Monday, March 24, 2014

300 posts? It’s been all rather simple to do!

Celebrating an anniversary is not something I am all that good at – the number affixed to our track car reminds me of my wedding anniversary and is a constant reminder not to forget that important date – however, 300 is not an insignificant number and worth reflecting on … 

It would be so tempting just to let this hold over for a couple of days. Say till April 1st, maybe? But for those tracking posts to this blog, this post represents the 300th posting in almost seven years. Yes, I have been helped along the way with a couple of posts from Margo, but all the same, to those who think there’s not much that’s new about NonStop – will hit the print key and see how much paper you will need!

The picture above was taken from the movie of the same name but don’t read too much into this choice of celebratory graphic. Apart from a nonsense storyline, I liked the technology used in its creation and that’s all I have to say at this point. However, celebrating 300 is still a feat that I wouldn’t have reached if it hadn’t been for a lot of encouragement along the way, and for that, I am most appreciative. To the NonStop community, my grateful thanks as posting to this blog I never take lightly.

Anniversaries are still important to me. Not that I am always punctual with cards and well wishes – the number plastered to the side of our race car was chosen so that each time I pass it in the garage, I would be reminded of one important date. Yes, our wedding anniversary.

After 45 years NonStop certainly has much to be thankful for. In many ways, it still comes as a surprise every time I count back the years to figure out just how long NonStop has been around, but its longevity certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

What’s hip? What’s modern? What’s cool?

I’m often asked how best to explain the success of NonStop – and yes, it definitely is being considered successful when so many companies continue to rely on NonStop. And keep on upgrading to newer models each and every time a new model is released – it shouldn’t shock anyone that there never was a model of NonStop introduced that failed to attract customers. Not that I can recall, despite some curious model assignments back in the early to mid-1990s as the first RISC-based systems rolled out.

So as to hip? Well being able to write and run Java applications on NonStop is pretty hip according to programmers I talk to!

As for modern – well it runs on Intel. Enough said – and yes, plans to support the Intel x86 architecture only adds to this story.

When it comes to being cool then this is not a label appended to items of mass appeal, but rather to a select few items that those in the know fully appreciate. And NonStop wears that label with considerable pride that few in the community discount, even after all this time.

Owning select niches the way NonStop does, for me is the very essence of cool. And with that I get few arguments – even my good friends working with IBM mainframes understand NonStop was pretty cool the way it handles networks and requires only minimal oversight, then that’s cool. As a retailer once told me, they only ever concern themselves with the NonStop system when the (very old) system console starts chattering away and paper logs start spooling onto the floor, at which time someone will wonder over and take a look!

If we are keeping everyone honest here – how many system managers have become aware that a processor was down only as routine maintenance was being performed by NonStop hardware engineers? No interruption of service – the system just kept on processing transactions. Cool! The architecture of NonStop was innovative in the 1970s and it’s just as innovative today.

However, today, it’s not that simple and what NonStop achieves in a world as diverse as we see it becoming, connecting all the wires, monitoring all the session activity across a plethora of servers, and keeping an eye open over database performance only goes to show how advanced NonStop systems have become. Complexity abounds and yet, NonStop keeps on running. 24 x 7 x 365!

This past week I attended a regional user group – the first in quite some time, if I don’t count last year’s highly successful NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp (TBC). The occasion this time was SunTUG’s event and it always attracts a good size crowd and it didn’t fail to deliver again this year – there was a strong customer presence, along with an energetic group of vendors.

In the exchanges I had with the NonStop community, and in the sidebar conversations over coffee, the mood was definitely as upbeat as ever – definitely a change from years past. And at the heart of these conversations was the innovation inherent within today’s hip, modern and cool NonStop systems that made complexity, simple.

When I wrote the 200th post, it was just after HP Discover 2011. In that post of June 28, 2011, Responsible CIOs show restraint! I made the observation that “NonStop will never be general purpose … It’s a specialty system and there’s a place for specialty systems within company data centers for many years to come.” Going back to even further, when I wrote the 100th post on November 13, 2008, Innovation – simply put! I noted that as it was my 100th posting, “I think it’s fitting that in this post I continue to link NonStop and Innovation.”

Looking back at these statements, I have been consistent with the messages presented to the NonStop community. NonStop is based on commodity hardware. It’s open, supporting industry-standard interfaces and services. Porting has become a lot easier and there’s numerous examples today of successful ports of sizable solutions.

It glosses over much, and it is an oversimplification, I know, but when I am asked about what to port to NonStop my simple answer is, everything! If you have an application in C/ C++ or Java, then it takes very little to have it up and running on NonStop – particularly if you seek out the folks at the ATC.

NonStop occupies a powerful niche! No, it’s not general purpose nor will it ever be. NonStop embraces innovation! This message hasn’t changed in the years I’ve posted to this blog. No, it’s not old fashioned and it’s most definitely not legacy.

And having said that there’s absolutely no downside, or reason as to “why not?” when you consider all that’s being talked about, as hybrids and clouds for NonStop not to be included in the conversation. NonStop systems today are hybrids in a box already, and looking at the history of NonStop, as I have been doing with colleagues from IBM, its very presence in the data center for all these years has been in hybrid configurations – that’s what NonStop does best.

Again, it simplifies otherwise complex configurations. Embellishing the messages of specialty, innovative, commodity and open with the addition of simplification is something we all need to pursue in our everyday conversations within IT. After 300 posts to this NonStop community blog, this has become central to what I write and present.

Anniversaries and milestones are important. For the NonStop community it is indeed an opportune time to check the pulse of NonStop. It’s alive, it’s thriving and it’s still the best at what it does – supporting mission-critical real time applications, 24 x 7 x 365. Here’s to 300 more posts and another 45 years of NonStop!  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The road takes a turn … NonStop attracts another partner to North America!

Leaving the beaten path to visit a small village north of San Francisco gave me an opportunity to have coffee with the chief executive of yet another payments vendor setting up shop in here in the States and it proved to be time well spent …

One of the first things visitors to northern California want to do is to visit the wine country surrounding Napa and Sonoma. For the more adventurous, the trip down the Russian River to the coast is also a journey not to be missed. During the years I lived in Cupertino, whenever there was a free weekend I would head north on Highway One and take in the sights of a coastline. Driving though is not for the faint of heart as the road is full of blind crests and numerous hidden turns. Approaching each corner can be cause for doubt; knowing what’s ahead, or even what’s around the corner, was a challenge.

Having made this journey numerous times over three decades I thought I knew the place fairly well but when I was invited to meet a vendor in Mill Valley, I was caught completely by surprise. Just over ten miles north of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, this picturesque township lies deep within a forest of redwoods – I should have visited this town years ago! Missed opportunities seem to be a reoccurring theme of late. Well, to be more accurate, the need to compromise and to find a middle ground is influencing a lot of what I have been doing.

Would I like to be back in the car, on a race circuit somewhere? For sure! Would I like to be cruising on my motorcycle? That too! But the weather has been woeful and just as highway One takes delight into throwing you off line, so too have my commitments to my clients as I juggle time away from the office attending user events, while I need to spend more time writing. Sitting in a coffee house that was once a railway station, soaking up the atmosphere, I couldn’t help wondering how on earth I had missed stopping by this place.

I was in Mill Valley as I had promised to meet with Brian Miller, newly appointed VP & GM Americas, Lusis Payments Inc. Having just started operations in North America it was an opportunity not to miss as I had been aware of Lusis presence in the payments marketplace for some time. However, the last time I had met with an executive of Lusis it had been in Paris and I couldn’t imagine being further away from Paris than in Mill Valley.

Readers may recall the post of March 25, 2010, More new engines for NonStop! where I first wrote of Lusis. In fact, that particular post proved extremely popular, ranking seventh all time. With nearly 300 posts to the blog, Real Time View, whether it was the content or simply the picture I chose, it speaks volumes about the interest in payments solutions that it rates as well as it does after all these years.

At a presentation late last year by HP VP & GM Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer, given to the NonStop user community in Canada (CTUG), he highlighted that whereas in former times, there were three solutions in the payments market utilizing NonStop, today there are twelve. Included in the twelve was Lusis and while I maintain strong relationships with other vendors on the list, I am always quick to congratulate those vendors who step up to support NonStop systems.

Sitting across the table from Miller, I asked him about why a European company would want to come to America – after all, not everything developed on the continent has found a happy home in the U.S. “We’ve had a tremendous response with the NonStop community here in the Americas,” said Miller. “The fact that we have two customers running on HP NonStop in production and another two in project mode solidifies that we do have an application that works very well and meets the needs of customers anywhere in the world.”

What interested me was how a comprehensive product like Lusis’s TANGO, first developed for Unix, was able to work as well as it did on NonStop. I have seen other migrations and while some have moved to NonStop cleanly, others were less successful. When it comes to running on NonStop systems, “the core processes are written in C++ with Java and XML used for configuration and when it comes to NonStop, we sit on top of OSS with SQL/MX as the database and with iTPWS present as well,” Miller added.

I have been working with the vendor community for more years than I care to recount and writing blog posts about their achievements is something I have been doing ever since I started this NonStop community blog, back in 2007. However, it’s still gets me excited and when I get the opportunity for a one-on-one session with a senior executive, I don’t really care how far I have to drive.

“The interest coming from the big banks is from those who have made large investments in the HP Nonstop platform and want to keep those platforms in play,” was how Ki Roth, Head of Business Development, Americas, explained their early success in an email exchange I had with him following my meeting with Miller. TANGO, according to Roth, is proving of interest to those banks that are looking to migrate “away from the legacy applications to something more modern and flexible.”

I can’t always see around corners and I can’t predict with any certainty what may happen down the road. In the digital world the data is coming at us thick and fast, so much so that we often overlook that it’s only with the deployment of a solution, that it all comes together. Technology advancements mean very little if the solutions vendors can’t leverage whatever it is that is capturing the headlines – whether it’s Clouds or Big Data, Hybrid Computing or Mobility, Web services or SaaS, I only get really excited when I see a vendor capitalizing on a technology in a tangible way.

When I asked Roth whether the success of Lusis could be credited to technology, functionality, expertise, price, etc. he responded with, “it’s a result of a combination of the things you listed.” Roth then added, “The SOA Architecture is really well received by both the technologist and the business side of the company who see the benefit of having a flexible application that can help them quickly respond to changes in the market place and increase the touch points with customers which in turn drives sales and customer satisfaction.”

Not missing any opportunity to sell me on the value proposition of TANGO, Miller then added as we drank coffee in the cafĂ© that morning in Mill Valley, “We just recently finished up a benchmark at the HP ATC center in Palo Alto for a prospect and it exceeded their expectations. We look forward to reporting on that in the very near future. However, the results gathered to date showed us that TANGO is as scalable as NonStop customers expect and using the configuration on hand, TANGO achieved a transaction rate of 2500 tps for a 48 hour period – something we don’t expect many NonStop customers will require but it was proof positive that the architecture of TANGO knows no real limits. We’ve just started spreading the word about TANGO here in North America but we look forward to earning the right to do business with NonStop users in the months and years to come.”

As the picture at the top of this post depicts, we are all travelling down a digital road that constantly twists and turns. We can’t say for sure what we will face in the near term and yet, experienced partners can help us straighten out much of the road we travel. From South Africa to Scandinavia to North America, TANGO has already found a home among some of the biggest NonStop users in the community and there could be even more to follow in the foreseeable future.

There’s competition for sure and I am working with several such solutions vendors. However, I can only think the NonStop community sees the benefits from such competition – truly, a variety of choice unlike anything they have seen in decades. And if these solutions vendors are betting a sizeable amount of their future on NonStop, it augurs well for the future of NonStop in each and every data center. In jumping to that conclusion, approaching further corners doesn’t bother me one bit!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It’s simply good cricket – NonStop’s Australian connection!

The game of cricket revolves around confidence even as it calls for bold actions by those participating. But it’s not just sportsman that Australia produces as it is the home of many vendors supporting the NonStop community – and all find traction with the user community!

Wickets continue to fall and run chases simply petered out – of course we are talking cricket and coming off the complete obliteration of the English side, Australia has drawn first-blood against the highest ranked cricketing nation, South Africa. Even so, as of right now, Australia is holding its collective breath, hoping its good fortune continues and right now, it’s delicately poised.

This is not the first time I have turned to cricket as a way to ease into a topic, but the turn-around in Australia’s cricketing fortunes has surprised everyone who follows the game that today accounts for about a third of the planet’s population. When compared to the populations of Great Britain, India and Pakistan, as well as South Africa, it still comes as a surprise that such a small country can generate such competitive teams.

It’s not just in sports where Australia fights “well above its weight”, but in technology as well. For a country with similar population to Florida or New York, the influence of Australian vendors on the NonStop community continues unabated. NET/MASTER and its NonStop derivative, NS NET/MASTER; Insession’s ICE, WebGate / SafeTGate; Integrated Research’s Prognosis; and not forgetting ISS / Gresham, with TOP (now a part of comForte) and there’s probably one or two products I have missed. If it needs connecting, accessing, securing or monitoring at one time or another, there’s an Australian product being marketed worldwide that meets the needs.

As a city, Sydney on the other hand is really big – larger now than the US state of Kentucky, and closing in on Louisiana. While the definitions of cities among countries is not truly comparable, it may surprise many that according to 2012 US data Sydney, with a population of 4.58 million (2010 Aust. data), is bigger than Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, and places second behind New York City. Australia is a big country, sparsely populated but with extremely large clusters of people. Perhaps that accounts for the good cricketers. And good developers.

As a dual citizen, enjoying the best of all that the US and Australia can offer, I have to admit that I live a charmed life being able to transition between countries and feel at ease with either country’s culture and preferences. I can happily watch a baseball game in California’s sunshine even as I can show up for a good game of rugby in Sydney. I can go for a sail on the Great Barrier Reef just as I can enjoy racing a car on the high deserts of Colorado. Americans and Australians may be on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean but little else separates them culturally, commercially or even competitively – was it just me that observed how last year’s winning America’s Cup yacht was skippered by an Aussie?

I last wrote about cricket in the post of January 7, 2014, She’ll be right, mate! where I happened to mention just how fiercely Australia was beating up Old Blighty, that is to say, England. In that post I complained bitterly that there isn’t a lot more being done in support of NonStop citing users and vendors alike. Following a recent conversation with Infrasoft Managing Director the opportunity to discuss the commitment, and investment, in NonStop wasn’t something I could easily overlook. In business for only a few years, Infrasoft attracted seed money, pulled together a small development team, brought their first product, uLinga, to market and was able to convince HP that licensing important Cloud intellectual property to a small Australian development company was a good thing to do – hence, maRunga.

Equally important was the emergence of a global partnership with comForte who have now ensured uLinga has a firm foothold in the NonStop market. Following the introduction of uLinga barely two years ago, uLinga has successfully replaced HP’s SNAX and ACI’s ICE products even as it brought new technology to NonStop, (in the form of CICS IPIC support), to better modernize transactional interaction between NonStop mission-critical applications and IBM CICS applications. In so doing, requiring neither MQ nor FTP style connectivity and improving availability as well as performance.

Supporting applications such as ACI’s Base24 and providing an alternative API implementation to SNAX HLS, the uLinga implementation focused on retaining compatibility at the API level to ensure migrations could be undertaken with minimal to no impact on important operational applications. But now, Infrasoft’s Shell informs me, in response to input from prospects, MQ APIs are available that remove the need to run IBM’s WebSphereMQ (MQ) on NonStop. Through the years I have been involved in MQ on NonStop – working first with Candle and then later with IBM including a brief time, while at ACI, where former Insession developers were providing support for MQ on NonStop. Consequently, this news from Shell grabbed my immediate and undivided attention.

When I asked Shell if uLinga now eliminated the need for MQ on NonStop his response was immediate, “It is important to recognize that MQ may still be used on the mainframe as it could be used for many other purposes.” Shell explained. “The major benefit of what we are providing is for applications on the NonStop (or other server platforms including Linux and Windows) that currently use MQ to communicate with a mainframe application, can do so now with uLinga and with no need for any application changes. They will save a lot of money by not requiring MQ to be installed on the NonStop nor have to worry about MQ versions.”

Even as I worked through the potential simplification that uLinga would provide, Shell went a little deeper, in terms of making sure I understood the ramifications. “If the application on the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform uses the MQ Interface (MQI) to communicate with an application on the IBM mainframe ‘and’ the mainframe application is CICS based ‘and’ the CICS-WebsphereMQ bridge is used, then what we provide with uLinga can replace the usage of WebsphereMQ and the CICS-WebsphereMQ bridge on the mainframe for that application's purpose. The CICS-based application would not need to be modified and once again, it is the IPIC protocol that is used between the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform and CICS.”

In the past, MQ has proved expensive, difficult to keep current and often impossible to get support in a timely manner. I know – I have been on the other end of calls from NonStop customers. However, if you are using MQ as a pipe into IBM applications and not dependent on its store-and-forward properties, uLinga will definitely prove to be a godsend. The number of times I have seen implementation schematics full of MQ references is too numerous to recount here in this post, but suffice to say, IBM did a wonderful marketing job in convincing data centers to overlay physical, heterogeneous fabrics with MQ to level the inter-process communications.

“The feature will be available in all uLinga products in Q2 2014 and it will be available on all the platforms supported by uLinga - HP NonStop, MS Windows and Linux,” Shell added. “Any application that is transaction oriented can benefit from this additional new feature of uLinga.” Current users of uLinga – in support of either DLSw or EE as well as uLinga for CICS will be able to upgrade for free as part of Infrasoft’s goal of ensuring uLinga becomes the best option for all NonStop (and yes, Windows and Linux) to IBM mainframe communications.

Not lost in these exchange with Shell was the message about NonStop longevity, and growth. Even as we see the volume of transactions passing through NonStop continue to rise, there remains some questions about the overall health of the NonStop marketplace and the attraction it still holds for developers worldwide. As I posed this question to middleware and solutions vendors, there’s an acknowledgment that a couple of years back, the market for NonStop appeared to be heading down but of late, there’s been a visible easing in this downward trend and stability has returned.

On a more positive note, the arrival of mobile devices (and the network demands they make) has seen the emergence of a new marketplace and with that, an upward tick of the growth curve that is a surprise to many. uLinga, supporting critical connectivity options and following a solid introduction into all GEOs, looks assured to ride this upward tick as it distances itself from all competitive offerings. And there’s no question at all about Shell not agreeing with this observation!

There have been occasions in the past where Peter Shell and I have been called upon to explain the game of cricket to visiting Americans. Suffice to say, should you come across the two of us at an event, don’t even raise the topic, unless you are prepared to listen to a competitive explanation of the game for an hour or so! However, when it comes to networking and communications in today’s heterogeneous world, Infrasoft has few peers and as plans for future NonStop systems take form, uLinga holds many of the cards when it comes to realizing the potential value such systems will provide.

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