Monday, April 29, 2013

(Keep on) walking the line!

In my lifetime I have walked away from very little so talk of auto manufacturers walking away from what made them famous is a message to all within the NonStop community – who has fallen out of love with NonStop?

According to a road test featuring the 2013 BMW 135is in the May 2013 issue of Road and Track, “The 1-Series is the last car that BMW engineered before the Germans, as a car-making culture, fell out of love with driving.” Of course, this really grabbed my attention so I kept on reading.

Was Road and Track simply taking liberties with the truth? Had they crossed the line and what about the mighty BMW M3, the envy of every car enthusiasts? It was late last year and I just couldn’t resist taking this picture. It happened outside our local Starbucks and yes, the police officer was sharing a joke with someone who had apparently stepped over the line. It was Halloween, of course, and the other party was a fellow police officer. However, for just a moment, it sure did grab my attention!

“The 3-series, which used to make so much more sense that the 1, is now a perfectly nice car that barely registers on the fun-to-drive scale,” Road and Track explained, before adding, “Like most German cars, it focuses too much on electronics and the eventuality of a driverless future. It errs toward isolation where BMWs have traditionally favored refinement and engagement.”

And then came the bombshell quote, “Most disturbing of all, Munich seems to have walked away from the very thing responsible for its success: the compact sports car. The 135is and the cars that came before it explain why BMW means more, to more enthusiasts, than any other brand.”

Two things strike me at this point. If you are still reading this post then you must be as much a car nut as I am, and if you want to read more about cars you should check out my social blog,
Buckle-Up-Travel. However, the more important observation is that, if you come this far into the story, what’s the connection to NonStop?

I am not an expert on tautology, even though over the years I have collected many apparent expressions that, for me, represent tautology, but a “driverless BMW” makes about as much sense as “giant shrimp” or even “user friendly”. I don’t want to appear disrespectful to all those readers that have bought a Toyota Camry over the years, but reducing the mighty BMW to be on par with the less-than-fun-to-drive Toyota makes little business sense to me.

About as much sense, when it comes to that, as a “general-purpose NonStop” system! Over the course of the past several years, I have written of how NonStop truly is HP’s halo product when it comes to the absolutely best server for processing mission-critical applications in real-time. The world’s soon-to-be 3 million ATMs handling more than 62 billion ATM cash withdrawals annually are a testament to just how well NonStop performs this task, as today, there’s hardly an AM cash transaction that doesn’t touch a NonStop system along the way.

I have also written of how NonStop is a niche product and that by definition, niches have little to do with the size of market opportunities (consider Apple, for instance) but rather allude to implementations a little outside the expected, or norm. A product that is much respected for its superior capabilities as anything else – and yes, I am ignoring the penchant of some marketing types to bracket niche with fashion or sports.

If you missed reading it, I commented in more detail about niches in the post of February 25, 2013,
It’s yet another sign! in which I quoted WebAction’s Sami Akbay and OmniPayments Yash Kapadia who provided a couple of insightful observations. “Niche means distinct, specific, and distinguishable,” suggested Akbay, adding “niche doesn't have to mean small or dying.” This observation then drew the comment from Yash, “when it comes to the bigger picture of computers worldwide – then yes, NonStop is a niche … when it comes to a sub-market as big as payments, NonStop is the predominant player and this is a message not lost on solutions vendors.”

However, it’s the very presence NonStop has in key markets that makes NonStop special. It’s a potent system, slotted into a highly visible niche, and I am certain that HP has no illusions about the profile of NonStop customers dependent upon the system, Unlike BMW, I cannot see HP walking away from NonStop or relegating it to being just one of many servers in the HP product portfolio.

Of late, I have been somewhat preoccupied with documenting just how heterogeneous today’s data centers have become. Many could almost be categorized as technology museums – yes, I have been inside a number of US federal government facilities that clearly are border line museums and it’s not until you realize that they support pretty significant and highly important national infrastructure operations that you inhale rather noticeably.

With heterogeneous data centers, where an element of specialization can be readily recognized – there’s the IBM mainframe, the Teradata data warehouse, the private Linux Cloud, housing web and application servers, and the NonStop server supporting the network 24 X 7 – it’s less likely that NonStop will look out of place. Skills honed working on other platforms can now be easily leveraged in support of NonStop; after all, it’s done a wonderful job embracing standards and becoming as open a platform as it has of late.

There will likely never be the ubiquitous server that meets everyone’s needs in my business lifetime. Yes, folks at Google and Amazon have demonstrated how far you can go with “warehouses”, full of simple motherboards, even to the point of challenging the likes of IBM, Oracle, Teradata and Greenplum, but Google and Amazon are the exceptions. For Global 1000 companies, differentiation of products and services doesn’t come from building their own computer systems.

I am certain that none of you has fallen out of love with NonStop, nor have you lessened your appreciation for just how well NonStop processes transactions. Furthermore, as you interact with fellow IT professionals, it is difficult not to be overcome with feelings about just how fortunate all of us are just to be associated with NonStop. Yes, “
I keep my eyes wide open all the time,” as Johnny Cash once sang, even as “I walk the line”. We love our NonStop computers for a reason.

Clustering? Yes, we have that! SQL database? Got it covered! Java? Yes, we write in Java along with C and C++ and even COBOL. Applications? Plentiful, with more coming to market! Big Data? Yes, we integrate with well-known Big Data frameworks, with even more options becoming available! Clouds? We see potential new products about to appear! Competitively priced? Yes, and with even more power on tap, accessible, at price points that continue to come down even as greater commoditization is being embraced.

At a time when BMW’s cars are erring towards “isolation where BMWs have traditionally favored refinement and engagement” I am ever mindful of the number of comments being made requesting the fault tolerant NonStop become more general purpose, more universal in their appeal to companies as well as ISVs.

However, I am also acutely aware of being extremely careful about what we are asking for. Just as motoring enthusiasts have no need for a driverless BMW, there are just as many within IT who would abhor seeing HP provide the faulty NonStop. No, let’s not canvass in any way HP walking away from the very attributes we value so highly – availability, scalability and data integrity. After all, as a community, we haven’t fallen out of love with NonStop!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It’s time … and the idea is not as wild and crazy as we might imagine!

Watching this year’s Academy Awards event led me to look again at the success of solutions and middleware vendors and their contribution to renewed interest in NonStop!

This past weekend I reported in a client newsletter on just how wild and crazy the weather has been of late in “Colorful Colorado”. Then again, the locals continue to insist – wait an hour or so, and it will change. With so much snow falling, as shown once again in the picture to the side here, it’s hard to imagine that just a week ago I was turning laps in our car on a local racetrack within the shadow of Pikes Peak.

However, the upside is that we have spent the past couple of days watching newly released DVDs of films that won awards at the recent Academy Awards festival. We have watched the film adaptation of Les Miserables, the winner of three Oscars, as well as taken in the pageantry of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that won one award. Up next, Life of Pi, a film that had eleven nominations and that came away with four Oscars in all.

Earlier we had watched the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, which had won, somewhat surprisingly for many, two Academy Awards – for original song as well as for sound editing. As one publication noted, “the Academy hasn’t been especially kind to the venerable series in the past. Up until tonight, the entire franchise had only been awarded 2 Oscars. That trend continued, with “Skyfall” winning two Oscars of its own.” 

There is a popular song, It’s Time, by the group Imagine Dragons, that included the lines:

Don't hold back
Packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check

and when it comes to Skyfall, gaining the attention of the Academy has certainly reinvigorated the James Bond franchise. As a November 8, 2012, USA Today article so clearly stated, 'Skyfall' sends Bond franchise soaring again. The columnist then makes the observation on how “Re-booted in intriguing ways, Skyfall still respects its predecessors. Nods to classic Bond-isms are duly meted out, incorporating the super-spy's distinctive martini order, classic Aston Martin and array of snazzy gadgets.”

It takes considerable effort to reenergize a franchise; getting a topic to be the center of popular buzz is no easy undertaking and yet, fifty years on, James Bond seems every bit as relevant and topical is it always has been, or as USA Today observed, “with a powerful jolt, 007 feels relevant again, with serious questions about espionage vs. cyber hacking amid the fun.”

For NonStop systems, while not carrying quite the legacy of James Bond, nevertheless, the general consent among many with whom I have discussed NonStop of late is that perhaps the marketplace is coming back to NonStop. Perhaps there are changes underway that make the NonStop system every bit as relevant as when it was first conceived. Could it be the right time for us to paraphrase the USA Today observation and say, “Re-booted in intriguing ways, NonStop still respects its predecessors; nods to classic Tandem Computers attributes are duly meted out …”

For the past couple of weeks I have been reviewing commentaries provided by Yash Kapadia, CEO of OmniPayments Inc. Yash and I have enjoyed a number of exchanges of late, as he has kept me informed about his latest projects, which I have been able to reference in posts to blog, the e/Newsletter as well as in this blog, Real Time View.

The most recent comments having appeared in the February 25, 2013, post
It’s yet another sign! “There are times when we do struggle hard to make NonStop sound like a normal system… and this is a message not lost on solutions vendors like OmniPayments.” Yes, it’s time but it’s also about no longer holding back. This too is the message that comes through in the comments made by Yash that I have combined into a single opinion paper I am hoping to see published shortly ...

As I wrapped up the opinion paper, I made the comment that the development of the OmniPayments product suite represents a textbook example of what can transpire when a company starts out offering little more than consulting and best practice advice before transitioning to a services company. It is the attributes of a very astute company to then make the jump to middleware tools and utilities (as they leveraged observations made and accumulated knowledge) to pull together a viable product suite.

Today, with the OmniPayments product suite, the company is finding success among financial institutions even as it faces a large and highly successful competitor. That Omni Payments came away having won the business of the fifth largest banks in the U.S. is a testament to the work that went into the development of OmniPayments and a reflection of just how much Yash’s team had learned each step of the way. It is also a message about the value to users from having choices – with multiple vendors to choose from, there’s greater enthusiasm for NonStop systems as it’s hard to argue against NonStop, continuing to attract solutions vendors as it is doing, sending the “franchise soaring again”!

More recently, Yash suggested that with some of the most recent wins that have been made, “don’t rule out OmniPayments combining features that might be on NonStop in part or in whole with OmniPayments features that may be in the Cloud just as you shouldn’t rule out greater support for additional channels such as mobile and online banking. So much is changing that it’s time that we look out as much as we do up; new channels have to be supported even as overall transaction volumes climb.” So much for legacy NonStop systems! Again, having even more options bodes well for keeping the costs of NonStop in line with users’ expectations.

I have always gotten a kick from talking to solutions vendors. For the most part, I work with middleware and tools vendors, whose goals are to complement solutions, adding value with innovative ways to pull additional information from product suites already deployed. These middleware and tools vendors have lengthy feature lists usually addressing multiple disciplines and where, finding the right fit between a user’s requirements and a tool that is beneficial isn’t that hard to do. These middleware and tools vendors too have developed a business model targeting the installed base and there is diversity enough to keep them prosperous.

On the other hand, solutions vendors absolutely need to see the systems they support prosper. OmniPayments is very committed to the NonStop system and are one of many solutions vendors who have come to appreciate the lower prices of entry-level NonStop systems. While it’s perhaps a stretch at this time, given how new these systems are, to suggest that HP has
reinvigorated the NonStop franchise yet for businesses like OmniPayments, there are at least some early signs as one of their latest wins in South America has seen Unix replaced with NonStop!

Payments, too, is but one market segment where NonStop systems provide a good fit but so are mobile phone operations, manufacturing and homeland security. Only a short time ago I became aware of just how many manufacturers were relying on NonStop and that a number of new case studies have been written and become available. This summer I hope to be able to provide even more coverage as I dig a little deeper into the types of manufacturing applications involved.

The good news here is that franchises can be reenergized – the idea is not as wild or crazy as some may think. Products can remain popular over extended periods of time. They may not always be generating the headlines we all think that they should, but that in no way lessens the value they provide to their users. While IT doesn’t enjoy today the thrills of an Academy Awards night, with the global media attention it attracts, it’s still good to know that at the heart of the most important mission-critical applications running today, users have already voted. And it’s NonStop! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Strange Holidays

I wasn’t trying to set a record, but I have to admit my Holidays have been strange.

I moved to California in 1983 and started working at Tandem Computers the day after Thanksgiving of that year. Of course we never celebrated Thanksgiving back in Poland; there were no Indians to speak of, and corn was food for cattle, so Thanksgiving was a new Holiday for me.

I still recall my very first Thanksgiving, 1975, in Minnesota, at the home of our friends, Dan and Dorothy. It was the first time that I ever tasted turkey. I mostly enjoyed the food, as the conversation was in English, and I did not speak  it yet. From the time I arrived in the US at the end of June, 1975, till that November, I took all the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes I could find at the University, and I watched Sesame Street  every day, but I still had a hard time hearing individual words in fast delivered sentences! Anyway, it was a great dinner and the very next day we took off to Michigan – a new chapter was starting.

Back to 1983 and my first days with Tandem – we were staying in a temporary location, a long-stay hotel, while looking for a house. I was rummaging through my luggage looking for “work suitable” clothes – we went to a local fast food restaurant to celebrate the holiday - and all I could think of was my new job. It was again a new chapter starting the very first day after Thanksgiving. Little did I know that the next 30 years I would be involved with NonStop technology!

My first two weeks on the job was in a TAL class – I have to admit I found it a tad difficult, and as I was still making some of my notes in Polish, I ended up with a pretty unusual notebook. I used it over the next year quite a bit whenever I needed a reminder. I was in the SNAX group and was given a programming assignment. Those were the early days, and we still tested software in the computer room, flipping switches on machines.

Christmas of 1983 was another strange holiday – we moved into a rented condo, and as I was preoccupied with my new job, I did not get around to tree shopping till the very last moment. We found a small tree, but all the stands were gone, so we hung the tree upside down from the lamp hook in the ceiling and decorated it with handmade ornaments my mother brought me from the old country.

One thing that really made me love the job was that that in the computer room we had complete control over the machines – but then we had to learn so much more about them than was directly related to the task at hand.

Before joining Tandem, and after leaving Minnesota for Michigan, there was a New England period: my very first job ever in the US was at a company called Key Data Corporation, now long gone. Key Data was a data processing company – batch mostly. Just to make my Holidays story complete – I started working for Key Data the day after Thanksgiving, 1979.

Looking back at it, except for the fact that it was mostly batch processing, the Key Data model wasn’t all that different from today’s modern Cloud computing paradigm. Our customers couldn’t care less what machines were used to process their data, had no direct involvement with the computer room--data processing was done for them, and that was all they wanted. But there is a significant difference – in the days of data processing companies there were no provisions for  backup – it was as if you were to rely on a single cloud today.

We know how that ends… Need I remind anyone of Netflix over the last Christmas Holiday?

In’s  TechEdge, November 2012, there was an article by Jennifer Parker, “Are Two Cloud Servers Better Than One?” In it she cites a VMWare consultant who said, “Entering the cloud is the act of storing data on someone else’s server.”


That’s why I believe that InfraSoft’s  latest pursuit, maRunga, an implementation of NonStop based cloud services, will be the answer for those who want to store data on someone else’s server but want to be assured that they have access to that data no matter what happens to those servers!

I sometimes think of maRunga as “Chameleon on steroids” – you may recall Chameleon as the code name given to the project undertaken jointly by Tandem and Ungermann Bass back in 1993? I still have those cables we cut to demonstrate that when connection to one of the comms controllers was broken, the other connection would take over and your connection to the server stayed up!
With maRunga, when the connection to one cloud fails (or indeed the cloud itself fails to respond) for whatever reason, connections established to other clouds will take on the task – so yes, the answer to the question posed by Jennifer Parker in the title of her TechEdge article is YES! Two clouds are way better than one!

Fast forward: it is Easter Sunday of 2013. In a few hours’ time, my family will be arriving for our Easter meal: again, it will not be any one tradition – I will carry on with my Polish custom of deviled eggs and my Australian husband wouldn’t be happy without a leg of lamb for dinner.

I look back at the past holidays, and I wonder… so much has changed and yet so much is conceptually the same. Key Data, Chameleon, and now Cloud computing and maRunga. My upside down Christmas tree and baked lamb dinner on Easter Sunday … It is as upside down as Australia  – mind you, as a child I always suspected the folks on the other side of the globe hung upside down, didn’t you?

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