Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reminiscing …

I love to travel. I like to observe what's going on at new places. And when I return to places I visited in the past, I like to check out what's changed. When it comes to work and the tasks I pursued, there is still much I can learn from reminiscing!

My third time to Rome has proved to be better than I can recall past trips having been – a much more relaxed pace, and my business pursuits turned out to be easier than I anticipated. The first time to Rome, I joined a tour that hit all the main tourist draws whereas the second came at the end of a longer stay in the Mediterranean, and during the height of the summer tourist season where the heat and wind made the stay anything but pleasant. The picture above is of me taking a brief pause along the Via dei Fori Imperiali!

Following a brief exchange, before I left, with Randy Meyer who heads HP NonStop’s Product Management group, and on his recommendation, with days to spare between meetings in Venice and Rome I elected to fill in the time by taking a small cruise ship that made the trip via the Dalmatian coast – and it’s definitely something I can recommend to anyone else. Look closely at Randy’s photo on Facebook and you will see the sister ship in the background!

However, not for the first time, the itinerary was changed and we skipped our stay in Sorrento and its passage to the Amalfi Coast, pulling into Naples instead to take on much needed fresh water. Readers may recall that in a post to this blog written in the summer of 2008, “Roman Holiday!” I regretted that the plans to visit Florence had been cut short as a problem with that vessel resulted in us skipping the port of Lugarno completely. Florence, along with Positano, is among my most favorite places in all of Italy, and it will now be left to future visits before I get another chance to see either of these marvelous townships.

Reminiscing about this with my wife led me to the above post, and as I looked at what I wrote back in May of 2008 it featured commentary on my former employer– GoldenGate. In that post, I looked at the topic of innovation and highlighted how “even though GoldenGate had its origins in NonStop, we deliberately went after a number of key folks from other vendors who brought with them special skills in other areas of data. We also bridged the generation gaps by recruiting a broad mix of age groups to the company," was a quote I pulled at the time from GoldenGate’s then VP of Marketing, Sami Akbay. He then acknowledged that looking at the marketing of GoldenGate that was being pursued “we have moved to where data itself is what's strategic! Access in real time to operational data allows companies to innovate in ways not thought of, or even considered possible, before."

Returning to the theme of GoldenGate for this post shouldn’t come as a surprise. After remaining quiet on this topic for the past two years, it may be hard to miss how it was the subject of a feature in the November – December 2010 issue of The Connection, as well as the backdrop for an opinions white paper on replication that I recently developed for Attunity - follow this link to obtain the pdf: After two years as an integral part of Oracle GoldenGate may not be the automatic choice for everyone any longer, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the NonStop community will be able to enjoy greater choice in product offerings than ever before.

The lead-in anecdotes I provided as introductions in both documents looked at the need to replicate as well as how well other vendors have performed in terms of cutting into the considerable lead GoldenGate had once enjoyed. Even the most proactive champion of NonStop is aware that truly providing 7 X 24 X forever availability mandates more than one system, indeed, more than one site, to ensure such levels of availability, no matter what. Without revisiting all that I covered in both documents I have to acknowledge that perhaps there is no other infrastructure market segment as well served as is that of replication. The arrival of Attunity’s solution only further cements this observation and represents another example of the investment vendors continue to make as they bring to market innovative and lower cost offerings.

When I started the discussion “Latest on GoldenGate – are you feeling the need to change?” in the LinkedIn Group, Real Time View, one of the comments posted came from Jeff Boyer, head of sales for all of the America’s. In his response to this question he highlighted how “Oracle has retained nearly all of the development, support and product folks from GoldenGate. We have a product road map for all databases and Oracle is investing in the product. In addition staying current with the HP NonStop databases - we are adding new databases for capture and delivery in every release of OGG (Oracle GoldenGate!).” In stark contrast to what all of us may have thought, Boyer then explained that “OGG is not going away or being pushed aside - since being acquired by Oracle we have increased our customer base and installs by magnitudes - hopefully this increase is based on the value OGG brings.”

And yet, the activity from vendors anxious to plug the holes generated through customer dissatisfaction over Oracle’s support of GoldenGate, particularly when it comes to pricing and, even more specifically, when it involves upgrading to the latest HP NonStop Blade systems, is quite visible. It will require significant investments in marketing by these competing vendors, but it is hard to ignore the steps that have already been taken. There’s rarely a NonStop user event where there isn’t coverage by one vendor or another about how far they have come to addressing all that GoldenGate had been providing.

As I worked on this post I had the good fortune to catch up with Sami Akbay, now CEO of Altibase Inc. and we revisited some of his earlier comments. “Marketing certainly was instrumental in elevating GoldenGate above competing products and in helping the company gain the broad marketplace acceptance that it did,” Akbay observed. “From the time we added key industry influencers to the company’s board of directors, as well as how the Customer Advisory Board was populated, to simply how the company conducted itself at some of the premier events in support of databases and enterprise warehouses, and not forgetting how we managed to convince many of our top tier, blue ribbon customers, to participate with the company in promoting the products,” Akbay added before concluding with “there was no mistaking the amount of energy that went in to ensuring GoldenGate was perceived as the premier company in this market.”

Today, none of this has been lost on vendors like Attunity who have just released their Attunity Replicate product. Marketing is extremely important for vendors as they wrestle market share away from the incumbent, GoldenGate. “It is very important to recognize the investment Attunity continue to make in marketing – the message we provide is very simple,” Itamar Ankorion, Attunity VP, Business Development and Corporate Strategy, explained in a recent exchange on this topic. “In Attunity Replicate, all any user needs to know is that our implementation on most platforms comes with zero footprint (on NonStop, there will be some code), that configuring any replication can be easily done with our new ‘Click-2-Replicate’ and perhaps most important of all, we bring to the market a solution with a competitive licensing model.”

Perhaps reverberating even more loudly with the NonStop community today was Ankorion’s closing comment that “there will always be a requirement for alternate offerings and with what we have today Attunity, along with other well-known vendors already established in the market place, may indeed tilt the playing field even further in favor of product offerings apart from what was considered in the past! Indeed, from our perspective, the NonStop community will certainly have plenty to consider going forward.”

Reminiscing about anything, whether it’s places we like, sports teams we watch, or technology we embraced so enthusiastically in the past is always done through rose-colored glasses. What we seem to remember is often embellished and the capabilities, indeed conquests, live more colorfully in our memories than perhaps they did in real life. Maintaining the status quo can often produce unintended consequences if not routinely revisited, and the playing field that was tipped so heavily in favor of just one vendor can be nothing more than a figment of our imagination. As Ankorion so rightfully noted yes, with the arrival of new product offerings, the NonStop community certainly has never had it so good!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inevitable transitions – will we see changes?

HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman has hit the deck running and it’s clear to see HP is in transition – yes, today, they welcomed a new director to the board – one who could agitate for even more change. But will this generate good news for the NonStop community?

In the weeks before I left Boulder, Colorado, winter had sank its teeth deep into the land. After three sizable storms that saw the temperatures drop rapidly from the 80s to the 30s and worse, the citizens were finally adjusting to the transition, although winter came this year much sooner than they had expected. Shedding shorts and Tee’s for layers of warm clothing brings with it realization that the transition has only begun, and that by the end of the year we will have seen much worse weather descending on us all. The picture to the left was taken at first light, as we headed to our local Starbucks!

However, this past weekend has seen me conduct business in Venice and board a small vessel for a run down the Adriatic Sea, stopping in ports alongside the cities dotting the Dalmatian coast, including those belonging to Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. The distances aren’t vast and in a few short days I will be back in Italy once again where I hope to conclude the business aspects of my trip with a short stay in Rome. While the scenery has been terrific and the weather proving helpful the headlines of the newsletters pushed under the cabin’s door each morning have been hard to miss.

It is apparent that we are right in the middles of transitions of a completely different kind. Greece! Italy! Both countries having witnessed the arrival of new governments and the region is alive with discussions over the transition of power and what the likely outcomes will be. Perhaps, as far as this trip goes, nothing more clearly demonstrates transition than the old town of Dubrovnik that I visited only a matter of hours ago. Once heavily shelled in the wars that raged throughout the Balkans in the early 1990s, some twenty years later the city has recovered and the once magnificent fortress-city is as sparkling as it ever has been. A quick walk down its main thoroughfare brought with it little evidence of any of the tragedies that had befallen the city barely two decades earlier. The repairs undertaken had made any changes to the city difficult to find – it all looked just as it had always looked in photos I had seen decades earlier.
The picture above captures the transition from the winter in the Rockies to the more blissful early fall of the Mediterranean, with the walls of old town Dubrovnik providing protection to the small fleet of fishing boats that ply the calm waters just outside the city. The picture to the right, taken only a day or so ago,  captures the scene better than words can describe.

I am often drawn into conversations about where I would like to spend my time, and if I had any opportunity to take up residence outside of my home town of Boulder, the coastal areas of Croatia would certainly place very highly among the regions I would consider. And this would include areas to the south, as well as the fjord leading to the city of Kotor, Montenegro – all among the best landscapes I have ever witnessed in all my time sailing the Mediterranean.

However, the papers being pushed under my cabin’s door also included snippets of business news and in the library there were older copies of business magazines and newspapers. Among them was a feature by Reuters published in the November 9th, 2011, issue of The International Herald Tribune – a paper I thoroughly read every time I visit Europe. The article featured the headline “For HP, deal advice proves costly” and it wasn’t so much what was featured in the story as it was a reminder of the transition HP is going through today.

There has been much published of late about the arrival of Meg Whitman to lead HP and of the expectations that, at best, she will simply be leading a transition team and that she is simply holding down the fort as the next leader of HP is unearthed. I have been among the many commentators who have viewed her presence more or less as a place-holder   following the exit of Leo Apotheker, who himself hadn’t quite completed a year at the helm of HP following the exit of more operationally oriented Mark Hurd. But in hindsight, I may have been a little too quick on reaching this conclusion, and perhaps I should have been a little more prudent and let the events unfurl for themselves. After all, even though she had lost her bid to become California’s governor in the last state elections, much of how she campaigned had impressed me. I have observed it rather closely, living at the time in Southern California. She was open and straightforward, and told California exactly what she would do should she be elected.

One of the aspects of the Reuters story was how they catalogued the series of acquisitions HP has made in only the past few years. The list is quite lengthy, and the first that comes to mind is the highly successful bidding war it waged against Dell to secure 3Par (for some $2.35 billion), and with it the company’s intellectual property (IP) involving online storage systems. Then there was the $1.4 billion purchase of ArcSight that brought to the table IP associated with cyber security. Last year, HP paid out a further $1.2 billion for Palm and with it, not just the IP behind former market-leading mobile devices, but a new operating system, WebOS.

However, deals of this magnitude where the money involved was in the one to two billion dollar range palled when we all read of HP’s intent to purchase Autonomy for $11.7 billion. A British software vendor that very few within the industry knew all that much about and where early responses were generally along the lines of “you have to be kidding!” Yes, HP relied upon prominent internal leaders to help, but they also relied heavily on “an army of bankers to help (HP) decide whether to pursue Autonomy,” as Reuters was to report. Now, there’s still value that may emerge from all of these deals and yet, the sheer brashness of them surprises many within the executive ranks.

As she hasn’t been able to reverse any of these decisions as she pushed ahead in her transitional role, Whitman has been forced to face the irreversibility of much of this. And she has had to put as best a face to it in public as she could. However, the fate of some of those who were a party to the acquisitions haven’t fared as well. A number of the decisions made in the final hours under Apotheker’s leadership have been retained whereas others have been overturned and I fully expect there will be more that changes with the transition.

The decision to drop WebOS and to abandon the tablet and mobile device business was one that stayed but to add salt to the wound, there were no attempts made to retain WebOS’s most experienced advocate, Richard Kerris, when he elected to leave the company. From all I can gauge, this pretty much ends any possibility of HP resurrecting this aspect of Apotheker’s ruling. And while the news of their departure raised an eyebrow or two, it was nothing when compared to the earlier news that Shane Robison would be leaving, and with him the role of HP’s highest-placed CTO would vanish. The technology giant would now have no central CTO but rather would shift to a model where the key groups, including Enterprise Servers Storage and Networking (ESSN), would have their own CTOs. Robison clearly wore the fall-out from his passionate support of the acquisition of Autonomy.

What does this mean for the NonStop community? Will the decisions being made at the highest level prove beneficial to NonStop, or will the fate of NonStop suffer even more ignominy? This time, I am not as prepared to pass judgment as I had been earlier when I first heard the news of Whitman ascending to the role of leadership. I now view her not so much leading a transition team, rather she seems to be leading a transition of HP itself. There’s no question whatsoever that the most recent attacks by Oracle have hurt selected server models and that HP hasn’t done enough to defend itself – there’s not an airport I visit these days where there aren’t huge banners proclaiming just how much faster Oracle’s hardware and software offerings are when compared to models on offer from HP.

Yes, HP is hurting at the top end. But the decision by Whitman not to get out of the PC business and to put an end to any further divestiture of products is certainly telling us all that she definitely wants to fight on – I suspect there will be no actions taken lightly now under Whitman. And this could prove decisive for NonStop and for the integrated hardware and software that today is part of the very modern NonStop Server platform. An earlier opinion paper I wrote on NS SQL/MX where I talked to users of Oracle’s database has left me in no doubt that in select markets HP has in the NonStop platform a highly competitive offering. But will that be enough?

HP could do well to lift its investment in NonStop and in its promotion across its vast array of solutions vendors. There’s not a single commentary of late in the more popular blogs and group discussions that doesn’t raise this item at least once – and it could be simply executed with few repercussions on other well established groups within HP. The game has changed. HP is under pressure. And HP needs to respond, and in this context, I don’t see it being too difficult to anticipate somewhere along the way NonStop enters the conversation.

Should HP’s services group set up service bureau style operations featuring NonStop? They certainly have the resources and skills to do this. Should HP’s software group invest in a couple of solutions vendors to bring additional products for NonStop to market? They certainly wouldn’t go backwards with such decisions. There would be nothing better for the NonStop community to witness than HP “eating its own dogfood”! None of this would be simple to do and none of this is without its own set of problems, but I suspect that there will be changes nonetheless. But as the NonStop community continues to migrate to Blades then as that program wraps up, where will new NonStop sales come from? Yes, according to the roadmaps, there will be more improvements to come as HP rides the Intel roadmap but I have to believe as the costs continue to drop – even in critical emerging markets – pressure will again be on marketing to pull together plans for additional verticals. Yes – there could be good news for the NonStop community as Whitman continues with the transition she has already initiated.

In any transition there’s usually not an automatic expectation of change for the better. Transitions of themselves often don’t lead to change at all, but rather focus on a smooth crossover to something completely new. However, with what I have been seeing coming from the new leader, not only do I not see this as being the moves of someone who is not in transition themselves but rather by someone more focused on transitioning the company, and along with the transition, changing it. I am waiting for Meg to stand up and tell us what her plans are for HP - and I expect her to tell it as it is. And on this basis alone, I think that there is every chance of better things to come for NonStop!  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Social networking etiquette …don't forget to wave!

While I am out travelling and meeting folks, it gives me the opportunity to revisit the topic of social media and for the HP NonStop community, activity has picked up with more engaged in discussions than I have seen before. And yet, there's always opportunity for even greater participation - join in!

As I prepare this post I am wrapping up my brief stay in Venice and I am about to head to Croatia. Not by car, but by the only easy way to see as much of the coast of Croatia as possible – a rather comfortable small vessel able to pull into the smaller ports. However, the downside is that I am often left to make small talk with others – something I completely avoid doing when I take to America’s interstates and byways.

Invariably, when I am with other travelers, the conversations turn to “and yes, what do you do?” Of course this is a reference to the vocation I pursue and when it comes out that I write and that I provide commentaries and opinion papers, the response isn’t always one of comprehension. “Fair enough, but what do you really do?” becomes the all too familiar response! If I try to steer the conversation to marketing and business development, eyes quickly glaze over and the conversation turns to something more topical and of interest to others. And talking about steering the conversation, it would be remiss of me not to remind everyone of how cold it remains in Boulder, Colorado and the picture above was taken a few days before we left. Any questions now as to why we gladly accepted the offer to meet with folks in Italy?

Even though I had business interests to distract me in Venice it was hard not to appreciate the history of the place. After all, this was where the adventurer Marco Polo began his journey that took him to China, and even today there is an air of adventure still present. The type of ships visiting port has changed and there’s little evidence of the great trading halls that dominated the scene, and yet even as tourists continue to wonder at the sites you have to be impressed with all that the city has witnessed over the centuries.

It was to be twenty five years before Marco Polo made it back to Venice, but before he could even talk about his adventures, somehow he found himself in jail and it was while he was waiting to be freed that he dictated details of his travels to his cellmate. As a result, information about Asia and China only trickled down to a select few and it took more than a century before Christopher Columbus was able to convince the court of Spain to return to China. But yes, taking a different route this time, as he thought he knew of a short-cut! And yet, the community that is today Venice is looking fragile with every potential of succumbing to the elements that seem determined to have done with this magnificent city.

How things have changed. It was only in January, 2010 that Astronaut T.J. Creamer tweeted “Hello Twitterverse! We r LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station – the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your?s” Evidently, according to comments that followed this tweet, astronauts aboard the ISS had received a special software upgrade, such that during periods when the station actively communicates with the ground … the crew have remote access to the Internet via a ground computer. The crew views the desktop of the ground computer using an onboard laptop and interacts remotely via their keyboard touchpad. Everyone associated with the space program, including the extended community, can follow every step of the journey these modern day’s adventurers take.

The emergence of social media and with it the opportunity for social networking ensures information is disseminated more rapidly than it has ever been in the past, and among communities sharing a common purpose, it encourages the development of strong community ties. As everyone becomes aware of changing circumstances at about the same time, there’s ample opportunity to explore what will follow. And through these interactions and support, the community becomes stronger as it continues to bond. Yes, communities that have staying power are often those that attract strong individuals but with shared experiences their opinions are often important catalyst for further growth.

My experience on the board of ITUG taught me the value that comes with community and the value those positive interactions up and down the community fostered. No opinion was ever discounted or relegated to second-class, but rather helped ensure what we all felt was the essence of Tandem, the fun that come through networking, beer-busts, First Friday’s and even for the lucky few those crazy TOPS gatherings, has been preserved and carried to a younger generation. I can’t recall a single instance at any recent events involving the NonStop platform where there hasn’t been someone who has approached me and asked about what it was like all that time ago. And now, social networking has opened the doors to an even bigger audience and the community is the stronger for it.

Forget about the negativity that crops up in some forums, or the put-downs that some members are subject to. For the most part, all forums and discussions continue to add to the “buzz about the NonStop platform” that has been at the root of why so many within HP have enjoyed the grassroots emergence and development of so many social media avenues focused on NonStop as exists today. However, I would like to encourage even more participation. There’s simply no better way to ensure balance than to have as many opinions expressed as possible, for if we all are not vocal, the risk of repetition increases and the message eventually is diluted to the point where communities gradually drift off in pursuit of other interests.

I take a broad mix of magazines with me when I travel and as I read the back page editorial, Exhaust Notes, in the December 2011 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser, the author raised the issue about the decline of “the wave”. From the first outing Margo and I took on our junior motorcycle cruisers, more than a decade ago, every person riding a motorcycle that we passed, whether simple commuter or tricked out sports-bike, or even hard core biker on a heavyweight custom Harley, lifted his left hand and gave us a wave. (Interestingly enough, there were very few women motorcycle riders when we started whereas nowadays we see a lot of them out on the open road!) “Historically, motorcyclists have always been part of a breed characterized by fierce individualism,” the editorial began. “This difference in personal choice (to ride a motorcycle) led bikers to feel a strong sense of community … (and this) feeling of connection was often manifested in ‘the wave’.”

However, on our most recent outing just a few weeks back where we rode to Golden, Colorado, for coffee and where the return trip proved extremely painful for Margo as she dropped her cruiser literally outside the house, I was taken aback by how few riders today were still supporting the wave. The editorial reflected my own observations and the author went on to say, as the popularity of the wave appears to be declining, “the whole myth of individualism that’s so strong in (America) is leading many people down a miserable path of alienated lifestyles and social isolation.” This is followed a little later with “our social networks have become smaller as the tentacles of individualism have taken over our lives. We are not the richer for it. We are more alone.”

Yes, social networking is important for the NonStop community. As we take stock of who really supports the platform there are plenty of individuals out there and that has been the nature of NonStop from the earliest days of Tandem. In past years, it was a lot easier to go with IBM, perhaps Digital or even with Data General and Prime – but Tandem? For many years it did mark us as a breed apart. We were the individuals who really had firm opinions about better ways to process transactions. And yet this does place an obligation on us all – participate! Become visible! Post from the edge of the universe! Talk about what we have seen and the adventures we have had! We may not be facing rising tides and the prospect of annihilation, but our community today is fragile nonetheless. Yes, it’s worth protecting and yes, it is easy to grow.

There are rules of course, and there are many sites on the web that describe social media etiquette. Most of them can be ignored as the NonStop community is more mature. Two observations I do like and remain valid even for us include “your actions show you what a person you are, but that is not as important as showing what kind of brand you are. One thing we do know, we hate knowing that these brands are trying to be something that they are not – this comes across as fake and will mean that you will not believe in them.” And then there is “depending on your blog’s purpose, be wary of over-selling. Make sure you’re still providing great community value. (And yes) you can post as often as you want on your blog. It’s your blog!”

These observations came from two well-known bloggers (Peter Chubb, blogging on the site and Chris Brogan, an individual blogger) and do address concerns I often hear. It shouldn’t need any further commentary from me, but across the NonStop community your voice is very much needed. And appreciated. We are all individuals and continue to prove that with the technology pursuits we make – so yes, no need to be fake or to over-sell. In my post of October 9, 2011 “Enough is enough!” I wrote of how NonStop should not be losing and about how the NonStop Server has turned a corner. This observation should provoke many within the NonStop community to write about – there’s many opinions out there and yours may just be the one that tips the scales further in favor of NonStop!   

As we all know, the NonStop community welcomes fresh, positive input on almost anything NonStop Server related. Have a go, and have fun! And help keep the community thrive – your opinions are just that important. The author of the editorial in Motorcycle Cruiser closed with “remember community as that next rider waves to you; feel it, relish it, embrace it and be proud. And don’t forget to wave back.” And I can’t think of any better way when it comes to encouraging you all!      

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