Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Product Roadmaps! Still required?

Its winter and a time for staying indoors; for frequent visits to the trusty wine cellar, and to just kick back and enjoy the brief time off! But even though the mind may numb from the cold, it’s not hard to miss the subtle changes occurring with NonStop!

Working in Boulder across the holiday season has given me time to check out the cellar to just make sure wines I have treasured for so many years are even drinkable. The basis of my concerns centered on a number of really good red wines from Australia that were bottled in 1996 – one of the much better years for wine coming out of Australia. And the picture above is of four such wines pulled from the cellar and opened over the days following the New Year.

Readers may recall in the post of August 29th, 2010 “NonStop? Spreading the word ...” of how it was only a couple of years earlier that I had made the terrible mistake of selecting the inexpensive wine after I said to my wife that I am off to get a special treat and of how, for the rest of the holiday week, I had opened some of the best wine I could find in the cellar so as not to be subject to any more wrath over my prior lackadaisical efforts.

Pleased to report, this time around, my efforts met with much greater appreciation and the picture above is of four of the wines I selected.

It’s been a couple of cold weeks spent in Boulder – temperatures frequently in the low teens. Looking out onto the landscape with nightfall approaching, the thermometer only managed to climb up to 14 degrees. And that’s a Fahrenheit reading! So much of the time has been spent indoors, reading, catching a few headlines, and just generally trying to stay on top of things. My clients are gradually making it back into their offices and so I am not anticipating I will be enjoying this luxury for very much longer.

In the lead up to the holiday season I worked on a feature story for the next issue of The Connection. Selecting the topic, Manageability, gave me the opportunity to once again revisit former good times working at Tandem Computers. Many of the friends I had at those times are now actively engaged in their own businesses and the fact that many of them have struck deals with HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) speaks volumes about how well they have addressed the needs of the NonStop community.

After all, the highly visible aspect of the NonStop server’s minimal demands on oversight personal continue to allow it to enjoy a significant cost of ownership discount, much envied by other platforms.

None of this could have happened, mind you, without NED product management assembling roadmaps identifying user requirements that gives them the requisite “feature boxes” with which to approach vendors in the manageability marketplace. Not that that’s their sole purpose, as none of us can deny how popular roadmap presentations prove to be at any user event supported by HP NED!

They continue to be the only opportunity we have to get the inside scoop on where products are headed.

Or may be headed, at least! It often comes across a little idealistic and with fingers crossed, but for the most part, the years have proved kind to those who have worked on roadmaps within HP NED. Tracking the Intel roadmap, for instance, has certainly clarified where the hardware is headed.

No NonStop customer who recalls the prices for former Tandem Computers VLX and Cyclone systems will begrudge the enormous price performance gains achievable with today’s modern NonStop platforms.

Perhaps it’s the cold, or perhaps it’s just the general trappings of winter that I have to accommodate at this time of year. I’m reluctant to leave the house and I am avoiding running errands of any sort unless it’s absolutely necessary. With snow laying everywhere and the thermometer continuing to fall, I am beginning to wonder whether worrying about what’s coming in three years’ time is really worth the effort!

Roadmaps are never set in concrete and as those in the NonStop community, with many years of experience behind them, know all too well, rarely prove infallible. So much can change, and so quickly. As I have observed in other posts, who could have guessed how successful the iPhone would have become, let alone the iPad! Mobility has now having the biggest impact on all vendors’ roadmaps, and these devices weren’t even around a short time ago.

For those of us in America, it’s been hard to escape the hoopla surrounding this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It’s perhaps the worst kept secret that shortly, Verizon will begin to sell Apple’s iPhone. Indeed, as you read this post, it may have already happen.

Verizon isn’t just getting attention because of the iPhone – its network is also grabbing the headlines and as it rolls out new consumer gadgets, according to USAToday, they’re also hyping how they now have a “wireless network that’s faster in many cases than wired broadband.”

That’s sure to influence Verizon’s competitors’ roadmaps. Whether everything that’s forecast will actually materialize remains questionable as product development never takes place in a vacuum, nor does the market ever prove to be an ideal world.

Perhaps it’s then no coincidence that there is greater vendor participation in addressing requirements identified by HP NED’s roadmaps. And perhaps we are getting a glimpse into the future – as we wonder whether traditional approaches to building roadmaps can continue, in light of the so many variables and unknowns present today, projecting what is to come next needs to see timeframes reduced, thus engaging others from within the NonStop community.

In an earlier exchange with Shaun Clowes, who heads product management for NonStop at Integrated Research (IR) he suggested that “perhaps what we really need are product radars where we plot potential new features etc. based on importance (closer to center being highest), product area (quadrants) and estimate the size of the outcome based on the size of the blip!”

Explaining this concept a little further, Clowes added “this would allow us to have open and honest discussions with customers about what we're thinking and collaborate to understand what is on their radar and why.” Maybe we could all benefit from an approach like this? Now, that could be refreshing …

So how did the four red wines from 1996 fair? There was a Lindemans Padthaway Cabernet Merlot that scored a mixed review – I didn’t care for it. From nearby vineyards of Stanley Brothers came a Shiraz we put aside for cooking. The Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon proved rather good, while Cyril Henchke’s Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend proved outstanding, clearly the better for aging.

Unfortunately, the random choices we picked from 2006 seemed to stand up just as well. I am pleased I hung onto the older vintages but I’m also pleased that I didn’t leave their consumption for another year!

Pursuing the creation of roadmaps even as everything heads towards commoditization can’t be discounted nor can it be deemed irrelevant. That’s simply too harsh. But opening them up to greater vendor engagement and developing approaches that more aggressively court user participation, are actions, I believe, that will quickly overshadow what was done in the past.

It may be cold outside, and perhaps that numbs the mind. But I think the NonStop we see emerging later in the year, perhaps early next year, will be augmented with charts and timelines that have less to do with what may happen next, than with milestones for NonStop created packages of vendor produced products and solutions.

We may even see the emergence of NED, the wholesales / distributer; responsible for little more than stacking the shelves with “named” selections for every aisle that once was nothing more than a feature box on a roadmap!

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