Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Of Crowds, Content and Corridors! The new three Cs of social media!

So, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s keeping many of us housebound. Surely, this is a good time to check our favorite social media site!
This time of year is always a time to reflect. Whether it is the inclement weather that keeps us indoors or the winding down of the American football season, it’s all just reminders that this is a time when everything slows down. And rests! While biding my time I have been meeting with clients and working with a number of them preparing for webinars, the release of customer case studies and opinions papers, but in general, taking a second look at my office and wondering whether it is time to reorganize.

I have been back in Boulder working from my home office full time for just about a year. It was last January that the decision was made to forego the commuting to Southern California and to enjoy the home we built over a decade ago. As anyone that has experienced being an absent landlord of their own
home can tell you the first few weeks are spent simply reacquainting yourself with spaces you haven’t been to in a while. But the real shock comes when you realize, after so many years, your home has become a technology museum in urgent need of serious upgrades. However, that’s a story I will leave for another time.

The picture above was taken while Margo and I were with friends at a Starbucks in Hawaii – escaping from an early Colorado winter, and while this year we took a break in Key West, Florida, there’s something special about time spent in the Hawaiian Islands, a vacation paradise. All too soon, however, it’s back to the “mainland” to face winter and the memories are all too quickly gone. Yes, it’s back to casting a watchful eye skyward and making sure you have plenty of bottles of windscreen washer fluid at hand. Looking out on a dormant landscape, the flowers and birdlife of paradise that is Hawaii – even Key West of a few weeks ago – seem otherworldly!

Of course, if you happen to dwell in the Southern Hemisphere this is all hard to imagine, as its residents are blissfully unaware of the severity of winter and of how low the thermometer can drop in an instant. Looking back through the posts of the last couple of months there are pictures of Fall in the Rocky Mountains followed pretty quickly by a couple of photos taken of the house and the village nearby – each of them depicting the hold winter has on us right now.

What hasn’t been left to bide it’s time in the dormant season, so as to speak, has been the NonStop community’s participation in LinkedIn groups, the “preferred” social media site for business people. Membership in many of the groups that are focused solely on NonStop continues to rise and no more so than on the site “Fools for NonStop!” Created in haste only last year in response to comments made to a number of us within the NonStop community about how is it possible that we still harbor no ill-will to a platform we have been fond of for so many decades – yes indeed, the 40th birthday for NonStop is less than three years away (November, 2014) – and surely, as passionate as we all are, we must be fools!

I have watched over the group since it was created and have been pleased by the steady growth in interest and have watched the membership grow to where in a matter of only a few more days, it will reach 300 – not that big a number but as you look at the membership of other LinkedIn groups, particularly those ties to a vendor, it’s not that often that you see membership push into triple figures - let alone multiples. And while there’s always a concern about there being too many groups to track and that interesting material on a customer deployment is hard to come by, crowds typically attract crowds and in time, discussions that develop “legs” and foster a lengthy exchange of comments are pretty much found in those groups with larger membership. When you see the number of comments posted pass 100, as I have seen on a couple of sites, it’s pretty easy to tell that the discussion struck a chord with the majority of the membership.

If you haven’t yet joined the LinkedIn Group “Fools for NonStop”, or indeed were unaware of its existence, with the New Year now behind us it may be a good time to think about becoming a member. It’s easy to forget about the presence of such groups and about how passionate the NonStop community remains, and even as social media channels still have their critics, as I often state, this “genie has definitely left the bottle!” No, if you want to read about issues popular among the community, there’s no more immediate way to check it all out than to visit your favorite group. And with a group name like Fools for NonStop, it is hard to forget! This year, for the very first time, even the American football “Superbowl” will have its very own social media center monitoring twitter, facebook and other popular sites!

Students of Marketing are well acquainted with the “four Ps” – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Although, I often read where today there’s a fifth P involved with more being considered all the time to the point where some advocates talk of as many as “seven Ps” having added - Process, Physical Evidence and People. More recently there have been those who have been championing the “four Cs” where a more consumer oriented focus has been applied – Consumer, Cost, Communication and Convenience. However, when it comes to social media and the role social media channels are playing when it comes to the manner in which we share information, then perhaps it’s time to consider our own brief list of attributes!

Recently, in a short exchange with a client I wrote of how crowds attract crowds and of how that hasn’t changed through the ages – communities develop around something that appears to be popular. Content continues to fuel everything of course – good stories are the basis for pulling in a readership (and membership), and that differs little from what’s worked for decades, perhaps centuries. And finally, promotion and the marketing of good content has now flattened out to include multiple social networking “corridors” that have proliferated and essentially ensured that pretty much any company can tap into global markets and businesses. Yes, welcome to the new, “three Cs” of social media (and yes, let’s leave marketing well-served with as many Ps as they come up with, and for the moment, ignore the consumer oriented C’s).

The new three Cs are Crowds, Content and Corridors. OK, Channels, if you prefer, but I was looking for something new in this context and Corridors suggest passageways a little more clearly than Channels! And today, Channels carries so much baggage for anyone working in Marketing. First up, your social media drive will falter if you fail to attract a crowd. So then, focus on good content – and not just penned (or ghost written) by the CEO, as this quickly become repetitive and more often than not, boring! Finally, and most importantly of all, ensure your social media folks plug into all the channels related to your products and services and have good writers prepared to enter the more popular corridors to ensure your message doesn’t become diluted, or worse, corrupted.

For all of us that are a part of the NonStop community we are more than fortunate to have so many blogs, online forums, web publications and eNewsletters featuring news on NonStop – and just a click or two away. There’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t know when to select NonStop on racks or blades just as there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t know of who is developing in C/C++ and who is developing in Java. And no, problems that some may have had with earlier releases of NS SQL/MX are just a thing of the past – check the latest with Rel 3.0 and 3.1! It’s all out there in blogs and on groups!

The dormant season will shortly end and biding our time will no longer be a luxury any of us can afford– so take some time and check out the “fabric of ink” that has emerged and visit the places where the buzz about NonStop prevails. In time, we will find out more of what we need to know just as we will tap into resources that are essentially free. Of course, we need to balance all we read and come to appreciate who to turn to and who to avoid, but this is not new “news” for any of us.

Are we foolish for continuing to leverage all that the HP NonStop Server provides, almost four decades on? Even as the NonStop platform continues to transform and take on more of the mantle that is modern, will we be viewed as poorly informed, perhaps even worse, when we stick with it? As simply as I can express it – I don’t think so! And on that, I suspect, I will hear much more in the coming months, no doubt.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The forgotten attribute …

In prior posts I have covered the key attribute of “availability” and within numerous other posts I have written about “scalability” but, when it comes to the key attributes that contribute to success of the HP NonStop Server platform, it’s time to address “data integrity”!

With winter firmly entrenched I have been returning to our garage routinely, and what a sad site it is – battery trickle-feed chargers scattered around the floor keeping cold batteries alive. Having chalked up a lot of miles in 2010 it seems quite strange to see vehicles left this way – brooding almost, seemingly ignored and forgotten, as conditions ill suit rear-wheel roadsters.

Should you look at my social blog, Buckle-Up-Travel,the June 27th, 2010, post “…finally succumbing to heat” you will read of an incident at the Willow Springs track that sidelined our car based on something that for many is simply ignored. Power-steering fluid – when was it that you last heard someone talking passionately about something as inane! And it was NonStop Enterprise Development (NED) engineering Director, Mike Plum, who reminded me that “power steering fluid takes a beating on a track like Willow Springs with the long sweeping turns. The fluid is under extreme pressure and once it boils the observed failures can be: fluid expulsion, blown cap, blown reservoir, blown hose or pump lock up.”

The picture at the top of the page? It was taken at Willow Springs but earlier in the day as I returned to the paddock and it would be the following session when everything went horribly wrong. That day remains the low point of that year and a reminder that sometimes it can be the little things that, left unmonitored, wreak havoc at the worst possible times!

It was a little deeper within that same post where perhaps the most blatant of observations was made by my good friend, Brian Kenny, who pointed out to me that “power steering fluid may indeed be the ‘forgotten fluid’ (and that) the extra grip the Toyos provided overwhelmed the standard offering!” Indeed, I had completely forgotten to check with anyone about the likely negative impact on the power steering when running stickier track tires.

While there continues to be considerable coverage in forums and blogs today when it comes to scalability, particularly the almost linear scalability that comes with deploying the HP NonStop Server platform (and the many business benefits derived from this key NonStop characteristic in terms of being able to scale up, and down), there are other very important attributes as well, none more written about perhaps than availability and of how the NonStop Server platform remains available despite failing components. In attaining this all important attribute the chosen architecture addressed scalability as well, and in a highly intelligent manner. To read more about my observations on the importance of availability, check the post of October 31st, 2011 “What price availability?

However, the attribute that I have come to appreciate of late, even as I have begun referring to it as “the forgotten attribute,” is data integrity. A quick check of groups on LinkedIn revealed little about the topic, and while there will be some within the NonStop community who will take exception to my observation, all the same, it seems of late that while we all accept it as belonging in the mix of key attributes of the NonStop Server – availability, scalability and data integrity – it’s more from a historical perspective than anything else. It’s always been associated with the NonStop Server I have to admit, but beyond that? Very little of the floodlights that are directed at availability and scalability fall on data integrity, the forgotten attribute.

And yet, in recent exchanges with NED product management it came up a couple of times, and in each instant was tightly coupled with availability in a manner I had not previously given enough consideration – after all, availability needed little by way of supporting attributes, I reasoned. “Data Integrity is indeed related to availability. After all, what would tend to be the ultimate outage (short of a fire or natural disaster)? Answer: A data integrity problem that took hours or days to recover a database to its proper state,” was how product management’s software boss, Tim Keefauver, explained the relationship.

In the same exchange Keefauver then added “It is with this thought in mind that data integrity is such a high priority for NonStop and always has been. For example, if due to a data corruption a numeric becomes non-numeric then some programs will issue a fatal error and end. This can result in an outage of the application even though no bad data got to disk or to the eyes of end-users.” And with this explanation, Keefauver had my undivided attention.

From the moment data arrives on the NonStop Server measures are taken at every step to ensure there’s no loss of data integrity. Opportunities to corrupt data as it is manipulated, stored and subsequently retrieved have been examined and addressed through a combination of what today’s modern Intel chipsets provide as well as the implementation of more accurate CheckSum algorithms.

When it comes to the role played by CheckSum algorithms it was Bill Highleyman, well-known commentator and author / editor of the Availability Digest, who observed how “in order for data corruption to occur, it presumably would have to be in the path through ServerNet, the CLIMs, and the disk units themselves. That is what a good CheckSum (algorithm) protects against.”

This morning, the waitress at our local diner asked me if I could wait a spell as they just shut down the computer! Yes, it was another reminder of how we have all experienced at one time, or another, the frustration that comes with data that is just not right – for years, “computer error,” was synonymous with a modern workplace. You wanted computers, right? Well, you just have to live with the occasional computer error and perhaps you need to go so far as to retain manual processes as a back-up.

But those days are long gone, and increasingly as traffic between computers escalates the obligation to provide accurate data is paramount – corrupted data not only impacts our own computers, of course, but can lead to cascading failures that can carry well beyond our own business pursuits in a way that carries with it a lot of potentially unwanted headlines.

Keefauver’s observation was later confirmed with NED product management Director, Randy Meyer, who explained that “Tim’s exactly right – data integrity issues are often what cause the hours/days of downtime that we read about in the papers. A fault occurs, creating a corrupted database. Then it takes hours or more to recover that database.” A computer system may indeed be available but if the confidence in the accuracy of the data is lost, then it’s no more available than a system that has crashed. Perhaps worse – actions may have already been initiated that then require considerable negotiation to back out.

It may not always be on the minds of users, but the data integrity provisions of the NonStop Server and their contribution to much greater levels of availability certainly are something we shouldn’t be oblivious to – there’s no reason at all to overlook the work that is done in this area and the engineering time spent in ensuring there’s never any loss in data integrity.

As for our end-users, never having to deal with bad data is of course its own reward and perhaps that is the most important aspect that comes from supporting this key NonStop Server attribute. Far from being the forgotten attribute, all of us should breathe a collective sigh of relief over just how seriously NED takes data integrity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A trip to the other side!

The recent predictions provided by The Standish Group in a conference call included forecasts many within the NonStop community would be hard pressed to find fault with – but it will need us to take a second look!

Escaping the cold of winter turned out to be rather easy. And I didn’t have to leave the continental United States. Yes, in my last post I wrote of how shortly I would be in the Florida Keys – specifically, Key West – and now it’s only a day or so before I will be back in Boulder. For the time being, however, I am rested and warm even though a cold front moved through last night and despite the fact that I haven’t strayed too far from my laptop or mobile phone, just looking at the scenery made me feel like I am on vacation!

The photo above was taken as I stood underneath one of Key West’s better known landmarks marking the end of US Highway 1. A bit of a letdown in some respects, as this arterial highway simple peters out on a backstreet a little south of Key West’s more famous thoroughfare, Duvall Street. While the actual southernmost outcrop of land is designated by a highly decorated buoy, the centerpiece of many a T Shirt hanging displayed in the tourist shops, no such luck for the Highway 1. Just a simple green mileage marker zero tacked to a thin metal post.

Somehow it seems highly relevant to see mile marker zero as the year came to a close. It’s hard to escape the feeling that Key West is indeed at the end of the world. Crossing a short bridge only brings you to another small island before there’s another island and another all the way back to Key Largo before one final bridge crossing takes you into Florida proper. It is a 160 mile drive back to Miami airport but looking south, out across the reefs, Cuba is only 90 miles away and you don’t miss the connections that once existed between both locations – an original Cuban Cigar “factory” still exists just behind the bustling Duvall Street.

However, you could also argue that Key West is the beginning of the world as just across the street from mile marker zero is another sign. For drivers headed the other way, they will see that it is the beginning of US Highway 1 and the picture here is of me standing beneath the sign having walked less than twenty feet. The symbolism seems appropriate as the calendar ticks over for the start of another year. Yes, from one side of the street I could look back while across the street, I could look forward – all it took from me was a commitment to cross the street!

For the NonStop community there is so much that we could be concerned about. So many difficulties foreseen as to where the NonStop product line is headed. And yet, there is just as much that we should be pleased about, not the least being that the NonStop Server product roadmaps continue to point to a sustained presence for at least the next five years, possibly longer. Looking up at the signs we can easily see that Tandem is behind us and that NonStop is ahead of us - crossing the street after all isn’t that hard to do.

This is all background, however, to the thoughts I have had as the year begins. Just before leaving Boulder I participated in a research exchange (REX) online meeting put on by Jim Johnson, Chairman of The Standish Group. It was where The Standish Group provided their predictions for the coming year and where, apart from the usual topics, a couple of fun items thrown into the mix to ensure the discussions would be lively. If you are interested to read more about “Plaque Eating Guinea Worm” follow the link http://blog.standishgroup.com/news and scroll down to Standish Annual Predictions.

However, it was within the series of predictions covering likely areas of investment for 2012 – a subject that was subsequently divided into cold, lukewarm and hot markets – where I did think Jim and I were on the same page. Readers will know of my sustained interest in all things associated with the data center so when it came to looking at the data center, The Standish Group suggested that what will be part of a cold market will be “anything that are not cloud, social networks or mobile - the cold markets are enterprise applications, hardware and infrastructure software, and application development tools.” Furthermore, according to The Standish Group, “This is especially true of selling into the corporate data center. There will be good activity for organizations supplying cloud and social network services.”

It doesn’t take a lot of investigation to realize that apart from an increasingly smaller group of institutions most in-house development is being gradually scaled back with ever-widening acceptance of packaged solutions being the way to go. IBM mainframes remain the exception here, as few “modern” applications have been brought to market that target this platform – after all, off-the-shelf CICS application packages were pretty rare even in the 1980s! Not so NonStop and it remains a testament to how relevant the platform remains that packages continue to appear in support of the financial services an telco marketplaces.

My own observation about social networks and mobile solutions touching the data center hasn’t lessened in the years I have been posting to this blog. For me the rise in popularity of Apple’s iPhone and iPad have been due mostly to the availability of apps – and yes, the design of these apps is beginning to change the way we perceive application should be constructed. For instance, why have a single application that captures all of our contact info including name, address and phone numbers such that when it comes to just changing our phone number, we have to load it all and scroll to the section where our phone number was entered.

Separate apps for name change, address change, as well as change of phone number represent a cleaner, more manageable way to capture information and involve less bandwidth and more tailored security. But what has any of this got to do with NonStop? And why would any of us within the NonStop community be interested? Simply put, as we look at new solutions from vendors providing them for the NonStop Server, those applications that provide support for access via social media channels and that present information in the more modular manner we see today depicted on our phones and tablets, will prove to be winners. Other solutions; less so!

It comes as no surprise that The Standish Group then proposed that when it comes to hot markets – those areas that will experience double-digit growth – include “cloud computing, social networking, security and mobile applications.” This is just The Standish Group’s way of saying that traditional views we may retain about what the data center should look like will be changing pretty rapidly in the near term. And by this, I am not so much stressing the cloud computing will permeate every square inch of our data center but rather, become an increasingly important resource.

Got Tapes? Sure do! Disk? Have them as well! Cloud? Yes we are connected and leveraged! Cloud computing will be that extra resource we all wish we could have tapped many years ago. It will become the low-cost service as well as storage option that will save many a data center from any need to make a short term hardware upgrade decisions. It will save a bunch of money when used effectively.

Cloud computing and social media do not represent a threat to the NonStop Server – you just have to cross over to the other side of the street and take a look at sign from a different point of view. One sign may tell us that it is the end and yet, there it is, only a few feet away, another sign telling us it is the beginning. It may be only a few faltering baby steps that need to be taken but I fully expect to see this year a number of data centers where the NonStop Server is actively tapping almost unlimited resources that cloud computing provides. Just as I fully expect to see companies running NonStop serving up business data via social media channels.

All too easy? Twelve months is a long time and we have all seen more dramatic events unfold in less time. Again, it’s all just a matter of wanting to cross the street!

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