Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Always on! Always connected!

These days it seems I'm always connected - iPad, Blackberry and the ever reliable laptop! I may fuss over the complexities of keeping calendars in synch, but I wouldn't have it any other way! There's simply no going back ... oh boy!

I spend way too much time walking the floors of car service bays where there’s always the possibility of spotting something new or different. To me, these cars are works of art where I will pause and absorb the craftsmanship involved.

The picture above is of the work bays in the specialty shop, Dragon Pro Street Engineering, where high-end Corvettes, Vipers and Ford GTs are routinely worked on and where, in the background and a little out of focus, can be seen the famous “Yellow Skull Vette” that recently graced the cover of Vette magazine.

There was a time when you would simply park your car at any car dealers’ service center, tell them what was required, and hand over the keys. It wasn’t all that long ago either that the service staff would call to advise you of what needed to be done, the parts that had to be ordered, and provide you with a projection as to how much it would cost. But not anymore; today we live in not just an always-on world, but in a world that increasingly is “always-connected!”

Readers of this blog will recall a few weeks ago, in the post of March 28th, “Control, choices, and options!” I wrote of the difficulties I had with the AWD Skyline in dealing with the snow and ice that accumulated as a winter blizzard hit the Sierras, east of Sacramento. Taking the car in for service last week, they found the tires had worn out. Later over latte, I simply went on to the Internet, checked out the tire wholesalers, and picked a set; selected the two-day ground delivery service and paid using my PayPal account.

Returning home Friday night from an afternoon lapping at the local race track, Margo suggested it was time we upgraded the brake pads to something better suited to the speeds we were now reaching. An hour or so later, even though it was early in the evening and the start of a holiday weekend, parts were ordered and would be delivered in two to three days.

It’s an always-on world that allows me to be always-connected and I’m finding myself doing business at any time of day and whether it’s from my iPad, my Blackberry, or my laptop. I am always able to respond quickly to whatever situation arises; and it’s changing the way I do business.

Initially I had been concerned about the reception I would receive from the car service centers as I dealt directly with national “warehouse style” chains. However, these local businesses knowing that they cannot compete with the purchasing strength of the larger chains, have made adjustments. In both cases, installing new tires and replacing brake pads, they simply asked to have the items delivered directly to their parts operations and then yes, reduced their charges!

Were they worried about the loss of the revenue opportunity? Not entirely; in a way, it simplified what they needed to do and gave them the opportunity to service more cars! Equally as important, it helped them scale back on their inventories. They were fully aware that their customers were turning to the Internet to enjoy the savings it provided and these service departments could see it was a change that wasn’t going to go away. Their “end users” were now a lot savvier and it was better business to work with them than to steer them elsewhere.

Being always on, always-connected, as is the case these days, has its challenges certainly, and becoming disciplined to ignore the unnecessary invasions into what you may be dong is one practice I am slowly embracing. However, I view this as a significant advancement in terms of my own modernization and in the way it’s changing my life. Yes, I consider myself a modern user as I sip a latte at my favorite coffee shop and then complete an order for a new set of tires on my iPad all while scanning USA Today for catchy headlines I can leverage in future blog posts!

For the past three weeks, I have been covering in posts to the blog comForte Lounge the subject of changing users’ (as well as vendors’) expectations as users’ mobility increases and I wrote about the channels it is creating. In the post last week, “My finger on NonStop!” I referenced Jim Tomaney who proposed that “in 2011 your online film service (indeed any of the services of this type) needs to be as robust as a 1980s ATM system!” Two weeks earlier in the post, “Shorten these lines!” I referenced an announcement from Gartner, “by 2015, companies will generate 50% of their Web sales via their social presence and mobile applications.”

At a time when always-on, always-connected, brings with it so much anticipation for yet even greater developments, it’s also producing major shifts in the tectonic plates that underpin the major vendors, HP included. In a twist to what HP CEO Apotheker covered in his strategy unveiling in late March, THINKsrategies Managing Director, Jeff Kaplan was reported as having said “the theme of (Apotheker’s) talk, and HP’s new mantra, is providing ‘connectivity’ to the Cloud, to move ‘Everyone On.’”

In other words, in a truly modern world, all of us will be active participants. And everything we need to know will be at our fingertips, just a few keystrokes away. However, for this to really take hold and deliver the usefulness that we believe it should, as Tomaney noted, “it needs to be as robust as 1980s ATM systems!”

In the discussions I have had with a number of you, this is where the dilemma arises. Can this be a clarion call to ramp-up our usage of NonStop? Should we all be dusting-off our NonStop programming skills and should we be picking up the phone to let the headhunters know we are ready to start right away! Could this be a bonus for anyone that has worked with NonStop? Perhaps not!

There is a potential role for NonStop in providing the robustness anticipated but its presence may be as transparent as is the delivery infrastructure for electricity, gas, and water. In this modern world where we all participate and where the infrastructure and services are indeed as robust as we mandate, the adoption of NonStop will only come about based on the ease with which it can be deployed.

Cloud Computing has come as an extensions to our pursuits of “X as a Service” and where today, we envisage everything as a service – whether Platform, Infrastructure, Software, whatever. But it will be the deployment of modern NonStop servers that provides the robustness we will depend upon, and where its very presence may be hard to recognize.

Perhaps running the data base, accessed through simple ODBC / JDBC calls? Perhaps running an industry-standard app-server? What is possible with NonStop is not the issue. How many of us really appreciate that the 911 emergency calls for the most part are routed through NonStop servers, or are aware that help is dispatched because the services the NonStop server supports are always-on, always-connected?

The issue that arises is one of simple visibility! Will HP showcase the fundamentals of NonStop in a manner where its contribution will be easily recognized? Will NonStop technology and products become fashionable, even cool? If NonStop is to avoid falling into the void that opens as tectonic plates move and collide, then none of us should remain quiet any longer. Yes, we are now always-on and always-connected!

I will still be drawn to auto shops as I am to art galleries and to the docks where beautiful yachts are moored, but I am left wondering what my fellow latte-drinkers at the local coffee shop make of me. There I am flipping through screens, responding to emails, checking voice messages (wave files) and for all appearances, enjoying myself even as I pursue business opportunities. As I look around, however, I am not alone and the number of similarly connected patrons is on the increase.

As we scale to accommodate everyone and every business, however, as we appear to be doing, and as we all become users connected with World-as-a-Service, wouldn’t it be good to know the World is NonStop!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blossoms and clouds!

Would it come as a surprise to anyone following the HP NonStop Server that it’s making it into the Cloud Computing strategy? And would it be a surprise to any that it’s doing so on the strength of the data base?

Spring is finally making it to Boulder, and finally our snowberry trees are in bloom. For the past couple of weeks we have looked at the trees alongside our driveway through the glass doors of our kitchen nook every morning just to see if they had blossomed. The picture alongside this post shows that yes, they finally gave us the display of white flowers we had been hoping for as the weather had begun to warm.

It has been five years since we saw this display, as business had necessitated us being away from home for extended periods and no matter how hard we tried to schedule being home for this time of year, we had never managed to successfully sidestep commitments to be elsewhere. So the experience of this week has gone a long way to compensate for the distractions that came with almost continuous travel!

However, the picture isn’t quite as rosy as it may appear, and we lived through several false starts that had me wondering whether I would see any flowers develop!

Storms during the past two weeks, dumping several inches of snow and driving us indoors as well as forcing us to abandon taking the car to a track-day event at a nearby road circuit (yes, a Colorado facility with no snow-removal equipment), and it just appeared that winter wasn’t about to let go of its grip on us. Friends to the east of us swear winter will be with them for several more weeks and like us, are cautious about becoming prematurely optimistic!

However, the time indoors has seen me devoting a lot of time to database technology and to looking at the more popular implementations. My business colleagues are often amused with the enthusiasm I have for all things database – wasn’t I the manager of the product management team within Tandem Computers overseeing product roadmaps for communications and networking products and technologies? Wasn’t it me who was always quick to step-up and present new features in excruciating detail?

It was several years ago when in the post of June 5th, 2008 “My road to the vendor side …” where I disclosed how my first years within IT were spent working with data bases. From my earliest days I worked with data and file access methods, becoming a master of IBM’s ISAM and BDAM file systems. These were times when good application programmers, equipped solely with the machines assembler, could write file sorts that would execute entirely within the channel.

I moved to London to work on an early commercial deployment of the Cullinane database management system, IDMS, and then after a bitterly damp English winter, I struck out for North America only to land in Edmonton, Alberta where I parlayed my knowledge of IDMS into my first job as a DataBase Administrator (DBA). For the corporation I had just joined, I quickly dropped all enthusiasm for IDMS and pushed hard to try my hand at deploying an “inverted file” type DBMS, a new product from Insyte Datacom Inc, called Datacom/DB, a precursor of what was to follow with “relational” type DBMS (RDBMS).

Perhaps the only real memorable occurrence that the years I spent working with databases produced was that it gave me the ticket out of Canada. As I wrote in that June 8th post, what happened with all that Datacom knowledge – well, it turned out to be the key that allowed me to return home to Australia. For the next three decades, my focus switched to networking and communications; initially with TeleProcessing (TP) Monitors, before delving deeper into the underlying network architectures.

However, today we live with the Internet and with the protocols it spawned and networking has become comparatively dull; so getting an opportunity from my client to revisit the topic of data bases tapped into a lot of experiences (and late nights) that had lain dormant for a long time. Perhaps not quite on the same scale as the coming of spring, but tempered with as much anticipation certainly!

Before I paint too rosy a picture about data bases, they have seen their fair share of storms as well but we starting to see support begin to flourish and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone within the NonStop community!

This post is not going to cover the same material that I have developed for my client but it does give me the opportunity to segue nicely into describing a future I see for the HP NonStop server in light of the messages being developed within HP in support of the just-announced strategy that’s focusing on Clouds and Mobility. Obviously, “Mobility”, centered on mobile devices and the WebOS operating system rules out NonStop for the time being, at least. And with that observation the future of NonStop, as a thriving participant in the enterprise offerings of HP, implies a future within Cloud Computing.

With all the talk of virtualization and clustering NonStop SQL/MX database (NS SQL/MX), remains one of the best kept secret in the industry. Whereas every popular database product sits atop the operating system, often in conflict with the operating system when it comes to efficient resource oversight, NS SQL/MX is a part of the operating system. Years of development went into making the Tandem Computer fault tolerant and the pursuit gave us an n+1 technology built on a shared-nothing architecture – a copy of the operating system inside every processor in the system, or node.

The first byproduct from providing users with fault tolerance and the ability to run 24 X 7 was that from the very outset, Tandem Computers could scale linearly. Today, packaged as very modern HP NonStop servers, they have lost none of these availability and scalability properties. Why are we finding this is so important today?

Cloud Computing is coming after a period of server consolidation, and with it, the emergence of mixed workloads. Before we consolidated we had to come to terms with the fact that we have too many lightly used servers and the manageability challenge they presented was proving daunting – even for the biggest users. The growth in business needs fueled the popularity of this model and as we contemplate Cloud Computing there’s no evidence that we will not be growing further – so we need to be able to scale the cloud.

For many corporations considering building out their data centers with a super “private cloud” populated with as many servers as required to satisfy the corporations IT needs, means there will be mixed workloads. From all that I have uncovered talking to users and vendors alike, nothing runs mixed workloads quite like the HP NonStop server – and yes, nothing else includes the data base as part of the mixed workload the way NonStop does! No mysteries in how this is achieved after all, mixed workloads are just riding the coattails of the services within the NonStop operating system designed to ensure fault tolerance!

I wonder how long it takes before applications providers, targeting Cloud Computing recognize this. Or how inexpensive it is to utilize the data base that is part of the NonStop operating system, NS SQL/MX? And before you think I’m painting too rosy a hue on the prospects of NS SQL/MX here, over the past six weeks I have talked with a dozen or so corporations with NS SQL/MX deployed including the DBAs overseeing their maintenance, and the story really is very positive. However, there’s a lot more that is still required and there’s nowhere near critical mass in terms of solutions vendors opting for NS SQL/MX.

HP has a long way to go before everyone understands how the vision of Cloud Computing and Mobility will come to fruition and how this strategy will impact their own partnership with HP. For the users of HP NonStop servers, however, the steps into Cloud Computing and the reasons behind taking those steps are becoming clearer. And it has a lot to do with the merits of NS SQL/MX.

Time to dust off my database skills and to check out the latest analysts’ reports! Who could have guessed that after so many years, the industry would turn so markedly back to databases! As a colleague of mine was quick to point out today, the ball is squarely in HP’s court on this issue – if NS SQL/MX is that good, they need to build programs to attract partners; follow the Apple model, if you like.

It may be a stretch and HP may hedge, of course, but if I have learned anything from talking to NonStop customers these past few weeks, HP is not lacking when it comes to reference-able customers! And watching NS SQL/MX develop strong advocates, perhaps others apart from HP will begin to pay attention! Perhaps even … you know who!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A bad case of S&D!

Paraphrasing local bedding shop in the west, “You’re killing me, Larry!” But it’s not so much his posturing as it is Larry’s presumption that he enjoys special relationships with every vendor up and down Silicon Valley!

It’s as if I can never escape infrastructure projects, or escape being embroiled in technology obsolescence discussions. Setting up offices for Margo and me in our Boulder home has been quite an ordeal and this morning we had a longtime audio / video specialist, Brian, return to oversee the pulling of Ethernet cables, some coax and other related components needed to support dual working environments. The picture
 above is of Margo who bravely soldiered on while everything was in chaos for several hours.

Watching new networking infrastructure being installed and watching older equipment being carted away, I was reminded of how when I worked for Tandem Computers I used to enjoy providing the product management perspective on communications and networking to customers and prospects where often the message was to forget about what you had already purchased! It was already legacy! In full flight I could address issues to do with SNA/APPN, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), and the OSI stack without missing a beat.

However, it was while I was so engaged that one day a good friend of mine from development, Brad, suggested I had become the master of S&D; in his words, “Substitution and Distraction” with a performance akin to that of an illusionist, but with a twist.

Whenever a question came up about Tandem capabilities not yet in plan I would transition to a different product or feature and in so doing, present an opinion so energetically and enthusiastically that I succeeded in distracting the audience completely. Rather than having a flaw exposed, I could be relied upon to substitute a related topic so smoothly that to all present, the original question was long forgotten!

Perhaps this is the perfect segue to the issue that’s arisen with Oracle’s CEO March 23rd, 2011, announcement that “Oracle has decided to stop developing software for Intel’s Itanium chip because it thinks the processor is ‘nearing the end of its life.’ Hewlett-Packard screams and Intel reiterates support for the Itanium” was how ZDNet “Between the Lines” blogger summarized Larry Ellison’s latest proclamation.

HP and Intel had every right to be upset and then it really hit me; this was Larry being Larry and facing some major issues himself he, too, was simply resorting to a little S&D!

Should HP NonStop server customers be alarmed in any way? Could the reliance solely on Intel’s Itanium chip prove to be problematic in the future?

“HP and Intel have a long standing relationship of developing enterprise solutions for the mission critical and high availability markets. Together, we have demonstrated our commitment to our customers and partners, with new chipsets delivering increased performance, lower power consumption and maintaining best in class technology,” according to Randy Meyer, Director of Product Management, NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), HP. “We continue to develop and innovate, exploiting the Itanium processor family and increasing the available options in our NonStop portfolio.”

I happen to be firmly in the camp of there being no immediate or midterm issues for HP NonStop server customers and prospects. I have sat through the product roadmap presentations enough times to understand the specific chips NED will use and the timeframes involved.

However, and possibly more relevant for HP NonStop server users, I am of the opinion that Larry, the master of S&D, has a lot to hide. And the more I talk to technologists, the more I am convinced that there are at least three possible issues Larry faces within Oracle!

Larry plans to sell the Sparc chip business and needs to generate more hype and demonstrate its future profit potential. Expressed as simply as I can, when it comes to chips of this complexity, where Sparc is trying to catch up to IBM’s Power chip, let alone Itanium, the potential to be “one-of-two” certainly looks a lot more attractive than being “one-of-three” – basic math tells me there’s something to be gained from this outcome.

Why should Larry sell the Sparc chip business? That’s the $5 Billion (maybe more) question and its roots are deeply tied to the cost for the next chip spin of Sparc which hast to happen sometime under his watch. Ever considered the price of a new chip fab factory, plus the associated R&D expense?

For a company like Oracle, doing well admittedly with quarterly net income hovering around $2 Billion, such a “roll of the dice” is a little too rich, even for Larry. So, Sparc just has to go, and it has to be sold with a premium because Larry has to win!

However, Larry also has a Plan B, and this is the second issue; should the thin veneer he has thrown up around Itanium be penetrated and his plans to sell Sparc crumble, then he will bring IBM into the ruckus as well and really go after both the Itanium and Power programs. If he’s to be left with x86 processors as his only future platform, then he has to start the heavy-lifting associated with neutralizing the oppositions chip sets!

After all, Larry is pushing hard to sell the full stack once again, as he envisions Oracle becoming a one-stop shop! It’s hard not to miss how envious Larry is of the old IBM. Perhaps the one comment he made as he took a shot at the Itanium chip that he would like to take back is when he expressed envy over IBM’s mainframe model from decades ago.

Readers of UK publication, The Register, on March 24th, 2011, could hardly have missed the commentary provided by Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting, when he suggested that “to me, this is the reality of what Ellison meant when he said that Oracle wants to be the IBM of the 1960s. Oracle wants to have the incredible margins that IBM enjoyed back then. It wants to have that lock-in that IBM had in the days when there were few alternatives and even fewer standards that would allow customers to easily move from vendor to vendor.”

Expressed a little differently, and with an admonishment, writer Jonathan Eunice posted on April 1, 2011, of how “Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has described the mainframe era and model in glowing terms; if he's hell-bent on going there, and on pulling customers into Oracle's ‘full stack’ fold, then Oracle's traditional commitment to heterogeneous multi-vendor support goes by the wayside. If I were an Oracle customer running on any non-Oracle hardware, I'd be asking for long-term support and software update assurances, in writing, with clear and enforceable penalties for non-performance. Verbal reassurances would no longer be sufficient.”

Left with just an x86 chip then yes, to drive home the “full stack” where he doesn’t hold all the cards is not the typically “winning-hand” that Larry would want to hold.

Unfortunately, that’s not all that he’s facing; there’s more! There’s a very serious concern, and the third issue that I see – Oracle, as a data base, is flawed and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to large users.

At issue is the strong tie Oracle has to Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP) architectures. It can be argued that it has been the exploitation of SMP that has helped Oracle to achieve the success it has enjoyed to date, but when data bases grow too big, and clustering is pursued, SMP really gets in the way! Shared nothing architectures, with the relationship they enjoy between processors, the disk processor (DP2) and the disks, support linear scalability whereas clustering SMP nodes usually peaks at around 3, perhaps 4 – certainly well short of the 100 you find in the text books.

Of late, several very large customers of Oracle have moved to NonStop and in the weeks leading up to HP Discover event I am sure we will hear a lot more about them. But I sense this is the start of a gradual shift in emphasis with NonStop as the answer to a secure data base that can simply scale practically without limit, and without Larry, will become extremely newsworthy! Perhaps these flaws in Oracle are really what have Larry anxiously practicing S&D!

In the meantime, as HP’s Randy Meyer went on to add, “NonStop customers continue to rely on HP’s NonStop Blade technology. The value proposition has been proven time and time again. Leveraging the RAS features that are fundamental to Intel’s Itanium chipset, NonStop continues to deliver world class availability and scale for customer applications that demand true 24x7 availability.”

As for my own home office data center, the installations have been completed and the systems are up and running and I am free to continue writing. I will keep watching the headlines though, as I have to believe we haven’t heard the last from Larry on the topic of Itanium. However, the shock value has now diminished and Itanium users are no longer uncertain about the future so I have to wonder, is it now IBM’s turn to appear in the cross-hairs of Larry’s sights?

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