Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stories we could tell …

So this is the first post of my fifth year and what better topic to pick to celebrate such a start than what we take with us from user events - regional as well as global. Times are changing and the web is playing a bigger role, but I sure do look forward to any opportunity that comes my way to join with users ...

“Talkin’ to myself again
Wonderin’ if this traveling is good
Is there something else a doin’
We’d be doin’ if we could …”

Today, August 30th, has been celebrated in my family since I was born. Both my parents were born in the same day, different years. In 2009, my father passed away but he is survived by my mother. In the neighborhood where I grew up, my father was the first anyone knew who had spent time living in America. Following in the footsteps of my grandfather, my father was a printer.

I was reminded of this when I walked into my library and came across a framed original of my grandfather’s indentures signed in July, 1902, that bonded him, as an apprentice, for six years into the family of a master printer in Woodbridge, East Anglia, England. It was counter-signed by my great grandfather and the picture above is of me with the signed indenture. I only reference this as yes, I am a third generation newspaper man at heart, but for two years I was a computer “apprentice” indentured to the Australian Steelworks company, John Lysaght in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.

My father participated in a revolution in Australia’s printing industry as he was responsible for the very first “electronic” typesetting machine brought into the country. Long before the Murdoch’s, the Packer’s and the Fairfax’s my father was involved with a newspaper that elected to switch from metal type to film. The machine installed in 1965 was manufactured in America by Mergenthaler and called the Linofilm. It was an electromechanical device that produced the “film” required to feed the new web “offset” presses of the day. Once installed, productivity went through the roof and the newspaper company expanded from three papers a week to more than twenty five suburban and provincial publications!

More relevant today, when viewed in the context of IT, was how the Mergenthaler Linofilm came with no local support other than a traditional pre-sales professional. This necessitated my father to “learn” electronics at age 50, down to the functionality of vacuum tubes and mechanical relays - a requirement that saw him spending three months at Mergenthaler’s campus in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Many Sundays were spent with father absent from the dinner table as he performed major maintenance routines to ensure all was up and running when the first shift of operators arrived Monday mornings.

As I look back on my own career there has been considerable travel. I’ve relocated internationally seven times and I have paid the price – replacing furniture, electronics and cars. Yet the travelling has been my primary source of education – what I observed and what I was taught, proved vital in developing and expanding my knowledge of IT. This is how I took what I had learnt as an apprentice and became a professional.

However, perhaps more importantly, it’s been as much about the people I met along the way! In time, I valued nothing greater than what I took with me from user group meetings. User groups and the sense of community they fostered is how my education continued and proved a powerful catalyst for all the career developments that followed. And yet, with the rise in social media and web publications, I am now seeing some of the same sense of community developing. Next week I will be involved in another webinar so if you are interested in hearing of what new I have to say about modernization follow this link to register: http://bit.ly/nJR6ou

At the start of this post I opened with lines from the Jimmy Buffett song, “Stories we could tell” and readers may recall several posts from the past where I have included lines from other Jimmy Buffett songs. Buffett is a troubadour, and as such represents a continuation of a tradition dating back to the middle ages, perhaps earlier. He communicates current events in ways we can all relate to:

“If you’re on the road trackin’ down your every night
Playin’ for a livin’ beneath the brightly colored lights”

The lines above reflect the singer’s pain and yet suggest inevitability. As a third generation newspaper man, now working in a media unknown to previous generations of the Buckle family, writing these posts gives me as much enjoyment as I’m sure performers like Buffett experience every time they are on stage.

At their height there were 30+ regional user groups focused on NonStop. Many were outside of America and I had the opportunity to participate in events with nearly every one of them. And I hope to continue doing so in the months and years ahead. Even as I write this post, I am working on my travel plans for the upcoming InNUG user meeting to be held in India next month.

My first event was Nice, in 1992, and up until this year I can only recall missing a couple. If I had have behaved myself, I may have made it to New Orleans back in 1986 or 1987 as I was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a company Tandem Computers invested in, but my boss felt that the company would be better served if more mature colleagues made the trip down to the ITUG event held that year.

The starry-eyed expressions when they returned and the stories they told made a huge impression on me, so much so that in talking to Tandem newbies, Suri Harish and Steve Saltwick, as well as to old-hand Andy Hall, convinced me that I should return to Australia, join Tandem Computers, and lobby hard to get back to Cupertino. Looking for a career change and opting for Tandem Computers, came with a surprise – I was standing in the offices of John Robinson, CEO of SDI (NET/MASTER) when I received offers from both DEC and Tandem and today it seems as though working on the fringes of HP was pre-determined!

As the ITUG Summit Chair (2000 to 2002) it became a tradition for me, that stayed with me for all my time with ITUG, that early Monday morning I would walk the exhibition floor and just chat with everyone attending to last minute details. The lads in the NonStop support center, Jack Mauger’s crew, were always wringing out the last possible cycle from the NonStop servers installed. And everywhere, the vacuum cleaners were busily removing the last traces of construction.

It was quite a buzz, and as the Wednesday evening wound down you could find vendors crowding around bars and restaurants retelling the stories of what had just transpired. As the evening progressed, the livelier these conversations became. Walking the floors, catching the discussions, they all became familiar routines that I followed with every event.

User group meetings were always the source of many anecdotes that would be liberally sprinkled through vendor presentations for the rest of the year! There was always that one bar where you would find Jimmy, Gerry Peterson, Bill Heil, Randy Baker, Pete Schott and a collection of developers, vendors and volunteers all intensely competing for the undivided attention of all present. And nearly always, failing to do so, amidst the merriment of the occasion. Yet the competitive spirit fostered became a key characteristic of all those passionate about NonStop!

ITUG was rife with stories as well that were passed down from one event to the next. The time Jimmy rolled up his sleeves and helped pull LAN cable beneath the booths when ITUG was held in San Francisco! And was it true – did Jimmy cut the legs off his custom suite for one user event (Finland?) turning a nicely finished pair of pants into shorts? Just so he could better fit-in with others present! And did the last Stratus replaced by a Tandem ended up being thrown into the Baltic? Perhaps Buffett knew all too well:

“All the stories we could tell
If it all blows up and goes to hell
I wish that we could sit upon the bed in some hotel
And listen to the stories we could tell!”

Yet, for many of us, this is how we gained the knowledge we have today of NonStop and of how users deploy NonStop, and of vendors providing solutions. Customer presentations provided powerful reminders of just how good the NonStop platform really is and guest speakers never missed an opportunity to extol the virtues of the modern architectures and technologies they espoused! But oh, the travel!

Metal type gave way to strips of film, and perhaps events will give way to social media communities. I’m not a Jimmy Buffett but troubadours exist in all walks of life and there’s times where my musings meander down similar paths. And in so doing, knowledge and experiences continue to be shared with those who maybe just entering the IT industry.

I sure hope we haven’t seen the last event – and the recent OzTUG certainly has helped move the bar up a little higher –I’m all for them! And the opportunity they provide for all us to expand our knowledge! However, changes are taking place and I am skeptical we will ever see a return to those times we so thoroughly enjoyed.

But in the near term, and for the audience with a preference for instant access, I will continue to blog and enjoy reminiscing on how it once was done - it’s my first post of my fifth year, so it is appropriate to get nostalgic, just a tad. And yes, keep posting those comments as I enjoy reading every one of them!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fourth Anniversary!

For many, four years may not represent a lengthy time span. Many have worked on projects that spanned many more years! On the other hand, when it comes to my own handicraft, who knew! And yes, who could have guessed … and now I’m kicking off my fifth year of blogging!

There have been many postings to this blog where I have included pictures of cars. On more than one occasion it’s been of the blue Corvette coupe in which I have tried my hand at driving on different circuits in Western United States. Pictures that I have included have clearly shown the number 116 affixed to the car. More astute observers may even recall a picture of my SUV with the same number affixed high in the rear window.

The choice of number for the Corvette, required by clubs before the coupe can turn a wheel on any circuit, took very little time to determine. After all, January 16th is my wedding anniversary and having forgotten (just once, in 2009, mind you) every time I walk through the garage now, I cannot help but be reminded. Anniversaries are extremely important and their celebration is always a joyous occasion in my house.

Perhaps not every reader goes this far to post reminders of important dates, but my track record (no pun intended) since posting to the Corvette, and to the SUV, the vehicle we use to tow the trailer carrying the Corvette to distant circuits, has proved to be more reliable than all previous methods that I have tried – so, for the foreseeable future, I plan to stick with this way of reminding myself of important occasions. As for the picture above, this was taken of me at our daughter’s wedding reception in Minneapolis, anniversary zero!

It only occurred to me this month that with this post I am embarking on my fifth year of writing posts for this blog. It was only a few weeks ago, in the post of June 28th, 2011 “Responsible CIOs show restraint!” that I remarked about it being the 200th post, but for me, entering my fifth year represents a significant milestone. In that first post, way back in August 20th, 2007, “Introduction”, I wrote that I was starting (this blog) with the expectation of presenting a slightly different view of NonStop and that I am writing it to generate further discussion. And these past four years has proved that, as a community, NonStop users and vendors were not all that shy about passing comments on pretty much every topic I raised despite the perspective I took.

How vocal?

When I combed through the 200 posts, as I did last weekend, I found more than 330 comments posted – a handful from myself, of course, and in response to questions directed to me - but in general, a remarkable achievement in the world of blogging where the majority of sites generate very few comments. Combine this number of blog comments with the extensive discussions built around each post on the LinkedIn group by the same name as this blog, Real Time View, you’ll see that, yes, the NonStop community isn’t only “not shy” but is very dedicated in ensuring “the message of NonStop is not lost” on the broader HP user community.

There was a time when the value from blogging and participating in social media channels wasn’t all that well understood. In general terms, those who “got it” were the exception and it’s only been this year that I have seen vendors and consultants working within the NonStop community come to appreciate the value that a direct pipeline into the user community provides.

I have seen little evidence that the ratio, developed in the early days of blogging, of 1:9:90 (where, for every 100 readers 90 will read sparingly, while another 9 will read regularly, and where 1 will routinely provide comments) has not changed all that much, but for the few that do participate it makes the exercise of providing the information well worth the effort.

Blog sites continue to evolve and of late many of them have become repositories for short stories, descriptions of features and product, and marketplace analysis. These blog sites are being complemented too by a presence within LinkedIn, a social media communication channel readily accepted among the business community.

LinkedIn members may not be always aware of postings to blogs but they can quickly tell from discussions that are initiated, and that draw quick responses, which blog postings they may want to take a closer look at – the LinkedIn discussions created around posts to this blog site are now attracting the majority of readers. Where comments posted directly to this blog site tend to be between four and ten, LinkedIn discussions have drawn upwards of 50 comments, with a discussion on Cloud Computing attracting more than 125 comments!

In combination, the discussions on LinkedIn and the posts to blog sites, provide the NonStop community with a wealth of opinions along with candid insights and in many ways, have become the home to a virtual user community that shares much the same enthusiasm that was always evident at traditional gatherings of users. Perhaps the modern events that major vendors like HP are keen to sponsor lack much of the informality and networking those former summits provided, but much of that original spirit lives on in the virtual worlds supported by social media.

Viewed as a complementary channel for marketing, and as a vehicle when used wisely and free from a barrage of sales messages, it can attract an avid following. While I will stop short of suggesting it as a virtual replacement to other ways of meeting, as NonStop users we should openly participate in as many social media outlets as our daily routines permit.

For me there’s still no substitute for sitting down with a colleague over coffee, or an adult beverage, and listening to what they are doing, but in today’s ever-shrinking global community reading of how they are faring is often the only way to find out what NonStop users are currently pursuing in support of their business.

As you scroll down through this post, I am sure you will not miss the sidebar summary of the popular posts. This is a new feature added only a year ago and so doesn’t reflect the results from earlier posts where the data had been managed via a different tool. However, when I combine the data from both sets of figures, I see that the most popular post to date was “Tough Neighborhood”, with close to 1,000 page-views, followed by “ACI Strategy - it's all about choice!”, “More new engines for NonStop!” and then “Starting with a blank …

Essentially, any time I wrote about my former employer, ACI Worldwide, or HP, readership spiked. Not surprisingly as the issues covered were of paramount importance to many at that time. Today, interests are spiking whenever I address the topics of cloud computing, databases, and likely future directions of user communities and user-run events. As for the posts that have drawn the most reader comments, there’s been some clear-cut winners through the years.

The most ever comments followed the post “ACI Strategy - it's all about choice!” followed by “Is it time we folded our (big) tent?” and “The club at the end of the street …” and all comments shared one thing in common: concerns over where NonStop was headed! In particular, there was interest in knowing more about the benefits of the new HP Blade servers, how competitive they would be compared with other traditional platforms such as the IBM mainframe, how much support they would attract from solutions vendors, as well as the venues and forums HP would elect to support as part of promoting the message.

There are many commentators who believe that the creation of virtual communities based on participation in forums and blogs, or membership within groups, is a foretaste of what’s to come. With a new generation of technologists preferring to network online than face-to-face, the popularity of events of all types is in jeopardy. However, I hope that I’m not a part of the community when that time comes as I still enjoy interacting with real people.

As much as I enjoy writing and as fond as I am of jumping into discussions pretty much on a whim, I value even more greatly any chance to sit back and watch a lively conversation produce the level of evangelical enthusiasm so many of us can recall from times past. No, as much as commentators may predict the rise of virtual communities I, for one, will approach with caution and even as I blog and comment, I look forward to the next user event wherever it may be held.

As I look back over the past four years, I have made a couple of poor calls in terms of what to expect to see in future products, as I have strayed into areas where some NonStop community members found it difficult to “connect the dots.” However, the overall response from those who continue to read these postings have been favorable and encouraging and I am hopeful that what interests me continues to find an audience.

There’s definitely no lessening of headlines that catch my attention, or of products and solutions that I find promising so there’s little likelihood I will run out of material on which to base my stories. So again, in case I wasn’t as forthcoming earlier as I could have, thank you for the time you have spent reading my commentaries and opinions over the past four years and I look forward to continuing to develop even more in coming years!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

NonStop revels in Clouds!

Perhaps the biggest surprise for many at HP Discover, was the demonstration of GuardianAngel – NonStop, capitalizing on cloud resources – and for Enterprise users, a whole new way to view cloud computing!

Business took me into Omaha last week, and then I headed off to Minneapolis. Rather than driving an American car, I drove an import on this trip and though this has little to do with the immediate story, when the return trip took us through Sturgis, South Dakota, during the annual motorcycle festival, there were moments when I had second thoughts about the wisdom of what I had done.

The picture above shows me standing in the center of the street surrounded by motorcycles stretched out as far as the eye could see. And the overwhelming choice of the rally participants was American-made bikes and the older the better. Surprising, there was even an exhibit by the motorcycle vendor, Indian, who I thought had long since left the scene following a brief resurrection a few years back.

And of course, there’s no escaping the unique looks of the very modern Victory motorcycle, with its distinctive V-shaped tail lights! Looking at these bikes that are representative of what had been developed in the past was pretty cool, but still, there wasn’t anything I was anxious to own any time soon.

Picking up a copy of Road and Track last night I turned to the editorial only to see the headline stating “The shape of things to come” where editor, Matt DeLorenzo, quoted current Renault chief designer, Laurens Van der Acker, as having said “cars should be a symbol of progress!” The background for this story had been a car show at Lake Como’s Villa d’Este featuring cars of the past and yet, “when you look at the levels of performance available relative to what cars have historically cost,” DeLorenzo wrote, “we are living in a golden age.”

In the post of November 30th, 2010, “Nothing seems to last ...” I wrote of how readers “may have missed some commentary I provided in NonStop – A Running Commentary in the October issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld.Net and the slight variation I made on my earlier forecasts. Gone is the pursuit of a hypervisor capable of supporting NonStop, and the availability of hybrid clusters in a box … New are the observations of a NonStop server becoming a smart controller!” Could we see NonStop as a participant in a new golden age?

The fact that I continue to speculate about the future of NonStop is a clear sign that I truly believe there is a future for NonStop. Of late, I have a strong sense that the industry is turning ever so slightly and pursuing a course where the capabilities of NonStop will come to the fore. As Road and Track editor, DeLorenzo, wrapped up his column, he suggested (and here it’s easy to substitute NonStop servers for automobiles), “the key to making automobiles once again the symbol of progress is being able to make these new-era vehicles different from what has gone on before.”

From the time I first heard of the demonstration that was given at HP Discover by members of the Americas’ NonStop Solutions Engineering Group (ANSEG), where NonStop was shown running a typical internet application (written in Java) – specifically, the Pet Store application – and where load conditions could be triggered that led to a CloudBurst: that is, selected transactions being pushed out and away from the NonStop server and onto commodity-based Clouds (both private and public, e.g. Amazon) I was shocked!

How could this be? NonStop providing oversight of transactions to the point where even when they were no longer present on the NonStop server, they were still somehow connected. As processing returned to normal levels on the NonStop, the processing of these transactions returned to the NonStop.

Pulling back the layers of software involved and talking to the Team, I was to learn that this new capability had a lot to do with what was now available with Pathway, or TS/MP V 2.4, to be more precise. As someone who has enjoyed a lengthy association with NonStop for many years, I have known of process pairs, persistent processes, and Pathway but I am the first to admit that I didn’t put it all together with quite the effect that some very clever folks within ANSEG did. As Justin Simonds, a member of this group, was to tell me later, “GuardianAngel was really just a combination of capabilities that leveraged an API that we developed, some standard open-source techniques, and, of course, Pathway.”

The new TS/MP V2.4 (Pathway) provides a Domain capability for load-balancing and distribution of workload in support of Pathway server processes across processors and server instances. With this added capability, Pathway can distribute instances of an application within a single processor or CPU, across multiple CPU’s, and in particular, to any CPU within any node within a cluster. But the way it went about supporting this opened the door for yet one more capability, and with the introduction of the API that was developed in support of the demo, instances of the application could be invoked on platforms other than NonStop.

The GuardianAngel API was crucial to the CloudBurst demonstration. A small, lightweight Pathway “Gateway server” where “half” the GuardianAngel API resides, pushed the selected transactions out onto two Linux systems. As part of the demonstration, even the resources available in this ‘private cloud’ (Linux) were exceeded, so Pathway, via its GuardianAngel Gateway server, called up resources on a public cloud (Cloudburst).

For the demonstration the public Cloud instances were pre-loaded to avoid public server start-up time (2-8 minutes) however I’m told they could have been started via Amazon or Rackspace API based on a NonStop threshold having been exceeded. As a final demonstration one of the Linux system ‘fails’ and its load is handled by NonStop till it recovers – so Pathway instances using the same code base are running on Linux, in a public cloud and on NonStop all at the same time under the control of Pathway – talk about hybrid!

For those attendees viewing the Pet Store application seamlessly shifting from the cloud to NonStop and back to the cloud, according to Tom Miller and another member of ANSEG “it was jaw-dropping for those watching and who were unaware of the capabilities of NonStop!” The promise this brings to the Enterprise is mind boggling, in my opinion. For some time I have been fumbling around looking for the right way to express some very basic concepts and the more I watched the demo, the more I saw how more advanced this reality had become.

Here is another key observation: all who saw the demonstration on the HP stand, on the floor of the very busy and noisy exhibition hall, stayed glued to the screens for more than half an hour and each came up with new implementation concepts pertinent to their own business. Looking ahead, the team within HP NonStop is seizing upon the early enthusiasm and holding workshops and developing deployment scenarios.

“We have had amazing interest in the capabilities of NonStop when it comes to integration with cloud services and also, for point cross-platform business applications,” explained Keith Moore, another member of ANSEG. “Since the 2011 HP Discover event, we do 2 – 4 live real time demonstrations to customers per week many of which lead to continuing discussions about how NonStop can help deliver ‘the fundamentals’ to off-platform current and future applications. ANSEG believes that the basic ideas and implementation that we have demonstrated can help in other areas across the greater HP product suite as well as with other common business deployments.”

For me, this is starting to look like hybrid computing done right – some configurations of NonStop with Linux, for instance, could certainly prove appealing even among the more hardened mainframe community! As more use cases are uncovered, perhaps nothing stands out more prominently for me as having a database on NonStop, as scalable as it is available with NS SQL/MX, and low-value transactions being dispatched into the cloud, all managed by Pathway.

This project didn’t just suddenly appear overnight; it has its roots deep into earlier projects within NonStop development. With many code names and with several early appearances, it really did take on a life following the release of the latest version of Pathway. But for me, it truly does tie-in with the thoughts I have been having for some time about NonStop becoming a smart controller. Perhaps not the most glamorous of tasks, but as enterprises hasten to deploy clouds, deploying NonStop as a controller overseeing it all, has a lot of appeal for me. Its Safety, and Assurance, with a capital S and a capital A!

There’s no escaping that this is a part of the NonStop history, too. After all, NonStop really did achieve its initial break-through when it was a smart front-end to mainframe computers, servicing large networks of ATMs and POS terminals. For me, GuardianAngel is a return to what NonStop has always proved effective at doing; shielding imperfection behind a level of availability simply not matched in any other manner. For business, this is something that’s exciting and is now out there, demonstrable; this genie will be impossible to put back in the bottle and with the strategy of HP so tied to clouds, will prove difficult to ignore.

Then again, it’s not quite like a return to the past – the commodity-based NonStop server we see today is far-removed from what we worked with two or three decades ago. Modern NonStop Server blades are proving that costs can be taken out of the NonStop Server platform and business is already capitalizing on this most recent development within NonStop.

The opinions expressed by Road and Track’s editor DeLorenzo remain as valid when applied to NonStop as they are to automobiles, and to paraphrase: “when you look at the levels of performance available relative to what (computers) have historically cost, we are living in a golden age.” For the NonStop server, GuardianAngel will become highly visible and our appreciation of clouds may never be the same!

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