Sunday, December 25, 2011

Falling down? Ouch!

For the past five years I have ended posts to this blog with observations about topics of interest to us all and each year, those observations have covered a lot of territory. And through it all, NonStop continues to remain relevant and there’s little to suggest any lessening in its importance for IT. Especially in 2011!  

The year is winding down and already here in Boulder we are into our third or fourth snow fall of the season. Yes, there will definitely be a white Christmas this year, although I suspect we will not see snow falling on the day, but with more than ten inches having already fallen overnight it will be a while before it clears away. The picture above was taken looking out from the kitchen and across to the BBQ. A rather forlorn-looking place under this much snow, and a distant reminder of the good times of summer!

In a few days I will be in the Florida Keys, escaping the cold of the Rockies and catching a few rays! I have only been back there once since I took advantage of its proximity following the 1993 ITUG event in Orlando. With a weekend to spare in between ITUG and the Tandem sales kick-off in Palm Desert, California, it seemed to be the logical place to go and yes, I managed to sit close by to Jimmy Buffett as he enjoyed lunch in his own restaurant, Margaritaville! Yes, it will be an escape but it will also bring back memories of warm summer days.

I am often reminded of the cycles we witness in business – companies follow a lifecycle curve as does technology and products. The simple bell-curve most of us a familiar with reminds us that there are downward trends just as there are upward trends, and the trick for any in business is to step out of a perceived downward trend, reinvent themselves and ride a new trend upwards. Sounds rather simple, but many companies have been adroit at doing this for decades.

And the same is true of technologies as well – hanging on to a technology too long and the ride down may prove disastrous. From the famous buggy-whip company that failed to realize it was in the transportation business to the once all-conquering Polaroid (not to mention my own favorite, the Rambler or Nash Rambler that continued to be assembled in Australia up until the mid-1970s) there are just too many to name when it comes to adapting to changing markets.

As each year has ended I have selected a different theme each time. A quick look at the final post of 2010 featured my observations of the potential impact tablet PCs would have in the coming year – specifically, the Apple iPad. As 2009 wrapped up I wrote about the greening of the data center and how there was much to be done to trim energy costs from our data centers. Looking further back to the last post of 2008 I packaged my message of innovation inside a story of traditions and yes, wrote of how NonStop did have a tradition of innovation. Finally, revisiting the final post for 2007 I provided commentary on ACI’s changing tastes in primary vendors, and of how there were some signs that all was not lost for NonStop and for HP, even with the switch to IBM, a story that has certainly seen many strategy twists and turns ever since.

Running through these posts and then looking at what has proved popular to readers, the posts featuring Clouds, Innovation, Security and the Environment, as well as anything to do with ACI continue to top the list, and so finishing each year as I have done with commentary on these subjects has gone a long way, I am sure, to help bolster the interest in these topics. And yet, it is the changing shape of the data center that continues to intrigue me the most.

Simply put, it is the data center where issues of changing networks and the support of client devices, the concerns over the environment, security, and the innovation, all of this drives become more evident. After all, for the enterprise these represent a sizable investment in technology and people and continue to be at the very heart of initiatives aimed at reducing the enterprises costs and where innovative solutions often appear first. And yet, not all pursuits produce the results anticipated, and increasingly the role of CIOs, as I heard recently, is becoming less involved in technology and products and more involved with people, physical structures and security and with helping keep the business whole during increasingly uncertain times.

In other words, what may have once been popular may become less influential just as what is currently a trend may falter with wiser heads leaning more favorably towards standard-setters of only a short time ago. No, this is not an observation that there are CIOs electing to take backward steps, but rather in continuing to move forward are more receptive to what is tried-and-proven! Punch-cards, paper-tape and acoustic couplers are still items only to be found in museums, and of that I am sure I am on safe ground.

But today, for many with close ties to the data center, our discussions on Clouds, and on Cloud Computing models, is frequently seen in the context of this all being part of next stage in data center evolution. Software as a Service (SaaS) provides a number of strong arguments in favor of adopting this model and the success of companies such as and even and Google are hard to ignore. Racks of commodity processors certainly bring with the power at unprecedented price points, so much so that we no longer even blink when we here an enterprise now has a thousand, even ten thousand “servers” in a bunker somewhere that powers the enterprise.

It is unfortunate then to read of how problems of the past continue to raise their heads – outages, applications no longer accessible, even machine-to-machine communications, such as those found in cars, airplanes and basic control systems faltering at critical times. Scenarios, missed during testing and QA, when they do present themselves overloading and shutting down otherwise robust systems. Perhaps worst of all, the prevailing economic thinking that suggests that critical business logic doesn’t need to be maintained at all – simply replace the application as and when it eventually fails!

As the snows began falling early this week, I took a bad fall as I stepped out of my SUV. I should have known better, after all I have lived in Boulder for fifteen years and ice and snow shouldn’t be a surprise. And yet, fall I did with my feet sliding out from underneath me and my back taking the full impact from the fall. Yes, it knocked the wind out of me and I needed a while to recover. Ice, slippery? Of course it is!

Systems fail? Of course they do, and part of the need for every CIO is to revisit is just how hard a fall do they want to take! Wiser heads are indeed beginning to reconsider the true value that comes from systems where the combination of the hardware, operating system, middleware and data base really is working, and all of these components work together to ensure an enterprise users’ experience is consistent. Larry Ellison and his team at Oracle may just be waking up to this reality, but for the NonStop community this is mostly old news.

There is a place for the NonStop System in data centers of the future simply as with the acceptance of commodity hardware and the embracement of open source and industry standards, the modern NonStop System no longer is residing on a technology curve of the 1980s but rather has successfully transitioned to the newest 21st century technology curve, and where it is situated the trend is definitely on the upswing. Innovation? Clouds? Security and the Environment? NonStop Systems? Yes, they all belong in the same sentence and the attributes of NonStop Systems will see it continuing to contribute to the evolving data center for years, perhaps even decades to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A fabric of ink!

While business has taken me far afield for the past two months, I still found time to write and post to this and other blogs. For the NonStop community there’s now a body of work, frequently cross-referenced by other writers, which can be easily viewed no matter which media channel they prefer!

I will refrain this time from starting out this post by saying something like back again in Boulder as paging through the posts in this blog looking for a reference I noted that several posts had started out with this observation. But for more than eight weeks I have experienced, for yet one more time, what it is like to be a road warrior. The picture above was taken on a previous vacation aboard the cruising yacht, the Windstar’s Wind Spirit and while in Italy, only a few weeks ago, I had sampled the delights of life at sea with the Seabourn yacht, Spirit. The coincidence of being aboard vessels bearing the name Spirit wasn’t lost on me particularly as I headed for my first drink each evening!

However, there were more than spirits in common with these vessels as their respective owners made sure there were desks set aside to market future sailings. Common among all cruise lines, the effectiveness of onboard re-bookings turns out to be quite high – capturing a subset of the community at a time when they were clearly offering little resistance. And everywhere you turned, whether it was in common areas, bars or your own cabin there were brochures and pictures promoting ports of call you just had to visit! Extraordinary sites not on offer anywhere else and from your cruise line that has negotiated unique experiences that simply beckon to be sampled!

Cruise lines marketing future cruises to an audience already primed to be responsive isn’t unique to just this industry, and ensuring their message is communicated as widely as it is while you are their guests isn’t limited to just this industry. On a much smaller scale, every Friday I produce a brief commentary on something I observed during the week as a way of ensuring that my company, Pyalla Technologies, LLC ., remains in the consciousness of my clients as they head into the weekend and the responses I receive let me know that even on this scale my marketing efforts are not going unnoticed.

It’s all about producing “more ink” – finding as many channels as you can that can carry your message as you pursue marketing at its most basic. When I first posted to the blog I asked Randy Meyer, head of Product Management for the HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), of my intentions and his response has stayed with me through the years. “As long as you generate a buzz around NonStop and there’s more ink ‘out there’ on NonStop, then I foresee no issues,” was how I recall Randy responding. And for most of five years generating a buzz and producing more ink has become central to what I pursue these days in my business life.

Fortunately, I am not alone in this respect. Routinely, there’s new issues of the Availability Digest coming from Dr. Bill Highleyman, like me, a former ITUG Chairman, who has spent even more time working with the NonStop community. Each issue provides considerably insight into what is happening in various marketplaces and his tracking of outages, and the fallout from such outages, remains a “must read” for anyone running NonStop Systems. Likewise, very few of us miss reading the monthly edition of; Dave Barnes has worked so hard at ensuring it gets delivered to perhaps the largest NonStop audience of all.

The NonStop community’s The Connection magazine, too, is gradually stretching its legs and attracting a wider following and anyone who has not seen the most recent issue, November – December 2011 will have missed reading perhaps the largest issue I can recall ever having seen. With more than 50 pages on the topic of “Guarding your Data, Protecting your Business” this issue of The Connection most definitely tapped into a message that contributors were only too happy and willing to make public their own views and opinions!

It was while spending time with clients over the past couple of months that the topic of generating more ink for a product or company was raised, on more than one occasion. All vendors appreciate the value that comes through publicity and promotion and welcome every opportunity that arises. However, with the surge in interest in social media channels and the many new outlets that have been created, this time around the topic of more ink has developed further to embrace the concept of a fabric of ink. Simply expressed, this is the appearance of a related topic in many channels almost simultaneously, including many of the more traditional channels, including those referenced above.

Earlier this year I wrote a white paper for HP on NS SQL/MX. The paper, “NonStop SQL - The path to the always-on, easily administered, out-of-the-box clustered, database server!” available online, as a download from HP’s web site, was complemented with a post to this blog “It only requires a few steps!” as well as became the centerpiece of discussions started on a number of LinkedIn groups, including the groups Real Time View and NonStop SQL Professionals. In other words, the topic addressed in the white paper was marketed via many channels, so the potential touch points where the NonStop community may come in contact with the material was greatly amplified.

More recently, in the work undertaken for my client, Attunity, simultaneously with the appearance of a feature article in the November – December issue of The Connection, there was a white paper, “HP NonStop Data Replication” made available on Attunity’s web site, a complementary post to this blog “Reminiscing …”, as well as discussions started in several LinkedIn groups, including the group Attunity and Fools for NonStop, with a number of tweets blasted to the world. There were even links as to where to go to download the white paper provided by Attunity on Facebook!

For the NonStop community the benefits are clear – there’s little likelihood that they will miss out on anything. Whether in operations, development or a line of business executive, in their pursuit of information about NonStop Servers there will be articles and features about their favorite platform appearing in one media channel or another, whether it’s in more traditional publications or online. The fabric of ink in support of NonStop is turning the old adage of NonStop as a stealth technology on its head!

For vendors – middleware or solutions oriented - nothing of what I have covered here should come as a surprise. Marketing is a well understood discipline and as messages are crafted and promotion begins, there’s tried and true ways to inform an audience. However, in the past, there was never any simple manner by which we could be sure this audience really did see these messages. Social media, as a complementary marketing channel brings with it a far easier way to ensure our messages reach our audience, as well as encouraging follow-up via specific web landing pages.

A fabric of ink takes this even further to ensure all likely touch points whereby we intersect with audiences are covered and where we can be sure our message is seen. Today even products such as the HP NonStop Server can reach audiences that would have proved difficult to address only a decade ago, and for the NonStop community it is now a lot easier to find, and forward, relevant supporting information on just about any topic related to the essential mission-critical applications that drive our businesses.

For a community that for so long has been starved of concrete information about what others are doing, what new products have begun to ship and what marketplaces are warming to which solutions, seeing as much publicity today about the NonStop Server marks a positive turn that is welcomed by all who make a livelihood from a platform close on four decades old! As relevant today as it ever was, and as modern as anything else we care to consider! Watch for even more news on NonStop as we head into 2012 and keep checking what’s happening on your favorite blog or at your trusted online group!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Today, we have but one luxury!

At a time when lines are becoming blurred and where the very definition of what we consider luxurious is changing it’s encouraging to read of yet more vendors enjoying success on the NonStop – a rich bounty for all within the NonStop community. And a great feeling as well! But what truly is the biggest luxury of all?

It was barely six weeks ago that I posted from Atlanta, Georgia, and yet here I am today in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Pretty much a straight line diagonal from where I was only a short time ago. When I pull into the driveway later this weekend, I will have added 10,000 miles to the SUVs odometer. But the trip up here didn’t follow a direct path, as I squeezed in a weekend in San Diego and the picture above is of me admiring the view from the hotel alongside San Diego’s famous harbor.

While I have no emotional bonds with the Cadillac Escalade and I abuse it so frequently, it is still an effective way to soak up the long distances I cover. The thought of it being a luxury ride long since banished from all the wear and tear that comes with the miles it has accumulated, even as Cadillac is marketing the brand under the slogan of “we don't just make luxury cars, we make Cadillacs!” Nevertheless, almost ten years old with more than 130,000 miles on the odometer, there’s not a rattle to be heard from anywhere in the car.

I returned to the topic of uLinga in the most recent posting to comForte Lounge, that should appear shortly, if not already - check out the post "uLinga! Turning the corner?" that has just gone live for more about the recent wins! I am really enjoying watching uLinga show early signs of acceptance within the NonStop community. After initial success with an American supermarket chain it has now found success at an American service provider and before the New Year holidays get under way, it will likely win out again at a third site, and with each success it has provided support for mission-critical applications that are at the very heart of these companies’ operations.

All the more exceptional, given that the company behind uLinga, Infrasoft, has been in business a very short time and where the development of the product has occupied all of the “volunteers” time, as it demanded some pretty exhaustive coding schedules be met.

It may only be more infrastructure, and yet it is highly symbolic of what is happening across the vendor community of late. The NonStop Server platform marketplace remains sizable enough to attract even the newest of software endeavors to commit long hours, and potentially risky investments, all for the purpose of providing the NonStop community with choice. While many within the NonStop community long to see more solutions vendors working on the platform, it is the availability of critical infrastructure components that really are the key to future success of the NonStop Server. After all, if the platform continues to look proprietary, demanding skills not widely spread throughout the community, that’s not good for any of us! No, the trick today is to essentially hide all that is “proprietary NonStop” behind a veneer of openness that ensures any product in any market segment can take advantage of the NonStop Server platform.

It should be no more difficult to get running an application on the NonStop Server than it is to run it on any other platform. To paraphrase GM, HP doesn’t just make mission-critical servers, it makes NonStop! And this is an important differentiation in today’s crowded server marketplace. One very recent comment made in a discussion “Hi, Why Tandem Technology has (been) used in all Banking areas …” to the LinkedIn group, Tandem User Group, was in response to the challenges NonStop Server platforms have been facing in the Stock Exchange marketplace and it asked “the solutions you propose are incredibly good and efficient where downtime and data integrity are not priority (however) the need for speed has become a VERY EXPENSIVE game, who will pay for it? The clients?” And in following the complete thread in this discussion, it struck me of how luxurious a feeling we all enjoy from running our solutions on NonStop!

In the cover story in the Money section of the December 2nd, 2011, issue of USA Today the topic was that the definition of a luxury car has changed, and participating in the review were American executives from Cadillac, Hyundai, BMW and Lexus. What intrigued me with this article initially was the comment from the Cadillac executive who suggested that in the past “the definition of luxury was size, space, comfort, presence” but now luxury is defined more by “the feel of the vehicle”. While it may not be immediately apparent to everyone within the NonStop community there are certainly those of us who do understand that with NonStop Servers in support of their mission-critical applications, we do enjoy a luxury shared with very few in IT. NonStop Servers are just more robust and reliable than any other platform you may elect to nominate! And we can feel it!

Commenting on the opinions expressed by these auto industry executives, USA Today then quoted “luxury specialist” Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, who observed that there were “blurring (of) the line between mass and class.” The paper added how Danziger had said “there’s a lot of it going on in the auto industry, making meaning differentiation tricky.” In particular, recent entrants into the luxury segment, Hyundai, “the higher-end cars even share the brand name and showroom with mainstream models …. undercutting the exclusivity” that is another attribute often associated with luxury. Again, there will be many within the NonStop community who can sympathize with this observation – yes, NonStop shares the same HP logo as the other servers on the “showroom floor” and even when addressing the needs of mission-critical applications, the same brand name can “blur the line between mass and class!”

Revisiting the discussion thread from the LinkedIn group, Tandem User Group, and already referenced above there’s considerable inference that with the commodity technology we can access today, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider building our own NonStop System – wrack up enough server instances, throw redundant fabrics underneath it all and hive off the storage to a self-managing SAN. Sure looks like a NonStop to me, right? Yes, it even has the HP logo! However, it’s not that simple.

It’s the age old issue of unintended consequences that ripples through these configurations that cause the outages we hear so much about – even in the marketplaces that pride themselves as much as they do on speed, Stock Exchanges. It simply takes a lot of time from a select handful of highly knowledgeable folks to assemble it all and then, as they roll onto more exciting projects, it’s all left to regular IT folks to maintain and support. Not an engineer on the planet will tell you that “adding more leads to something simple”, and the frustrations that are beginning to be expressed from the clients of some of these exchanges is beginning to be recognized by others – regulators, agencies and competing exchanges are all prepared to act.

Perhaps it was the sidebar commentary towards the end of the USA Today cover story that caught my attention. Hyundai’s executive suggested to all participants that “there is only one true luxury, and that is time.” Yes you can roll-your-own NonStop by pulling together the servers, network fabric and storage from commodity offerings at hand. But not only is it not simple, it takes a lot of time to sort through all the potential failure points, and to put together the complicated test plans that are needed to ensure you can truly determine if new applications properly take advantage of the architecture embraced by “the knowledgeable few” who put it together. Time that is often wasted by the unintended consequences from very minor oversights! Compare with the time that is freed when the system can be brought up pretty much as the packing crates and boxes are cleared away and returned to the shipping dock!

Yes, the showroom floors of auto dealers and computer companies share much in common. The branding spreads across a variety of products, from the most utilitarian to something much more desirable. In today’s business world, time continues to be a luxury commanding a premium and I have to wonder, when did it all happen that we thought we could steal some time back by doing it all ourselves? Perhaps not every markets for NonStop Servers will come back, as there remains a lot of other outside influences, but the more we understand the fragility of what we are making up today as we try and do it all ourselves, the more the robustness of NonStop and the time it give us, will feel like true luxury!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reminiscing …

I love to travel. I like to observe what's going on at new places. And when I return to places I visited in the past, I like to check out what's changed. When it comes to work and the tasks I pursued, there is still much I can learn from reminiscing!

My third time to Rome has proved to be better than I can recall past trips having been – a much more relaxed pace, and my business pursuits turned out to be easier than I anticipated. The first time to Rome, I joined a tour that hit all the main tourist draws whereas the second came at the end of a longer stay in the Mediterranean, and during the height of the summer tourist season where the heat and wind made the stay anything but pleasant. The picture above is of me taking a brief pause along the Via dei Fori Imperiali!

Following a brief exchange, before I left, with Randy Meyer who heads HP NonStop’s Product Management group, and on his recommendation, with days to spare between meetings in Venice and Rome I elected to fill in the time by taking a small cruise ship that made the trip via the Dalmatian coast – and it’s definitely something I can recommend to anyone else. Look closely at Randy’s photo on Facebook and you will see the sister ship in the background!

However, not for the first time, the itinerary was changed and we skipped our stay in Sorrento and its passage to the Amalfi Coast, pulling into Naples instead to take on much needed fresh water. Readers may recall that in a post to this blog written in the summer of 2008, “Roman Holiday!” I regretted that the plans to visit Florence had been cut short as a problem with that vessel resulted in us skipping the port of Lugarno completely. Florence, along with Positano, is among my most favorite places in all of Italy, and it will now be left to future visits before I get another chance to see either of these marvelous townships.

Reminiscing about this with my wife led me to the above post, and as I looked at what I wrote back in May of 2008 it featured commentary on my former employer– GoldenGate. In that post, I looked at the topic of innovation and highlighted how “even though GoldenGate had its origins in NonStop, we deliberately went after a number of key folks from other vendors who brought with them special skills in other areas of data. We also bridged the generation gaps by recruiting a broad mix of age groups to the company," was a quote I pulled at the time from GoldenGate’s then VP of Marketing, Sami Akbay. He then acknowledged that looking at the marketing of GoldenGate that was being pursued “we have moved to where data itself is what's strategic! Access in real time to operational data allows companies to innovate in ways not thought of, or even considered possible, before."

Returning to the theme of GoldenGate for this post shouldn’t come as a surprise. After remaining quiet on this topic for the past two years, it may be hard to miss how it was the subject of a feature in the November – December 2010 issue of The Connection, as well as the backdrop for an opinions white paper on replication that I recently developed for Attunity - follow this link to obtain the pdf: After two years as an integral part of Oracle GoldenGate may not be the automatic choice for everyone any longer, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the NonStop community will be able to enjoy greater choice in product offerings than ever before.

The lead-in anecdotes I provided as introductions in both documents looked at the need to replicate as well as how well other vendors have performed in terms of cutting into the considerable lead GoldenGate had once enjoyed. Even the most proactive champion of NonStop is aware that truly providing 7 X 24 X forever availability mandates more than one system, indeed, more than one site, to ensure such levels of availability, no matter what. Without revisiting all that I covered in both documents I have to acknowledge that perhaps there is no other infrastructure market segment as well served as is that of replication. The arrival of Attunity’s solution only further cements this observation and represents another example of the investment vendors continue to make as they bring to market innovative and lower cost offerings.

When I started the discussion “Latest on GoldenGate – are you feeling the need to change?” in the LinkedIn Group, Real Time View, one of the comments posted came from Jeff Boyer, head of sales for all of the America’s. In his response to this question he highlighted how “Oracle has retained nearly all of the development, support and product folks from GoldenGate. We have a product road map for all databases and Oracle is investing in the product. In addition staying current with the HP NonStop databases - we are adding new databases for capture and delivery in every release of OGG (Oracle GoldenGate!).” In stark contrast to what all of us may have thought, Boyer then explained that “OGG is not going away or being pushed aside - since being acquired by Oracle we have increased our customer base and installs by magnitudes - hopefully this increase is based on the value OGG brings.”

And yet, the activity from vendors anxious to plug the holes generated through customer dissatisfaction over Oracle’s support of GoldenGate, particularly when it comes to pricing and, even more specifically, when it involves upgrading to the latest HP NonStop Blade systems, is quite visible. It will require significant investments in marketing by these competing vendors, but it is hard to ignore the steps that have already been taken. There’s rarely a NonStop user event where there isn’t coverage by one vendor or another about how far they have come to addressing all that GoldenGate had been providing.

As I worked on this post I had the good fortune to catch up with Sami Akbay, now CEO of Altibase Inc. and we revisited some of his earlier comments. “Marketing certainly was instrumental in elevating GoldenGate above competing products and in helping the company gain the broad marketplace acceptance that it did,” Akbay observed. “From the time we added key industry influencers to the company’s board of directors, as well as how the Customer Advisory Board was populated, to simply how the company conducted itself at some of the premier events in support of databases and enterprise warehouses, and not forgetting how we managed to convince many of our top tier, blue ribbon customers, to participate with the company in promoting the products,” Akbay added before concluding with “there was no mistaking the amount of energy that went in to ensuring GoldenGate was perceived as the premier company in this market.”

Today, none of this has been lost on vendors like Attunity who have just released their Attunity Replicate product. Marketing is extremely important for vendors as they wrestle market share away from the incumbent, GoldenGate. “It is very important to recognize the investment Attunity continue to make in marketing – the message we provide is very simple,” Itamar Ankorion, Attunity VP, Business Development and Corporate Strategy, explained in a recent exchange on this topic. “In Attunity Replicate, all any user needs to know is that our implementation on most platforms comes with zero footprint (on NonStop, there will be some code), that configuring any replication can be easily done with our new ‘Click-2-Replicate’ and perhaps most important of all, we bring to the market a solution with a competitive licensing model.”

Perhaps reverberating even more loudly with the NonStop community today was Ankorion’s closing comment that “there will always be a requirement for alternate offerings and with what we have today Attunity, along with other well-known vendors already established in the market place, may indeed tilt the playing field even further in favor of product offerings apart from what was considered in the past! Indeed, from our perspective, the NonStop community will certainly have plenty to consider going forward.”

Reminiscing about anything, whether it’s places we like, sports teams we watch, or technology we embraced so enthusiastically in the past is always done through rose-colored glasses. What we seem to remember is often embellished and the capabilities, indeed conquests, live more colorfully in our memories than perhaps they did in real life. Maintaining the status quo can often produce unintended consequences if not routinely revisited, and the playing field that was tipped so heavily in favor of just one vendor can be nothing more than a figment of our imagination. As Ankorion so rightfully noted yes, with the arrival of new product offerings, the NonStop community certainly has never had it so good!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inevitable transitions – will we see changes?

HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman has hit the deck running and it’s clear to see HP is in transition – yes, today, they welcomed a new director to the board – one who could agitate for even more change. But will this generate good news for the NonStop community?

In the weeks before I left Boulder, Colorado, winter had sank its teeth deep into the land. After three sizable storms that saw the temperatures drop rapidly from the 80s to the 30s and worse, the citizens were finally adjusting to the transition, although winter came this year much sooner than they had expected. Shedding shorts and Tee’s for layers of warm clothing brings with it realization that the transition has only begun, and that by the end of the year we will have seen much worse weather descending on us all. The picture to the left was taken at first light, as we headed to our local Starbucks!

However, this past weekend has seen me conduct business in Venice and board a small vessel for a run down the Adriatic Sea, stopping in ports alongside the cities dotting the Dalmatian coast, including those belonging to Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. The distances aren’t vast and in a few short days I will be back in Italy once again where I hope to conclude the business aspects of my trip with a short stay in Rome. While the scenery has been terrific and the weather proving helpful the headlines of the newsletters pushed under the cabin’s door each morning have been hard to miss.

It is apparent that we are right in the middles of transitions of a completely different kind. Greece! Italy! Both countries having witnessed the arrival of new governments and the region is alive with discussions over the transition of power and what the likely outcomes will be. Perhaps, as far as this trip goes, nothing more clearly demonstrates transition than the old town of Dubrovnik that I visited only a matter of hours ago. Once heavily shelled in the wars that raged throughout the Balkans in the early 1990s, some twenty years later the city has recovered and the once magnificent fortress-city is as sparkling as it ever has been. A quick walk down its main thoroughfare brought with it little evidence of any of the tragedies that had befallen the city barely two decades earlier. The repairs undertaken had made any changes to the city difficult to find – it all looked just as it had always looked in photos I had seen decades earlier.
The picture above captures the transition from the winter in the Rockies to the more blissful early fall of the Mediterranean, with the walls of old town Dubrovnik providing protection to the small fleet of fishing boats that ply the calm waters just outside the city. The picture to the right, taken only a day or so ago,  captures the scene better than words can describe.

I am often drawn into conversations about where I would like to spend my time, and if I had any opportunity to take up residence outside of my home town of Boulder, the coastal areas of Croatia would certainly place very highly among the regions I would consider. And this would include areas to the south, as well as the fjord leading to the city of Kotor, Montenegro – all among the best landscapes I have ever witnessed in all my time sailing the Mediterranean.

However, the papers being pushed under my cabin’s door also included snippets of business news and in the library there were older copies of business magazines and newspapers. Among them was a feature by Reuters published in the November 9th, 2011, issue of The International Herald Tribune – a paper I thoroughly read every time I visit Europe. The article featured the headline “For HP, deal advice proves costly” and it wasn’t so much what was featured in the story as it was a reminder of the transition HP is going through today.

There has been much published of late about the arrival of Meg Whitman to lead HP and of the expectations that, at best, she will simply be leading a transition team and that she is simply holding down the fort as the next leader of HP is unearthed. I have been among the many commentators who have viewed her presence more or less as a place-holder   following the exit of Leo Apotheker, who himself hadn’t quite completed a year at the helm of HP following the exit of more operationally oriented Mark Hurd. But in hindsight, I may have been a little too quick on reaching this conclusion, and perhaps I should have been a little more prudent and let the events unfurl for themselves. After all, even though she had lost her bid to become California’s governor in the last state elections, much of how she campaigned had impressed me. I have observed it rather closely, living at the time in Southern California. She was open and straightforward, and told California exactly what she would do should she be elected.

One of the aspects of the Reuters story was how they catalogued the series of acquisitions HP has made in only the past few years. The list is quite lengthy, and the first that comes to mind is the highly successful bidding war it waged against Dell to secure 3Par (for some $2.35 billion), and with it the company’s intellectual property (IP) involving online storage systems. Then there was the $1.4 billion purchase of ArcSight that brought to the table IP associated with cyber security. Last year, HP paid out a further $1.2 billion for Palm and with it, not just the IP behind former market-leading mobile devices, but a new operating system, WebOS.

However, deals of this magnitude where the money involved was in the one to two billion dollar range palled when we all read of HP’s intent to purchase Autonomy for $11.7 billion. A British software vendor that very few within the industry knew all that much about and where early responses were generally along the lines of “you have to be kidding!” Yes, HP relied upon prominent internal leaders to help, but they also relied heavily on “an army of bankers to help (HP) decide whether to pursue Autonomy,” as Reuters was to report. Now, there’s still value that may emerge from all of these deals and yet, the sheer brashness of them surprises many within the executive ranks.

As she hasn’t been able to reverse any of these decisions as she pushed ahead in her transitional role, Whitman has been forced to face the irreversibility of much of this. And she has had to put as best a face to it in public as she could. However, the fate of some of those who were a party to the acquisitions haven’t fared as well. A number of the decisions made in the final hours under Apotheker’s leadership have been retained whereas others have been overturned and I fully expect there will be more that changes with the transition.

The decision to drop WebOS and to abandon the tablet and mobile device business was one that stayed but to add salt to the wound, there were no attempts made to retain WebOS’s most experienced advocate, Richard Kerris, when he elected to leave the company. From all I can gauge, this pretty much ends any possibility of HP resurrecting this aspect of Apotheker’s ruling. And while the news of their departure raised an eyebrow or two, it was nothing when compared to the earlier news that Shane Robison would be leaving, and with him the role of HP’s highest-placed CTO would vanish. The technology giant would now have no central CTO but rather would shift to a model where the key groups, including Enterprise Servers Storage and Networking (ESSN), would have their own CTOs. Robison clearly wore the fall-out from his passionate support of the acquisition of Autonomy.

What does this mean for the NonStop community? Will the decisions being made at the highest level prove beneficial to NonStop, or will the fate of NonStop suffer even more ignominy? This time, I am not as prepared to pass judgment as I had been earlier when I first heard the news of Whitman ascending to the role of leadership. I now view her not so much leading a transition team, rather she seems to be leading a transition of HP itself. There’s no question whatsoever that the most recent attacks by Oracle have hurt selected server models and that HP hasn’t done enough to defend itself – there’s not an airport I visit these days where there aren’t huge banners proclaiming just how much faster Oracle’s hardware and software offerings are when compared to models on offer from HP.

Yes, HP is hurting at the top end. But the decision by Whitman not to get out of the PC business and to put an end to any further divestiture of products is certainly telling us all that she definitely wants to fight on – I suspect there will be no actions taken lightly now under Whitman. And this could prove decisive for NonStop and for the integrated hardware and software that today is part of the very modern NonStop Server platform. An earlier opinion paper I wrote on NS SQL/MX where I talked to users of Oracle’s database has left me in no doubt that in select markets HP has in the NonStop platform a highly competitive offering. But will that be enough?

HP could do well to lift its investment in NonStop and in its promotion across its vast array of solutions vendors. There’s not a single commentary of late in the more popular blogs and group discussions that doesn’t raise this item at least once – and it could be simply executed with few repercussions on other well established groups within HP. The game has changed. HP is under pressure. And HP needs to respond, and in this context, I don’t see it being too difficult to anticipate somewhere along the way NonStop enters the conversation.

Should HP’s services group set up service bureau style operations featuring NonStop? They certainly have the resources and skills to do this. Should HP’s software group invest in a couple of solutions vendors to bring additional products for NonStop to market? They certainly wouldn’t go backwards with such decisions. There would be nothing better for the NonStop community to witness than HP “eating its own dogfood”! None of this would be simple to do and none of this is without its own set of problems, but I suspect that there will be changes nonetheless. But as the NonStop community continues to migrate to Blades then as that program wraps up, where will new NonStop sales come from? Yes, according to the roadmaps, there will be more improvements to come as HP rides the Intel roadmap but I have to believe as the costs continue to drop – even in critical emerging markets – pressure will again be on marketing to pull together plans for additional verticals. Yes – there could be good news for the NonStop community as Whitman continues with the transition she has already initiated.

In any transition there’s usually not an automatic expectation of change for the better. Transitions of themselves often don’t lead to change at all, but rather focus on a smooth crossover to something completely new. However, with what I have been seeing coming from the new leader, not only do I not see this as being the moves of someone who is not in transition themselves but rather by someone more focused on transitioning the company, and along with the transition, changing it. I am waiting for Meg to stand up and tell us what her plans are for HP - and I expect her to tell it as it is. And on this basis alone, I think that there is every chance of better things to come for NonStop!  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Social networking etiquette …don't forget to wave!

While I am out travelling and meeting folks, it gives me the opportunity to revisit the topic of social media and for the HP NonStop community, activity has picked up with more engaged in discussions than I have seen before. And yet, there's always opportunity for even greater participation - join in!

As I prepare this post I am wrapping up my brief stay in Venice and I am about to head to Croatia. Not by car, but by the only easy way to see as much of the coast of Croatia as possible – a rather comfortable small vessel able to pull into the smaller ports. However, the downside is that I am often left to make small talk with others – something I completely avoid doing when I take to America’s interstates and byways.

Invariably, when I am with other travelers, the conversations turn to “and yes, what do you do?” Of course this is a reference to the vocation I pursue and when it comes out that I write and that I provide commentaries and opinion papers, the response isn’t always one of comprehension. “Fair enough, but what do you really do?” becomes the all too familiar response! If I try to steer the conversation to marketing and business development, eyes quickly glaze over and the conversation turns to something more topical and of interest to others. And talking about steering the conversation, it would be remiss of me not to remind everyone of how cold it remains in Boulder, Colorado and the picture above was taken a few days before we left. Any questions now as to why we gladly accepted the offer to meet with folks in Italy?

Even though I had business interests to distract me in Venice it was hard not to appreciate the history of the place. After all, this was where the adventurer Marco Polo began his journey that took him to China, and even today there is an air of adventure still present. The type of ships visiting port has changed and there’s little evidence of the great trading halls that dominated the scene, and yet even as tourists continue to wonder at the sites you have to be impressed with all that the city has witnessed over the centuries.

It was to be twenty five years before Marco Polo made it back to Venice, but before he could even talk about his adventures, somehow he found himself in jail and it was while he was waiting to be freed that he dictated details of his travels to his cellmate. As a result, information about Asia and China only trickled down to a select few and it took more than a century before Christopher Columbus was able to convince the court of Spain to return to China. But yes, taking a different route this time, as he thought he knew of a short-cut! And yet, the community that is today Venice is looking fragile with every potential of succumbing to the elements that seem determined to have done with this magnificent city.

How things have changed. It was only in January, 2010 that Astronaut T.J. Creamer tweeted “Hello Twitterverse! We r LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station – the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your?s” Evidently, according to comments that followed this tweet, astronauts aboard the ISS had received a special software upgrade, such that during periods when the station actively communicates with the ground … the crew have remote access to the Internet via a ground computer. The crew views the desktop of the ground computer using an onboard laptop and interacts remotely via their keyboard touchpad. Everyone associated with the space program, including the extended community, can follow every step of the journey these modern day’s adventurers take.

The emergence of social media and with it the opportunity for social networking ensures information is disseminated more rapidly than it has ever been in the past, and among communities sharing a common purpose, it encourages the development of strong community ties. As everyone becomes aware of changing circumstances at about the same time, there’s ample opportunity to explore what will follow. And through these interactions and support, the community becomes stronger as it continues to bond. Yes, communities that have staying power are often those that attract strong individuals but with shared experiences their opinions are often important catalyst for further growth.

My experience on the board of ITUG taught me the value that comes with community and the value those positive interactions up and down the community fostered. No opinion was ever discounted or relegated to second-class, but rather helped ensure what we all felt was the essence of Tandem, the fun that come through networking, beer-busts, First Friday’s and even for the lucky few those crazy TOPS gatherings, has been preserved and carried to a younger generation. I can’t recall a single instance at any recent events involving the NonStop platform where there hasn’t been someone who has approached me and asked about what it was like all that time ago. And now, social networking has opened the doors to an even bigger audience and the community is the stronger for it.

Forget about the negativity that crops up in some forums, or the put-downs that some members are subject to. For the most part, all forums and discussions continue to add to the “buzz about the NonStop platform” that has been at the root of why so many within HP have enjoyed the grassroots emergence and development of so many social media avenues focused on NonStop as exists today. However, I would like to encourage even more participation. There’s simply no better way to ensure balance than to have as many opinions expressed as possible, for if we all are not vocal, the risk of repetition increases and the message eventually is diluted to the point where communities gradually drift off in pursuit of other interests.

I take a broad mix of magazines with me when I travel and as I read the back page editorial, Exhaust Notes, in the December 2011 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser, the author raised the issue about the decline of “the wave”. From the first outing Margo and I took on our junior motorcycle cruisers, more than a decade ago, every person riding a motorcycle that we passed, whether simple commuter or tricked out sports-bike, or even hard core biker on a heavyweight custom Harley, lifted his left hand and gave us a wave. (Interestingly enough, there were very few women motorcycle riders when we started whereas nowadays we see a lot of them out on the open road!) “Historically, motorcyclists have always been part of a breed characterized by fierce individualism,” the editorial began. “This difference in personal choice (to ride a motorcycle) led bikers to feel a strong sense of community … (and this) feeling of connection was often manifested in ‘the wave’.”

However, on our most recent outing just a few weeks back where we rode to Golden, Colorado, for coffee and where the return trip proved extremely painful for Margo as she dropped her cruiser literally outside the house, I was taken aback by how few riders today were still supporting the wave. The editorial reflected my own observations and the author went on to say, as the popularity of the wave appears to be declining, “the whole myth of individualism that’s so strong in (America) is leading many people down a miserable path of alienated lifestyles and social isolation.” This is followed a little later with “our social networks have become smaller as the tentacles of individualism have taken over our lives. We are not the richer for it. We are more alone.”

Yes, social networking is important for the NonStop community. As we take stock of who really supports the platform there are plenty of individuals out there and that has been the nature of NonStop from the earliest days of Tandem. In past years, it was a lot easier to go with IBM, perhaps Digital or even with Data General and Prime – but Tandem? For many years it did mark us as a breed apart. We were the individuals who really had firm opinions about better ways to process transactions. And yet this does place an obligation on us all – participate! Become visible! Post from the edge of the universe! Talk about what we have seen and the adventures we have had! We may not be facing rising tides and the prospect of annihilation, but our community today is fragile nonetheless. Yes, it’s worth protecting and yes, it is easy to grow.

There are rules of course, and there are many sites on the web that describe social media etiquette. Most of them can be ignored as the NonStop community is more mature. Two observations I do like and remain valid even for us include “your actions show you what a person you are, but that is not as important as showing what kind of brand you are. One thing we do know, we hate knowing that these brands are trying to be something that they are not – this comes across as fake and will mean that you will not believe in them.” And then there is “depending on your blog’s purpose, be wary of over-selling. Make sure you’re still providing great community value. (And yes) you can post as often as you want on your blog. It’s your blog!”

These observations came from two well-known bloggers (Peter Chubb, blogging on the site and Chris Brogan, an individual blogger) and do address concerns I often hear. It shouldn’t need any further commentary from me, but across the NonStop community your voice is very much needed. And appreciated. We are all individuals and continue to prove that with the technology pursuits we make – so yes, no need to be fake or to over-sell. In my post of October 9, 2011 “Enough is enough!” I wrote of how NonStop should not be losing and about how the NonStop Server has turned a corner. This observation should provoke many within the NonStop community to write about – there’s many opinions out there and yours may just be the one that tips the scales further in favor of NonStop!   

As we all know, the NonStop community welcomes fresh, positive input on almost anything NonStop Server related. Have a go, and have fun! And help keep the community thrive – your opinions are just that important. The author of the editorial in Motorcycle Cruiser closed with “remember community as that next rider waves to you; feel it, relish it, embrace it and be proud. And don’t forget to wave back.” And I can’t think of any better way when it comes to encouraging you all!      

Monday, October 31, 2011

What price availability?

For me travel is always educational and a time to catch up on the news - magazines, newspapers and the internet. And so, yes another stock exchange goes down - this time, closer to home. The Australian Stock Exchange. It sure does beg the question when it comes to staying in business - what does it truly cost when you're unable to support your clients?

Road trips represent time to reflect and on my recent drive to Atlanta this proved to be the case. I am passionate about driving and this year has seen me driving to Northern and Southern California with stops in Las Vegas; to Phoenix, Arizona through the back country to the north east of that city that also took in Albuquerque; to Chicago as well as to Minneapolis (two separate trips but via Omaha both times) in addition to this recent escapade. Throw in separate weekend trips to the wine country of western Colorado as well as excursions to Aspen and Telluride to catch the fall colors that make Colorado the colorful state that it is and yes, I have had more than enough time to reflect! And the picture above was taken of me, standing under the sign advertising BB King's cafe and blues club on Beale Street, Memphis!

Nearly all of the cars we have safely parked in the garages today (yes, winter offers little respite for top-down cruising through the canyons) have been involved in my travels but as I wrote the article just posted to Buckle-Up, my social site, “Taming the Dragon?” I reflected on how I would have much preferred to have driven our Corvette to Atlanta but with it undergoing service, it wasn’t an option. I remarked on how “even with two Corvettes and as passionate as I am about Tandem and NonStop in my business life, the ‘back-up’ Corvette is just configured differently and doesn't lend itself to long trips where there's shared driver responsibilities. Yes it's a manual whereas the big 'Vette is an auto!”

It was as I completed my feature article for the November – December 2011 issue of The Connection that I followed a similar thought as I worked on the story line. The theme for this issue is to be “Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery/Availability” and I elected to open up, more than I had done previously, on my thoughts about the likelihood of increased competition following Oracle’s acquisition of GoldenGate. It’s been just over two years since that deal was consummated and it has opened the door for other vendors – middleware and solutions – to rethink their options. However, as I began this feature, I opened with something similar to what I wrote in my social blog, Buckle-Up!

“Shortly after Margo and I wed, we built a house outside of Boulder, Colorado. At the time we chose to replicate every major appliance – combining two previous homes made this a rather straightforward decision,” I began. I then added “However, when we added a basement bar, we purchased an ice-maker that could generate a lot of ice very rapidly, arguably a mission critical application where failure would be intolerable during Colorado summers, particularly after 5 o’clock! Can’t recall exactly what our logic was at the time, but with our heritage in NonStop and the critical role this appliance would play, today that logic looks pretty flawed.” Yes, this critical appliance has failed totally and “having an ice-maker that no longer provides ice is a nuisance and results in many trips back to the refrigerator in the kitchen”!

As I wrapped up the feature, along similar lines to what I had said about having two Corvettes, I noted that “it’s not a real solution as I should have duplicated the ice-maker with a second ice maker of the same capacity as the first one, even if I do not need it all that often; impromptu parties and other social occasions may place unexpected strain on something of lesser capacity should it fail again! However, this is a far cry from the fallout that would result should an organization fail to recover from outages in a timely manner.”

It is with both of these stories in mind, that news broke yesterday of yet another stock exchange unable to process trades. “Australian bourse red-faced after 4-hour trading shutdown,” was the headline on the web site of CNBC, perhaps the most-read business site in the world today. “Australia’s stock market suffered an embarrassing shutdown on Thursday, as technical failures halted trading for four hours … the technical glitch and the duration of the shutdown is a blow for bourse operator ASX Group especially as this comes ahead of rival bourse operator Chi-X’s launch on Monday, ending a two-decade monopoly.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), in a larger expose on what happened, published under the headline “Timing is everything, as ASX painfully discovers”, on Friday, October 28th, 2011 they reported that “yesterday should have been a happy one for most people with money in the sharemarket … but when the market maker – the exchange that facilitates the trading of shares – stops operating, the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the ASX. Yesterday’s four-hour closure of trading on the AX was nothing short of a shemozzle.”

My own experience with the ASX dates back to my earliest days with Tandem Computers when I worked in the Sydney offices, and we lost the deal with ASX to Digital Computers a fairly rare occurrence back then. When it came time to upgrade, however, ASX elected to switch to solutions and platforms supported by NASDAQ OMX. So now we have the story on the CNBC web site, “ASX said the outage was due to a connectivity issue with the exchange’s trading system, which in turn hampered participants’ connection to the ASX trading engine (and that) ASX has worked with NASDAQ OMX to resolve the glitch.” Ouch! Sure would have been nice to have something more reliable. And a back-up, that worked!

It was observed by Winston Prather, in his editorial in the September – October, 2011, issue of The Connection that as “we take a more in-depth look at how this strategy has helped us deliver significant performance improvements … a few words about where this does and does not, apply.” While not specifically singled-out as a market segment, it’s clear that the current challenges facing stock exchanges today was what was being addressed as Prather then added “there are some areas of the market where performance is the highest priority, and users are willing to trade data integrity and resilience to achieve it.”

Perhaps even more relevant with what we are seeing in the fallout from the ASX shemozzle, “In some cases, NonStop may not be the right answer – while we continue to deliver significant performance improvements, we will never sacrifice our core fundamentals and value to achieve them. NonStop delivers competitive performance under the philosophy that the integrity of the message has value.” And yet, in what is becoming a highly competitive marketplace, there are Stock Exchanges who are using NonStop and getting performance that is quite remarkable!

In her post of August 18th, 2011 to the web publication, “The Instant On Enterprise is Here. All Modern. All Standard. All NonStop” blogger Sue Bradshaw, much more comfortable with the world of telecoms than NonStop, was impressed all the same as she listened to a keynote presentation at the recent OzTUG event in Sydney. “We received a fascinating insight into the Hong Kong Stock Exchange upgrade that increased throughput tenfold and reduced latency by 15 times, she began. Bradshaw then remarked of how “this is where I first heard the term ‘single digit millisecond’ and as someone who has focused for many years on monitoring voice quality, I found that achievement fascinating. When you consider that the transaction latency achieved was less than 10 times the minimum required to achieve the highest voice quality, I was very impressed.”

The metrics are indeed different when it comes to comparing trading systems in place with NASDAQ in America versus what’s in place in Hong Kong and when it comes to the very biggest of exchanges, what Prather describes is pertinent. However, many other markets may want to consider other criteria than simply speed alone. I have heard it described somewhere as thinking in terms of whether you heed a dragster or an F1 car – each will outperform the other on tracks where they were designed to compete. And perhaps the big hit ASX took at the most inopportune time (where business will likely be lost to a competitor about to open their doors) will be a wake-up call for others.

Availability will always be an important requirement. Being able to rely on a platform with the resilience of NonStop, particularly when configured with a second-site backup that has become so important today, will continue to appeal to many responsible CIOs. When the alternative is to see headlines appear globally in a matter of minutes and where financial commentators went so far as to suggest, as reported by SMH, “the ASX breakdown cemented the need for more than one operator in the market. The new exchange (Chi-X) will now become the back-up and a potentially meaningful competitor.”

Not exactly the outcome ASX had in mind, I suspect, but then it takes very little these days to tip the tables in favor of others following just a couple of hours of downtime. The price ASX will now be paying will leave many involved scratching their heads and rethinking whether speed remains the sole requirement. This may have little in common with my failed icemaker or having differently configured Corvettes but in the end, those involved may come away just as frustrated and when there’s easy solutions on hand, probably the same level of regret at having not considered all possible outcomes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Solely focused on technology? That’s not a strategy!

With all the talk and discussions around Cloud Computing of late, it seems that it is all that today’s CIOs are prepared to consider as a strategy for their business. But it is a technology and this may not be the right thing to do …

Walking the streets of Atlanta, just outside the hotel where I had been staying, I came to the Peachtree 200 Conference Center and while the building held little architectural appeal what was outside, parked on the road, caught my eye immediately. Curbside was a 1960s era Fiat 500 flanked by a new 2012 Fiat 500, and the picture above was taken by the Fiat event manager overseeing the launch program for Atlanta – yes, he just walked up to me and asked if he could take the photo I was trying to shoot by myself.

A crowd had gathered alongside the cars and someone asked if the new FIAT 500 was a hybrid, and then another person asked whether it was FIAT’s plan to offer an all-electric version. Among the responses I heard coming from the FIAT crew was the simple explanation that the strategy was to successfully launch the FIAT brand in the U.S. and that decisions about the powertrain options to be introduced would follow. As for the immediate future, all talk was about the FIAT Abarth 500, a performance version of the car to better compete with the Mini Cooper S and planned for U.S. enthusiasts early next year.

Marketplaces continue to evolve and no more so than across the world’s auto industry, and strategies evolve to keep pace with the fluctuating and often fickle priorities of the market. With the global economy continuing to struggle, the price of hydrocarbons remaining high, consumers’ tastes are proving difficult to predict. Strategies have to look beyond technologies and products and address more important issues like doing everything necessary to simply stay in business! However, with the news that even Chevrolet is dropping its iconic pushrod V8 engine from future open-seat race cars in favor of a much smaller V6 albeit turbocharged, is further tangible evidence that responding to the marketplace remains a priority for the company.

I have been in Atlanta in support of Margo who is a new conference organizer for an association event where rehabilitation researchers shared their results with practitioners, and we elected to drive from Boulder, CO, the thirteen hundred or so miles to Atlanta. I had always wanted to see more of the countryside east of the Mississippi and this trip gave me the opportunity. In so doing I elected to drive our thirsty V8 SUV and while it offered considerable comfort for the many interstate miles we covered, it wasn’t hard to miss just how few SUVs are on the highways these days and how the marketplace is showing its appreciation for domestice auto manufacturers' change of heart.

FIAT will likely do well with its new 500 car, as will Chevrolet with its line of smaller, more powerful powerplants and yet, it will only take the slightest of external influences to set off yet another round of changes and drive planners back to the drawing boards. Strategy after all is never absolute and is framed within the markets a business operates, and just like technologies and products, have distinct and measurable lifecycles.

It was against this background that a discussion was started within the LinkedIn Group, Fools for NonStop. A recent addition to the LinkedIn Groups, this group was founded following comments made about how foolish it is it stay with NonStop and that, given my own support for the NonStop Server platform, I was perhaps more foolish than others. However, the group continues to grow its membership and the discussion that began this week simply asked “Cloud computing: ‘The cloud is not a strategy ...’ food for thought” and a reference to an article shared with the community of the same name that can be found at:

Very early in the paper posted to the web publication TechRepublic, it observes “ask a CIO about their technology plan or strategy for the coming months, and their eyes light up and in hushed awe they reverently whisper: ‘The Cloud.’” A little later, author Patrick Gray writes “unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely been beaten over the head with the wonders of cloud computing. It will slash your costs, alleviate all management pain, store your music and movies, and bring about world peace in our day.”

However, perhaps Gray’s best observation comes when he states “while the superlative machine in the marketing department of most cloud vendors has been working overtime, ‘the cloud’ is nothing more than another incantation of make vs. buy or rent vs. own. We’ve been down this road before with everything from outsourcing to contract manufacturing, and the risks and rewards are identical.”

Without giving away the complete story line of this article I will end with perhaps the punch line; “the cloud is nothing more than a tool that should be accomplishing some business objective … (and) in most cases where a tool was substituted for a real strategy, the results were disastrous. Cloud will experience the same fate unless you build a true strategic plan that just happens to include cloud services, rather than trying to build a strategy around a tool.”

In recent weeks I have been working with Attunity VP, Business Development and Corporate Strategy, Itamar Ankorion, following their acquisition of RepliWeb and their subsequent entry into the data replication marketplace with Attunity Replicate. As I listened to Ankorion explain the key differentiators of the Attunity offering versus already established products, he talked of how one “huge advantage we see over what users have experienced with (other implementations) is the ‘Click-2-Replicate’ design. The imperative today is all about ‘quick time to value!’”

The significance of this wasn’t lost on me. When it came to strategy it wasn’t the technology behind the Click-2-Replicate feature as much as it was how it addressed the user experience. Just as Apple has so successfully demonstrated, get the user experience rich and satisfying and all else will follow. An oversimplification perhaps but nevertheless about as revealing of IT as anything else that’s been presented of late. Yes, a product that simplifies administration, whether initial set-up or ongoing maintenance, slots nicely into the strategy of bettering the user experience.

FIAT had a strategy clear and simple – it needed to break through into the U.S marketplace and to do so, recognized the opening that came with its retro-looking small car, the FIAT 500. Choices of powertrains, electric, hybrid or otherwise were clearly product decisions and not to be confused with strategy. Whether or not FIAT will prove successful as it pursues its strategy needs a lot more time before the results can be truly assessed, but such a focus bodes well for the vendor.

In the post of August 11th, 2011, “GuardianAngel? NonStop revels in Clouds!” and what has now become the most read post of the blog Real Time View, I wrote of what the Team involved demonstrated at HP Discover. This included the ability to “burst” into Clouds both private and public. Quite the achievement and to some extent unexpected by many attending the event! Here were NonStop Servers actively participating in the utilization of Clouds.

However it was very clear, with what was being demonstrated, that the Cloud was simply a tool to show how modern Pathway (TS/MP) implementations could “distribute instances of an application within a single CPU, across multiple CPUs and in particular, to any CPU within any node within a cluster … (to where) instances of the application could be invoked on platforms other than NonStop.”

It was Team member Keith Moore who later commented on how “Pathway’s Serverclasses (that) are instantiated on Linux (or Windows) under PATHMON control as if they were local to NonStop. This allows TS/MP to manage creation / deletion and recovery of business-level application services running on or off the NonStop platform.” The Cloud was simply a tool to highlight what could be achieved in the business world in terms of achieving more for less while the demonstration was clearly about a bigger role for NonStop.

There’s much discussion of late about where NonStop hardware and software may be headed – a new discussion “Where should NonStop go now – Now?” on this very topic was just started this past weekend on the LinkedIn group, Fools for NonStop. At a time when there’s elements of the community considering NonStop as potentially a strictly software play, while others, myself included, see opportunities for NonStop being present in every BladeSystem cluster as a “supervising OS” the strategic significance of GuardianAngel takes on a whole different light. Yes, it will play well with Clouds, as a product option, but it will also play well with Linux and Windows – capabilities paramount for the life of NonStop untethered by hardware and solution requirements.

Will all of this be aggressively embraced as part of the strategy for NonStop? Or, perhaps, none of it? It’s still very early days but the marketplace is enamored with Cloud Computing and the promise it holds in terms of cost savings and flexibility and so seeing NonStop embracing a strategy that capitalizes on what we have today on NonStop as a very modern TS/MP transaction monitoring subsystem will go a long way to stir the imagination of others.

It is such due consideration that has kept NonStop alive for almost four decades with every potential for being with us for many more decades to come. From what we have seen to date and it’s just the tip of the iceberg in some respects, then NonStop may very well get to play that bigger role after all. And that’s a strategy that sits well with all of us within the NonStop community!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Enough is enough!

It was just a report in the local paper over the mishaps by the gridiron team but it summed up how I felt about much that’s been written about NonStop of late. The good news is that users remain happy and continue to support the community!

I like to travel, a topic of another post this week, but I also like sports of all types; having played Rugby League and Rugby Union in my youth, and approached while at High School with a contract to join the junior squad of a professional team (Balmain “Tigers”, as I recall), paperwork my parents refused to even acknowledge (and thankfully, as I look back, as I followed another team, Manly “Sea Eagles”, which just won on the world’s biggest stage – the National Rugby League Grand Final). Football of all codes continues to interest me, and yes, I like to drive cars and ride motorcycles, and the picture above is of Margo, enjoying the colors of fall outside Telluride, Colorado, taken during our most recent outing in the San Juan mountains.

Deep in the Southern Hemisphere, the Rugby World Cup is being played – and much to the chagrin of my English friends, this weekend saw England knocked out of the competition while Australia made it through to the semifinals. As a Rugby fan from the antipodes, I will keep my fingers crossed for a good result from the Wallabies, Australia’s national team. However, after winning their match against South Africa and champions from the last World Cup, the Wallabies now face New Zealand, this year’s favorite to win it all, and that will be a match for the ages!

Here in the U.S. temperature has begun to fall and autumn colors have appeared, it’s a different code of football being played. A few miles down the road we have the University of Colorado, home of the mighty CU Buffalos, with Ralph, a real buffalo mascot. Apart from winning the local derby featuring the teams from the neighboring universities of Boulder and Fort Collins, the mighty CU Buffs haven’t found a way to defeat any other team, and last weekend they imploded and threw away the game. And the headlines in the local paper were worth a second look as the teams’ coach finally “spat the dummy”, as we would say back in Sydney if the contest was Rugby!

“When is it going to be enough? When is enough, enough?” was how the coach began his locker room outburst. I asked them, he later was quoted as having said, “When are they going to get tired of losing? When are they going to get tired of finding a way to lose?” While not everything that takes place in sport has relevance in the business world, as I read this story I couldn’t help thinking about the NonStop Server and about the NonStop community. For those who check into discussion forums, blog sites, and other community groups, it seems that negativity is all that garnishes the headlines.

But isn’t it time we, as a community, stopped accepting the worst and begin to speak more openly of all that’s positive about NonStop? In one group I step into occasionally, I was even chastised for not being technical enough and for embracing shabby tactics! My sin? I suggested that some customers hadn’t completely moved off NonStop and that yes, there has been some growth in selected markets and yes, there’s new applications appearing on other NonStop Servers. Being positive about the prospects of NonStop apparently is not something a couple of NonStop communities are all that interested in hearing.

And all the time, the lament continues. Why isn’t HP marketing the NonStop Server platform more aggressively and why isn’t HP beefing up their sales teams, all the while, bringing new solutions to market? And why have so many users elected to change direction and pursue alternate offerings? At a time when Larry Ellison is at his most vocal (and yes, he is now going after IBM based on one presentation at the Oracle OpenWorld ,where he was reported to have quipped “There'll be nothing left of IBM once I'm done”), why aren’t we hearing more from HP executives?

The reality of it all is that it’s been a tough decade for NonStop. During my term on the board of ITUG it was clear that the first order of business for the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) was to return the NonStop product line to profitability. Even back then, all those years ago, huge tectonic plates were in motion beneath the NonStop Server – commodity hardware was outselling all other hardware platforms and the move to open source was shocking the industry as it continued to find acceptance even with the biggest blue-chip corporation. No, returning NonStop to profitability would necessitate a transition to commodity hardware, a sharing of peripherals and connectivity products with other family members within Business Critical Systems (BCS) and a more concerted effort to embrace and accept software from other parts of HP, as well as from partners.

In the previous post to this blog “My passage to India!” I promoted the idea that some key initiatives within HP need to be broadened, and should embrace NonStop. There was no point in just one group within HP pursuing a Mission Critical initiative, without embracing NonStop, just as it made little sense to promote Cloud Computing at the expense of NonStop. In both situations there is just so much to be gained by including NonStop and following numerous emails and phone conversations, it appears that within HP the message is beginning to percolate closer to the top levels of HP management. And this is very encouraging and appreciated by all within the NonStop community as a good start!

None of this would have been possible, of course, if NonStop hadn’t returned to profitability or so readily embraced packaging in use by the rest of the BCS product family. But it does beg the question – why aren’t we hearing a lot more from users? Why aren’t customers today speaking out more loudly and sharing with their CIO peers just how well off they are from running NonStop. Just in the database arena alone, returning to Larry Ellison and Oracle for a moment, the benefits of an integrated stack so coveted by Ellison, and the savings in DBAs as a result are surely items every CIO can take substantial pride in having, should be enough to kick-start a conversation during a round of golf!

There have been occasions of late where my support of NonStop has generated considerable debate within the community. There have even been times where my opinions led to others expressing open derision and scoffing at the very thought that there could be a future for NonStop! Yet it’s hard to miss the enthusiasm for the NonStop Server platform from major companies like Chase Paymentech, AOL, Visa, Boeing-CDG, VocaLink and many others, all of which I have interacted with this year and found their support for NonStop unwavering – and they are proactively and visibly supporting the user community and its events.

It’s also hard to miss the most recent comments of Jim Johnson, Chairman of the Standish Group, posted to the LinkedIn group, Fools for NonStop. Moving off NonStop? "It is not easy to unhook a NonStop System. It is both costly and risky. In some cases it can take years. The migration failure rate is also very high … So making plans to get off NonStop is not a casual decision.” This remark comes at a time when Jim knows full well that there are CIOs with more than just plans to migrate, but the going is extremely difficult and ultimately, for these CIOs, simply not worth it.

So when is enough, enough? The problem that develops within losing teams is that it can become routine – oh, we lost again! That’s a shame … But when it comes to NonStop then we, as a community, should not be losing. Yes, there are markets where deploying a system that doesn’t go down, and that can scale to accommodate growth, remains a stellar option. HP has turned a corner, users remain loyal, and the options remain expensive and risky.

On the other hand, clusters continue to be complex and with complexity there will always be fragility – there’s no short cuts here. Wire a bunch of stuff together and you don’t add to stability, but rather simply lessen the stability. It can be addressed, of course, at the application level where all the “intelligence” has to be crafted as part of the solution – but the commitment to support for years to come has to be financed. A good TP Monitor will help, as will a “cluster aware” application and a good RDBMS – but again, adding multiple good technologies together doesn’t make a 5 X 9s system.

So let’s shed our conservative clothing and let’s move out from the shadows. NonStop is a winner and continues to win. Yes, markets have shifted as if on huge tectonic plates that push and collide, but opportunity abounds. However, we will miss out on a lot of it if we continue to believe that it is our fate to lose. Become unnecessary, perhaps irrelevant. Nonsense!

Yes, when are we collectively going to say enough is enough! And push back hard! When will we begin to push the bar a little higher and begin stretching, once again? When are we going to pen-in the naysayers so quick to provide their “evidence” of further failure? For me, the message is very clear – yes, enough is enough! It simply has to end and as the story in the local paper about the CU Buffs, paraphrasing Jack Nicholson’s speech in the movie “A few good men” - the truth? Not everyone out there can handle it! And in this case, NonStop will prevail, of that I have little doubt!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My passage to India!

When the invitation arrived from HP India to speak at their InNUG user event there was absolutely no way I was going to turn it down. And after spending time with the NonStop community in India I was so pleased that I had elected to go!

There has been one country I have somehow missed visiting during all the decades I have been in IT. I landed there once on a flight from Paris to Bangkok, but never left the plane. And yet, whenever conversations turn to IT, the work being done in this country rarely escapes a mention. Of course, I am talking about India. And the picture above is of me poolside, very early in the morning, in the town of Kovalam, pretty much at the bottom of the Indian peninsula. About 8 degrees north of the equator, I later learnt.

I had been fortunate enough to have received an invite from HP to speak at the Indian NonStop user group event – InNUG. Coming right after the successful event for the Australian NonStop user group, OzTUG, as well as following the good news I had received about the most recent gathering of the Vikings at VNUG, I just had to accept. Following a whirlwind couple of days as I secured my visa, I found myself airborne and on my way to the subcontinent of India.

As an Australian with some familiarity with the geography of the region, I had assumed that I would be flying across the Pacific and changing planes in Singapore, and I was looking forward to the journey. The chili crabs served at restaurants along the south east shoreline of Singapore are a treat never to be missed. There’s never been a post to this blog about Singapore without some references made to this delicacy, as spicy food from the Far East has always been something I have enjoyed immensely.

But no, not this time. So much for my knowledge of geography and of the relative distances between the continents! India was a lot closer to the east coast of the US than it was to countries on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. So this would be an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and see things from a different vantage point – I would be travelling east to visit a land I always had pegged as being to the west of the California!

Departing out of Denver, through to Frankfurt and then on to Mumbai for a 1:30 am arrival. An overnight stay at the spectacular Leela-Kempinsky Mumbai (the 6 Degree bar off the lobby cannot be ignored) and then it would be a couple more hours in the air before I would be checking into the Leela-Kempisky Kovalam. And in the early hours of daylight, I recorded my first impressions of a place I had only ever heard others talking about :

I am sitting in my hotel room in Mumbai where ceiling-to-floor glass windows are providing me with a panoramic view of the many mid-rise apartment and office blocks crowding the hotel. In the distance I can see a number of hills pushing up into the low-hanging monsoonal clouds that continue to bring more rain. The humidity remains high and my glasses immediately fog each time I step outside. And everywhere, that distinct pungent odor that you only ever experience in the tropics – that strange mix of aromas that comes from the rich variety of exotic plants combined with the smell of decay that is ever-present.

Directly beneath my window there is a highway overpass under construction. Or perhaps a railway overpass. Or both; it’s hard to tell from the concrete support pillars already in place what it is that’s being built. However, what’s easy to see is that labor continues to be inexpensive in this city as close on a hundred construction workers are laying reinforcing bars (rebar) over a section several hundred yards long. Another concrete pour must be planned sometime soon, and as I look across the tops of the buildings and take in the scene it is reminiscent of what Singapore looked like thirty years ago.

HP India didn’t hold back when it came to organizing this year’s user group event – the location was terrific and the number of participants was as impressive as the locale. By the time I post this I will have already provided commentary to posts I have made to the web publication,, as well as to the blog, comForte Lounge, both of these are worth checking. However, the theme that stayed with me throughout the event was of removing limits and of broadening horizons.

In other words as I listened to the keynote speakers whom HP and the user group had lined-up, and as I heard first hand of the variety of solutions being run in support of the business, the more I came to appreciate how short-sighted I had become when I think of where NonStop Servers can be best deployed. There are so many discussions of late about the appropriateness of NonStop in this market segment or perhaps that market segment, when in reality, whenever there’s something a business values, whether it’s a type of transaction or simply data, then where the price is reasonable, there is a very legitimate role for NonStop Servers to play.

With so much talk about Cloud Computing and of enterprises embracing clouds, particularly private clouds, I have become concerned that our definition of Cloud Computing has become too narrow and needs to be broadened. The Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defined Cloud Computing in a paper published late 2009. It listed the essential characteristics as “on-demand self-service,” “broad network access,” “resource pooling,” “rapid elasticity” and “measured service.” And it described deployment models as “private cloud,” “community cloud,” “public cloud” and “hybrid cloud”.

In the preface NIST began with defining Cloud Computing as a “model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provide interaction.” Which all leads to suggest, among the NonStop community familiar with the loosely-coupled, shared nothing “Pathway” environment to go, yawn! So what? Nowhere in the definition was there a mention of x86 servers, virtualization, or Linux / Windows.

Picking from the NIST definitions broad network access, resource pooling and rapid elasticity together with deployment as private and / or hybrid clouds shouldn’t limit our imagination but rather broaden our appreciation for just how well NonStop Servers can support this growing business need. All the time, the pricing is coming down while the fragility of current implementations continues to be documented and their users left disillusioned. Perhaps the new message for NonStop should center on the “frustration free” NonStop Server based Cloud Computing!

And while on the topic of messaging, why are we limiting the message of Mission Critical to specific platforms and relegating NonStop to some other, albeit more-mission critical where zero downtime is mandatory (than just the basic-mission critical) marketplace? I am sure we are only seeing the early stage of Mission Critical messages from HP. When I revisited the slides Martin Fink, Senior VP and GM, HP Business Critical Systems, used at HP Discover two slides in particular stood out. Right there in the slide “Best fit solutions for critical workloads” was the Integrity NonStop systems shown as the participant in Mission Critical computing when “zero application downtime with extreme scalability” – yes, it wouldn’t be making such an appearance if the other servers in the chart could provide either!

Further into the slide deck, in the slide “Delivered versatility with common modular design” all of the BCS product line is included as participants within Mission Critical computing and where HP NonStop BladeSystem is qualified as being the “ultimate in availability and scale” – again, it wouldn’t be appearing on this slide if this requirement had already been satisfied by other servers. Sharing the slide with the NonStop Server are the HP BladeSystem (ProLiant and Integrity Blades) and the HP Integrity SuperDome 2, so this at least gives us a clue as to how valuable a participant NonStop is when it comes to the highly visible message from HP on the portfolio of products it has in support of Mission Critical computing!

There is no reason at all to limit or constrain our perspective on products and technologies when it comes to the NonStop Server – it’s an ideal place to start when it comes to clouds and it really is the premier offering in support of mission critical computing. There has been much said of late as to why HP isn’t talking about NonStop or why NonStop isn’t a participant in Cloud Computing. Yes, I think there is agreement all round that HP can improve its marketing message but it’s not like the NonStop Server is being overlooked! For me, it all comes down to education and it comes down to you and me – we simply aren’t broadening our imagination or communicating as passionately as we once did. It’s almost as if the can-do attitudes we once cherished have simply been relegated to the past, overtaken by an almost bunker mindset.

My very own passage to India, and indeed my participation in this year’s InNUG, will certainly be among the highlights of the year and I will remember the experience for quite some time. Travel this time did broaden my mind and the opportunity to meet with so many end users, perhaps more than I have seen at any other recent NonStop user event, was a real surprise. At a time when technology is shifting underneath us and attributes that were once sacrosanct seeming less important, let’s ensure we broaden our vision and open it up as wide as we can because even with what we are now witnessing all around us, NonStop remains as relevant today as when it first appeared, 35 plus years ago!

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