Thursday, November 28, 2013

HP continues to set goals very high and the NonStop community is enjoying the stretch!

HP announced plans for NonStop to support Intel x86 architecture and the reverberations continue as users and vendors alike take it all in … but one thing is for sure, extending fault-tolerant computing to the largest server architecture worldwide will broaden the appeal of NonStop!

One of the earliest memories of my wife, Margo, that I have of her going back to when we both worked for Tandem Computers, is of her telling an audience “not to set goals too low in case they will achieve them”. Not to be confused with the anonymous, yet better known, quote by motivational gurus, "Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you!" with her expression, Margo made it very clear that she didn't suffer mediocrity well.

Many of us within the NonStop community have publicly held the NonStop architecture in the highest of esteems and yet, in private, have expressed anxiety over just how much longer the NonStop architecture will prevail. A failure to prevail for NonStop, of course, casts a poor light on our future job prospects, so there may be some merit in our private musings. 

Blogs and discussion groups are liberally littered with such commentaries on this very theme – just how long can NonStop prevail? Just how long can we remain fruitfully employed doing what we really like? Yet today, we have one more example of the timeliness of the NonStop architecture as there are firm plans for NonStop to support the x86 architecture, the most popular server architecture, by volume, on the planet.

It took a long time to close the deal and many parties were consulted. However, earlier this year Margo decided to seriously upgrade her daily drive, and yes, our former racecar, the supercharged Corvette which we used to begin our track adventures has departed the garage being replaced with a Maserati Grand GranTurismo Sport. I’ve never been one to ever aim low, but this purchase came as a surprise even for the likes of me. Readers of my social blog, Buckle-Up-Travel, may have picked up on the clues in the post of February 18, 2013 Roads less travelled … when a former school mate of mine, David Roberts, visited from Australia and, as a bona fide race car driver, shared with me his positive opinion. That pretty much sealed the deal.

If her goal had been a Fiat 500, as Margo had once dreamed of when living in Warsaw, Poland, achieving this goal would have been a hollow victory in 2013, even with the reintroduction of this car. Perhaps, it was with this in mind, that she admonished us the way she did. Yet, the goal for many within the NonStop community is for NonStop to attain universal acceptance as the best mission-critical server with a broad range of solutions available. This definitely represents the kind of stretch goal Margo had in mind.

I covered the announcement of NonStop support of the x86 architecture earlier in the month. In the post of November 4, 2013, The real deal - NonStop supports x86! I included the quote by HP VP and GM of Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer, talking about NonStop as “a timeless architecture”. I also quoted HP CEO, Meg Whitman, who stated “Our NonStop customers truly make it matter” in a video clip everyone can view at:!

Whitman began her video presentation with “Today, enterprises operate in a world where the demand for continuous application availability is growing exponentially. The need to choose the right computer for the right workload at the right economics has never been so important … we are on the path to redefine mission critical computing.” To preface the announcement of NonStop supporting Intel’s x86 architecture resets the bar, or goal, for NonStop in ways many within the NonStop community no longer thought possible. Yet, on a simple commentary, such as Whitman provided, internally within HP as much as externally across the NonStop community, the message was unmistakable – in one short statement, NonStop became the premier product offering to those with the greatest need for mission critical computing.

Present at the keynote session of November 4, 2013, when the announcements were made, was IDC Research Vice President, Enterprise Servers, Jean Bozman. Later that morning, I ran across Jean as she was about to depart the venue and she was only too happy to talk with me. When I asked Jean about what stood out for her as the “really good news” she responded, “Moving NonStop to x86 platforms is a very good move, for several reasons. It will extend fault-tolerant computing to the largest server architecture worldwide. More than 95% of all servers shipped are x86 servers - and x86 servers generate more than 60% of all server market revenue. This brings a new operating system -- and fault-tolerant functionality - to that broad platform. It will join Microsoft Windows, Linux and Unix (Solaris/x86) on the x86 platform, as choices for customers.”

However, Jean didn’t stop at this point. She added, “For NonStop customers, in the installed base, this move to bring NonStop to x86, will open the door to wider adoption, and continued ability to tap NonStop functionality and applications into the future. It also brings the prospect of attracting new customers that might not have considered NonStop before. This also will allow NonStop to be used for new workloads that are emerging in the datacenter - and that require very high levels of availability.”

To my ears, this is exactly what the NonStop community had as a goal for many years – opening the door to wider adoption and allowing NonStop to be used for new workloads. The week after the NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp (TBC), I was able to interview Pauline Nist, GM Enterprise Software Strategy at Intel Corporation. Pauline is well known to the NonStop community having headed the NonStop Enterprise Division several years ago. However, it is in her current role at Intel that I sought out her opinions on plans for NonStop to support the x86 architecture. “When it comes to Intel’s expectations as to which businesses will relish NonStop on x86 the most – existing customers or new customers - it will likely be a little bit of both,” Pauline began. “As an observation, existing and new users alike really value the NonStop architecture and having it support Xeon simply ensures its longevity.”

Pauline then added how “The move to Xeon will not be earthshattering for either groups, with respect to porting existing or new applications, as NonStop development is well-experienced when it comes to embracing new chip architecture. We are always happy to help our partners differentiate the x86 architecture and with NonStop, it’s just another example of a vendor capitalizing on the popularity of Xeon. As we work with partners, we seek their input and the people at Intel take partner’s requests and work with them, feeding these requirements into the roadmap – Intel is simply more willing to do this than it ever has been before.”

In closing Pauline then talked about how, at Intel, “We proved that with the latest iterations of Xeon, it was practical to share infrastructure between Itanium and Xeon such that today, after several years of effort, much of the supporting infrastructure for both chips is common. Furthermore, when it comes to the needs of NonStop development, much of the RAS in Itanium that NonStop required is now an integral part of Xeon. The result is that the migration of applications running on NonStop on Itanium will find the transition to NonStop on Xeon a simple step to take.”

This message has already begun resonating with the vendor community. In a post to that should appear shortly, I quote IR’s
General Manager - Products & Alliances, John Dunne, who was quick on the uptake about the importance of this announcement. “There were concerns that Itanium would be the undoing of NonStop,” Dunne told me. “With the architecture moving to a mainstream chipset, as is the case with the x86, NonStop won’t fall off the ‘chipset cliff’ as Itanium reaches end of life and is discontinued. Software vendors that support NonStop have had to undergo several chipset migrations – each one with a substantial transition cost for the vendor; the challenge, as always, will be finding an appropriate return on investment (ROI).”

OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, said something similar when he told me that “OmniPayments has a long history with HP NonStop and with the ATC and have seen the NonStop development team navigate several changes of chip technology as well as interconnect fabrics. Adding support for Intel x86 as well as InfiniBand should be transparent to solutions vendors such as us and I can’t imagine any scenario that would have me losing sleep over this transition to a more popular architecture.” However, much as IR’s Dunne had indicated, Yash then added that, “All the same we will run extensive volume tests before we ship our software.

HP has definitely set the bar much higher and for those who still pegged the NonStop architecture as fleeting at best and problematic at worst, the game has really changed. And for the better. HP hasn’t dropped its guard or lowed its expectations when it comes to NonStop systems. Once considered the domain of the fortunate few, HP is extending fault-tolerant computing to the largest server architecture worldwide. No, never set your goals too low, as Margo reminded all who worked for her in the late 1980s, and with what we have witnessed this past month how true this sentiment has turned out to be!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hear the news – it’s all about great storytelling!

I have been following InkaBinka since the beginning of this year and now there are folks within HP, too, that see plenty of opportunities as we all become newscasters. “Capturing your world!” could involve us all and NonStop may very well be involved … 

To the dismay of many, Margo and I drove from Boulder, Colorado, to Orlando, Florida. What were we thinking? After road trips for business to Atlanta, Georgia, to Mississauga, Canada, and then the extended travel we did while in Australia, you would have thought a 2,000 plus mile trip to sunny Florida would be a bit much – but we love the travel. The picture above was taken of Margo and me after making a detour to Daytona Beach for lunch, Sunday. 

We have checked in to one of Disney’s kingdoms specifically, Magic Kingdom; looking down on this fantasy world from high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort. When you enter Disney, the “wonderful world of meetings” that is, there’s a tag line displayed on their folios – “the secret of an inspiring meeting is great storytelling”, and for someone who makes a living writing, nothing could be closer to the truth. The meeting we are attending is for the medical community, but for the NonStop community, it should evoke memories of the past as this association is headed by none other than ITUG’s former Executive Director, Jon Lindberg.

In an opinion column published in the November 12, 2013, edition of USA Today, under the headline of “Modern Journalism Fails Taste Test” – a testament to just how good a job Walter Cronkite did many years ago – reporters, Timothy M. Gay and Susan Bennett, bemoan the shoddy news reporting of late. “Too often in today’s tragedies, stories are triggered by social media hearsay and unconfirmed chatter on police scanners”, they wrote. “Today’s journalists need to renew their vow to get it right – from the first.” Unfortunately, here’s the problem: increasingly we are relying less and less on newscasters, even as they try harder to impress; when it comes to forming opinions on any topic, we check the details ourselves and usually follow a small cadre of acquaintances, whose views we share.

Readers of this blog should by now be familiar with InkaBinka and its founder, Kevin McGushion. I have covered the company and its founder in previous posts, including my post Ideas! Innovations! Will we keep on inventing? , as well as Margo’s commentary in her post Comes the revolution . Since introducing InkaBinka to the NonStop community the product has come a long way and now has the attention of HP.

However, it was a comment made by Kevin during my last conversation with him that hit a nerve – “we trust newscaster less and less these days so why not create our own channel using InkaBinka, express our own preferences and opinions and follow those whose observations which pass your own taste test! Add to that the ability to educate yourself on anything and now you have a true democratization of information.”

In other words, as Kevin reiterated, “Surely we can weight information based on what a user thinks is important and deliver that content fast and in an unfiltered way; community sourcing of real time information what’s important’ to me could become the channel like-minded users turn to first – essentially, paralleling the world of crowd sourcing, news and information distributed in this fashion (with enough channels tuned in)  the goal  is to get closer to what is real and what is the truth.”

What is InkaBinka? It’s the capability to live create channels, just as you would create “favorites” on your satellite or cable TV controller with Tivo mixed in and the discovery channel ready to launch a window to educate you on anything you don’t understand about whatever you are reading. It’s the support from InkaBinka to keep all channels current, updating content as it changes, in near real time. It’s then the opportunity to share you channel with others in a public forum.

In bringing InkaBinka to market it’s essentially relegating traditional RSS feeds to the trash can – a reminder of legacy channels of the past. Expectations are high as InkaBinka roles out in earnest. “We are hoping people will create channels based on their areas of interest or expertise and share them on the public board for others to enjoy,” Kevin told me. “We allow users to rate channels they follow, and the creators of channels to see their following as well as provide  a venue for commentary.

At this point, let me tell you how HP is involved, and why I believe the NonStop community will likely be impacted. For the NonStop user this will not be immediate, as the consumer market is being addressed well ahead of the enterprise market, but as we have seen with the take-up of mobile devices, they have become the almighty tail that now wags all dogs. With InkaBinka on your smartphone or tablet, it could become the gateway to enterprise applications now being externalized as services. We have witnessed the steady march from monolithic applications to the client/server model to a services-driven world. As aggregation is increasingly happening on the client device – more often these days, our mobile device – and performance is beginning to suffer.

When I first broached the subject of InkaBinka to the America’s team responsible for Project Moonshot, the team noticed the value proposition immediately. Clearly, following 2013 HP Discover we became aware that the sweet spot for marketing Moonshot (hyperscale servers) was not the existing big players like Amazon, Yahoo or Microsoft but rather up and coming potential competitors to these heavyweights. It’s way too early to promote InkaBinka as upsetting the status quo just yet, but for HP there’s every opportunity to be involved with a winner from day one – and that’s their mantra going forward.

“When I was first briefed on InkaBinka’s strategy, I saw enormous potential,” said Paul Santeler, vice president, HP’s Hyperscale business segment. “Their approach to content delivery is innovative and as my understanding of their architecture deepened, I can see that Moonshot is an ideal platform to achieve their goals. HP is excited to be working with InkaBinka and we are pleased that they are evaluating Moonshot for their cloud-based solution.”

InkaBinka will roll out using HP’s Cloud Services but as Moonshot matures, InkaBinka will populate its data center with Moonshot cartridge servers on a scale that I’m sure will prove impressive. Currently deployed on servers on Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, the economics for server-oriented solutions, like InkaBinka, makes switching to Moonshot an attractive option. All my own interactions with the Moonshot team to date suggests other companies will follow suite and I am already across another vendor, perhaps better known in the NonStop space, that has just begun discussions about leveraging Moonshot. 

InkaBinka relies heavily on servers, and lots of them. Every channel that is created is processed on InkaBinka’s servers and this is where the immediate performance gains over existing products emerges – when you invoke your channel, it’s just a single connection even though multiple channels may be updating in real time – it’s the servers doing the heavy lifting to keep you engaged as a newscaster, not your mobile device. Stop by Starbucks for coffee and while you pay for your latte right from your phone, your channels continue to be updated in real time, but via a single pipe.

Among the tag lines being trialed at this time is one I particularly like, as it conveys to me what InkaBinka provides. “Capturing your world,” says Kevin, is just one tag line under consideration, but when you consider InkaBinka is an ecosystem comprising incredibly powerful tools, a whole new social media play whereby you exchange ideas as if you were a newscaster broadcasting live, “it could very well become the standard as it offers people freedom, immediacy and relevance all directed to just one location – your device.”

What does it look like and how do you get started? Below is a screenshot of a well-populated InkaBinka page depicting the many sites of interest that you may be viewing, as channels, in real time – all from a single feed from the InkaBinka servers. A quick glance will show you that there are buttons to create a channel (yours, of course) as well as to add a channel (someone else’s). Clicking on “Create Channel” opens a dialogue box whereby you can select a publication, click on just those stories you are interested in (and bypass all the advertisements, of course), or you can select a blog or other social media feed / channel, and so forth.

Now comes what I consider to be the serious value-add from what the InkaBinka servers are supporting behind the scenes. In the screen shot below, you will see this user has set up a “twitter reaction” box capturing commentary that is currently ongoing about a story the user has selected to read in more detail. Furthermore, items in the story you may not be familiar with are the subject of “web research” that unlike Google or Bing, is current and will often reflect items other InkaBinka users have found prior to your access – it’s all fresh and new!

“What might interest your NonStop community”, suggested Kevin, “is that this is not just about news – imagine how this will evolve as users add individual shopping channels, perhaps the monitoring of stock, and even airline schedules, flight departures, etc.; it will be up to our users to push the channel creation as far afield as they want and it’s up to us to make it happen”

“The secret of an inspiring meeting is great storytelling,” according to Disney, to which we can add, the secret to inspiring newscasting is immediacy and accuracy. At a time when enterprises today are turning to analytics to better derive value from all that they provide, products and services, imagine the power that could be put into employees’ hands via a product such as this? For the NonStop community, this is where the product paths of both InkaBinka and NonStop will likely intersect – increasingly, applications on NonStop are being externalized as services, and providing access to multiple applications concurrently from NonStop may be a boon to many enterprises.

it's very early days but all the same, InkaBinka can be accessed  – all you need do is visit the web site, I will be making a visit as I sense it holds potential to be the next Yahoo! or even the next Google! A stretch perhaps but this I know; our industry never sits still for a moment and complacency is never rewarded. We may be watching the evolution of a whole new way to interact with information, in a manner far richer than we had ever imagined possible!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The real deal - NonStop supports x86!

The timelessness of NonStop on display as Intel's x86 is embraced - yes, the plan to support of x86 architectures as part of the NonStop product family has been unveiled at this year's NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp.

While I was visiting Australia, I was kept informed of a young up-and-coming racecar driver. While only in his early teens, he was featured on American television as one of three youngsters worth watching as likely future stars. Colton Herta, the son of Indy Racing League (IRL) team co-owner, Bryan Herta, this year raced in two programs for open wheel racecars (smaller versions of F1 cars). In doing so, he managed to win the major series (in an F1600) while narrowly missing out, as we heard while travelling, on winning the second series (Skip Barber formula) by a margin of two points even though conflicts with the F1600 series meant he missed many Skip Barber events.

For 13 year old Colton, campaigning against much older participants with years more experience in open wheelers, winning has become a way of life so much so that his trophy room now only houses those trophies awarded for first place. Being good is no longer the point for Colton and just being good enough on the day, never a consideration. It’s also a fact that fellow racers are going to have to get used to as the picture above depicts. (The other racecar driver featured on American television alongside Colton? Turned out to be Matthew Brabham, grandson of Australia’s own Sir Jack Brabham.)

At a time when it’s becoming apparent to many IT professionals that perhaps, with budgets trimmed as tightly as they have been for the past four or five years – ever since the Global Financial Crises (GFC) –good has become good enough, all involved with NonStop have become perplexed over the almost daily reports of major system crashes. From government data centers to stock exchanges to online retail service providers, we all watch as major failures are simply dismissed as being nothing more than technical glitches and that an acceptable response from those in charge is that everything is now OK as they powered-off, powered on, and reset the application.

The humble PC has indeed revolutionized IT but it’s not without its downside not the least being it’s influence on IT managers and executives who rationalize that every need in the private and public sector can be addressed with essentially a PC-based server. No; good by itself, is simply not good enough! Unfortunately, the discussions about doing a better job for IT usually stop there, as few are willing to set aside the budget required to properly address these availability shortcomings and for further transformation of IT to take place, bold actions must be taken by the major vendors.

It was five years ago, on March 26, 2008, that I posted A question of balance! to this blog. In that post, I quoted Randall Becker of Nexbridge Inc as stating, at the time, how with NonStop, “HP has a real diamond here, if they could only see that the cut glass, through which they’re looking, isn’t good enough!” Randall then asks “but then, we all struggle with the question of what reliability is good enough? Where do we set the bar?”

A short time ago, I posted NonStop: Good, but now better! where I concluded that when it comes to the merits of NonStop few discount the value the presence of NonStop can provide. I then made the observation that, as we continue our march to even greater heterogeneity in the data center (with hybrid computing becoming common place), there will be lot of good systems inside the data center but the better solution for mission critical transaction processing will continue to come from NonStop!

As more information became available for HP’s project Odyssey, HP talked openly about extending the full mission-critical experience for x86 and all within a common modular infrastructure. At the time, there were presentations about how the knowledge within the NonStop development team would be exploited by developers working on other OS’s. However, at no time was there any discussion about NonStop bringing its availability proposition to x86. Quite the contrary, NonStop would remain positioned at the top of the pyramid depicting HP’s product lines – it’s unique attributes reserved for those in IT well-acquainted with NonStop’s true value proposition. Yet many within the NonStop community wondered whether there would be a time when NonStop did add support of such popular chip architectures as the x86.

It was in 2012, following that year’s HP Discover event, in the post Sailing, tacking and avoiding conflicts! I referenced Intel. For me, I posted at that time, it has always been the “Intel Architecture”. It was less about the chip products per se and in I referenced a conversation I had with Intel Corporation’s General Manager, Enterprise Software Strategy (and former head of NonStop Enterprise Division), Pauline Nist, who reminded me that whatever transpires with future chip products, the Intel Architecture will prevail. In telling me this, Pauline was reiterating clearly that NonStop customers would be protected and upward compatibility would be assured. Should we anticipate NonStop supporting Itanium and Xeon going forward? Two distinct marketplaces with two separate product lines?

The question over good becoming good enough has bothered many within the NonStop community but this week, at the NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp, HP demonstrated that indeed they will be taking the bold steps. The bar hasn’t been reset – being good isn’t good enough – but rather, rising up to the height of the bar will now be more attainable as HP NonStop embraces x86 and the economic model that comes from making this move. That’s right – a complementary product line exploiting for the first time x86 architecture with InfiniBand. Welcome, too, to the new Lxx operating system.

Imagine a future, we have just been told, where you could provide customers and business partners alike, 100% NonStop fault-tolerant environment on the Intel Xeon platform! “Our NonStop customers truly make it matter,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman in a video adding how pleased she was to extend NonStop to include x86. Demonstrating once again for the NonStop community that indeed, NonStop “is a timeless architecture,” was how HP VP and GM of Integrity Servers Randy Meyer summed it up. Key objective of this program (with deep roots into both Project Odyssey as well as Converged Infrastructure), according to one NonStop manager, was “maintaining compatibility at the application level – just recompile and go”!

The move to InfiniBand has been predicted for some time. In my post of February 13, 201, Three years on, and three more wishes! I quoted HP CTO Martin Fink who had proposed that, “with every new microprocessor that becomes available to us, we continue to evaluate ServerNet and its impact on overall system performance. Certainly at some future date, we'll move to a standard interconnect – probably Infiniband as a possible alternative.” Now that Fink’s observation has come to fruition, not as a replacement to ServerNet but as a complementary fabric solution better optimized for use with x86 architectures.

In the coming weeks as we hear more about these new technologies and products are I will be following up with further posts to this blog. Young racer Colton Herta may be comfortable with winning and not one to accept good being simply good enough, but I suspect it will take some time before the rest of IT wholeheartedly embraces such a concept. With HP delivering, as we have just heard, “HP NonStop on the industry’s leading platform and interconnect, (it) means your transactions will execute with even faster performance and lower latency”.

Furthermore, “The combination of HP’s proven leadership in mission critical x86 technology and in HP NonStop technology will offer a compelling business choice,” HP pitched in its presentation today further highlighting how big a transformation of NonStop has occurred. With HP saying this, the many naysayers doubting the future of NonStop will find little to talk about in the months ahead. The bar didn’t get moved, and there was no temporary fix proposed for a select few (we didn’t get a box to stand on, for instance); this is the real deal. Believe!

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...