Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mountains are my friends!

Being starry-eyed, tilting at windmills and the eternal optimist are among the labels that have been bestowed upon me. But when it comes to NonStop, the right “jumps” continue to be made giving me good cause to stay the course!
I have spent much of my time working for very large organizations. From my earliest days, working at the steelworks that later became a part of the giant BHP Billiton, at Nixdorf Computers and then, much later at Tandem Computers, I always gravitated to off-beat projects. And within these large corporations working on such off-beat projects didn’t always endear me to either my colleagues or to my managers – aren’t you spending a little too much time working on that obscure feature? As for long-term career prospects, and being safely employed, I never placed too much weight on such things.

However, it has been working on these many different (mostly unheard of today) product features that have proved to be the best education I could ever have had. And it may be the foundation for the optimism that I feel today – there’s always something a little better out there and no matter how much progress we have made, there’s always more about to happen. The picture above is of the mountains, viewed from my Boulder home, where the continuous line of peaks that make up the continental divide fills the entire western horizon.

The back page of the July 21, 2012, issue of The Economist contained an obituary of Roger Payne, a British mountain climber, who tragically passed away earlier in July, engulfed in an avalanche as he led a party across Mount Maudit, a peak adjacent to the more famous Mount Blanc. The writer finished with the comments “as no one knew better than himself, there was no perfect safety in mountains. But he would not have been in any other place, for, in (the poet) Byron’s words, ‘Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends’”.

This past week I participated in one of my client’s annual sales kick-off events – three days dedicated to setting the stage for the coming year in terms of goals and expectations. What I particularly like about this client is how they were among the very first established NonStop ISVs to realize that the products they brought to market first on NonStop had much broader appeal, and that with a little extra effort they have now established a complementary marketplace that has seen essentially the same code base being used in completely new and innovative ways.

Today, the challenge for vendors that have successfully stepped into adjacent marketplaces with products initially designed for NonStop is just how much attention they must give to NonStop, and for how long? After nearly four decades contributing to IT, has the NonStop architecture run its course? As this vendors’ CIO expressed it so succinctly, “are sales really flattening out and are we seeing any signs suggesting that sales may be tapering off?” In other words, does it make business sense to pull resources away from NonStop as other marketplaces (for this vendor’s product) continue to show strength?

A clear reference to where NonStop was positioned on the traditional lifecycle “bell curve”, and a topic that has continued to be raised of late among my clients. Anxious to know more about the future of NonStop, they are a little concerned over whether the good times for NonStop were coming to an end. Just how many other products had persevered as long as NonStop and continued to be relied upon, as they are, for as many years?

The topic of lifecycles has been a reoccurring theme in my postings to this blog. In my post of December 25, 2011, “
Falling down? Ouch!”, I wrote of how I am often reminded of the cycles we witness in business – companies follow a lifecycle curve as does technology and products. The simple bell-curve most of us a familiar with reminds us that there are downward trends just as there are upward trends, and the trick for any in business is to step out of a perceived downward trend, reinvent themselves and ride a new trend upwards.

And in the much earlier post of August 14, 2009, “
A dedicated follower of fashion ...”, I went so far as to suggest that when it comes to technology, some solutions have proven to have lives that outlive the lifecycle where they first belonged. As the pendulum swings endlessly, or so it seems, between centralized and distributed computing solutions (is cloud computing nothing more than a return to centralized, once again?), I was to ask, does each swing generate a new lifecycle and are the products enjoying such long lives simply because they more adept at jumping to the new lifecycle?

It was only a few weeks earlier in the post of July 31, 2009, “Getting aligned ...”, I had observed that we just may see the development of a new product lifecycle where NonStop begins to rapidly ‘take-off’; more than compensating for any tapering we see with existing product lifecycles. I also noted how traditional product and technology lifecycles may not tell the full story, should a product be able to leap from one curve to another.

Should you tab even further back into my posts you may even come across the post of February 18, 2009, “Game changers!”, where I first raised the idea of when products successfully jump from one technology lifecycle curve to another, what may have been viewed as being close to end-of-life can suddenly become cool again when included as a new entrant riding the upswing of a new lifecycle. Could the longevity NonStop enjoys be simply a result of it having made a number of successful lifecycle jumps? Could it really be as simple as that?

And what lifecycles has NonStop successfully managed to jump to, rising each time to crest an even higher peak? In a recent post to the web publication, realtime.ir.com, “A great kick-off event; game on!”, I further looked at what was contributing to the success of NonStop (and attributed much of the success to) jumping from one market lifecycle to another, timing each jump to seamlessly transition from one that was tapering off to another one rapidly ascending – from fault tolerance to OLTP and more recently, to mission critical.

The energy I have in promoting NonStop may be less about looking at the peaks nearby than wistful thoughts about what lies beyond all that I can see. The mountains are my friends and while I am not a climber I do have some affinity with all who look for an even higher peak to conquer. Yet the visible rise and fall of each peak reinforces the natural order – these peaks belong to a continuous chain of mountains.

When it comes to NonStop I see a continuation for many years to come, as the architecture evolves in step with the ever-changing technology we see all around us, ensuring NonStop is as applicable today as it has been for these past four decades. Increasingly I am hearing stories of companies putting off planned migrations away from NonStop simply because the economics make little sense. Yes, the good times for NonStop will continue.

Downtime and outages of mission-critical applications continue to make headlines, and for many companies this continues to represent unacceptable risk. More importantly, what do you move to – as recent history at ACI Worldwide has so clearly demonstrated, companies with a history of NonStop systems supporting their mission-critical applications prefer to look for alternative NonStop solutions rather than move to another platform. Yes, the trend of declining costs of NonStop will continue, too!

There are many more technology lifecycles beyond what we see today – clouds, big data, etc. NonStop may not find a place in all of them, but the point is the opportunity to continue jumping to new ones and riding yet another wave as it crests is not beyond reasonable probability. Yes, mountains are definitely my friends and from the view I have today, there is no end in sight; whatever trend lines for NonStop we might see today might easily be shadowed by an even bigger peak just over the horizon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

SuperRUGs? Super opportunities!

For three years my assigned task as an ITUG board member was to liaise with the NonStop Regional User Groups (RUGs) and in so doing, I came to appreciate the value they provided the NonStop community. Looks like we are watching a resurgence of interest and that’s good for us all!

After only a few weeks absence from the west coast, following the highly successful HP Discover event in Las Vegas, nostalgia pulled us to Capitola for a traditional walk on the pier and a quick bite at the original Margaritaville. It was during my first years at Tandem Computers that Margo, comForte’s Brad Poole and I would head to this part of the coast just to soak in the atmosphere.  While not related to the more famous chain of Jimmy Buffett establishments of the same name, nevertheless, just being this near to the ocean and sipping a margarita made this side trip well worth the time it took to get there.

The picture of Margo above was taken from Magaritaville and captures the atmosphere well – with a line of gaudily painted stucco beach rentals clearly visible. For many years, following the ITUG events in San Jose, many participants included a short stay at this famous ocean-side village as a regular part of the itinerary. Just as for some visiting executives a day at the equally famous Pebble Beach golf course made it into their itineraries.

About an hour’s drive over the Santa Cruz mountains, depending on the traffic you encounter on highway 17, a route mind you that it needs to be driven with caution (particularly if you aren’t that familiar with the terrain), and you are immediately immersed in an environment so far removed from what you find in silicon valley. Perhaps a fitting end to what you normally experience at user events and the perfect setting to catch up on much needed rest. However, as HP continues to throw big-tent marketing events in Las Vegas, any traditions arising from end-of-events sojourns to the delightful Capitola’s Margaritaville may become nothing more than memories.

Or will they? Could a new tradition be about to develop and could there be a return to San Jose about to happen soon? It was only a short time ago that I came across a promotional piece “NonStop Boot Camp 2012 ‘Call for Papers’ is Now Open! Submit yours today!” on the LinkedIn group,
HP NonStop Tandem Professionals, that was both an early teaser for the event to be held October 14 – 16, 2012 in San Jose, as it was a call for papers / presentations. Not to be confused with the ITUG Summits of the past or even with HP’s big-tent marketing events this will be an opportunity to get really intimate with many of the NonStop subsystems so many of our applications rely upon – an opportunity to gain unprecedented hands-on experience that otherwise would be difficult to get.

“For the last several years, a ‘NonStop Only’ event has been consistently discussed in the NonStop Partner SIG.  This event request came from both customers and partners based on content and location of the big HP events,” was how Kathy Wood of BlackWood Systems, Inc. described the initial drivers propelling this initiative. “Last year, Connect and the Partner SIG received positive feedback from HP on the idea of a NonStop ‘Super RUG’ and began discussions with several U.S. RUGs for comments and affirmation of their interest in hosting such an event.  These discussions ultimately led us back to San Jose, the most likely place to receive extensive technical education requested by customers.”

Just how technical will the sessions get? “The focus of the NonStop boot camp will be technical education ranging from hour-long sessions to half-day “deep dives,” Wood explained. “While the exact content is still being worked on and may be better known as you publish your post, I can tell you that with feedback from customer class requests, the content planners anticipate meeting the educational demands of the NonStop Community.” Stepping in to help fund the event will be a number of vendors and they too will be given an opportunity to provide more in-depth education on their product offerings and this mix of HP and vendor training will surely be beneficial to all those who participate. 

RUGs! SuperRUGs! Just hearing about the work being put into this proposed event and aligning it with the RUG program should make a lot of NonStop users very happy. When I was on the board of ITUG and as part of my responsibilities as I transitioned to Chairman, it was with the strong encouragement of then-Chairman, Janice Redeer-Highleyman that I chaired the oversight of all RUGs and in the years I was associated with them I managed to find the time to visit with nearly all of them. I cannot remember the final count but by the late 2000s there were more than 30 active RUGs and the support HP provided them was outstanding. How could anyone forget a RUG meeting held in the middle of winter on a Ferry crossing the Baltic between Stockholm and Helsinki? Yes, I have done that and if you missed the comments I made at the time, you may want to revisit the post of November 20, 2007, “
I've gotto find a safe haven ...

In the time I was actively involved with RUGs I was often looking at what makes a successful RUG, and how do you maintain community interest in RUG-related activities, and after all these years I have a pretty good idea. First, it’s all about the users themselves. They just want to get together, network and share a common interest. Second, there just has to be an enthusiastic supporter in the local HP offices. And this is perhaps the most important element of all – just ask the participants at RUG meetings such as N2TUG, SunTUG, BITUG and InNUG, as I am sure much of their success is as a result of the effort put in by their local HP team. And then finally, content is important. Aligning the presentations and organizing discussion groups around the interests of the local community is just so important.

I have raised these points before and readers may recall that. However, the important element in all of this for me is that across the NonStop community the enthusiasm remains – NonStop users just enjoy getting together. Fortunately Kathy Woods and the folks helping her out with the NonStop boot camp in San Jose aren’t alone when it comes to putting on such events or in drawing on the resources of a SuperRUG. Something similar for European NonStop community will be held September 25 - 27, 2012 in Dresden, Germany.  

“The idea of having a bigger NonStop-centric event in Europe (similar, but not quite the same, as the European ITUG events of the past) was born a few years ago and it was launched on the back of a GTUG/Connect event of 2009 in Darmstadt, Germany,” was how comForte’s head of marketing, Thomas Gloerfeld, explained the origins for this event. “The event in Darmstadt was very well received by the NonStop community and the support from HP NED, NonStop vendors and partners was tremendous. Fast forward to 2012 and the next GTUG/Connect event is now less than 90 days away!”

Will the program be similar to that proposed for San Jose? In some respects yes, but in other ways I suspect it will be a little less technically-oriented than the NonStop boot-camp simply because the location will not see quite the depth of NonStop technical staff present as will be the case in San Jose. And that’s only to be expected. However, Gloerfeld was still very bullish about the content, suggesting that “there will be a number of presentations from HP senior management and the usual portfolio of vendor presentations plus a security workshop. A key note presentation by HP and a surprise keynote speaker will round off the program. A Cloud SIG is also planned.”

Gloerfeld then added “we are expecting to attract around 120 delegates from 40-50 organizations running HP NonStop systems - NonStop remains strong and this event will help to reinforce this message to the NonStop community in Europe. GTUG/Connect in Dresden provides a great forum to hear the latest from the experts – HP, vendors and fellow users alike.” Woods expressed something similar about the NonStop boot camp, adding “the goal is a continued commitment to the NonStop Community, meeting the need for technical education and training, interacting with other NonStop developers, learning about Partners and their products, and building/reinforcing the relationships that continue to keep NonStop strong.  It is our intent to continue a yearly ‘Super RUG’ based on technical education.”

Perhaps it is too early to discount the enthusiasm of the NonStop community when it comes to participation at the regional level. And perhaps the desire to learn more about the products typically found deployed on the NonStop platform hasn’t lessened through the years – supporting as many real-time mission-critical applications as it continues to do today, places a premium on good technical resources being available to NonStop customers.

For me, given the time I have been associated with RUGs, the return of these types of events is particularly pleasing to see. Perhaps it will not see a return to Capitola and side visits to restaurants, bars and golf courses, although I wouldn’t be too quick to rule that out, but it certainly is refreshing to see the spirit of the RUGs and even Super RUGs remains, thrives as strongly as it ever has, and will continue to provide the content, networking opportunities and access to HP leaders that simply makes participation at such gatherings something we all look forward to.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Surprised? NonStop made it big at HP Discover!

Surprises take many forms – some pleasant, some unexpected and even some that stop us in our tracks. What didn’t surprise me however were the many references made about NonStop at this year’s HP Discover event!

It’s been about a month since HP Discover 2012 was held, and yet all that transpired during that week has remained with me ever since I pulled the RV and trailer out of Las Vegas and headed back to Boulder. For the duration of the event, the RV had been parked further down the strip and given the heat we all experienced I was glad we had a room in the Venetian. With really good air conditioning!

There’s little that still surprises me even as automation continues to make inroads into our lives. As a technologist for several decades I associate automation and modernization as an integral part of progress and a contribution to simplifying my life. I have to say that to date, whether its automated car washes, automated check processing at an ATM (and now even cash dispensing initiated from our smartphones), or even automated coffee making using those little K Cups that seem to have come out of nowhere, the value I derive from them is that I have been freed from chores I just didn’t want to do.

There are still some pleasant, albeit unexpected surprises as well. That I was able to enjoy riding the Yamaha cruiser after a short hiatus, as I mentioned in the last post, was a surprise. The recent third place finish by Michael Schumacher in the European Grand Prix after having retired several years ago was perhaps a surprise on a scale a little further up the chart than what I accomplished in getting the Yamaha upright. Now driving with much younger racers that had grown up watching him on television, Schumacher, the seven-time World Champion, gave us all a brief glimpse of what he routinely achieved in his prime. The picture above is from the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix where I captured Schumacher as he snatched the lead mid-way through the race.

Reviewing the posts I made during HP Discover 2012 it was noticeable just how many times I used the word surprise, or at the very least quoted others who were just as surprised. In the post of June 6, 2012, to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, “
Third post from HP Discover ... I passed on what I had heard during HP CEO Meg Whitman’s presentation. The three market segments Meg highlighted, I wrote at the time. Well, shock and surprise – financial institutions and processing credit cards, telco and making sure our mobile phone calls get through, and healthcare and making sure our records are available when needed.

Talking to HP NonStop sales folks from EMEA and the Americas, following the presentation, I then posted a day later to the LinkedIn group, Real time View, “Sixth post from HP Discover
of how it was hard not get caught up in their enthusiasm and expressed real surprise at just how well they were going. Whitman is certainly not backing away from wholeheartedly supporting NonStop and the message so well known to the NonStop community is being every bit as well received internally these days. And it shows.

In the post of June 20, 2012, to the blog site comForte Lounge that I wrote following the event, I quoted Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell, when he said “I was pleasantly surprised at the traffic in the NonStop area at HP Discover. There were a lot more people with NonStop knowledge attending the event than I had expected.” In the post of June 11, 2012, to comForte Lounge I had written: Surprises? Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was just how many members of the NonStop community made it to Las Vegas. For the joint presentation by Ric Lewis and Randy Meyer there were some 300 in the room, and it wasn’t overstaffed with HP folks either – there were many familiar faces to be seen.

Presentations by NonStop business executives were attracting an audience that overfilled the room. The NonStop community was highly visible on the exhibition floor. NonStop sales executives were enthusiastic about their future prospects. And the CEO was launching here keynote presentation with references to NonStop. The surprises just kept coming with the newest solutions partner to port to NonStop, Retail Decisions (ReD), winning 2012 HP AllianceONE “Partner of the Year Award for Innovation”!

Shortly I will be celebrating my fifth anniversary as a blogger, having written my first post in August, 2007, and in all those years I had observed the many ups and downs of NonStop. Each time I thought there may be a solution or a technology that would prove to be the catalyst for further market expansion, something emerged to lessen the impact I considered as probable. However, as you look at what is now happening across a very broad front, it’s difficult not to be impressed or to imagine a more assured future for NonStop. It is the marquee product line. It is HP’s “halo” solution.

The good news here? The really big surprise? In embracing open, standards and commoditization, HP opened the door to a new, more modern NonStop system that more easily embraced applications designed to operate on today’s modern platforms. Modern NonStop? Following several post-event discussions with NonStop management and executives I was reminded of how the reference to modern in messages supporting NonStop has all but disappeared, and for a good reason. For all that has been achieved, promoting a Modern NonStop is simply a poor example of tautology.

The challenge for many within the NonStop community today is how to best accommodate all that is anchoring HP’s strategy – mobile, big data, clouds, etc. At face value, the advancements in all of these areas that we are witnessing and the marketing muscle HP is assembling in support of this strategy, looks alien to NonStop: mobile devices and smartphones connected directly to NonStop systems? Big data running on NonStop storage? NonStop BladeSystems powering clouds? Perhaps it’s time to look at this more obliquely and realize that the potential for the handprint of NonStop to be visible in all of these strategic moves is not unreasonable.

Banking and retail applications may view the support of smartphones no differently from how they view ATMs POSs and Kiosks – just another channel. Data destined for big data storage may be front-ended by NonStop with real-time mission-critical data kept in NonStop SQL/MX tables to support the millions of small decisions businesses need to routinely make. As for cloud adoption within enterprises when it pertains to their support of mission-critical applications, the likelihood of embracing private clouds seems apparent as responsible CIOs will still demand the levels of availability that only NonStop delivers – clouds, for NonStop systems, become just another resource to manage, recover and secure.

No, I will not be surprised at all with any of the above as I closely follow how this all plays out. HP Discover 2012 surely proved to be an eye-opener and with all that I saw, the inclusion of NonStop in as many keynote presentations as it was, an assured future for NonStop now seems less surprising and more a reflection of just how far NonStop has come since HP acquired Compaq.  Surprised? I guess it all comes back to just how well you think NonStop systems meet the needs of your company and about that, I will just leave it up to you.

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