Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anticipate Change …

As much as we all anticipate warmer weather to arrive so too does the NonStop community anticipate change. But let’s be careful about the advice coming from friends …

Each time I think I am making a final reference to winter, along comes a storm to remind us all living here, in North America, that we have ways to go before warm weather arrives. Driving back to Colorado, following another week visiting with colleagues and friends in northern California, we were caught up in yet another winter blast where driving proved difficult. While there are many heading south for Spring Break, a ritual I still don’t fully understand, we are not among them and the only view we have is of snow-clad trees.

But change is on the way. I get the sense that readers of this blog share only a passing interest in what is happening here in Boulder, but are far more interested in observations about the changing nature of NonStop systems and how this is reflected in changes appearing across the NonStop community. Expressed as simply as I can, the big users of NonStop systems are getting bigger as a result of transaction volumes continuing to grow, even as the smaller to mid-size users of NonStop are passing on opportunities to further invest in NonStop.

In a parody of what we are seeing across society in general, the middle class is evaporating even as we watch those more fortunate becoming even better off. In an early March, 2013, CNN interview by Piers Morgan of American record producer and one time CEO of the RCA Music Group, Clive Davis, observations made about staying on top of the recording industry rang very true for me. Having overseen the career development of the likes of Aretha Franklin
, Rod Stewart, Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson, Davis told Piers Morgan that his advice to up and coming record producers was to “Stay on top of the game; don’t get rooted into one era or kind of music. You must anticipate change.”

Perhaps the most overlooked attribute of the NonStop system remains its scalability. Even as the individual power of the processors climbs and the number of cores grows the NonStop stack, as integral part of all that constitutes a NonStop system caters for expansion in ways few other systems can match. And it does so with only minimal impact to the cost of key middleware and infrastructure software – anyone who has seriously considered running a Windows or Linux Cluster and then tries to add Oracle into the mix knows full well the financial hit they will take. And they still have to redesign the application and even the way they interface to the database to make it work effectively.

Friends in the industry continue to relate how the human resources required to run such a solution quickly becomes prohibitively costly and they still don’t have anything near the scalability they expected. In fact, they are anticipating further changes to the implementation to prove even more expensive, should the deployed application become successful across their user community. Modern, state-of-the-art solutions in use today should scale effectively and efficiently without destabilizing all that is in place.

I am a regular reader of the Rust Report, an Australian publication produced by a business colleague and someone I continue to call a friend, Len Rust. Over the decades that I have known Len, who at one time was the VP, Asia Pacific, for the industry analyst powerhouse, IDC, his insights and commentary have proved uncannily accurate. “SimCorp StrategyLab, (a) private research institution sponsored by SimCorp and headed by Ingo Walter, Professor at the Stern School of Business, New York University, Len writes, “has released the results of its Global Investment Management Cost of Operations Survey.” 

At the heart of this article is the premise we have heard many times before that firms “running legacy systems need to spend more in maintenance costs versus state-of-the-art systems that can scale and adjust with growth.” And that, according to Professor Walter, “For any business, knowing the critical value of maintaining systems versus investing in state-of-the-art technology for future growth is imperative.” Clearly, a key attribute of a state-of-the-art system is its ability to scale and to handle future growth.

How many of us view our NonStop systems today as state-of-the-art? How many of us are evangelical in our praise of NonStop to senior managers and executives within our companies? And yet we should have no difficulties doing so – clearly, NonStop is as state-of-the-art as any alternate system offering. It’s an oversimplification of course, but when you look at the steps made in exploiting commodity hardware, the work being done to ensure a highly competitive future for NS SQL and the ease with which solutions vendors are porting Java solutions to NonStop, there’s very little left of the former legacy Tandem Computer.

Friendships are always valuable and we often pride ourselves on just how many good friends we have. However, there is a much darker side of course. We all know the adage “with friends like you, who needs enemies”, just as we know that it was the Chinese general and strategist who stated “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Closer to home, there’s a Boulder T Shirt shop that once printed a number of T Shirts that simply stated “*%!@ Off, I have enough friends!” Within IT, and particularly within the NonStop community, I think we all need to be really sure we know who our friends are and the value to place on the advice.

Again, as succinctly expressed as I can make it, how comfortable are we today with our state-of-the–art NonStop systems and just how much encouragement are we providing colleagues and friends that yes, NonStop can do that and yes, NonStop has the headroom (the disk, the protocols, whatever) to easily accommodate that new product you were contemplating bringing to market.

There’s no question that the arrival of Clouds has many of us thinking about the benefits of embracing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model. After all, our friends are all telling us how cost effective these are. Low-value transactions, CPU intense applications, prototyping and even piloting can all take advantage of Clouds and there’s much I am involved with to make this a reality for many NonStop users. But don’t discard NonStop too quickly and don’t ignore what NonStop provides today.

“You must anticipate change.” Not to forget, the “state-of-the-art systems that can scale and adjust with growth” that change inevitably brings (when done right). Among those vendors I count as clients, none of this is lost on them – NonStop continues to remain among the most attractive platforms that they support. Ever so subtly, messages coming from them of late have changed from “with one code base we support Linux, or Windows, or whatever” to “we support open systems including the new NonStop systems!”

I truly hope that this is the last time I include a winter photo taken outside our home. Even as I write this post, the skies have cleared. As seasons change, as they always do, I look for even more reasons as to why changes being made to NonStop can be appreciated – and in much the same way we welcome the warmer weather we welcome all that NonStop provides today. Most of all, don’t just appreciate it but anticipate change as yes, as we can all relate to, there’s a lot more radio stations than just classic rewinds!    

Friday, March 15, 2013

Before it rains, or even snows; check out the clouds!

 The cloud is the love child of the internet and virtualization” was posted to a LinkedIn discussion - is that all it is? Is there anything more? For the NonStop community it’s getting “exciting”, to quote Jimmy!

Today we live in a stylized world. Symbols are created as a shorthand way to convey information as well as to reinforce historical connections taking us back, so as to speak, to better times. As the latest generation Corvette was unveiled by GM in Detroit, just a few weeks ago, it was the appearance of a very stylized chrome stingray along each side of the car that generated considerable interest. It was as if the presence of the stylized stingray legitimized the car, irrespective of what might be present under the hood!

I have often wondered about how stylized images and what they depict resonate with communities. We see a yellow diamond with a black cutout of a deer alongside a road and immediately we know to be careful as there could be wildlife crossing in front of our car. We see an image of an airplane ascending and we assume that there is an airport nearby. We look at symbols and numbers on a hotel’s television remote and we immediately recognize the many functions that they support. We see a row of harvesters – yes, the stylized symmetry of the group caught my attention and I just had to capture them in digital form - and we immediately think of seasons about to change.
“Since the dawn of recorded history, we’ve been using visual depictions to map the earth, order the heavens, make sense of time, dissect the human body, organize the natural world, perform music, and even decorate abstract concepts like consciousness and love,” was how one review of Scott Christianson’s book 100 Diagrams That Changed the World began. This observation was followed with an explanation that the book chronicles “the history of our evolving understanding of the world through humanity’s most groundbreaking sketches, illustrations, and drawings, ranging from cave paintings to The Rosetta Stone to Moses Harris’s color wheel to Tim Berners-Lee’s flowchart for a ‘mesh’ information management system, the original blueprint for the World Wide Web.”

It was against this background, particularly the inclusion of the comment about a flowchart that essentially was the original blueprint for the World Wide Web that I thought about clouds. Cloud computing is often represented by using a stylized cloud to depict resources of any size and complexity that we can essentially ignore as whatever resource we need to perform a specific function ,be it the execution of a transaction or the storage of a massive amount of data, the cloud will deliver.

However, we have seen these cloud pictures before. They are not new to those who have worked in IT as long as I have. The very first networks were depicted as clouds. No one really understood all the complex components that went in to making a network but everyone always assumed if a computer connected to it at one point and then a terminal somewhere else, it all would work. Perhaps no better example of this was when IBM presented Systems Network Architecture (SNA) as a cloud, long before we knew about X.25 clouds, and more recently, IP clouds.

It just seemed logical to skip all the hard stuff that went in to providing a reliable resource, as networks eventually became, in order to jump to the really important stuff – who would be accessing resources and where would applications be running. After all, if we had been honest, depicting all that was within the cloud would have covered almost all of any whiteboard we would have used to describe the application we were promoting. But now, as so much of the complexity of the network has been eliminated, it is the systems themselves that are being shielded within the same stylized cloud depiction.

There have been numerous exchanges about clouds within several of the LinkedIn groups I follow. Considerable coverage of clouds has also been made in many of the blogs I subscribe to, including this blog for the NonStop community. How many have followed the posts by Margo Holen whose latest focus has been on clouds and on the potential for NonStop to participate in clouds? However, it is the current discussion in the relatively new LinkedIn group, Host System Advocate Group, that has attracted my interest.

Within the discussion
What is the difference between mainframe computing and the cloud? which in turn is a reference to an exchange that occurred on Yahoo!, and group members were directed to look at some interesting observations that had been made. Among the comments was one that simply observed, “I have heard that mainframe and dumb terminals are really bad for computing, but isn't cloud computing and thin clients the same thing?”

However, the group member that started this discussion then began by suggesting that, for him, “
the cloud is the love child of the internet and virtualization, and puts centralized computing back in fashion”! And I exhaled deeply – wow! Who knew? Cloud Computing was nothing more than IT circling back to reinstate a legitimate role for very big homogeneous systems. Mainframes, revisited. So today’s stylized depictions of clouds can now be overlaid with a picture of a very big system. I don’t think so …

Deeper into the comments posted on Yahoo! came another remark “Mainframes have single servers and require specially built air conditioned rooms to house these machines. Whereas the concept of cloud is very simple, it may have many scattered individual servers. Cloud Computing technology reduces the complexity of deploying and managing IT resources dynamically.” Once again, I exhaled deeply as I recognized the message being conveyed. The stylized cloud shouldn’t be overlaid with a picture of a very big system but rather, a collection of geographically scattered servers of varying capabilities.

For the NonStop community, with systems predominantly deployed among Global 1000 companies, cloud computing might actually prove advantageous. Not in terms of building a cloud out of a collection of NonStop servers (although I don’t want to deter any business from pursuing such a plan), but rather, looking to NonStop as a system on the edge of a cloud. For these Global 1000 companies, a private cloud (assembled from rack after rack of probably Linux or Windows servers combined with terabytes if not petabytes of cheap disk storage) front-ended by NonStop systems might resolve a number of business issues that block any immediate consideration about deploying clouds.

Why NonStop as an edge product? Think in terms of being present and connected to offload low value transactions during peak times; to off-load potentially processor-intensive application components that otherwise may affect the performance of the NonStop system; and to on-load high-value transactions that might have otherwise executed in the cloud without assurance of completing as required.

Imagine configurations of multiple private clouds, or even combinations of private and public clouds, cloaked with the same level of availability and indeed scalability of the NonStop system itself? Yes, even IBM mainframes could rely on NonStop as inexpensive gateways to redundant clouds that are always available, thanks to the NonStop system. Low-cost? NonStop? Relative to the MIPS / LPAR needed on the mainframe offering much less capability, then yes, definitely a lower cost option.

It may take some time to catch on among the NonStop community. It may even take some time to catch on within HP. However, a little creativity can go a long way and it’s really not out of the question to imagine the future of IT where stylized symbols used to depict clouds include a stylized chevron depicting entrance via commodity NonStop servers. There would be no question that this would add to the cloud’s reputation for being “not only less complex”, but with NonStop, as robust as users envision the cloud becoming at some point.

The love child of the internet and virtualization? Perhaps, but with NonStop truly in play, so much more I suspect. It may be raining outside perhaps even snowing, at this time of year. No matter, the ever present clouds are simply too numerous to ignore! For now, all I can add is to watch all that unfolds this year – there are some gifted engineers already working hard to make NonStop and cloud integration happen. Stay very much tuned-in for more to follow particularly in the weeks and months ahead of 203 HP Discover!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fight like a man or fight like a girl?

For many, many years I have worked in IT – and as a women, you would know just “how alone” you are if you attempted to use the restrooms at breaks during conferences – long lines to men’s but nearly empty women’s bathrooms. Yeah, it had its good sides. I guess.

Most of the female coworkers in that environment you might describe as “Tom boys” – in conversations with many I found out that they grew up with a bunch of brothers, or their father always wanted a boy and tried to bring them up as one, or they came from a foreign land and were simply fighters to start with. All three apply to me, sadly.

Consider the words from the song “Fight Like a Girl” by Bomshel: 

“I'll hold my head high
I'll never let this define
The light in my eyes
Love myself, give it hell
I'll take on this world”

Seriously, and I realize it is an inflammatory subject, there is a huge difference between managing teams made up mostly of men versus those made up of women.

The biggest difference, in my experience, is what supplies you keep in your office. When dealing with “the boys” you may have a little fridge with beer for Friday’s “end of the day” discussions. You might even keep a car model on the shelf to break the ice just as you might scatter a few car or airplane magazines on your conference table.

When managing “the girls” you absolutely need to have a supply of Kleenex tissues – I found that you need them even if you offer praise, and you sure need them when you want to offer a critique or expect to disagree on any topic. The cultural differences between the genders are mind blowing in the work environment.

Have you ever been to a meeting that turned hostile? I have on several occasions, and I’ve seen my female co-workers just storm out the door, eyes full of tears. I’ve seen my male co-workers get red in the face and pound the table. I have never seen a man, on the verge of crying, just leave a room. I have never seen a woman get up, use profanity to make her point, and spill everyone’s coffee by hitting the table with her fist!

Returning to the words of the song “Fight Like a Girl” I particularly like these lines:

Yes, I'll stand and be strong
No I'll never give up”
I will conquer with love
And I'll fight like a girl

When it comes to assignments, tasks, and creative thinking both genders perform about equally, in my experience. Expressing opinions, though, is another story. I don’t recall a male co-worker starting with “I may be wrong, and it is probably a stupid idea…” and yet I have heard many smart women preceding their statement with something similar. Also, my personal favorite, “I am sorry, but I have to disagree!" A male would have said “I disagree, here is why, and you are wrong!”

As I was writing this post Richard sent me an article he found in the Australian paper, Business Review Weekly (BRW) , published March 6, 2013, “Brain game: Why women are better marketers than men”.

I found this paragraph to illustrate my point particularly well:

“We all start out with a female brain, at least for the first eight weeks of our pre-birth existence. It is only then that our genes and sex hormones take over. In the case of boys, a huge surge in foetal testosterone in the womb results in the destruction of cells in the communication centres of the brain and growth in the sex and aggression centres. Devoid of this surge in male hormones, the female brain continues to grow unaltered. The result is a brain far superior in its ability to communicate and, crucially, understand others”

Now, Gentlemen, you understand why Richard is hiding behind the disguise as well!

In literature, films, and plays you see gender cultural differences. Likewise, even as women join the workforce at a rate greater than ever maybe it will change, but today, as I am working in the world of nonprofit associations, I carry a box of tissues whenever I expect to meet with my co-workers face-to-face. I also work on dropping my training from the world of IT of being direct; just the facts ma’am, and try to be more like a girl. I feel at times like I am wearing a mask. I just want to get to the topic at hand and have it discussed, and no, I am not wrong, and I disagree, %@#%&!

Lately I have been spending more time back in IT as I re-engage with friends and former colleagues. I am working once again in an area that really interests me and where I see great potential for NonStop participation. And I am going to be fighting a lot harder than ever before. Perhaps in closing it is the words from another song that resonate so clearly for me these days. From the Petra song,
“Fight Like a Man”:

“Get on your knees and fight like a man
You'll pull down strongholds if you just believe you can
Your enemy will tuck his tail and flee
Get on your knees and fight like a man”

No love mentioned here, is there?


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