Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I need data I can digest, in small bites, please!

When it comes to the NonStop community discussing the potential benefits from Big Data often results in conversations about taking baby steps and where less big may be the place to start! 

How many times have we heard the expression “biting off more than we can chew”? Whether it applies to household chores, car maintenance, or simply arranging our next vacation, there’s always something that comes up that belays expected benefits and rewards. With summer and the time for BBQs, this expression often comes to mind.

There’s no denying that IT is littered with failed projects and the more I talk with IT professionals, the more I sense that we continue to bite off more than we can chew. Even among the NonStop community, it’s not uncommon to hear of projects, from simple modernization efforts to major system upgrades, coming up short and often simply abandoned.

This week, a couple of emails arrived that had me thinking about past failures and they were all about Big Data – multiple invitations to read papers, participate in surveys and join webcasts. While it’s true that Big Data is among the most talked about topics across IT, it’s also a little overwhelming and the opinions from experts do little to lessen our anxieties. For a while it seemed that the NonStop community could pull its head in on Big Data, but now companies are wanting to elicit marketing “truths” as they develop in real time and NonStop is in the cross-hairs of every business manager targeting exploitation of Big Data in real time.

First up, I received an invite from HP to join HP CEO, Meg Whitman, and her team working on Big Data “as they discuss the pressure to extract valuable insights from your data even as the volume and variety of data being collected significantly increase.” There’s those two critical V’s again that along with variety (and occasionally veracity), help define Big Data. However, this wasn’t the item that caught my attention. It was the reference to there being “the pressure to extract valuable insights” within IT as it continues to store all the data it captures. So much in fact that apart from those selling storage, nobody seems all that sure if there’s anything good going on at all!

Secondly, there came an invitation from IBM to “tell us what it takes to create a data-driven competitive advantage”. When you dig a little deeper into the invite, IBM let’s on that it is “seeking a cross-industry, global pool of respondents who have business or technical responsibilities for analytics activities.” What followed was a survey IBM created from which it hopes to be able to get a better sense of what business really does need.

The third email was a link to a HP post,
No limits: How Big Data changes competition - Data drives the bottom line, and technology is no longer limiting your competitors. “Data-focused businesses have rejected the concept of compromising business objectives for the sake of technology,” said HP. HP said it after noting that “For organizations that weren’t ‘born’ in the era of no-limits technology, a transformation is required.” Furthermore, HP adds, “It’s a novel idea for most organizations, but it’s in the DNA of young, agile companies.” And, “To compete, the rest of the market will need to act urgently to change their data ideologies and reject limitations as they store and explore data, and serve analytics insights to the business.”

The one thing I believe we can all agree on is that everyone has an opinion about Big Data, but here’s the problem as I see it; is this simply a case of there being more Big Data than we can chew and if so, is what we would really like actually less Big Data? Very few enterprises today feel comfortable with committing to three or five year projects and are more interested in immediate gratification – so, can we reduce Big Data into bite size chunks and indeed, can we tighten the focus data-driven apps and apply to lesser, more mundane tasks?

But again, here’s the rub and I have written about it in other posts – Big Data is not an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, it’s not really a solution but rather a tool that, in the hands of knowledgeable business scientists, can perform amazing feats and deliver incredible business insight. For most enterprises I know, such business scientists are a non-entity. Where they do exist they are a part of a vendor and are focused on making sure product A outperforms product B. And, as an aside, I am pretty sure that, over the long haul the model of capturing then storing then analyzing data is not a sustainable model – capture, analyze, store seems to be a little more workable for the enterprise.

Among the NonStop vendor community there’s already inklings of what lies ahead – solutions and middleware vendors are beginning to add capabilities that tap Big Data. IR with Prognosis has already confirmed that it’s at vendors like IR “where you will find the data architects, statisticians and data scientists that can decipher what’s taking place from the myriad of events coming from multiple sources.” In the May 6, 2014, post to realtime.ir
For business managers today, situational awareness is critical … IR’s Jay Horton then added how, “The Business Insight provided by IR, is as big as the customers want it to be, and is limited only by their perspective on what is important to measure.” Alerts produced before a crises starts is always more preferable than an alert that simply states the obvious – you have been robbed!

As for the solution vendors, it’s hard to miss the messages coming from OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia. According to Yash, in the March 12, 2013, post to ATMmarketplace
You don’t have to make it to 6th grade to know EMV support is the smart thing to do! ,when the discussion with any prospect turns to fraud, then “my experience tells me that work being done in adjacent technologies such as analytics and the accumulation of data in Big Data frameworks is going to be leveraged by payments platforms in new and innovative ways. Legitimate customer experience cannot be compromised, of course, but the need to detect potential fraud as it is being perpetrated has become of paramount importance to all in the financial industry.”

Expressing similar sentiment to those by IR, Yash also notes that across his constituency there’s “little expectation that customers will have the ‘Big Data’-skilled scientists at hand and are looking to OmniPayments to capitalize on Big Data (where it’s in place and accessible) and furthermore while I am not expecting to see Big Data implementations on NonStop systems I am expecting to be a consumer of Big Data analytics generated in real time.”

“No transformation required” is well understood at WebAction. “To be completely honest, when it comes to enterprises relying on NonStop systems for mission critical transaction processing,” said WebAction Executive VP, Sami Akbay, “we know of no instances where embracing the value of Big Data has seen such an enterprise replace their NonStop system. Quite the opposite, in fact, augmenting a transaction and giving it access to additional information for greater insight seems to be a reasonable request and one we are taking seriously.”

While WebAction isn’t changing the underlying technology of its core product, the messages in support of WebAction have become more tightly focused of late – visitors to the
WebAction web site can now view a number of examples that are of interest to any enterprise running NonStop systems. “Whether it’s just a case of optimizing data center management along the lines IR has recognized or enhancing security event processing where OmniPayments sees concerns, we are seeing enterprises building, modifying and then deploying real-time apps in days and not months or years.”

Should you be interested in following the discussion about Big Data and its intersection with NonStop and real time transaction processing, you may want to join the new LinkedIn group, Big Data, integrated with NonStop. While there is no Connect SIG supporting Big Data at this time, this may do as a substitute.

Biting off more than you can chew has plagued IT for as long as IT has existed. The five-year Mega projects that make headlines have a poor history of completing on time and meeting expected requirements – not hard to imagine as IT just hasn’t ever stood still for five years. Vendors selecting elements of Big Data they see as helpful and enhancing the capabilities of their products also makes sense and is something easily comprehended. New vendors building tools to enhance the experience of consumers interacting with mission critical real time applications is also easy for most of us to swallow.

Less big might be right up there with giant shrimp and user friendly but to those who have witnessed change within IT over decades, breaking down a new technology into bite-size chunks makes sense. Big Data is above all else, big! And as such, demands transformation even as it favors those companies starting from scratch. However, when it comes to the NonStop community and the enterprises they serve, the risks associated with ripping and replacing isn’t attractive and seeing Big Data arrive incrementally is a godsend!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

HP NonStop systems’ deployments you might have missed!

“Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace,” observes IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood. And yet, as a community, do we truly know where NonStop systems run today? 

As a writer it’s not every day that I get to write about my favorite topic, but a few months ago, I was given such an opportunity to once again write about NonStop. Of course, check it out now – it will be easy to spot: HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before and even if you lose this link, just go to hp.com/go/nonstop For me it’s always been a lot of fun working with the folks at HP on topics like this.

In discussions with HP late last year, following 2013 HP Discover, I began focusing on material that was pulled together as part of a presentation given by Wendy Bartlett, NonStop solutions: beyond financial services and telco. Yes, if you follow the link, you can still access the material Wendy used in her presentation. I was among the more fortunate attendees that were given a sneak preview of what Wendy was to present during an early morning breakfast briefing for attendees from Asia Pac / Japan.
I covered this in the post of June 29, 2013, It’s running on NonStop – I didn’t know that! where I remarked on how, not so long ago, I had proposed a story line that hit many of the same non-financial and non-telco verticals that went something like this: imagine a businessman in Germany, I suggested, who drops off his car at the manufacturing plant for special service (yes, you can still do that with some auto manufacturers in Europe), buys a rail ticket to Frankfurt where he catches a flight to New York, where he is to follow up on a recent shipment that he had made.

Perhaps this was the catalyst for the conversations that followed, but working with the NonStop community as well as starting several LinkedIn discussions on this topic, it quickly became apparent that most of us are truly unaware of the diversity of use-case scenarios that exist off the well-worn paths that wind through financial and telco uses. We underestimate the level of enthusiasm for NonStop among the non-conventional users, even as we are often ignorant about just how long these NonStop systems have been in place.

I am particularly attracted to industries apart from financial and telco, as my IT career began in heavy industry and transportation. My early days, as a cadet / trainee, were spent at a steelworks in Wollongong, New South Wales, building the software required of a new steel mill under construction in Victoria. I then spent time working in shipping – container ships had just started coming to Australia –where I accepted my first overseas assignment at the company’s head office in London. A few years later I found myself working in Canada for a large regional distributor of Caterpillar.

Perhaps there’s no better background – steelworks, shipping and then manufacturing – when writing about NonStop’s presence in industries apart from finance and telco. As I worked with present day users of NonStop, the years spent under blast furnaces, on docks alongside ships, and inside the cabins of giant earth-moving tractors, memories come flooding back from these times. Yes, there are real reasons why NonStop remains relevant today within these market segments – more often than not, these markets process continuously and outages are every bit as damaging as they are to financial institutions and telcos.

To kick off my assignment for HP not only did I have access to Wendy’s presentation from the 2013 HP Discover, but the brochure developed after the event (and available too on the HP web site) proved extremely helpful. If you aren’t aware of this paper then it’s well worth downloading from the HP web site - check out, For industries that never stop. This is a good brochure and complements the opinion paper I just completed that has just become available from HP – HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before . However, much of the credit for finding the examples of use-case scenarios that I covered needs to go to the community – including HP field personnel.

While not wanting to sound like the winner of a NASCAR event, I do want to thank the solutions architects in both EMEA and the Americas for pointing me in the right direction. I also want to thank the many NonStop vendors that lent a helping hand along the way. This includes comForte, Integrated Research (IR) and a number of payments processing solutions vendors. Even though there weren’t being covered this time, you will find an interesting observation made by one such vendor towards the end of the paper. “NonStop finding traction among users in other markets is a big plus for NonStop,” came the observation, “and that makes our job selling solutions on NonStop a whole lot easier.”

However, it was a report from IDC that really helped anchor the paper. Written by IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood, and published in November, 2013, it too can be downloaded from the HP web site - just follow this link; Mission-Critical Business Applications: The Need for Always-On Servers. IDC’s Eastwood stated that, “always-on requirements significantly affect business organizations and the IT departments that support those businesses. When downtime is not an option, organizations are increasingly turning to fault-tolerant systems to keep their business up and running.” Seeing the reference to fault-tolerant systems also brought with it another flood of memories.

“As users spend more time online, IT services must be available around the clock. Windows for planned downtime become increasingly difficult to manage, and users are unwilling to accept unplanned downtime,” IDC’s Eastwood observed. “Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace.” Too often we forget about the real reason we continue to depend on NonStop, and perhaps it is not having to face the consequences of outages that numbs our minds to the impressive track record NonStop has developed. There are many systems that with redundant hardware and clever load balancing algorithms mask simple failures but they never quite reach the levels of uptime of a typical NonStop system.

There have been many exchanges in chat rooms and blogs about the quality of today’s components – something that applies to all systems exploiting commodity components. However, NonStop arose at a time when component failures were routine and NonStop simply keeps on going – very much like the Energizer bunny. This is not to sanction poor quality components, but rather highlight how better of NonStop systems are in a era where system packaging is going through dramatic change as vendors look to lower power consumption, run cooler, and take up less space. All for less money, mind you.

So, what can we point to when it comes to businesses depending on NonStop that aren’t either a financial institution or a telco? Without disclosing too much about what is in my latest opinion paper, there are examples of where NonStop has been deployed in support of mission-critical applications in raw materials processing, manufacturing and distribution, transportation and entertainment. While many may be familiar with the presence of UPS on slides used during one of HP CEO, Meg Whitman’s, keynote presentations, how many attendees knew that every time a driver pulled their handheld terminal out to check on their next delivery address, the request was being handled by an application on a NonStop system.

Assumptions are often made and frequently can lead to wrong conclusions – many folks I talked to about the UPS example above thought it was a ProLiant solution. While there are ProLiant’s present at UPS, it’s still NonStop that keeps the trucks moving and I am almost certain that HP folks working on the slides for HP Discover had the same impression. How many folks within the NonStop community really grasp just how big a presence NonStop has in the reservation systems supporting European passenger trains – would you be surprised to find more than half the trains running in Europe have had seats reserved through a NonStop system?

To some within the NonStop community I may have already played my hand and this latest opinion paper simply reinforces what’s already been covered in chat rooms and blogs. For others however, it may be quite a revelation about just how widespread the use of NonStop has become. Irrespective of how well informed you may be, the story of where NonStop systems reside continues to be a compelling story, more so today as we wait for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture.

Getting the opportunity to put this all in writing for HP was a task I welcomed so yes, go ahead and check it out; there may be even more surprises than I have led you to believe. Yes, you can download the paper “HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before” from hp.com/go/nonstop - it is a featured resource - and of course – I welcome any comments you care to provide as this is not a topic we need to keep to ourselves. For each and every stakeholder in the NonStop community, the better prepared we are to promote NonStop within our companies, the more likely we will see greater traction develop and with that, I am more than willing to write some more!      

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I feel the need for speed …

It is the age old question - what is speed without reliability and even among those who prize speed over all else, questions are being asked. Are the tables about to turn, once again, and what will open up a seat for NonStop?

Few who ever saw the film Top Gun can readily forget the sensory overload of the opening scenes as aircraft are readied to be catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. And perhaps even fewer still have forgotten one of the most famous lines ever uttered - I feel the need. The need for speed! Adrenalin junkies for sure, but just letting the film embrace you, depositing you right alongside a Top Gun fighter pilot, more effectively communicated the sense of speed than any other film from that era.

Whenever I spend time in our car at weekend track events, it’s inevitable that at some point there will be someone who asks, “How fast does your car go?” The design of road-racing circuits however, isn’t about speed as much as it is about challenging drivers to find the best way around the track. However, it is reliability that ends up being the most appreciated attribute. Simply going very fast, for a brief time, accounts for little over the course of a weekend.

Imagine my surprise than as I turned to the back page of the August 2014 edition of the magazine, Motor Trend, to read Angus MacKenzie’s column, The new fast. “I suspect, when auto historians of the future look back at 2014”, wrote MacKenzie, “they’ll say it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.” In the world of Formula One racing, the power train in today’s racecars combines a conventional internal combustion engine married to an electric motor. Despite the strange noise they elicit, notes MacKenzie, “I’d happily trade noise for the opportunity to watch the world’s best drivers attempt to tame cars that are clearly a handful.”

For as long as I can recall, every time a new computer system is announced, there’s always a page detailing performance criteria and with each new announcement, the numbers get even more outrageous. During HP CTO Martin Fink’s initial presentation on The Machine, at one point he threw up a slide with the heading, Performance estimates – transaction speed, that was followed with the question, “What could you do with 168 (Giga Updates per second) GPUS? For NonStop users, just breaking the 10,000 tps was an accomplishment that was only recently achieved and yet, now HP is talking up numbers that are mind boggling.

“I feel the need for speed” has been the clarion call of all involved in stock trades. A market that for decades was well-served by NonStop systems, of late the push for even greater speeds has pushed aside NonStop. In August of last year, there were numerous headlines telling of the crashes that had taken place with the most discussed outage being that at NASDAQ. 

According to a report published by Bloomburg on August 26, 2013, Server Crash Spurs 3-Hour NASDAQ Halt as Data Link Lost, “Within two hours, trading stopped in more than 2,000 U.S. stocks. The three-hour shutdown was the latest in a series of failures to disrupt increasingly complicated markets, prompting the Securities and Exchange Commission to push for rules requiring executives to improve the reliability of their technology.”

A few days later, it was The Guardian’s turn to take a look at outages and in the report of August 23, 2013, Nasdaq crash triggers fear of data meltdown - Digital infrastructure exceeding limits of human control, industry experts warn, The Guardian noted how, “On the same day, Microsoft customers began to report email failures. The outage was traced to problems with the Exchange ActiveSync service which serves email to many of the world's smartphones. When Exchange hit a glitch, the sheer volume of phones trying to connect triggered a ripple effect that took three days to control.”

The Guardian then went on to note that on “16 August, many of Google's websites, from email to YouTube to its core search engine, suffered a rare four-minute global meltdown.” Furthermore, to rub even more salt into the wound, it then noted that on, “19 August, Amazon's North American retail site went down for about 49 minutes, with visitors greeted with the word ‘Oops’”. Finally, according to The Guardian, “On 22 August, Apple's iCloud suffered a blackout that affected a small number of its customers but lasted 11 hours.”

Over the course of just a few days – August 16, 19, 22 and 26 – it would seem that reliability all but worked its way out of the world’s major systems. Shouldn’t the question now be how best to harden todays systems? True, there were numerous outages that could be traced back to the networks themselves but when you measure application availability, these too count and systems should be better engineered to recover or at least work around, all situations. It’s no good going fast for just one or two laps when it’s an endurance race – speed always plays second fiddle to reliability.

Inserting NonStop systems into hybrid configurations certainly is one way to address the problem and with plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture, those businesses committed to only running x86 solutions have little left to complain about. NonStop as a pure software play, as it shortly will become, should be a no-brainer for many of these businesses and with its lengthy history working with stock exchanges worldwide, the opportunity for NonStop to add value in new and innovative ways utilizing hybrid configurations seems a rather obvious choice.

If you accept that speed is of paramount importance to stock exchanges, and handling enormous transaction volumes at blinding speeds key to their survival, it would seem logical to consider the order processing system to be partially handled by a plethora of optimized front-end processors. But then again, in this fast moving environment, could NonStop – even on the x86 architecture – keep up? Again, it would depend upon the overall design and the middleware chosen, but there are steps that can be taken to reinstate the viability of NonStop and it’s something I know several sales folks at NonStop are seriously considering.

In case you missed it, for the first time that I can recall, questions are now being asked about the true value of high-speed trading and whether there is a level playing field. Early reports now becoming available suggest it is anything but a level playing field and yet, I suspect that we cannot turn the clock back when it comes to speed. However, as CNBC television reported in a post of June 30, 2014, Wall Street’s diminishing need for speed, “Speed has created a world of "haves" and "have-nots" in the investing world.” 

Furthermore, aside from potential moves being taken by regulatory agencies, CNBC left it to Intercontinental Exchange Founder and CEO Jeff Sprecher to state the rather obvious, “I think at some point, it's not that important for us to make speed decisions that you and I can't comprehend, so I actually think we've reached, in a weird way, the limit of speed.”

Adding to this sentiment, according to CNBC, “Others argue that the focus shouldn't be on the absolute or even relative levels of speed. Nasdaq OMX CEO Bob Greifeld said the market is more concerned about reliability in the markets … As markets evolve over the next 25 years, there's no doubt that things will continue to get faster, and more complex, but perhaps not as much as one might think. There may come a point where a certain level of fast is simply fast enough, and that time may not be too far off in the distance.”

Could this be the news NonStop sales folks have been waiting to hear for some time? The focus on speed will taper off as interest refocuses on reliability and perhaps even simplicity and with so much discussion about hybrid computers occurring today, could there be a future for NonStop inside Stock Exchanges? Would it be unimaginable for a systems integrator to assemble their own rack or tower where a couple of NonStop processors resided simply to oversee the availability of the entire system and to hold onto that vital data crucial to ensuring trading systems achieve the level of reliability traders now expect?

Furthermore, could you even sell NonStop in this manner and mask its very presence in the hybrid configuration? OmniPayments, Inc. CEO Yash Kapadia is already doing something very similar for financial institutions. Yash equips a tower made up of racks with not just NonStop but a couple of Attala security modules as well as a number of ProLiant boxes running Windows and Linux. According to Yash, “Even after four decades of being in the marketplace, there’s still some residual hesitancy over the presence of NonStop in any proposed solution, and this just takes any conversations about NonStop out of the equation entirely!”

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conceive of something similar being done in support of the world’s stock exchanges. Perhaps not the world’s biggest but certainly in marketplaces apart from New York and London. NonStop still has a presence in Asia and in South America so perhaps the hybrid computer approach will first appear in these markets. No matter where it takes off, or who are among the early adopters, with NonStop in hybrid configurations it’s easy to agree with Motor Trend’s MacKenzie that yes, when we look back at 2014, we’ll all agree that “it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.”  

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