Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not a clear view ahead?

The NonStop community has always been willing to give new solutions a try and many PoC’s have been undertaken to look at what is on offer from a vendor. And guiding these decisions has been the vendor’s product roadmaps!
For perhaps the last time I crossed the continental divide and returned to Simi Valley, a trip I have taken as many as fifty times these past four plus years. But with this trip my final destination isn’t to be Simi Valley, but Boulder, Colorado at the moment is many miles behind me. After spending as much time as I have in Simi, and despite having built several great friendships, I am looking forward to a less disruptive time working out of my home office.

As I pushed deeper into the mountains, what I could see wasn’t all that clear. And the photo above was taken through the front windscreen of my trusty Escalade SUV as I descended Vail pass – snow flurries obscuring major landmarks! With a posted speed of 65mph, a little over 100kph, I could barely see enough of the road in front of me to maintain a speed of 40 mph, and with the onset of a winter’s afternoon, I still had 400 miles to go!

Yes, without visibility it was futile to try to go faster or to even think about changing course. I couldn’t even see the exit signs and it wasn’t practical to pull over and wait for the weather to clear, as already a number of cars had been engulfed by the growing snow drifts unseen by their unwary drivers. I always travel with maps, and my iPad does a good job of telling me where I am, but even with these tools, when you are unable to make out simple features, lacking visibility of what’s ahead makes the best road maps next to useless!

As it so happened, only a few days before setting out, I had just finished an article for the upcoming March – April, 2011, issue of The Connection. For this issue the article I wrote was on roadmaps – look for it as the magazine arrives. In pursuing the story, I had the good fortune of exchanging ideas with a number of infrastructure vendors and along the way, I developed new respect for the work that goes into their development and the sincerity with which their owners strive to portray accurate assessments of what lies ahead!

This article in the upcoming issue of The Connection, references an earlier post of November 11, 2010, “Product Roadmaps! Still Required?” where I talked about recent announcements by the HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) of partnerships addressing user requirements in security as well as manageability. With this in mind, I then suggested that perhaps we were 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.

I then proposed that for roadmaps to be useful for users, NED needs to step up its engagement with vendors from across the NonStop community. To more accurately project what is to come next and to have users plan for it, NED needs to reduce product delivery timeframes, and needs to engage others from within the NonStop community: that would be a good way to help bring the horizon a lot closer and help eliminate some of the more speculative aspects of a product or feature that does little to help foster credibility among users. It’s just plain tough to see where technology is headed when visibility is blurred by so many distractions!

Little did I know as I made these claims that I would find myself on the highway cautiously navigating my way through slick conditions! But then again, its winter in the mountains so why should I have been shocked by what was happening around me? Why should I be surprised with my inability to clearly see the way ahead! Why should I even try to consult my road map?

Increasingly, I am seeing users develop roadmaps for themselves. They may call them by different names, hide them within business requirements documentation, and even discuss them in terms of requests for proposals, but whatever the language used they are roadmaps all the same. They reinforce a corporate objective in terms of a business plan or vision. Strategy documents are liberally sprinkled with roadmaps – explanations of what’s required and when it needs to be delivered to fully meet a company’s expectations.

The upswing in Proof of Concept (PoC) exercises bears this out – a company will often bring in untried solutions, and check them out, when they see the potential to leverage something new and it has the potential to push them further down the road. Well-executed PoC’s can often help users see how a product or feature, from a vendor not even on their radar-screen, and can prove extremely beneficial.

Among the NonStop community, there has always been a willingness to give these new vendors an opportunity to showcase their capabilities. As we emerged from Y2K testing, for instance, very few NonStop users expected to be able to support web access, let alone come to terms externalizing Pathway applications as Web services. Participating in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) seemed to be the domain of others – but the NonStop platform has proved itself to be as modern as any other platform hosting services externalized to the web.

Now that we are becoming more familiar with Cloud Computing, and with private Clouds in particular, we are coming to terms with how the NonStop platforms has every opportunity to play a role. Users are not the least concerned with which platforms populate the Cloud, only that the service being supported is always available from anywhere in the world, at any time of day.

User roadmaps show little that’s different from requirements of decades ago when NonStop first appeared! And why should any of us running NonStop be surprised? Unfortunately, for many users, the visibility they have is pretty poor and landmarks aren’t easily sighted. Popular misconceptions are only adding to the flurries whirling around in front of them, making the road ahead easy to discern. However, as we do get to see more clearly and as the flurries pass by, newer roles for the NonStop platform to play will become much clearer.

In talking with users and vendors, there’s no question about whether HP NonStop servers will ever take up sole residency within the Cloud, just as there’s no question about the presence of there being only x86 servers – every category of server can easily find a home within the Cloud. It is the role these platforms play that will determine participation or not, and it will be about the value a server provides that will determine its future. Roadmaps devoid of NonStop participation may well be selling short a crucial technology component and yet, as I listen to these users and vendors, there’s still those who are very much surprised by my predicting such a future for NonStop!

I arrived in Simi Valley quite late, but next day morning gave us clear skies. The photo here to the left is of the horizon, looking north from a park just behind me. Sometimes we forget how high the mountains surrounding the greater Los Angeles area are and how beautiful they can become when covered in snow. What was so dangerous only hours earlier were now a winter showcase!

Willingness to develop strategies and craft roadmaps, to pursue PoC’s and to push ahead with new ways to deploy the HP NonStop server is a healthy sign for all associated with the NonStop platform. Its future role may not be immediately apparent to all of us, but as the noise coming from today’s experts recedes and landmarks take form once again, we are more than likely to see NonStop platforms anchoring much of what is being presented as modern… and for that, the drive we may be currently experiencing will quickly fade from memory and be replaced with spectacular visages.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three years on, and three more wishes!

Car racers perform well when they pull from experience and after 35 years, experience suggests there's a lot more coming for the HP NonStop server. Imagine it – a NonStop in every Hybrid platform!

For several days I resisted the temptation of working cars into the storyline of this week’s blog, as for the past couple of weeks there’s been more than a liberal sprinkling of car photos and this will be the third time in as many weeks. But somehow the number three is relevant to this post’s storyline so I have gone ahead and used one more car picture.

The photo above is of me close by the pit exit at Willow Springs International Raceway (WSIR), that up until recently wore the title of the fastest track in the west. The one take-away I have from the time spent out on road courses is that focus is paramount and improvement only comes with practice. Experience developed over the years is what sets racers apart.

And practice, practice, practice – there’s absolutely no substitute for the time spent behind the wheel! The most powerful car rarely clocks the fastest times, nor does the drivers’ age seem to be a factor. At the club level, drivers will often switch cars and “volunteer” to show newcomers the best lines and you can always recognize when any car is in the hands of a more experienced driver.

The origins of this post can be traced back to a post I wrote three years ago to this weekend, and posted on February 12, 2008 “’My Wish’ for NS Blades” and then followed-up more recently in a number of articles I have written over the past couple of months including a feature in the October issue of the e/Newsletter Tandemworld.Net as well as an earlier post to this blog on November 30, 2010 “Nothing seems to last …

On the understanding that NonStop would be supported as part of the BladeSystem offerings, I suggested three years ago that firstly, in terms of wishes, mind you, HP BCS delivers on the slideware Martin Fink, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Critical Systems (BCS), unveiled as the “Shared Infrastructure Blades.”

With Blades a reality, my second wish was for the NonStop operating system, NSK, to be customer-configurable, perhaps even supported atop a hypervisor, such that customers could easily reconfigure the BladeSystem to support as many or as few NonStop processors as their applications required.

My third wish then pushed the barrier even further. Assuming an operator could reconfigure a BladeSystem to have as many or as few NonStop processors running as the applications required, then it would be easy for HP to provide an API, such that a workload manager could automatically reconfigure processors on the fly as transaction mixes determined.

Three years later, so how did I do? Obviously, the BladeSystem was announced and it supported NonStop, and today these have proven to be very popular systems. The drive to commoditization will only see the Blades become more universal in the months ahead so I suspect my first wish is close to fulfillment. The Engineering Prototype exhibited at a recent HPTF event certainly highlighted the potential from a shared infrastructure blades platform.

With respect to my earlier views on virtualization then no, they no longer make sense in my opinion – shifting NonStop further from the hardware lessens its ability to be NonStop!

As for the third wish, and perhaps even for all three, it’s going to depend on how solutions providers weigh the value of a hybrid platform and whether there’s a competitive edge for them as a result. In other words, new entrants into an industry vertical dominated by one or two vendors may not just step outside the box, they may smash it to pieces.

While one solution mandates a BladeSystem chock full of the same high-end Blades processors, a new solution may call for only a couple of high-end Blades processors and then complements it with cheaper systems – mixing Linux and even Windows with NonStop, for instance – then the price difference could be material.

Transactions will never uniformly represent the same value to any user – some transactions will be extremely valuable whereas others will be simply nice-to-have. The fiftieth time I check my 401K balance surely drive my services company nuts if every time it’s processed it’s been on the same system that handles billion dollar trades!

Between my second and third wish lies a really significant piece of work that I have covered several times, and yet has been getting a more encouraging response. Before you can manage, you first have to capture and report, I have been wisely counseled. This makes a lot of sense to me so I now anticipate the first forays into this area will be simple dashboard like solutions telling me I have 3 transactions of this type, 20 of that, and another 6 the other type. Processing will continue on a homogeneous Blade platform, but at least we will have mechanisms in place screening the workload.

If in my general enthusiasm I have not explained myself well, then what I would like to see is a chassis populated with commodity Blades that are physically identical and that can run any operating system, including NonStop, to provide a Hybrid platform and that the number of such Blades running any instances of an operating system can remain fluid – the number assigned in support of NonStop growing and ebbing solely on the mix of transactions arriving that really must be processed no matter what!

Furthermore, while the basics are in place, or are about to be, I no longer see HP driving the release of such packaged Hybrid platforms – it will be successful solutions vendors grabbing market share from the incumbents that will fuel such a possibility! It will be successful solutions vendors that attract infrastructure vendors to resolve the workload monitoring and management that could drive its eventual development.

However, it is now three years later and as I look back, I grade myself a B+ on the understanding that blades can populate a single BladeSystem and that it’s just a case of solutions vendors filling in some of the missing elements. But what do I wish for these days? What are my latest three wishes?

Expressed late last year as observations, let me start out by quoting Martin Fink, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Critical Systems (BCS), when he proposed in a recent email exchange “with every new microprocessor that becomes available to us, we continue to evaluate ServerNet and its impact on overall system performance. Certainly at some future date, we'll move to a standard interconnect – probably Infiniband (IB) as a possible alternative.”

Fink then added, “that's precisely in keeping with our stated strategy to have NonStop built from the same common, modular infrastructure as all the rest of HP's servers.” That will support a commoditized blade package, without a doubt and while there’s still no guarantee we will see every blade package with integrated IB support, a standard interconnect technology for all blades packages seems a certainty.

If that remains my first wish, I am now more than satisfied that one outcome of the commoditization could be NonStop shipping within every platform. This would be my second wish. Again, there are capabilities that could greatly benefit from the presence of NonStop. In much the same way as when IBM moved to “parallel sysplex” and required an instance of MVS to run “clocks, locks, and lists” HP could achieve something far better through the presence of NonStop in every Hybrid blade platform.

As for my third wish this time around, then it’s for greater cooperation with solutions and middleware vendors. We have already seen some partnership success in areas to do with security and manageability, but I believe there will be even more action on this front – the magnitude of what’s presented today in the software roadmaps really does call out for help from others to ensure implementation in a timely manner.

It may be a different set of circumstances from what a racer may find, but when it comes to my most recent three wishes, more than 35 years on, HP has the experience to master just about all I have covered. And for my part, it certainly would instill confidence across the community should these wishes eventuate any time soon!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hybrids? Careful what you ask for …

Auto industry is in turmoil with alliances, government funding, and IPOs only adding to a sense of dramatic changes yet to come. And the rush to produce Hybrid cars may be a foretaste of what may come for today’s CIO!

The weather has been almost perfect here, in Southern California, and last weekend I had the good fortune of driving the roadster through the canyons of Malibu. The picture above is of Margo and me descending Mulholland Drive; my eyes fixed on the exit of the turn, as we headed to The Rock Store, a popular hangout for the likes of Jay Leno and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was taken by the professional photographers from “” who just happened to snap us on the descent - and for those of you well to the East of us and snowbound, check out the Spring flowers already in bloom!

Having none of the electronics or “nannies” watching over us, relying on old-school techniques, driving the roadster took me back to the times when all cars called upon the skills of their drivers just to keep them on the road, and where they provided a measure of feedback to ensure the driver remained engaged across the full range of interactions that occurs whenever a vehicle is being driven.

There’s been a lot published of late about the transformation under way in the auto industry and not just about the mergers, buy-outs and IPOs. I had to laugh the other day when I saw an American muscle car with the rear license surround of “Yes, it’s a Hybrid! It burns gas and rubber!” Yet Hybrids are making an impact and with Motor Trend crowning the Chevrolet Volt its Car of the Year for 2011, there’s plenty to suggest that the demise of the internal combustion engine is imminent.

At least as the sole source of a vehicle’s propulsion!

For much of the car buying public, however, these Hybrids are pretty dreadful looking (although, have you seen pictures of the futuristic-looking 767hp Porsche 918 RSR race car?) and yet it’s a trend that is not going away. The only question for me is what engine performs which function; when it comes to considering a hybrid power source, the combinations are almost limitless!

Personally, I would like to see a diesel electric: a very small diesel monitoring the batteries, and a powerful electric engine built into the hub of each wheel. You want Quattro? I will give you Quattro, and much more! It’s all about keeping the driver very much involved with enough feedback to make the driving experience truly enjoyable.

It was a few years ago, at the 2008 HPTF event in Las Vegas, when NonStop customers were treated to an HP “Hybrid” BladeSystem supporting a mix of NonStop and Linux Blades. It was presented as an Engineering Prototype, and I covered this in the Real Time View post of July 16th, 2008, “Specialist! Am I still needed?” where I wrote of how this Hybrid from HP gave us a perspective on what we could expect to see from HP sometime in the future.

At that time, I suggested a Hybrid provided generalists with the opportunity to have a cluster of specialty servers delivered to them by HP and functioning right out of the box! All the elements of a “pocket mainframe” with support of a Window’s-based web server, NonStop front-ending transaction processing, and a HP-UX / Oracle data base representing just one possible configuration. NonStop at the heart of it all, integrated in a way we have relied on specialists to do in the past!

Two years later, in the summer of 2010, IBM took the wraps of its new mainframe, the IBM zEnterprise 196 promoting something similar to what I described as HP’s Hybrid BladeSystem. At that announcement, IBM talked of establishing “the mainframe as the central management point for enterprise data centers, with other systems directly feeding off the mainframe's configuration,” according to columnist, Andy Patrizio, in the July 22nd, 2008 issue of the electronic newsletter ServerWatch.

“IBM has added the ability to manage Power 7 and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe console through zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, making the mainframe the hub of systems management. Workloads can be spread across all three systems and resources shared and managed as a single, virtualized system, so long as they are IBM systems,” Patrizio observed.

He then quoted Rod Adkins, senior vice president of the Systems and Technology group at IBM, "this is really the industry's first multi-architecture platform. We're taking the traditional quality services of System z and extending those capabilities to provide better data center integration and data center management.”

Given that HP and IBM are pursuing hybrid packaging then, as with vehicles, there’s growing evidence to suggest that reliance on just a “one-platform architecture” may suggest the demise of homogeneous systems is imminent.

At least, at the heart of our data centers!

Even though, for most data center managers, these hybrids present as many challenges as they offer less-expensive alternatives. And the only question for many CIOs is what application will run on which architecture?

For the NonStop community this is particularly true as the flexibility NonStop provides, from online transaction processing (OLTP) to operational data stores (ODS), to enterprise warehouses (EDW); when it comes to hybrid platforms, then again, the combinations are almost limitless!

Within some industry verticals, the picture is a lot clearer. When it comes to financial services, for instance, there would be very few CIOs who would consider running a payments platform switching software on anything but NonStop?

The availability of less-expensive architectures within the platform to run less critical services, such as an account balance inquiry, will more than offset the presence of NonStop supporting account access authorization requests.

As with Hybrid cars I suspect it will come down to how valuable CIOs perceive the NonStop to be. You want NonStop? I will give you NonStop, and much more, seems to be a likely scenario that plays out across many organizations where availability remains strategically important.

As good as an IBM mainframe has become of late, it’s still not continuously available in the sense of a NonStop – have you listened to an IBM DB2 database administrator of late? Old-school computing? Definitely! And as much as they pressure corporations to consider their multi-architecture platform, without NonStop, it really is just another pretty dreadful looking box.

If you truly recognize where the industry is headed, and the packaging of what used to be everything in the data center within a single platform, as is becoming the fashion, then be very careful where you assign the various workloads. Pay particular attention to how your vendors carve-up the transaction processing and data base access assignments and what these vendors may value in terms of trade-offs.

After all, when it comes to Hybrid computer systems and the multi-architecture platforms they embrace, we have to be every bit as careful as we would be when it comes time to choose a vehicle. Perhaps even more so, as there’s some pretty dreadful packages becoming available and it will not be as easy to trade-up once these models have left the showroom floor!

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