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: http://www8.hp.com/h20621/video-gallery/us/en/products/2674320308001/meg-whitman-explains-nonstop-x86-strategy/video/#!
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 realtime.ir.com 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!