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!

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