Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still clinging to the sides?

In my most recent post to the comForte Lounge blog, SOA – and a cloudy future! I talked of a series of “firsts” and how, when it comes to IT, we are on the threshold of some really big “firsts” as we head towards deploying hybrids, clouds, services, and other mostly “meshed” technologies that are required to break down application silos. I suspect, this transformation will not follow the evolutionary steps of the past but instead, in a break with tradition and practices finely tuned over many years, we will see some pretty dramatic changes, with some adventurous twists and turns along the way. The picture above is of me near the entrance to Portofino, Italy, a key waypoint for English Crusaders centuries ago and where, only two weeks ago, I spent an enjoyable lunchtime. There is a reason I am sharing with you this experience, and I will get to it in a moment.

As we approach the commencement of the NonStop Symposium, now only a few days away, I am mindful that we are on the threshold of perhaps another transition and potentially, breaking with tradition yet again. So many of us will bring fond memories of times past, when the ITUG Summit played such a big part for all that were part of the NonStop (formerly Tandem) community. It was the event that had everything – drama, surprises and even controversy, but it was always the place to go to hear all the news about what was coming next. With no disrespect to the energy of folks like Bob Sawyer who “fined” everyone, following the Compaq acquisition, a dollar whenever the Tandem word was used – behind closed doors, or in public – many of the attendees will find it hard to separate this event from Tandem events of the past and will continue to harbor warm feelings for Tandem.

We have moved on – and as attendees at HPTF may recall, it was  Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manager, NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), who reminded the audience of how today, “It's a Nonstop ... Not a Tandem,” before adding “the difference is real; the fundamentals remain.” In my blog entry following HPTF, Starting with a blank …  I described how the hardware that NonStop relies on today is almost identical to the hardware used by other packages, whether Linux, Uinx, or Windows, and a clear break proprietary packaging of the past. The differences, on the other hand, do not hide or in any way diminish that NonStop attributes as “the fundamentals remain!”

I returned to the U.S. from Italy to make sure I had time to prepare for the NonStop Symposium, but as the picture at the top clearly reveals, I could have so easily have stayed in Europe. On this last trip, I drove to Portofino, a first for me. In fact, simply driving in Europe was a first for me as well, and having the opportunity for a return visit to this seaside jewel proved irresistible. I’m only revisiting this topic as Portofino has quite a history and, should you have occasion to visit the nearby chapel, you will see reminders of England, and of the mark that visiting Crusaders made on this coastal village. It was as if, all those years ago, Portofino was its own, very special place, with few ties to the rest of Italy.

Today, Portofino is as Italian as any other popular seaside port, tightly integrated with all that represents the best of Italy and the impact it makes on the tourist industry is hard to ignore. There’s rarely a travel agent that doesn’t have a picture of the Portofino harbor hanging on the office wall. Portofino continues to be a shiny jewel alongside the Mediterranean but today, it’s just one of many attractions that make Italy a popular travel destination. As you sit at an outside table and eat lunch, as I did, and observe tenders ferrying guests from nearby cruise ships and busses unloading tourists anxious to sip a cappuccino, taking a photo or two, you may barely give the history of this place a second thought. But it’s presence as a “halo product” that takes pride of place on Italy’s tourist maps, continues unquestioned.

I follow the auto industry, and I have been drawn into more and more discussions about the future of GM, in particular the likely future of its popular brand, Chevrolet. This should not surprise any reader as I own Corvettes and friends and colleagues just naturally assume I am a big supporter of Chevrolet and GM. My first car, as a young lad in Australia, was a GM Holden Torana. However, these days, people rarely associate the Corvette with GM, let alone Chevrolet, and this is proving to be a troublesome circumstance for GM as it begins to pull itself out of its current financial mess.

Corvette is a halo product by anyone’s standards. Halo products in the car industry are those products representing the very pinnacle of engineering, design, and driving experience – as in tourist industry it is location and natural beauty, as is the case with Portofino. Typically, car manufacturers highlight their halo product to attract crowds onto showroom floors, but with Corvette, GM is experiencing an identity crises. Look at a Corvette and find how many Chevrolet badges, or the more traditional “bow tie” emblems, can be found! On every generation of Corvette, up till now, there are none.  For nearly sixty years, GM has kept this product apart from the rest of the Chevrolet brand as if there was always the thought the product could be a stand-alone marque.

Only on the most recent iteration of the Corvette, and as a break with tradition, is a very small, less than 1” by 1” GM badge (and not Chevrolet) affixed to the body work, very low down and just in front of the rear wheels, that now gives the product some tie-in to the parent company. Clearly, it represents a really big first for GM, in its battle to reposition Chevrolet with the general public. Whereas manufacturers, such as Porsche, would never leave their identity off a Cayman or Panamera, and try and find a Honda without the stylized H badge displayed prominently somewhere. It would seem that, halo product or otherwise, GM soldiers on maintaining a degree of product separation for the Corvette product that even now, when greater integration with GM could be viewed as being far more prudent, the sleek sports car embraces very little that can identify it as Chevrolet. 

The modern NonStop server, utilizing blades packaging, likewise retains it’s status as a halo product. When it comes to such important attributes as availability, massive scalability, and transaction performance, it stands out among its peers at HP. Just as GM is working to integrate Corvette into the Chevrolet line, I can see a future where NonStop becomes even more tightly integrated with HP server offerings. In fact, just as Portofino added to the attractiveness of Italy as a destination, I expect that even better integrated with HP, NonStop will further add to the overall attractiveness of HP’s product line as well.

The prospect of such a product integration returns me to thoughts I have had about the upcoming NonStop Symposium, that’s just about to get under way. So much has been written about the strength of the NonStop user community, its traditions and the value it brings to HP. Just as much has been argued in blogs, and online forums, about the mission of the NonStop user group, focusing on topics such as education, advocacy, and engaging with one another in open dialog. “To learn, to influence, and to network,” I read recently, “is why we attend user events!” But just as Winston said at HPTF about the server, “It's a Nonstop ... Not a Tandem,” so too, do we need to remember that as for the company, and to paraphrase Winston, “It’s a HP … Not a NonStop!”

As much as I enjoyed my time working for Tandem and spending time with the Tandem community, the industry has moved on. From my perspective, I fully expect that the future of NonStop will not be measured on how many stand-alone servers are sold but, more appropriately, how many NonStop servers have been sold within each HP server chassis! NonStop has so much to offer HP that NonStop may one day become an integral part of all HP servers - no different to industry-standard power supplies, controllers etc - with the responsibility of keeping everything else highly available. Just read the current set of papers from The Standish Group to get a better feel for what may be coming our way should the touted “Megaplex” take hold!

The community may be on the threshold of thinking, in a more concrete fashion, about adjusting to this eventuality. With so much focus on “modernization,” as we drive to greater innovation, I would like to be among the first to challenge the traditional view that the mission of our NonStop user community is “to learn, influence and network.” Yes, networking is always enjoyable – but the ways to learn and influence have changed. So let me pose the question, is the concept of a user group still relevant, as it exists today, or is it just another entity in the legacy bucket? Has the internet and social media relegated the need to “get together” a mute point? Is our attachment to the user group and to the NonStop label, and seeing only Tandem, working for us or are we clinging to the sides of a vessel that’s mortally floundering?

I really want HP to succeed in the server marketplace – the dominant vendor across the enterprise. I also want NonStop play a role in that success, bringing to all HP servers the much needed fundamentals that mission critical applications will always need. I want a NonStop server, certainly, but just as importantly, I would like to see a server-based “cloud” that’s NonStop, courtesy of embedded NonStop technology! The pieces are all there for this to happen and HP executives wouldn’t surprise anyone should they roll-out such a product.  

Yes, I am mindful that we are on the threshold of another transition and potentially, breaking with tradition yet again as this year’s NonStop Symposium comes to an end. I recall some great times with users at events run by Nixdorf, Perkin Elmer, Prime, Data General, Four Phase, and Wang to name a few… but they are no more. I am not suggesting for a moment NonStop relinquishing its halo product status with all the prestige this entails, but it should have the highly important HP badge attached and easily identifiable. As users, we are now of HP every bit as much as we are of Tandem in times past.  

It’s just that simple. HP will have its big-tent events, and HP marketing will put the best light possible on the entire HP server line, and our heritage and roots will evolve to be little more than curiosity items. And I have no issue with this development in the least. After all, I can see too many images of past technologies that failed to evolve, failing to understand the impact of the PC, the Internet and Smart Phones!

Let’s dream big, and let’s look forward to many more “firsts”!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coffee! How about a beer?

In the week before I left for Europe, I spent the first few days back in Cupertino. In between playing the role of chauffeur for my wife, Margo, and catching up with folks, I took time out to revisit some of the landmarks around Vallco Parkway, Tantau, and Pruneridge. There’s always a need for coffee and there’s no better place to catch up on all that’s happening in the surrounding area than to stop by The Roasted Coffee Bean on the corner of Stevens Creek and South Tantau.

Jared, the owner, has been a fixture at the store from the time they were located in the shopping center alongside Homestead, tucked away behind the Duke of Edinburgh pub, and I happened to catch up with him for a quick cup and a pastry. And talking of the Duke, the picture above is of me in Munich outside the famous HofbrÀuhaus and framed against the Starbucks that has opened just opposite the entrance.

The business environment has changed so dramatically around his coffee shop, and he sure misses the Tandem regulars who dropped in for a coffee. He misses the good old days when his tables formed a perfect venue for a quick offsite meeting. My very first meeting with Pauline Nist, formerly the head of the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) prior to Martin Fink’s arrival, took place at his coffee table. I have penned quite a number of blog posts from atop his high tables.

Lunch was a quick sandwich at the Grain d’Or in the new Cupertino Square. Formerly the Vallco Shopping Mall it had been a lively place where Tandem id badges could be seen hanging from the belts of nearly everyone walking the halls. The Cupertino Square continues to be anchored by the big three retailers – J.C. Penny, Macy’s, and Sears, but there’s little life left in the place and even less that reminds me of the times I spent shopping for Cupertino souvenirs.

Driving along Vallco Parkway on my way to my next meeting I passed the former Tandem buildings 1, 2 and 3, as well as my own former “home,” building 4, but everything looks different. Gone are the cream colored Tandem “tombstones” lining the streets as today, outside the freshly painted two-tone gray buildings are the Apple logos that have just sprung up all along Vallco and Tantau.

So much has changed and I have chronicled much of it in this blog. Yes, the Tandem swimming pool has been filled in and yes, Jimmy’s headquarters building is now flying the Apple flag, and yes, the TV studio’s in the building behind the Com building over on Ridgeview court, where First Friday clips originated, is long gone, and yet, NonStop continues. I suspect there will never be a plaque or a statue erected to commemorate all that transpired within the buildings still standing, or references to all those who made a contribution to Tandem Computers over the years (and where did the obelisk go containing the signatures of all employees the year Tandem pushed through the one billion revenue mark) but all the same, I wonder if something will be done one day.

All of this came to mind as I watch the preparations for the upcoming NonStop Symposium start to ratchet up in earnest. Registrations are really beginning to climb after a very shaky and worrisome opening period. There’s a good mix of users registered as the number of participants pushes through the 350 mark with just on a month left to register. Historically, most of the activity really occurs in the final three weeks. Apart from a sprinkling of European users participating there are those in HP Cupertno busy sorting through visa applications as there’s quite a number coming from India, Singapore, Japan, and Korea – a very healthy sign that the NonStop Symposium will be much more than just a local regional NonStop event.

However, in the background, I continue to hear the murmurings and whispers over the demise of so many old Tandemites – how can events continue with so many missing? “Talking ‘bout my generation,” comes to mind. In fact, how can NonStop keep going with so many hard-core Tandem developers no longer working for the company? So many of my friends have retired that, walking through the HP buildings housing the NonStop team, I don’t recognize the faces. I sometime wonder what Jimmy T would be thinking if he, too, were to walk once more among the NonStop team. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Is the message here any different from what it used to be simply because the participants have changed?

In the exchanges I have had of late in online forums and groups, it’s hard to tell what my good friends and former colleagues really want? Would it be impressive to re-hire the original development team and to ignore how old we all have become? Will we always associate success with the presence and active participation of the once great development teams that populated the offices along so many corridors within the Tandem campus? Do we want to see the hallways lined with walkers and motorized chairs? Should today’s cubicles be plumbed for oxygen distribution? Isn’t it time for us to look around and just recognize that yes, “the kids are alright!”

Few of us can ignore the never-ending saga of Brett Favre as he continues to play American Football into his early 40’s where, for the first time, I read commentary not about the possible contribution he will make but rather, about the fallout from his presence on the team and how it may hold back the younger players. How many of us have witnessed the struggle to perform at the highest level that has bedeviled perhaps the greatest F1 car driver of all time, Michael Schumacher. Even the mighty Indian cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, who is fast approaching 40, is rumored to be retiring next year, after the world cup, much to the relief of Australian an English cricket teams.

I am often caught wondering why we are enthusiastic about welcoming young players to our sporting teams and cheering from the sidelines whenever they do well and yet, when it comes to something even more important we barely acknowledge the presence of younger developers? I was talking to the CEO of an Australian based software company that for the past several years has been adding fresh recruits from the Universities to the ranks of their developers. At Integrated Research, Mark Brayan was telling me how well these young programmers adapt to working on the NonStop platform and how surprised they are at how comprehensive the combination of the operating system and infrastructure has become and how easy it is to develop new products for the platform.

The new development model for NonStop may not be perfect and the pursuit of off-shoring, or globalization, may have been happening too quickly, but it’s happened and I don’t see any immediate potential for its reversal. Whether development teams are in Ireland or Scotland, Romania or Bulgaria, India or China, or combinations of all of them, development in support of NonStop is now a global pursuit. When you combine what HP is financing with the investments being made by the business solutions as well as tools and utilities ISVs, the knowledge of NonStop that has spread into every corner of the globe represents enormous potential for the platform.

The NonStop Symposium is still weeks away. I will be giving a presentation on networking, and on cutting the ties to SNA, an architecture and technology rapidly entering retirement as well, and for many, well past its “use-by date!” I’m up against some very stiff competition, mind you, so much so that I have created quite a stir by offering a free bottle of good Aussie wine as a door prize. Something I wouldn’t have contemplated a few months back but yet further sign that the NonStop community continues to stay strong and to grow – why else would so many really good sessions compete for only a select number of timeslots?

As I walk the corridors of the San Jose Fairmont hotel, I will enjoy conversations with many friends I have known for decades. I will drop in on presentations of product roadmaps to hear the latest from product managers I used to work with, and look at the audience to see how well they are received. I am also going to start talking to those from overseas and those who definitely will be much younger than myself – what is it that attracts them to NonStop? Do they share the same passion I do? Can they envisage the same solutions to myriads of business problems that keep me so plugged into all that is happening with NonStop?

I’m now in Europe and far from Silicon Valley, but enjoying the company of vendors and users alike. The European roads are an unfamiliar place for me and the cars have engines I haven’t seen in years. Landmarks and signposts provide little encouragement as I head for the next city. But the restaurants and bars are just as popular as they are anywhere else and whether you follow football, cricket, or car racing, its always exciting to talk about the new talent bursting onto the scene.

“The kids are alright,” and isn’t it time we began to give them more of the limelight and shouldn’t we at least back away just a little from our reminiscing about the great deeds of the past? After all, the world has become so much better connected and ideas spread far more quickly – I have no worries that new solutions are only a few beer coasters away. Just as it’s always been! And if you pass me walking along the corridors at the Symposium, stop me! Let’s have a chat – I would love to listen to what you think will become the next chapter for NonStop. And I am sure Jimmy T wouldn’t have it any other way …

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