Friday, November 23, 2012

Things are not always what they seem to be…

The best place to illustrate this point would be Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place, where else can you experience change of scenery – from New York to Venice without even boarding a plane. I stayed in Venetian while at the HP Discover earlier this year, nice hotel, so I decided to explore it yet again, this time without a benefit of a room there, just passing by. Nothing changed, and it was actually better than the real thing, which is under water ...

So, sometimes the real thing is not what you may want.
Guardian (UK) posted this picture on November 11, 2012:

On the other hand…when I bought my new Sony laptop with Windows 8, which is supposed to be almost as good as Apple … I tell you (and I am sure comForte CTO Thomas Burg will not agree), what a joke! Nothing is intuitive about it, if I did not stop by the Microsoft store where a salesman showed me the basics I would not have known which way is up! It only got worse from there. I installed Outlook 2010, and for over a week send/receive was going on, without new messages arriving – not until I closed and re-opened the program. I admit! I gave up! I called Microsoft support. Nice people. No, there is no support included with your purchase of their software. You want to get support; you have to fork over an extra $99.00! No matter that it is their software that’s malfunctioning. Maintenance charge is not a part of the software purchase price, that’s an extra. I recall a few years ago Richard got himself a Mac Air, and there were some issues. Apple store folks tended to it, spent time analyzing and finding a solution – no charge!

Anyway, I paid my $99 and got remote support – turned out my outlook data file was corrupted. Well, I did not corrupt it, their software did, yet I had to pay to get it fixed! Honestly, I seem to recall you could get an advice on a phone without having to pay extra, but I may be wrong.

Most vendors selling software on NonStop include a maintenance component in the selling price, and it then really acts as insurance. Some customers need no support, some need a lot of hand holding, and it evens out in the end. Of course it evens out when you are in full swing, having a lot of customers. When you first start and build a business the support is where most your money goes, you have to have staff to provide an outstanding support, or you will never build a business.

Some stores, like Fry’s or Best Buy offer a support contract when you buy a PC from them. When I bought my previous Sony, with Windows 7, I did buy Best Buy plan. I was lucky not to need it. This time I did not go for any plans, and ended up paying Microsoft directly so that they could fix what they messed up. Somehow it did not feel right.

Yet, things are not always what they seem to be… The support representative from Microsoft was actually incredibly diligent and helpful. He stayed with me on a phone for several hours making sure the issue is resolved, and when I asked him to take a look at another problem on my other laptop he was only too happy to assist. It’s been over 4 hours, problem resolved, and in the end I feel it was a best spent $99.00.

It is all about people and personal touch – in all businesses, large and small. For the NonStop community, this may all appear to be somewhat alien but for many it has been the level of support, the initial build quality, and the team of solutions architects that is being funded by the  NonStop sales that separates NonStop from other solutions. Having worked for and with some of the NonStop Vendors  I have to say it is the support and personal touch that makes the ecosystem unique, and that’s why so many large institutions depend on NonStop vendors.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Different approaches …

Changes in direction at a familiar road course, as well as in the executive team at HP together with how markets are approached all called for taking a different approach. And yet, changes are what we must do if we are to compete effectively.

This past weekend saw Margo and me at the track, a road circuit outside the village of Buttonwillow, California, all weekend, firstly as mechanic for Margo on Saturday as she participated in four sessions, and then as driver on Sunday for another four sessions. This was our last outing of the year, and it will be another five months before the Vette gets to “stretch its wheels” once again. The photo above is of “Team Pyalla” setting up camp, trackside, as light was fading Friday afternoon.

The circuit was created to support various configurations to keep everyone on their toes, but it featured a number of corners from famous circuits and for years has proved to be a popular location for testing and even magazine car reviews. However, for this weekend, we would be facing the longest of the configurations, course #1, but instead of traversing it clockwise, as is normal for this venue, the organizers elected to run it counterclockwise. In the days leading up to the event I had watched film on YouTube, and then on Saturday I had ridden as a passenger in a similar car to what I would be driving, and yet, when I first went on track Sunday morning, it just didn’t come together for me. I needed to try something different so I arranged for a more experienced driver, but with the same car as we had, to participate in my next session and we would run a couple of laps lead-follow style, with first him leading and then me. All it took was a couple of laps and I finally came to terms with the circuit. The different approach paying almost immediate dividends and the time on track become far more enjoyable.

It would be hard for me to ignore the recent changes within HP, particularly as it has a direct impact on all within the NonStop community. Last week we all read of how Martin Fink had been elevated to CTO, HP, and Director, HP Labs. Martin is just so well known within the NonStop community, having led NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) for several years before taking on the bigger task of heading all of Business Critical Systems (BCS). I am still to read anything official about who replaces Martin as head of BCS but early information I am getting is that recently recruited head of NED, Ric Lewis, is moving up to take over – again, another significant move for all who follow NonStop.

Martin will surely bring a different approach to the role of CTO – from the very first time I met Martin (when I was ITUG Chairman) it was hard to miss his enthusiasm of keen technical mind. He liked to build things and that was very obvious to all who talked to him. That he enjoyed being around the NonStop community as much as he did spoke volumes about just how highly he thought of the NonStop system and he has stayed very close to the team throughout his time as head of BCS. But it’s not just the anchoring in NonStop that will likely see a different approach being taken – it’s also his passion for Linux, as well. If not more so than his enthusiasm for NonStop, and I can well imagine a future where the intellectual property of NonStop is more universally leveraged by Linux programs, and possibly in ways we can’t even imagine at this time.

Pursuing a different approach is also proving beneficial at Opsol. While on our way to Buttonwillow we had the good fortune to catch up with Opsol CEO, Yash Kapadia. In my last post I had quoted Yash briefly, but sharing a coffee with him proved opportune. Yash had only flown back from Mexico a day or so earlier where he had been working with a client and where he had met with some success. Ever since that fateful time when ACI Worldwide announced to the NonStop community that it’s BASE24 platform allegiances would change and no longer center on NonStop but on IBM Mainframes, the activity of solutions vendors escalated. ElectraCard Systems scored a big win as State Bank of India, Lusis Payments won Bankserv in South Africa and the OmniPayments business unit of Opsol won big at a top tier American bank.

And from what I can tell, there are more wins in the offering about which I am hopeful to hear a lot more shortly. However, the story of Opsol is one that reflects too on just how the path to overnight success can take many years and often involves several transitions. From a consulting company to a services provider to a product company, Opsol has used its time in the marketplace to hone the necessary skills to truly understand the needs of financial institutions, and in doing so, has built very strong connections to HP NonStop development and field sales and solutions architects. In marketplaces all around the Pacific Rim the capabilities of Opsol are very well known.
Two topics we covered with Yash stuck in my mind however. In a move that will surely be emulated by other in the coming months, Opsol will be among the first solutions vendors that I know of, who takes full advantage of the more competitively priced NS2100 NonStop system to move an application running on a combination of Linux and My SQL to NonStop and SQL/MX – about which I will be writing a lot more in the new year. As for the other topic, it was about replacing a feature of BASE24 with a much lower maintenance alternative that was more aggressively value priced.

“For many customers having access to the source code proved beneficial,” Yash explained. “But then again, pursuing a lot of changes within the source code, particularly when there may have been simpler steps taken, such as working with configuration files, has led to considerable expense being born by these customers when it comes time to upgrade. Certainly, ACI is only too willing to help out and the services revenues being generated within ACI bear testament to just how expensive some upgrades have proved to be. We have ensured our own payments platform, written in Java and exploiting SQL, is modular enough that features can be lifted from our product and plugged right into ACI’s product.”

As an indication as to how flexible the OmniPayments product is, one such BASE24 user has now completely replaced the Authorization, or “Auth”, module of BASE24 with the OmniPayments equivalent, reducing the sizeable expense bill the customer was facing to something more manageable in the short term, but just as importantly, giving the customer a more modern feature that will be much easier to customize going forward. “In relying on industry standard languages and tools, even when it comes to NonStop, makes recruiting and retaining applications staff a much simpler and easier task to accomplish and the customer benefits almost immediately,” Yash told us as he explained the benefits that came with taking a different approach to this marketplace.

My time on track benefited almost immediately from close proximity to a highly skilled driver more familiar with the environment and all that needed to be done to get around the circuit quickly. I was able to observe where braking was required and where to position the car on entry into the critical high-speed turns. Talking to Yash, I gained the sense that building his product business on top of their consulting and services foundations, where they had gained years of experience alongside the people working closest to products, now allows him to move easily between features – plugging in his feature as needed and when appropriate – is going to see his company become even more prominent in the payments platform marketplace.

Different approaches may not always be the thing to do at the time nor are they always immediately recognized as an obvious next step to take. However, for those who have the foresight and perseverance to recognize problem solving can benefit in pursuing something entirely different there’s benefits to be gained. Over coffee with Yash, this quickly became so obvious that I can only imagine that there’s even more news coming from Yash shortly that will prove every bit as interesting and topical for all within the NonStop community.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The best of views …

A trip to a national park reminded me of just how far we have come; the NonStop systems deployed today within the NonStop community are highly versatile, modern servers. But simply deploying the latest iteration of NonStop is only a starting point and the onus is on each of us to really look at how best we exploit NonStop.          
Business took us once again to Las Vegas, an occurrence that has already featured in posts to other blogs. On our way Margo and I were able to stop by Zion National Park, Utah, and as we were taking the RV, it gave us an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend checking out the park’s sights. However, one morning I awoke to find my vacationing neighbor, Steve, shooting pictures of the front of the RV and I was a little puzzled by the intensity he was exhibiting until he showed me this photo. It seemed we had parked the RV in the best location to catch a reflection of the mountain peaks that surrounded us.

For anyone planning a trip to the south west, including visits to such sites as Monument Valley, they should also plan on stopping by Zion National Park – those classic photos of very high sandstone canyon walls surrounding a very narrow river were likely taken in the parks famous “The Narrows” that are part of the headwater of the north fork of the Virgin River. They are a spectacular site, although I have to admit, once it became an exercise in wading the shallow river in order to continue the trip deeper into the canyon, I called it quits.

The early morning reflection on the front window of the RV, the sandstone peaks capturing the first rays of the morning sun, were not just beautiful but to me a reminder of just how often we miss seeing something important taking place because we didn’t stop to look at its reflection. I will not dwell on the mirror image that is a part of any reflection, but I will simply observe that often what happened elsewhere has laid the foundation for what we are now doing. In other words, the significance of our pursuits, particularly when it comes to IT, if left unframed by what has transpired elsewhere may mask further opportunities. Should we not see how the dots have formed we may not connect any of them correctly and miss recognizing the very next obvious dot. A view that is sure to disappoint!

A case in point: Rethinking our applications and transforming them into services, externalized via Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and capable of being consumed by any client device supporting a browser, and in a manner whereby they could be picked apart and complemented with other data to create completely new applications may have been something we did a long time ago. But as we have progressed through Client / Server computing and on to Web services / SOA, watching the further evolution into App deployments seems pretty obvious. First the client undergoes a transformation (with all that was proprietary stripped away) and then, in ways we may have missed if we hadn’t been watching, the services themselves are being transformed – the business logic may be retained but the packaging is beginning to look a lot different.

For the NonStop community, familiar with the types of mission-critical applications typically deployed on NonStop, consideration is already being given to whether access to the mission-critical application should now be initiated from an app that has been separately downloaded to the client device. In so doing, any authorized user, whether internal to the company, a business partner or even a customer has immediate access to functionality they may need. Looking back at all the energy we once spent on UIs, GUIs, Browsers and so forth, and working diligently all the while to ensure our particular interface provided additional value of one kind or another you can’t help but feel that much of our energy was expended needlessly. Make the interfaces as ubiquitous as possible and open up access to our applications to everyone on the planet.

There are restrictions here, of course, and I understand I am skirting issues of privacy and security, and potentially even data integrity, but the point remains. Much of the rapid progress that has been made easing the way we do business, pursue commerce, and in general make money is commensurate with the speed we have knocked down proprietary barriers. And talk is still relatively cheap – many members within the NonStop community see little evidence of their applications being deployed in this way as they continue to run the legacy applications and would argue that the budgets needed to go down this path simply aren’t available. NonStop running a single transactional application remains isolated and hidden somewhere towards the back of the data center – untouched simply as the concerns over possibly breaking something outweigh any perceived value that might be obtained through such “modernization”.

I have had a long-running discussion going with comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, over the disconnect that exists between todays very modern commodity-based and value-priced NonStop systems and what most NonStop customers actual have deployed. Bereft of the necessary skills that they would like, these NonStop customers appear to be in a holding pattern hoping that the NonStop will keep on doing what it has always done through a couple more hardware spins – and yet the promise of NonStop doing a lot more is so tantalizingly close. As Burg reminded me, “on LinkedIn, every week one comes across job postings searching for ‘COBOL developer for NonStop’ or ‘BASE24 developer’ – where are the postings looking for C++ or Java developers for the NonStop platform? I don’t think it is even remotely realistic to retire the ‘legacy’ applications as they still are rock solid and have a lot of proven business logic in them.”

But then again, there are solutions vendors, such as OmniPayments, where today, embracing Java, using NS SQL and looking at the possibility of running their payments application from within a NonStop Cloud as a service, seems to be a natural business progression. “On reflection, coming from a services background as we did,” said Omnipayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, “it was natural for us to focus more on products and then, as we have met with success, we look to address customers’ needs, not previously considered by potential NonStop customers, so putting our products into clouds and offering services once again seems a logical extension of where we see the business heading.” Retiring legacy applications may indeed prove to be a slow process but with value-pricing, replacing them may prove more popular, and in time, there may very well be the flood of job postings that Burg wished were being advertised today.

The reflection on our RV was a magnificent site. In reality, it looked even better than what we could see from ground level; the changed perspective that the added height of the RV provided, opening up far more of the vista than was possible from our vantage point. The NonStop community is going to see a lot more changes coming and not in some abstract or chaotic fashion, but rather, as a natural progression following much that has already been done. Vendors are anticipating this, even as creative NonStop users have already started prototyping. 

Possessing a modern NonStop system is proving to be just a starting point and very modern deployment of the applications is following. No surprisingly, this is not happening uniformly across the NonStop community, but it is happening all the same. And on reflection, none of this surprises me. After all, using transactions isn’t changing as much as transaction usage is changing, and that opens up a lot of territory for NonStop. And the view from where I stand looks terrific!

Looks can be deceiving! HPE NonStop; when being the best still matters!

For the NonStop community, we know what looks good may not only be deceptive but borderline dangerous; mission critical applications are bes...