Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NonStop? Radical transformation!

It’s not every day that I get to chat informally with HP’s Martin Fink but on this occasion, the commencement of my sixth year of blogging, I couldn’t think of anyone better to feature!

"I am writing (this post) with the expectation of presenting a slightly different view of NonStop than might be presented elsewhere and I am writing it to generate further discussion,” so I opened with in my very first post to Real Time View in August, 2007. “I am openly soliciting your feedback and I can assure you I will be reading all (the) correspondence that I receive." And so it is that I am now celebrating five years of blogging and as I begin my sixth year I thought it only appropriate that I turn to the head of HP Business Critical Systems, Senior VP and General Manager, Martin Fink, for his thoughts about the past five years and possibly, for some insight as to what we should anticipate seeing in the near future.

But first, when I began blogging I had just finished five years of association with the ITUG Board, including two years as its Chairman (2004 – 2005). Probably not as widely known was that 2005, holding down the very honorary title of Past Chairman, and as I was working for ACI during a time of transition, a volunteer was needed to participate in the IBM mainframe user group, SHARE.  For two years I served on the SHARE Board (2006 – 2007) and it was with consent from the SHARE Board that I began to blog to the NonStop community. Little did anyone at the time consider that a new career path could develop from blogging, but today I enjoy the support of a very tolerant client base even as I continue to present NonStop from a slightly different point of view!

The picture above was taken of me on the Santa Monica pier around the time I began to blog and I chose this picture as, given the location among the rollercoasters and carousels of the pier, it’s a reminder of just how many wild gyrations there has been over the past five years. The Apple iPhone had just started to ship, but the iPad was still a long way off. LinkedIn (2002), Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006) were very much in their infancy and few understood what social networking and the social media were to unleash upon the community. The NASA Space Shuttle was still flying and ITUG was still holding events. And NonStop, running on Blades, was still a long way off!
My opening question to Martin Fink was about what he considered were among the highlights of the past five years when it came to NonStop and the NonStop community. “There was a pretty big transformation for NonStop when HP went to Blades and this included NonStop,” Fink opened with. He then explained to me just how much work went into that project and just how hard it was to get everything to work. “But now we are happy with what we did. On one hand it was radical (yet) on the other hand, the transition went smoothly (within the customer base).”

However, there was also another transition that occurred according to Fink, and that was moving from Tandem, the hardware vendor, to NonStop, the software vendor. “Tandem identified itself as a hardware company and customers perceived its value was with hardware not available in any other way,” Fink explained. “So, we went through a pretty radical transformation to where NonStop is a software play; it’s where the customer sees the value today. And now we have new customers on board as well as new vendors.” Today the only unique hardware component remains ServerNet but even here, while Fink expressed caution, he acknowledged “but we do want to get to that place where we are a pure software company so ultimately, yes, it may be replaced by InfiniBand but there’s lots of work to do.”

This discussion on the transformation of NonStop into a pure software play and on the importance blades are playing (with the potential for blades to become even more uniform, more commodity based, in time) led to revisiting the Converged Infrastructure program. “When you look at how the different groups in HP had been working – Storage, Networking, Servers – then we have come a long way and yes, you can see from the respective product roadmaps the results from having pursued a converged infrastructure,” Fink explained before changing gears and catching me a little by surprise.

“You get a variety of vectors that represent different thought processes and now we are recognizing the human issue; (within IT, there’s still) domain specialists - my server groups, that is, my Unix, Windows, etc. groups, my security, networking and storage groups, and so forth. How do I realign my human capital behind a Converged Infrastructure given how today we have many domain specialists? How is human capital to be trained?” Fink did suggest however, that “with clouds and virtualization then these (practices) are causing different groups to merge.”

Clouds? Virtualization? And even, Big Data? “Another complicated vector thrown into all of this (merging of domain specialists) and where NonStop plays – how we leverage NonStop expertise – is Big Data. People are talking about how they run big databases and with what they are doing is talking-up this idea of Massively Parallel Processing (MPP). And users will tell me ‘I probably need a columnar database (which NonStop isn’t) that’s on a MPP but then, wouldn’t it be good to bring in transactional data – a mixed columnar data store with transactional data’” Fink remarked before adding “but we have been running MPP engines that are some of the biggest the world has ever seen. There’s no better engine than NonStop!” While avoiding addressing any specific NonStop involved projects, and clearly rejecting any notion about NonStop being legacy, Fink did say that there were teams working on how best to leverage the intellectual property (IP) of NonStop with respect to Big Data.

As for Clouds, the projections were a little more cut-and-dried. “Most clouds today feature a lot of scale-out ‘pizza boxes’ and as long as you can partition the data, it all works,” Fink began before clarifying that there’s not any immediate future for NonStop inside the more popular cloud options being marketed. However, when it comes to NonStop, “being on the edge (of the cloud as) the resilient cloud presenter,” Fink then added, may prove to be an option for users already familiar with (and invested in) NonStop. But then pragmatically, with clouds that exist today we see just a further iteration in the long-lived cycle of technology trends with what we are see being just another phase as users continue to pursue less-expensive processing options.

Looking ahead to what the NonStop community can expect to see over the course of the next two to three years, Fink was even more pragmatic, saying “it’s all about Poulson. And looking at what it does for our users. It (provides) another performance leap and what we shouldn’t ignore is that it’s not just another chip upgrade but the first major architectural revision to Itanium since (Itanium 2) McKinley delivered in 2002.” And according to Intel, Poulson “will use a new microarchitecture, with a more advanced form of multi-threading that uses as many as four threads, to improve performance for single threaded and multi-threaded workloads.” Or, as Fink reiterated “it’s everything we see today, plus more (that we can use) to deliver even more for the NonStop user – it will be the high point for NonStop in the coming years.”

The image at the top of this post of me standing in front of an amusement park featuring wild rides perhaps isn’t altogether a fair reflection on NonStop. Many within the NonStop development organization remind me that just having R&D funding for NonStop is testament alone to the true strengths of the product line – funding would have been cut off long ago if the NonStop business hadn’t returned to profitability. In talking with Fink I just couldn’t get over how, not once, was there anything other than enthusiastic support for all that is NonStop.

There’s much still to be written about NonStop and there will be many users surprised by the emergence of NonStop, the software play, but having covered NonStop for five years now I am pretty confident that I will still be behind the keyboard for at least another fifteen years.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sailing, tacking and avoiding conflicts!

Even as the news about the initial court ruling begins to fade (as HP launches new, low-cost, NS2100 NonStop systems), and the Olympic Games become just a distant memory, will we see a return to business-as-usual between HP and Oracle?

Perhaps it is the video clips that appear in the evening news broadcasts on television or perhaps the snapshots that seem to be appended to breaking news stories appearing on my iPad, but during the past couple of weeks it has been almost impossible to miss all that is happening at the Olympic Games. As an expat Aussie living in America, whenever the Olympics take place it is one of the few times when I truly miss living in Sydney – one of the most obsessed sports-crazy cities in the world. That is, apart from Melbourne, of course.

And of course I love the sailing – was that an Aussie yachtsman that just won the gold medal in the Laser Class of single-handed dinghies? Didn’t a pair of Aussie yachtsmen win gold medals in the 49er Skiff Class? My fondness for sailing has already been the theme of several posts, but with the Olympics dominating the headlines, I truly do miss my hometown - particularly Sydney Harbor, and the many times I have been on its waters.

In my post of August 8, 2012, “Just messin' about ...”, I referred to the oft-quoted definition of sailing as “the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while slowly going nowhere at great expense.” On the other hand, when it comes to competitive sailing it was the former British Prime Minister (and champion sailor), Sir Edward “Ted” Heath, who was reputed to have said “Ocean racing is like standing under a cold shower tearing up £5 notes”, although this quote has also been attributed to several other authors. No matter, sailing certainly has its moments when all a sailor can think about is being back on dry land.

Then there are times when yacht races put competitors in each other’s way and they are forced to tack – to go about to avoid collisions. And there are a lot of rules when dueling at sea; yielding to those on a starboard tack as well as yielding to a following yacht to windward when it’s mast abeam! (Although there will be those that tell me that this rule has been dropped and is only ever used these days by more experienced yachtsman as the try to bluff lesser experienced helmsman.) In-harbor racing in particular presents sailors with many challenges all designed to test even the most experienced sailor where at times, simply tearing up £5 notes, seems quite reasonable. 

However, the news this past week hasn’t only been about what has happened on the harbors and bays of Great Britain, as many within IT have been just as focused on what was happening in Silicon Valley. Inside courts, far different from those used for tennis, basketball or badminton, it was the sparring between opposing lawyers that caught our attention. And as this contest involved such industry heavyweights as HP and Oracle, there would be few who would miss the excitement. By now, the outcome is well known to all and while it’s a Round One victory to HP, there’s still the anticipation of more sea duels yet to come. And perhaps, even more bluffing as well.

The picture atop the post is of one of the Oracle yachts that competed in the America’s Cup several years ago. My association with Oracle follows a highly circuitous route – working at State Street Bank in Boston, back in 1977, I made sure the work I was doing took just a little longer to complete so that I would have time to spend the weekend down at Newport, Rhode Island, where I took in the spectacle of the America’s Cup. At the time, it was Australia still tilting at the unholy windmill that was the Auld Mug. It would be six years later, in late 1983, when Australia finally defeated the US and where the results were still in question as both the American and Australian yachts rounded the final buoy even as Dennis O’Connor pushed Australia II into the spectator fleet.

Little did I know at the time that State Street Bank’s predominantly IBM IT shop would today rely on NonStop (having recently upgraded to Blades, as best as I can tell) as well as on Oracle and GoldenGate. A circumstance I have to believe we should expect to run into repeatedly all around the globe – given the respective companies associations with Global 1000 companies. Yes, products from both companies have given rise to considerable HP and Oracle overlap in the marketplace. Facing-off in the courtrooms, as we have seen of late, leaves most of us more than a little anxious about the eventual outcome. But in the end a victory remains a victory.

The HP press release that followed kept it pretty simple, stating "Today's proposed ruling is a tremendous win for HP and its customers. The Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, has confirmed the existence of a contract between HP and Oracle that requires Oracle to port its software products to HP's Itanium-based servers. We expect Oracle to comply with its contractual obligation as ordered by the Court."

As for the email that followed, from the HP, the story was much the same, noting how “This is a very positive result for you and HP. We remain committed to our partners, our 140,000 customers who run Oracle software and to our long-term mission-critical server roadmap, including Integrity, HP-UX, OpenVMS, and NonStop as well as our new investments in x86, Windows, and Linux. Similarly, Intel has repeatedly reinforced its ongoing commitment to the Itanium roadmap.”
For the NonStop community observing all of this, there have been fewer issues than for others within HP. NonStop has demonstrated considerable resilience and jumped from one chip architecture to another relatively painlessly and in so doing has clearly demonstrated that increasingly, the underlying architecture is indeed not as important as the internals of NonStop itself. There are those within the community who firmly believe NonStop has completed the transition to being a pure software play and as such, will continue to have a future no matter what transpires in any courthouse.

As for Oracle’s support of Intel’s Itanium chips, the news as it relates to NonStop and GoldenGate has been pretty well broadcasted, and for some time. GoldenGate gained an exemption back in April 2011, and has continued to be supported with new releases planned. According to Oracle GoldenGate product manager, Chris Lawless, “following numerous discussions with some of our biggest clients, I think we have this issue squared away – when it comes to GoldenGate and Itanium, we continue to do business as usual irrespective of all else that may be going on in the marketplace.”

However, there’s no escaping that in the time leading up to this first ruling, a number of vendors have been working diligently to bridge the gap and while there’s no evidence of a mass exit from GoldenGate new products have developed some “stickiness” with a number of users. “We are fully aware of this development,” Lawless added, “ and so it’s important that we continue to focus on the strengths of our own product offering, of the development team we have retained, and the access our users continue to have to the experts we retained.”

And for the NonStop community, the Intel roadmaps for Itanium have been pretty clear – there’s many years of competitive chip product offerings ahead. For me it has always been the “Intel Architecture” that has been important not the individual chip products per se, and in my most recent talks with Intel Corporation’s General Manager, Enterprise Software Strategy (and former head of NonStop Enterprise Division), Pauline Nist, at this year’s HP Discover she reminded me that whatever transpires with future chip products, the Intel Architecture will prevail.

In saying this, Pauline reiterates in no uncertain terms that NonStop customers will be protected and upward compatibility will be assured. But again, let’s not dwell on this for too long as the Intel roadmaps for Itanium have years remaining – a fact the math supports despite some pundit’s suggestions to the contrary. The pinnacle of yacht racing will always be match racing, a format that gives us the America’s Cup and in these races, bluffing, aggressive dueling and tacking (changes in direction) to gain the upper hand are routinely executed. Fortunately, even though there may be those unclear about the possible outcome, comes the end of the regatta, an early win is always a great result and for many within the NonStop community, this is every bit as rewarding as winning a gold medal!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just messin' about ...

Who hasn’t been messin’ about with clouds today? Who hasn’t toyed with one application leveraging Clouds? But are we all talking about the same thing and are our objectives similar? And what of Clouds, powered by NonStop?

Having been absent landlords of our own home for several years, with a year spent living in Omaha followed almost immediately with five more years living in Simi Valley, there were other communities who took advantage of us not being around. We have seen our home become a popular nesting place for a collection of pigeons, doves, as well as the regular mix of sparrows and starlings. What we hadn’t noticed building their own castle were the wasps, and it was only over a BBQ that comForte’s Dieter Orlowski pointed them out, suggesting we get professional pest exterminators as wasps simply weren’t something you wanted to mess with!

A few days later the professional did arrive and after exterminating the wasps he then removed the nest, reassembled it on the back of his truck (upside down of course), telling us that this was definitely going to find a place of prominence in the office, as there hadn’t been one as big as this found anywhere along the front ranges. And no, messing with this hive would have proved disastrous as the hive had housed a very large population of wasps.

Whenever I hear the expression “messing about with something” I can’t help but think of the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame’s book, “The Wind in the Willows”, where you will find the oft-quoted observation "There is nothing … absolutely nothing … half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats … in or out of 'em it doesn't matter. Nothing seems to matter, that's the charm of it." Although, there’s many other sailing enthusiasts who tend to agree with the unknown author of the popular definition of sailing, declaring that it is “The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while slowly going nowhere at great expense.”

Changing gears literally, author Graham’s words can also be seen in the quote from former Car and Driver editor, Brock Yates, who once opined “I admit to wasting my life messing around with fast cars and motorcycles”. And expressed anonymously (yet sounding familiar, too) is the observation "Racing is the best way to convert money into noise".  So yes, messing about with almost anything can have its lows, as well as highs (and even hives, as was the case at my home) and yet, there never seems to be any let up by those willing to express an opinion whether through firsthand participation or simply by observing from a distance.

It was only a short time ago that I started a discussion on the LinkedIn group, “Clouds, powered by NonStop” (and yes, if you haven’t joined, you may want to consider doing so), simply headlined with “Clouds, the ‘puzzle’” where I remarked “Bottom line, much of what plagues the public cloud offerings could be so easily addressed by NonStop and yet, the platform hasn’t once been mentioned as a possible candidate …” Yes, I know, there’s nothing so much worth doing these days, to paraphrase Grahame yet again, as simply messing about with clouds.

However, what kicked off a lively exchange was comForte’s CTO, Thomas Burg’s, response “Part of the cloud being a puzzle is that the cloud can be anything: a buzzword, a very specific requirement as well as a very unspecific requirement (e.g. ’Gartner says everything needs to run on x86 and be cloud-based’). I can see several specific requirements where NonStop would in fact be the ideal cloud platform (!) but only for private cloud.” For me, it all revolves around whether you consider NonStop has a play, front-ending clouds, sitting half-in / half-out as gateways controlling access to a cloud,  or residing wholly within the cloud.

As I prepared for this post, I came across commentary in the Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). In a July 31, 2012, post in the section “IT Pro …” journalist, Matthew Hall, asked “So, what is cloud?” and opened with references to the well-known NIST definition. "Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Hall then adds “Still, the NIST definition lists five essential characteristics of cloud computing: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service”. At face value, everyone in the NonStop community will recognize that these attributes of the cloud line up pretty well with what we view as the NonStop fundamentals.

“On-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources” sounds a lot like what we have associated with Pathway for many years. Just ask anyone with large ATM, POS or Kiosk networks. However, in the post to SHM, “IT Pro …”, Hall then references cloud software vendor NetSuite’s CEO, Zach Nelson, who states, rather matter-of-factly, that "The two-word explanation is that cloud is 'the internet'." Adding how “In its most basic fundamental form, cloud is the internet as a business or consumer platform. On top of that, a whole host of new services, consumer and business, are being built. It is the next stage of the evolution of the internet."

I’m not sure everyone will readily agree with this (repeating, as it does, the former core marketing message of Sun from over a decade ago, "the network is the computer") and yet, there’s some truth in the thought of clouds appearing simply as a logical outgrowth of more users wanting the internet to take some responsibility for the data they, as users, create. As infrastructure too has to keep up even as more solutions are being ported to even more platforms – including to NonStop of late – then this too will simply add to the new services, consumer and business, being built! Fueling even more interest in cloud options.

Messing about with clouds, however, and accepting much of what has been said and re-posted here still doesn’t address why I think NonStop has a role to play and yet, aside from those who suggest for the NonStop, in the same way as IBM suggests for the mainframe, the cloud is already inside the box, I remain convinced that NonStop will prove valuable and gain early acceptance among a select group of more knowledgeable NonStop users.

Perhaps the key to unlocking why NonStop may play a role comes with the observations by Laurent Lachel, a cloud analyst with British research and consulting company, Ovum, and referenced in the same post to the SMH, “IT Pro …”, who observes how  "The world has moved on to mobile IT, social IT, and big data. But they are all based in public cloud. The cloud has become an enabler. It is less talked about because people are now talking about what cloud computing enables."

Could we see NonStop systems positioned somewhere between a front-end and a gateway, as a cloud enabler? From my perspective this now looks more like the traditional role NonStop has fulfilled, and successfully, for nearly four decades. What makes connecting to clouds any different from connecting to ATMs – they’re simply resources of a different type, surely? And throw in the requirement to be able to fail-over from one cloud to another and the prospect of enabling makes the picture even more complete.

In his response to the LinkedIn discussion, “Clouds, the ‘puzzle’”, HP’s Justin Simonds responded with “Cloud will be good for overflow (cloudburst) processing if there is an application profile to fit. Cloud will probably be good for context free (standalone) transactions that benefit from parallel processing – say, a web server is a good example … Maybe cloud becomes the top tier in what was a three-tier architecture – presentation cloud, application private cloud and DB NonStop?” Talk about messing with clouds, I think Justin has pretty much topped anything I have been writing about here, but his point is very valid. When it comes to NonStop systems, it’s simply way too early to eliminate a role for NonStop anywhere up or down any multi-tier architecture we may be electing to pursue.

Messing about with boats, messing about with cars, messing about with clouds all represent a deep passion for what is involved, and with that I am in full agreement. Maybe it will take even more passion from the NonStop community before even more enablement comes to fruition, but there’s definitely no shaking the reality that today we have so many changes being fueled by the arrival of mobility, social networking and big data that I would be foolish to rule out clouds powered by NonStop.  And yes, for many in IT, NonStop with a presence in their clouds may simply be the next step in the evolution of the internet, after all.

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