Friday, February 21, 2014

So much to read – so many comments! Where to turn?

Have you been following comments posted to this blog? To discussions started on LinkedIn groups? One recent exchange caught my eye so I pulled it into this post and added my own observations …

My day may end with reading a menu, as illustrated above, but when my day starts it is always with a review of papers and reports from well-known daily publications, including a selection from Europe and of course Australia. The scope varies significantly but includes business publications, sports commentaries, some scientific articles as well as headlines from the popular press. Over coffee, I manage to skim as many as a dozen sources and there is no real objective in mind when I begin – a story or commentary just has to have enough “special ingredients” to catch my attention.

Following the early morning reading, I turn to skimming items on LinkedIn. While I check in with Facebook, I’m nowhere near as religious about my Facebook presence as I am about LinkedIn. Staying current with the 40 plus groups I support on LinkedIn – many associated with NonStop regional groups – my interests vary considerably, just as it does when skimming conventional publications. Colleagues have often expressed to me that they don’t have the time to check out the news, conventional or otherwise, and that’s a shame – so much is being written about NonStop these days that it presents opportunities to reach audiences that otherwise may not be aware of the merits of NonStop.

It’s not until early afternoon before I finally sit down at the keyboard and write my posts and features. The influence from what I have read in the morning is inescapable and much of what I write draws from incidents and opinions I have just come across. Of the LinkedIn groups that I follow, Mission Critical Systems Forum (facilitated by Oracle) – yes, “that” Oracle – is one I rarely miss. Indeed, many of the NonStop community seem to follow as well and for good reasons; who wouldn’t want to follow a group rallying under the banner of mission-critical systems! Along with folks from the IBM camp, it’s encouraging to see comments posted by these NonStop participants, and if this group is new to you by all means think about joining and help champion the message of NonStop!

There are 21,250 members and that of itself is remarkable. However, the discussion recently started by a simple question, In one sentence, what do you think is the most important element when it comes to designing a new data centre? and it generated numerous responses in record time. Among the simple, even one-word responses, were “Energy consumption”, “Redundancy”, “Availability”, “Cost and offering “, “Green data center design”, “Why not just use the cloud?" and even “Choose the right person(s) to do it!” 

Eventually though, lists began to appear and these attracted even more discussion.

The first list prioritized the important elements as follows:

This list was followed soon after by another:
Data center facility must be redundancy and use tools monitoring and minimum in tier 2 with strong people knowledge for the DC facility operation.
System Security
Discipline process in operation should be automation for EOD process, compliance with policy, regulatory and DC problem management
Discipline execution for Technology refresh to be green DC
Have a good leader for DC Operation management Head.

Then came another list:
Environmental Acceptance (GREEN)
Scalability (Client)
Utility Diversity

It doesn’t take a whole lot of time or reflection to see that there are a number of common elements and what’s really interesting is just how relevant NonStop remains. Having checklists like this – and yes, one came from an IBM member – helps all of us, as we are challenged almost daily as to why we continue to support (and rely on) NonStop. Furthermore, it gives us confidence whenever we face our data center manager or CIO. We remain well informed, and the consensus (among this very large group) suggests that the very same reasons why we justified NonStop usage remains at the forefront of most involved in data center design, even today!

Of course, too, with a topic such as this, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to respond. Not with one sentence, mind you, as this isn’t my style, but with a couple of supporting arguments thrown in for good measure. Even so, I pulled together my own list for this group, observing right from the outset that there’s no one item here that surpasses all else, but there’s a clear starting point, availability.

Availability? Drawing on my own commentary already made to this blog, I noted how it was a pro-football coach who, turning to an injured player on the bench, remarked, “Your best ability is your availability!” If you are unavailable, you are out of the game. Literally. So yes, this is the starting point and here, even though my first two decades were spent working with IBM (Mainframes, 8100s, Series/1s etc.), it is the Tandem / NonStop that continues to excel today … with still, despite the complexity and costs (and skill sets needed), mainframes with parallel sysplex running second, a few steps behind.

So far so good – with a little extra added in deference to my friends still relying on IBM systems, of course. Once past the availability element, I elected to go down a slightly different, if indeed unusual, path. What about Value-ability, I asked? I saw references to value (in describing important elements, previously) and that has to be close to the top as well … we are not operating any longer in the “do more with less” model, but are being challenged to provide value. Elaborating on this I returned to availability, noting that like scalability (both up and out) it has to come as part of the package. You can’t bolt availability, and indeed scalability, onto the side as an afterthought – and yes, I like the comment about making sure you pick the right person from the outset. And yes, I said, notice the sleight of hand – solve availability and you address scalability when done right!

There was an immediate “Like” flag generated (and yes, from an IBM member), but this wasn’t the end as going down the path I was taking, I then became even more creative suggesting how too there’s Insight-ability? Particularly when it comes to security! When it comes to security, I called out, we are in an arms race and no, there’s no quick fix here or off-the-shelf solution. At best, we need to know (about attacks) as they happen and have the ability to neutralize quickly; for that, I need (operational and business) insight. I need to know the “person of interest” I should follow … and neutralize.

In my correspondence with my clients and from the exchanges I have had with users over the course of 2013, Insight-ability is a growing demand. Call it business insight – it’s important, as no system is an island and no system is immune to what is going on elsewhere in the data center. With the discussions I have had with those providing monitoring as well as security solutions, at best, we can erect strong walls to better defend ourselves.

While I didn’t include Security in my list of important elements – going as far as to ask in the post,
Yet three more wishes! if it is time to revisit these (NonStop attributes) and add securability? - when it comes to designing a data center, I firmly believe that with NonStop we have a foundation to build some impressive walls. Leveraging NonStop, we can utilize some of the best building blocks available today when it comes to fortifying the data center.

What about Clouds? And what about Green? Here my question was directed not so much towards providing an indisputable response as much as it was an attempt to draw our further commentary. Cloud; not so fast – it’s a technology we can turn to augment other resources, but for enterprises it’s no panacea. I have just watched as a client moved off MS Azure onto HP Cloud on their way to building out their own data center, this time using the new HP project Moonshot cartridges (yes, those that run cold).

Again, if your business revolves around a high ratio of “look to book” transactions then Cloud may be of value. I am working with another vendor developing Cloud Bursting solutions out of (Mainframes and) NonStop into Linux, Windows and the Cloud, just for this purpose. As an industry, we have gone from paper tape to cards to mag tape to disks, and cloud is just one more iteration of this process with the added benefit this time - it’s also got processing options. Again, as with the other comments, no push back just the “like” from IBM (and indeed, the reference to Cloud Bursting solutions out of Mainframes remains an idea more than a reality at this point but was included to reinforce some degree of objectivity)!

Finally – green. This cuts two ways. It’s a fact that we need to find a location (and a source) for cheap power but it also puts the onus back on the vendors we work with – we need more solutions like HP project Moonshot. I then admitted that I was pleased to read of how IBM and Dell were looking to take up the challenge to produce something similar (even if they were caught completely by surprise and will struggle to respond any time soon). Furthermore, the recent decision by IBM to sell off its low end, x86 server, business doesn’t bode well for anything low-end appearing from IBM in the near term. However, data centers that simply don’t need power (well at least, not on today’s scale) – that’s yet another step along the path I see us all taking, I wrote in closing.

When there’s so much to read and so many places to turn to for commentaries, it can appear overwhelming. However, as I come across interesting discussions I will always look to incorporate in posts to this blog. Where I see value in joining a particular group I will encourage the NonStop community to consider joining – we need to voice our opinions if we want NonStop to remain part of the conversation. There’s absolutely no reason at all for us to be quiet – and I am sure few of you will remain on the sidelines for long. Good reading! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yet three more wishes!

At any major event, there is no more anticipated presentation than the vendor’s roadmap presentations … but wait, there’s always more! Looking ahead and framing as my wishes is just one approach that I take to speculate, which I can do without suffering the consequences vendors would face should they speculate!

It’s been six years since I first blogged about my wishes for NonStop – in the posts of February 12, 2008, and February 13, 2011. Now that it is February 14, 2014, it seems only appropriate for me to look at how far the NonStop platform has come, in terms of modernization as well as commoditization, and to express opinions on a likely future of the NonStop servers.

Whether it’s coincidence or not, the previous posts have featured photographs of cars that no longer can be found in the garage. Does it truly reflect my ability to predict the future or not, they didn’t make the cut! The cars pictured above tell a story of their own and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will remain in the garage a little longer. They are both Chrysler SRT vehicles – the V10 being the Viper SRT while the V8 is the Jeep SRT. That these cars even survived at Chrysler, enjoying better days, is close to a miracle, and is a good lead-in to this post on NonStop.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog, posted on December 24, 2013, Big Data and the Role of Intuition writer, Tom Davenport, responds to the question of “Whether intuition has a role in the analytics and data-driven organization.” Davenport begins his response with “The difference with analytics, of course, is that you don’t stop with the intuition — you test the hypothesis to learn whether your intuition is correct.” Furthermore, he then notes how often “The choice of a target domain is typically based on the gut feelings of executives.” Setting the stage for his final comments, Davenport then remarks, “In short, intuition’s role may be more limited in a highly analytical company, but it’s hardly extinct.”

To read of intuition, hypothesis, gut feelings, and then know that this method of figuring out what is actually taking place (in a market) is still valid (and not extinct), puts my mind at ease. Speculating about what is to come for NonStop servers therefore can be legitimately pursued based on my own intuition. As well as my gut feelings! With what has transpired these past three years, I believe anyone prepared to spend time reading everything that HP publishes and then asks pertinent questions of well-placed executives, should come to the same conclusions that I will make in this post.

In the post of February 12, 2008, "My Wish" for NS Blades my three wishes came down to firstly, wanting HP to deliver a shared infrastructure blades chassis. I then pushed a little further and with my second wish, wanted HP to provide a hypervisor whereby NonStop could become a guest operating system (OS). This essentially was my first take on the proposition that at some point, virtualization would become a factor in future NonStop configurations. With my third, and most ambitious wish, I wanted HP to provide an API whereby programmatically NonStop could be loaded on standard blades on demand. What we refer to today as provisioning was a capability I thought businesses everywhere would welcome and look to vendors to provide the monitoring tools whereby the contents of incoming transactions would determine just how many NonStop servers would be present within any given shared infrastructure blades chassis.

In the post of February 13, 2011, Three years on, and three more wishes! my next three wishes built on the earlier wishes (and yes, the shared infrastructure blades chassis came about), but added a couple of twists, or wrinkles, depending upon your perspective. This time, my first wish centered on NonStop becoming a purely software offering on the understanding that HP would introduce standard blade packages – going so far as to suggest that mezzanine, or daughter, cards would no longer be required. With my second wish, I proposed that future HP server offerings targeting the data center would all include NonStop servers as part of the package. Just as today we have SSDs with enough capacity to house important, frequently used data and files, so too would there be (shall we say) SSNS with enough capacity to ensure critical components would always be available. Finally, with my third wish, I drew a deep breath and expressed my desire for HP to pursue greater cooperation with solutions and middleware vendors as the built for the future – in other words, HP shouldn’t contemplate going it alone.

Looking back, much of what I wished for has come to fruition. There is now a shared blade infrastructure – the C7000 chassis providing the underpinnings for this. Throw in the soon-to-come InfiniBand support along with the plans to support Intel x86 architecture and much of what else I wished for is in sight. Equally as importantly, HP is working with partners – comForte, ETI, etc. come to mind – and that’s an encouraging sign. But now what? Virtualization seems to be as farfetched an idea as it was when I first began writing about it in 2008, even as NonStop packaged with everything seems to be getting closer with HP’s strong push into hybrid computing. Will we ever see NonStop inside a homogeneous array of servers stretching far into the distance, where physically it will be unrecognizable?

Expressing as I am yet three more wishes, here is what I expect to see rolling out over the next three years. First, how about repackaging TS/MP (Pathway) as VM/MP? I would really like to see some movement on this front, as today we have all accepted a form of process virtualization as we deal with Java’s Virtual Machine and .NET’s Common Language Runtime – what TS/MP provides today is independence from any awareness of where a Pathway ServerClass instance runs, and with the latest releases, this can include running on other NonStop servers. It is all there today available to all parties running NonStop, so what really is the wish? I really want to see HP become more proactive about the virtualization characteristics that already are available with NonStop and leverage as a starting point to even more adventurous options to follow. After all, surely NonStop can span multiple VMs, as today it spans multiple real machines!

Secondly, I want HP to build on its hybrid computing plans to embrace more fully NonStop – for the moment, it’s holding it’s punches somewhat and enticing a message about NonStop’s role in hybrid computing is even more difficult than getting HP executives to concur with the idea that NonStop has a role to play in clouds! Hybrids and Clouds are joined at the hip and whether outside the cloud, as a source of transactions, partway in the cloud as a gateway (directing transactions to the appropriate cloud based upon potential SLA commitments), or inside as a guardian overseeing security and fending off unwanted intrusions, NonStop has a big role to be played going forward.

Finally, my third wish? As I watch the UNIX business tank, the OpenVMS roadmaps come to an end and as Linux and Windows garnish more headlines (my observations, of course), then my final wish is for greater pride in NonStop emanating from all HP executives. Having plans now in place for NonStop to support the x86 architecture (on universal blades) is a huge step in the right direction but as young Oliver said, “please Sir, I want some more?” The more I get involved with Project Moonshot, for instance, the more I am becoming convinced that the potential to have a couple of Moonshot cartridges supporting NonStop with engagement in what’s being asked of the other Moonshot cartridges hold promise for much wider acceptance of NonStop.

These wishes may not come as a complete surprise to some readers, although the sequence may be different. In the post of July 19, 2013, Are our wishes still important? I talked about wishes in general, but now I am more confident that I am on the right track. While it remains very important for HP NonStop to present it’s roadmap for NonStop and to keep the NonStop community informed, roadmaps today aren’t what they used to be and don’t always convey the full story. Likewise, presenting a vision for NonStop is rarely done as public companies like HP are bound by regulations about making statements that are not based on something tangible. Discussing wishes, no matter who makes those wishes, is a healthy thing to do and I am hopeful what I cover here today leads to further discussions and possibly, even products. Yes, wishes remain very important!

For decades, we have lived with the Tandem fundamentals – availability, scalability and data integrity. With all that is happening in the world today, is it time to revisit these and add securability? I only throw this in as part of my final observations for surely, if this truly is an attribute helping to define the future for NonStop, then mixing NonStop into hybrid blades, into hybrid clouds and potentially into new technologies like Moonshot, assures a future for NonStop well beyond the scope of what may be on our minds these days. To paraphrase a popular television show “Living in Hawaii is not expensive – you just have to want it!”

Chrysler treats SRT as its halo brand and its products, representative of where the imagination of Chrysler engineers can take the company. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers that I am attracted to vehicles like this. Hopefully, as you consider my impressions about the future of NonStop your gut-feelings will kick in, as will your intuition, and experience similar insights. Pride in NonStop should be easy to accomplish. Participating in Clouds and Hybrids, a no-brainer! Word-smithing a credible story around NonStop in a virtual world? Yes, equally, a piece of cake! HP just has to want it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Steering a safe course – a journey through the snow!

Enjoying a drive, safely, is all part of the travel experience. When it comes to having a positive financial experience, the outlook is a whole lot bleaker. So, what can we do and more specifically, what value can NonStop provide?

Greetings from sunny San Francisco, even as the rest of the country suffers under the realities of a very harsh winter. Electing to spend a week in the Bay area certainly proved to have its upsides but little did I know just how cold it would get. However, the drive to the Bay held the promise for some tough driving, so of course we elected to take the long way to, and now from, the sunny delights of San Francisco.

Safety is of paramount importance to Margo and me as we pursue our business travels. A long time ago we gave up on flying, as many readers will recall, and it wasn’t just that flying had lost much of its glamour, but rather, not having options turned out to be an option we neither enjoyed or even came close to tolerating. A safe journey is not only about what we encounter on the road but often extends to the vehicle chosen as well as the weather we would likely encounter on the route.

Needless to say, as snow descended on the Rockies last week we headed south and came to the Bay via Santa Fe, Flagstaff and Los Angeles. The return trip however, saw us dropping in on good friends at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, so the choice of south, north or west became problematic as every direction predicted snow. Suddenly, enjoying a safe trip home looked less and less likely.

Personal safety seems to be on nearly all of our minds these days. And not just when it comes to travel. Each time I pull out the plastic to pay for gas at some remote filling station, the thought passes through my mind – who else is seeing my personal information? Where is the information on this card likely to end up? Just as importantly, too, is whether I really care any longer – increasingly, I am sensitive to working through just how much loss I am prepared to accept at any point in time, as surely, I am bound to encounter something fraudulent at some point.

With time on my hands travelling, I was able to catch up on my reading. While reading Time magazine I came across Fareed Zakaria’s column, The Case for Snooping. According to Zakaria, “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out recently that since 2012, cyberattacks on America’s critical infrastructure – chemical, electrical, water and transport systems – have risen seventeenfold.”

However, Zakaria then reports of how, “Every major bank and corporation, from Bank of America to Goldman Sachs to the New York Times, faces almost continuous efforts from abroad to penetrate its networks, mine its data, disrupt its procedures and steal its secrets. The effects can range from disruption of transactions to systems damage that feels more like a military invasion.” Yes, we are at war as I have reported elsewhere and yes, we are in an arms race, according to HP CEO, Meg Whitman.

The events of the past couple of quarters effecting everyone from Target shoppers in the US, to loyalty card holders in the Middle East, is simply reinforcing the message that safety is not something we can assume others will take responsibility. I think we will all face decisions every day about just how (financially) exposed we will be prepared to be as we participate in a transaction. The CIA first talked about their systems not being connected to the network, any network! Operating in isolation, apparently, with access restricted to just a highly monitored console.

Unfortunately, when it comes to consumers like you and me, this is too draconian and a circumstance business cannot emulate. Or can it? Hard at work at our PCs, smartphones and tablets, are fraudulent intrusions simply becoming a ho-hum fact of modern life? Should we just give up and factor in a level of loss we can accommodate? As systems tap into even more networks and the applications we depend upon become even more complex, have we missed something very basic? Is there a silver bullet hiding within the implementations we have already deployed?

“Assume PCs and devices will be compromised. It’s virtually impossible to make any device 100% secure,” observed comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, in an upcoming article for The Connection. “Security teams need to assume these devices are vulnerable, and use that understanding to guide their security approaches.” In a separate exchange, Burg then wrote, “Complex systems are inherently harder to secure, but again I don’t see systems becoming less complex. Just as in other areas, there is no silver bullet. People need to realize it is on ongoing task and stop underfunding and under-prioritizing it.”

The CIA didn’t plug into the network but when it did, it was directly to a device, or so the story went in the film, The Recruit. Few who watched will forget the flash-drive concealed in the bottom of a Starbucks latte or how, following a dramatic descent into a secure site, Mission Impossible hero, Tom Cruise, gained access to a CIA computer console. All great theater but in reality, not something that resembles the user experience we all encourage so openly.

But could there be a case for disconnecting end devices from intermediate devices? Should card scanners be connected directly to PC based cash registers or other in-store servers? Is this all really necessary? What if the devices we interact with (and provide personal information) are all directly connected to NonStop? According to OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, this holds some promise. 

“While it may be true that security will be a problem for all in IT – vendors and users alike – there are steps that can be taken to make life for the bad guys a lot harder,” said Yash. I see no reason for continuing to allow access to end points, such as the POS devices themselves as well as the in-store controllers so many of them rely upon. This is just a reflection on how things were done in the past and no longer reflect the best approach when it comes to locking out unwarranted access.”

“With OmniPayments, we embraced an architecture that fully exploited the power and capabilities of the latest iteration of NonStop servers. Today we connect end points, such as POS devices – those terminals directly involved in scanning and approving cards credit and debit – directly to NonStop and make no requirements to have them connected either to the cash registers or in-store controllers,” Yash then explained. “To get to these POS devices, you have to get past the NonStop and this simply makes getting to the POS devices so much harder – the dedicated and persistent hacker has few options with this solution and to date, there’s been no successful attack via our solution.”

Could our safety be tied to NonStop; could the role of NonStop return once more to being our guardian? It’s not too much of a stretch to consider and many of the steps required for NonStop to fulfil such a role have already been completed. To anyone who checks the discussions on LinkedIn groups associated with NonStop, it would be hard to miss how often scenarios involving NonStop in a protection role come up. And for all the right reasons; this is second nature to the architecture of NonStop.

While in Palo Alto, Margo and I had the good fortune of catching up with HP VP and GM, Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer. We covered a lot of ground during the time we spent discussing NonStop. However, when the subject of security came up and of the vulnerability to hacking being visited on commodity servers, Randy observed that, “For some it will make sense to position commodity servers including Linux and Windows behind a NonStop gateway.”

Ultimately, I believe personal security will be up to us – we have to be involved. Looking at today’s complex systems getting even more complex, there’s no silver bullet but we may be able to help our cause minimizing the number of hops present in any given transaction path – the simplicity of direct connection holds a lot of appeal for me. Injecting a NonStop to remove possible access to our commodity servers will likely gain traction too in some markets, even as the security attributes of NonStop become more widely known those supporting modern, mission-critical applications.

The next time I pull out the plastic before pumping gas, I will not experience anything different to what I already do. Bad folks are out there and it’s only a matter of time before I too am compromised. In the end, unfortunately, I will have to make some decisions when it comes to just how much I am prepared to lose – and try to reduce the exposure – but stopping it altogether? For most of us, however, we clearly sympathize with King Canute as we too vainly try holding back the tide!

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

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