect to the framework underpinning the Electra solution suite, and entered the marketplace supporting Unix platforms. However, after HP offered support for NonStop on Blade Systems, at a time when the legacy vendor was refocusing its attention onto other platforms, the price point for supporting NonStop became attractive. Today, we have a single code base across Unix and NonStop with only small changes made to the framework," Ramesh Mengawade went on to explain in a recent call I had with him.

Porting Electra Switch to NonStop gave them a product family where they could start out small, where transaction volumes were light, and grow with the customer and provide them with a more comprehensive NonStop product offering as the circumstances dictated. “Being able to offer prospects the option of running next generation payments infrastructure on NonStop Blades with a new reduced TCO, delivers significant competitive advantage especially in emerging markets of South East Asia and India.," Kapoor later told me.

The objective for ECS was to develop a framework that supported a number of application solutions in a way where the code base for these applications would be the same no matter the platform. They started with a clean sheet of paper and were able to bypass many of the legacy components still carried by many of the competitors. They wanted to build a modern product in a mix of C and Java languages. What they saw coming to market for NonStop was just the kind of technology they thought may be able to help and, working with HP’s NonStop Advanced technology Center (ATC) in Cupertino, they first ported the product to Tuxedo, and then, a few months later, to Pathway. Their use of the Oracle data base was limited to just the ANSI interfaces so that they were able to transparently access NonStop SQL/ MX.

“We have been working with Opus for the past couple of years; we originally did a porting analysis in 2006, and followed this up with several detailed design reviews,” Chris Russell of the ATC, informed me. Russell then went on to add “following our recommendations, Opus converted their C/Tux/Oracle implementation first to NonStop SQL/MX while using NonStop Tuxedo and this was followed by a second stage of conversion from NS Tuxedo to Pathway (TS/MP) last year. Neither porting step was over-complex. Along the way, we have been reviewing their Measure data and providing tuning advice, which they followed; I think they have been very good to work with - they have a lot of NonStop skills."

From my perspective, this is clearly the way of the future. No solutions vendor can afford to bet on a single platform or mix of infrastructure anymore – as companies continue to acquire each other, there are no real clear winners any longer and all vendors must hedge their bets somewhat. While not every vendor can afford to start from a clean sheet of paper, however, the “rules” will continue to change as technologies continue to improve.

For me the big story here is that Opus has a product equally at home on Unix, NonStop, and from what I can tell, potentially Windows as well. With Electra, they have a very modern architecture built using open tools, such as SQL / C++ and, with XML and Webservices interfaces, it empowers their users in a highly visible and powerful manner. NonStop customers clamor for more solutions, more ways to exploit the NonStop investments they have made, and if their favorite Unix or Window application can be easily supported on NonStop, then the opportunities for NonStop become limitless.

There’s still some way to go, of course. I am fully anticipating further run-time environments to be supported on NonStop and will be sure to attend June’s HPTF event for more news on that front. But until then, I remain as optimistic as I have ever been that the future of NonStop looks bright as it continues to attract new partners like Opus who can realize their goals of a single code base running on the customer’s platform of choice. And don’t we all want to see that eventuality much better championed by everyone with an interest in NonStop!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taking the party to the village …

It’s been a month since I posted a story to this blog that opened with a car example, so perhaps it’s fitting to revisit this theme as I return to the subject of Tandem’s 35th anniversary, as all previous postings on this subject started with a car example. This weekend saw the just-created Pyalla Technologies’ car roll out onto the circuit at Willow Springs International Raceway (Big Willow) for the first track sessions of 2010, the start of the third year of our participation in the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) program, High Performance Driver Education (HPDE).

For those who may have missed the point of the graphics in the Pyalla Technologies, LLC company logo, there’s a distinct red square representing the red-center of Australia, together with a stylized set of black-and-white squares overlaying one corner – a combination of the love of Australia that I still harbor, together with the most recognized icon from car events worldwide, the checkered flag! As part of the marketing effort behind Pyalla Technologies, there will be several references to these regular outings in the collateral that I am now developing.

For this first outing however, it rained! The car is in good shape (our local dealership had run it up on a hoist and checked everything out) and there were no incidents. I survived the first weekend of the new year, an anniversary of sorts, and only after the weekend was over did I realize that it was my 13th appearance at a track but not being superstitious, I let that one pass right on by! And the picture at the top of the post is of the ‘Vette being washed after the weekend’s outing!

In a posting on October 16th, ’09 I asked “Is there gas in the tank?” and then commented on “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?” A little further on in the post I then noted that “around the globe, at different regional events, the local offices of HP have been cooperating with user groups to celebrate the anniversary.” I was pleased to receive an email this week from Europe telling me of how these meetings, reminiscent of the village-style gatherings we often held when I worked for Tandem Computers, had just started.

Neil Pringle, Director, HP NonStop Europe, Middle East and Africa, wrote of how he was “very excited to have had the first ‘NonStop 35th Anniversary’ events in EMEA; Sweden and Finland did a great job bringing together the customers last week with over 120 of them attending. I am very pleased by the user turn out and participation and anticipate these events to continue to be successful as they roll out in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the winter and spring. Our users appreciate the opportunity to hear the latest product and solution news from us and from our partners, and to network with HP management, and for us, this is a great opportunity to meet and have a dialogue with them.”

Celebrating the 35th Anniversary is a good opportunity for bringing together the community. Even for someone who has been a strong supporter of regional groups as I have, reading about “bringing together … over 120 of them” impressed me a lot. To read about that many customers, after 35 years, who were prepared to face the winter elements so typical of the Baltic region this time of year, just to hear more about NonStop sends a very strong message to the rest of the NonStop community!

It may have been pretty miserable for me last weekend to drive in the rain, but Diana Cortes, NonStop Marketing Program Manager, emailed me to tell me of how she was “in awe of our customers and partners coming out in –19C (-2F) weather – they clearly thought the event was worth it! I am personally very pleased that I had the opportunity to present in these first events, and to experience firsthand how receptive and engaged the audience was.” Diana then told of how they “developed this program to celebrate the 35 years milestone, and because we believe there’s a need across the NonStop community to receive face-to-face information about our latest product developments and solution news, and what to expect in the future; for us, it’s also an opportunity to reinforce our key values and benefits, and ensure they are well understood across the user base.” With temperatures at this end of the thermometer, it wasn’t just cool, it was unimaginably cold for those of us who enjoy life amid more temperate climates.

It wasn’t about the weather when I wrote the post of May 28th, ’09 “Happy 35th, Tandem!” and recalled how it wasn’t “cool to call it a Tandem, as today it’s the HP NonStop server. But even so, there’s a new cadre that knows of nothing other than NonStop but the spirit of Tandem lives on … and it’s clear to me that the ‘essence of Tandem’ continues to percolate within HP. Will there be another 35 years of history? Will some of us be around for the 50th anniversary?” However, of late, I have to admit, I was having some doubts!

There has been a steady stream of commentary among the groups on LinkedIn. Anyone who has visited groups such as Tandem User Group, Real Time View, and even Pyalla Technologies, will have come across discussions such as “New applications for the NonStop platform?” as well as “Cloud Computing” and “Has HP Marketing got more to do for NonStop?” There’s even a lively discussion kicked off by the observation “What do you make of the Microsoft / HP announcement …” One of these discussions has generated 98 comments – so yes, there’s a lot of passion across the community. The common thread going through all of these discussions has to do with wanting to see more attention being paid to NonStop by HP marketing, more clarity on the role of NonStop in HP’s future, and more public information about new applications being ported to NonStop!

In the blog entry I made on the upcoming 35th anniversary of Tandem, on January 3rd, ’09 I posted “Tandem – the next 35 years?” and expressed how “there has always been passion in the NonStop community. And the NonStop server has remained at the very pinnacle of fault tolerant computing. But what will the next 35 years promise for the NonStop faithful? Will support for NonStop continue to play a major role in HP’s server strategy?” While I have no visibility into the strategy of HP as it pertains to the NonStop platform, I remain well-connected with many who are actively engaged and I have to admit, I am a lot more encouraged about what I am seeing of late.

The discussions over the NonStop Value Proposition (essentially, a return to the topic of what are the NonStop fundamentals today), the merits of Java versus .Net development and runtime environments and the number of applications in the marketplace that each of them has, and the future of NonStop’s participation in such up-and-coming new technologies like cloud computing, is a very healthy outpouring from a community that really cares about the NonStop platform. That 120 customers from Sweden and Finland braved the elements to hear more of what HP NonStop will deliver over the next couple of quarters, is a testament to just how much interest there is in NonStop despite the relative low-key promotion afforded the platform. Perhaps my doubts were unwarranted.

Tandem for many decades was famous for throwing parties and big events. When Tandem celebrated its passing of the one billion dollar revenue milestone, the party went on for days with the local Cupertino constabulary turning a blind eye to the shenanigans that transpired. However, in the new reality we all face where travel budgets have disappeared and where the obstacles we face in travelling when money can be found, have made big events of the past nothing more than a memory for most of us. For NonStop to use the 35th anniversary as a vehicle for bringing customers together and to take the celebration on the road to make sure we all have an opportunity to participate, for me is a move in the right direction. And there are many more such events to come, in 2010!

The community remains as passionate as ever and the NonStop platform has transformed to such an extent that we can now argue about which open environment offers us the better returns! Yes, new applications are being ported (AJB Canada, Opus, Lusis, etc.) and yes, customers (VISA, Barclays, Chase Paymentech, etc.) are making the investments. What is wrong with any of this? Absolutely nothing! In fact, I have never been more assured about the future of NonStop and for that, we all need to take a deep breath. After all, 35 years later we are still here debating the merits of NonStop but where’s Pyramid? Where’s Prime? Where’s Data General? Where’s Amdahl? What became of Wang?

Where are they? Companies and technologies we once thought of so highly – no, they never made it to their 35th birthday and that about sums-up why I remain bullish about NonStop! As I wrote in October, ’09 “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.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

From beneath the swirling mists …

After a couple of days of snow the skies cleared over Boulder and I was anticipating clear views of the mountain peaks to the west. As I pulled out of the driveway and headed to The Eye Opener, my local coffee shop, a thick fog had arisen from the shallow valleys and I could barely make out the mountains at all. Only one or two peaks managed to rise above the thick fog cloud and driving through the fog, even though I knew the way, was an eerie experience nonetheless. The picture above shows clearly how some peaks could be seen but as for the rest, they were buried beneath the mists that covered everything.

I have been active in social networks of all types for many years now, ever since my first blog posting which I wrote in August 2007. I have written more than 150 posts to this blog as well as almost as many to online forums of the NonStop community, as well as to those maintained by third-party ISVs active in the NonStop marketplace. I have also developed an active presence on a number of LinkedIn groups that engage the wider HP community.

I have really enjoyed the comments posted to these sites. After a slow start, there are now many more members of the community prepared to share their opinions, and their penchant for all things NonStop is hard to ignore. As with most engagements in social networks that start out with a simple question or issue, the dialog often develops a life of its own and the original premise soon slips beneath the swirling mists.

In the commentary that followed the subject of Cloud Computing (check out the Real Time View group on LinkedIn, Cloud Computing, for the complete chain of posted comments) what has emerged as a reoccurring theme of the comments submitted has been the subject of HPs ongoing commitment to marketing NonStop, as well as about the dearth of solutions on the NonStop platform. The topic of cloud computing has been pushed into the background.

Sam Ayres, a former ITUG board member and a current Connect board member, suggested in a recent comment that “it is true that HP has all the raw capability to pull off this same kind of architecture (for cloud computing) - and with much, much higher quality hardware. And with NonStop at the core. Java, middleware, development tools, transaction processing monitor, databases, open source support, mission critical support center, etc. HP has all of those things!

Sam then changes-up a gear or two and concludes with “HP just needs to pull all of this together into an integrated, supported, documented and MARKETED framework. We need more applications, we need better software development tools, we need the inherent capabilities of NonStop (such as Transaction Processing Monitor) integrated across HP's entire server line. Lastly, we need a strong public statement.”

In my previous post on January 25th, ‘10, “Vendors are coming, cool!” I wrote of how “there seems to be a lot of sentiment in the NonStop community in support of the cup being half empty, while I remain more enthusiastic and view the cup as half full, and looking pretty darn good, from where I sit! When you check out the cause for the concerns, it comes back to an apparent loss of interest in NonStop among the application solutions providers.” Is this really what’s happening? Or is this simply a case of misreporting, where the full story isn’t making it into the community. Perhaps the news of solutions-providers, like ACI Worldwide, switching allegiances from HP to IBM has fuelled the misconception that the NonStop platform is not as well thought of as in previous years.

There’s a lot more activity, however, in the solutions-providers space than may have been previously reported. Tucked away in various HP roadmap presentations have been a number of casual references to new entrants bringing modern solutions to the NonStop marketplace. I started paying attention to these references at user events in Canada and Germany last year, and in raising the subject with HP BCS marketing, there appears to be more good news here than I had first thought. And perhaps the increase in ISV activity in the financial payments marketplace is coming as the biggest surprise of all – wasn’t the reason for ACI switching to IBM the lack of opportunity with NonStop?

I first heard about AJB Canada at CTUG, when Randy Meyer included a reference to them in a roadmap presentation. AJB’s flagship product is their Retail Transaction Switch (RTS) and it’s being ported to NonStop. The project is expected to be completed by Q3, 2010 – but early customers can be expected well before that date. Operating in the retail marketplace and supporting more than 85,000 locations, stretching well beyond North America, for 135+ customers, AJB has become a major global solutions provider. The industries they support include everything from apparel vendors to bookshops, to department stores and supermarkets. If a merchant has more than 50 locations then, with their products they provide AJB is proving to be a good fit.

What attracted AJB to the HP NonStop server? According to Aleem Ulla, Vice President of Business Development, “this came about as a result of AJB attempting to land the business at a very large US retailer. During the process it became obvious that they were fond of their NonStop system, and if AJB were to continue with this account we had to eventually support NonStop. We think highly of HP and the NonStop product, (and) the team at HP has been easy to work with and they have been extremely supportive from both a development and marketing standpoint.”

What is the view of AJB’s management now having worked with HP NonStop? What are their expectations as they wrap-up the port to NonStop? According to Aleem Ulla, “in a word, (we are) extremely excited! We think there is outstanding opportunity out there. We have already worked with HP on six large “Tier 1” retail accounts, and there is more to come. We expect to land three to five accounts per year with HP. Given the size of the NonStop user community this could be a conservative estimate. We expect sales of AJB's RTS on NonStop to be a significant contributor to our revenue growth.”

The port of RTS is not just another routine port – the history of AJB is strongly tied to Microsoft, and the RTS product has been developed using .Net tools and services. Migrating a product suite of this complexity, implemented in the C# Language supported by .Net, required a new run-time environment on NonStop. To provide this kind of support required considerable help from the HP NonStop engineering teams which, working with the field team supporting AJB, are now supporting the underpinnings of .Net required by AJB.

"Our investments to make NonStop a modern and standards-based platform,” Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manger of the NonStop Enterprise Division at HP told me, and it’s “coming to fruition with a wider partner network.” Winston then told me how “AJB software has used the new capabilities of the platform, and has easily ported a .Net financial application to NonStop. We will continue to work with AJB and other new partners to bring innovation and open applications onto NonStop, and continue to deliver the business value of NonStop on blades in a converged infrastructure of HP solutions."

AJB will be watching to see how well received their RTS product becomes, as there are plans to migrate additional product offerings - perhaps even their Retail Polling Module (RPM) “depending upon the settlement requirements,” as someone close to the project told me. “AJB is creating a best-of-breed infrastructure that greatly improves application development agility for these retail authorization system deployments. This will be a key differentiator for AJB as they deploy on NonStop,” they suggested.

The infrastructure that exists today in support of Java applications on NonStop is impressive and as we have frequently read of late, on NonStop “Java rocks!” Introducing capabilities that support the execution of .Net applications will only further enhance the reputation of NonStop as a modern and standards-based platform. Too often when we look at NonStop, we fail to see through the mist and it’s just the peaks of WinTel, OraSun, and IBM catch our attention. As prominent a position as HP occupies, its lengthy mountain range often lies buried within the fog.

And it can be to our detriment if we fail to recognize the value that continues to be unlocked from NonStop – HP’s commitment to marketing may be difficult to see, but that’s not saying that it’s lying dormant! Adding .Net support to Java has the potential of attracting new solutions to NonStop, given the right encouragement from the NonStop community – and isn’t this what we all would like to see developed?

There’s still much to be done at AJB, and I will be waiting to see what transpires by the time the annual HPTF event comes around. But at this stage, I have to say I share in Aleem Ulla’s excitement as this combination of infrastructure and solution could just be that extra “layer” that helps HP NonStop break through the fog and swirling mists!

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