Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does your interest in NonStop elevate it to being a hobby? Tell me more …

The strong turn out by the NonStop community for this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp was encouraging even as it was a testament to how strongly the NonStop system is supported by advocates spanning the generations. Could NonStop be viewed as a hobby for some and if so, did this contribute to NonStop thriving for forty years?

Many years ago my father asked me if I would be prepared to give up my Saturday afternoons to help out a friend who had just bought a yacht. I have touched on this subject in other posts – to be specific, the post of July 16, 2008, Specialist! Am I still needed? In that post I described how I began my time on a 40’ sailboat having no experience whatsoever, and that, in time and with experience, I became the sole for’ard hand responsible for everything in front of the mast. For a couple of years running, in the early 1970s, we were overall season’s winners in the category we sailed and I came to develop a real love for this “hobby”.

What I didn’t write about was of how I put back the time of my first wedding in order to be able to sail the final race only to be told by the owner, not to be that stupid – what if you slipped and broke your arm? On the other hand, it was indicative of how committed I can be to my hobbies. As for the picture above, it’s not of me but is from the same yacht club and that could have been me on the bow! Attending the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp that wrapped up just a few days ago further highlighted, in a very tangible way, how strong the commitment to NonStop runs and even though hanging out with a bunch of likeminded folks was far removed from anything remotely associated with hobbies, there was still a similar feeling.

Folks at WebAction gave me an opportunity to kick-off a preconference session first thing Sunday morning -
What Does Big Data Mean for the NonStop Community? Introducing the topic of Big Data to a large NonStop group that had assembled for the four hours discourse on all things Big Data, I began my presentation with a quote by automotive icon, Bob Lutz. As far as careers go, Lutz had it all - Executive Vice President of sales at BMW, Executive Vice President at Ford Motor Company (think Ford Explorer), head of Chrysler Corporation's Global Product Development (introduced the Viper), finishing with a stint at GM as Vice Chairman responsible for all creative elements of products and customer relationships (yes, he gave us the Pontiac GTO – a rebadged Holden Monaro).

In a Q & A blog posting Lutz was once asked which job he would take. One that paid well but he didn’t like or another about which he was passionate but which paid very little. “Given the human need for food, warmth, shelter, and a decent car or two, take the well-paying job, give it your best,” responded Lutz, “and consider the other as a hobby!” And this left me wondering, how many of us would continue working with NonStop systems even if it were solely on the basis of being just a hobby? How many of those attending the Boot Camp would continue to be part of the NonStop community long after they derived any income from NonStop. It seems that NonStop, as a hobby, is appealing to many more folks than we may be aware of.

Coming up on 40 years of age – a secondary, celebratory theme of the Boot Camp – NonStop has outlasted many more famous products. The list is long – Wang, Prime, Data General, Four Phase, Pyramid, and so on, and that’s not including the BUNCH; when was the last time you thought of purchasing a Honeywell, or Control Data or even NCR let alone a Univac or a Burroughs system? In the mid-1980s the world was awash with Plug Compatible Mainframes (to IBM) and in Europe, the likes of ICL, through its connection with Fujitsu, and Nixdorf Computers produced PCMs and joined the ranks of Amdahl, Hitachi, Fujitsu and even Mitsubishi. But alas, all gone! Who in 1989 would have speculated that of all the names referenced here, NonStop (nee, Tandem Computers) would still be standing and prospering?

Perhaps, retaining a hobby isn’t that bad after all! Where the lines do blur is where the accumulated knowledge about a specific interest or topic elevates someone to a place of prominence – someone to go to for insight or simply an explanation. There are many instances where individuals are consulted about items of interest to others whether it is art, or wine, or gemstones and usually when an investment is likely. And yet, looking around the NonStop community gathered in San Jose, there was a wealth of knowledge on hand that was almost priceless.

So many times we lose sight of the human factor – so many NonStop systems continue to support mission-critical applications, forty years after the first NonStop system rolled into a data center, because there is access to a community of talented individuals all just as enthusiastic to share their experiences as they are to discuss your own special case. Even though it would appear that a number of NonStop supporters are leaving the fold, there’s every indication that a younger generation is beginning to appreciate NonStop.

During a casual conversation with one participant from HP NonStop Education, it was revealed that a 25%, year over year, increase had occurred with respect to new entrants looking for education on NonStop. Some were coming from other systems inside the data center but just as many were new to the data center and not familiar with any large system offering. And this is just a start; while this is good news to many, what may not be as pleasing (at least, to a different group within the NonStop community) is the apparent lessening of tenure among CIOs. 

There was talk that the average tenure for a CIO had dropped to eighteen months and when I checked the web site, FedScoop, in the report
Survey: 2014 brings challenges, wind shift for CIOs it was stated that whereas “In 2013, the average tenure of a CIO was 5 years, nine months, and in 2014 it will be two months longer than that, according to the report. (The average tenure of a government CIO is about 18 months.)”  Indeed, there is a strong argument in favor of breaking IT down and removing the need for a CIO entirely.

A quick check of the web site CIO Insight found a report, dated September 1, 2014, Why CIO Tenures Aren't Longer, where author, Larry Bonfante, suggests that “There are many reasons why CIO tenure continues to be shorter than that of other C-suite executives. One factor is a general perception of IT as a business ‘disabler’. IT is viewed in many companies as the ‘Land of No and Slow!’ Everything seems to take forever and things don't seem to get done at a high level of satisfaction.” There may be merit after all in embracing NonStop as our hobby. On the other hand, perhaps we should be pleased to see as many individuals as we now see embracing NonStop as in some situations, they will likely outlast any CIO espousing “computing de jour” for no other reason than for changes sake.

An enthusiastic cadre of NonStop expertise; a growing population of “freshly educated” NonStop personal; a rapidly churning base of CIOs; and an architecture that continues to flourish some forty years after its introduction! It may confound business school types even as it puzzles the media but all the same, whether a highly-charged career or simply a hobby, NonStop continues to flourish and in so doing, retain its “halo position” within a much sought after niche within the industry.

It’s probably selling too many members of the NonStop community short by suggesting that they stay involved on the basis that NonStop has become their hobby, but it isn’t something we can either dismiss too readily or even ignore. It may take up more of their time than a Saturday afternoon and there’s nothing competitive about it at all and yet, you cannot escape the thought that without such support, would NonStop continue to flourish some forty years later? 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Modernization – and NonStop is a key part of the landscape!

Even as many NonStop users need to look to modernize their existing applications there’s a pressing need to include modern platform support on NonStop to attract new applications – and shortly, at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp we will hear more of one project in support of such a mission.

Pictured to the right is an architect’s representation of an addition to the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and from what I read this morning it would appear that it is about to open to the public. In an article just published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, UTS unveils 'paper bag' building, the future home of the UTS business school certainly isn’t escaping comments –calling it a paper bag, tells its own story.

However, for those who have seen some pretty far-out structures in Prague, Vienna and even Barcelona, they can’t help but wonder about the intrusion of highly fluid lines that has worked their way into the form of these buildings. Whether or not they appeal to everyone, they do stand out as very modern interpretations of what a structure can look like – fluid? Definitely; when it comes to modernization of a city’s skyline the eye tends to gravitate to these examples of somewhat extreme architecture.

Watching Sydney develop in the 1970s was surely entertaining. On the one hand, we experienced considerable façade architecture being practiced – something I touched on several years ago in the article Façade - Architecture! One Way to Avoid Scarring As We Soar Into the Clouds that was published in the May – June, 2011, issue of The Connection. Back then, I wrote that when it comes to modernization and using modern technology to empower an enterprise to become more innovative, it comes as no surprise that CIOs are loathe casting aside all that is in place.

In other words, there were very legitimate reasons why modernization programs built on what already existed – a fresh coat of paint, a new entrance lobby, even a complete gutting of the premises – preserving the foundations while presenting a new face to the general public was considered an important element in retaining the distinct characteristic of the city. What was happening to Sydney in the 1970s has born a lot of similarity to what has been happening across IT and CIOs everywhere have been able to bring a wealth of business logic into the 21st century.

However, there is a very big distinction between the pursuit of modernization and the creation of something that is modern. I touched on this just recently in a private emailing to a number of managers and executives that I work with, but it’s worth repeating to a wider audience. Whenever the topic of modernization is raised across the NonStop community, it generates considerable passion even as it pushes community members into different camps. Such discussions, I observed, go down one of two paths: modernizing what is already in place or leveraging modern tools, services and frameworks for something new.

Both camps are well served today by a number of middleware vendors and the product offerings from the NonStop vendors such as comForte, CAIL and NuWave represent the end-result of considerable investments they have made. All financed off their own dime, no less. This was something I wrote about in my most recent post to the comForte blog, For those NonStop systems looking too much like legacy; replacement potential is high! It was comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, who made the case for modernization even as he observed that at comForte, “from our roots in terminal emulation and our desire to freshen the user experience, I think the opportunity for comForte supporting modernization is about as large as the market for security. We do have plenty of material in this area – as of late, the NonStop for Dummies book as well as the modernization white paper.”

Not surprisingly, what concerns Burg most of all is that, when it comes to modernization, “it’s unfortunate but still a realistic observation - with no modernization effort undertaken, even the most recently deployed application will be gone in as little as five years and with their demise, the explanation will likely include references to NonStop simply being an old (dare we say, legacy) system and that today, makes my blood boil.” Fortunately, modern applications are appearing and the success of some solutions vendors can be attributed to those applications being based on modern technologies, architectures and platforms.

The most apparent examples come from the Payments Processing marketplace. Lusis Payments and OmniPayments have enjoyed success of late as they have both embraced modern methodologies. With embracing SOA and incorporating a hybrid NonStop / Linux configuration, OmniPayments, Inc. has produced an extremely price competitive solution that focuses on NonStop even as it has not neglected including features all Financial Institution’s demand, and in so doing, highlights the benefits from leveraging modern programming languages, database systems and network connectivity. However, following the announcement of NonStop support for the Intel x86 architecture, focus has swung back to the consideration of supporting additional services, frameworks and product utilizing the latest programming models on offer today.

In the upcoming November – December 2014 issue of the NonStop community magazine there is an article jointly written by InfraSoft Pty Limited founding executives, Dave Finnie and Neil Coleman. Based in Sydney, Australia, InfraSoft has already successfully introduced a modern approach to networking with their product uLinga and is now in the early stages of launching services, gateways and APIs to make Cloud access transparent with their maRunga product. Now InfraSoft has elected to capitalize on the arrival of NonStop on x86 in a rather novel, yet highly significant manner.

The article, under the heading Node.js on the HP NonStop Server is as much an announcement of a new product – yet again, leveraging the Australian Aboriginal language the product is named bomBora - as it is a primer on the value of developing modern applications using Server Side JavaScript (SSJS). “For the last 18 months, Node.js has been gaining popularity as underlying technology for enterprise applications,” note the authors. “Large organizations including Wal-Mart, eBay, PayPal, MasterCard, and LinkedIn have all rolled out Node.js applications. Why? For many candidates for both increased usage and new adoption of the HP NonStop, modernization of existing applications is no longer the challenge. The Node.js platform has the potential to support applications that meet a wide range of business requirements.”

But what really makes it pertinent to NonStop, particularly NonStop on x86? “The Node.js model of event-driven, non-blocking I/O that is particularly suited to I/O bound applications,” the authors state. “It may have almost been dictated by the fundamental concepts of writing a high-performance OLTP application running on the NSK operating system. Current implementations of Node.js, obviously, do not possess the level of fault tolerance and scalability that software running on the HP NonStop Server can offer. One of the attractive attributes of Node.js is its ease of extensibility. Areas that we have extended, especially those that will be familiar to NSK users, include:

Process-pair support so that Node.js runs non-stop, without any extra work by the application.

Enabling Node.js to run as a TS/MP serverclass, transparently providing the inherent scalability and persistence that TS/MP offers.

Providing a simple JavaScript Pathsend interface so that a Node.js application can front-end TS/MP.

Extensive operational control and diagnostic capabilities built-in to simplify usage and contribute to maintaining availability.

So yes, this is pretty cool stuff. 

How close are Dave and Neil to having a commercial product in place? After developing an effective Proof-of-Concept on much older MIPS-based S-Series servers – something that will not make it as a product, according to InfraSoft - attention moved to x86-based servers and just recently, the team enjoyed seeing an early success that exercised a considerable amount of the code. As for a commercial product, there’s still more work ahead but the goal is now clearly in sight. Again, the forthcoming article in the November – December issue of The Connection will be a must-read for many in the NonStop community. 

Dave will be flying up from Sydney for NonStop Technical Boot Camp and will join HP’s Keith Moore for Monday morning’s presentation, HP-26 Going beyond SOAP for a cleaner, fresher web services architecture. The lads will face some stiff competition given that HP’s Jim Smullen will be giving the community a technical preview of NonStop on the x86, something I know many will be interested in hearing, but if you have already heard all you need to hear about x86, then perhaps you will find Keith and Dave presentation rather stimulating.

Last week I wrote about a refreshing new endeavor focused on NonStop and now, this week I am writing about another endeavor every bit as exciting. The point I hope isn’t lost on anyone within the NonStop community – yes, there’s numerous developments under way in support of NonStop that are all aimed at making it a lot easier to bring new applications to NonStop. And this is what I find just as important to ensuring NonStop remains a modern system. comForte’s Burg is absolutely right in stressing the sense of urgency that those looking after NonStop systems must embrace but adding the tools necessary for running the latest modern solutions is every bit as important. It’s going to be one very interesting Boot Camp, I suspect!

Like art in general, while we may not be able to describe what is modern, we certainly can point it out when we see it. City skylines have seen an explosion in modern architecture and it’s every bit as easy to spot as say, a painting. When it comes to solutions, there will always be those applications that all that is needed is a new coat of paint but there’s always room for something completely modern to be embraced. And with this, the NonStop community is the richer! Looking forward to seeing as many of you as I can so if you see me walking the corridors, stop me, and I will be only too happy to chat!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Johnny needs a fast car ... and NonStop rocks, again!

In the Chris Rea song, Johnny Needs a Fast Car, the lyrics are self-explanatory. “Johnny needs a fast one Johnny needs it now. You got to give him something to let him show you how.”  And just sometimes, we need to give developers something to show us how …

Over the past couple of years I have written posts that featured different cars Margo and I have owned at one time or another. However, what has lurked in the back of the garage (and rarely featured in any blog posts) is the car affectionately known within the auto trade as Godzilla – a Nissan GT-R. Left in a parking station it attracts glances only from 20-something individuals who each give it a respectful nod and yet, it’s rare to come across any other vehicle on the road with equivalent capabilities – it just goes fast. While we have essentially tracked all the cars we have owned, Godzilla has not seen the track and for a very good reason. Yes, it’s fast, but we like it far too much to risk damaging it, but when it comes to fast cars, then this is the car Johnny really needs.

Along similar lines as the words of the Chris Rea song is the better known line uttered in the movie Top Gun, “I feel the need … the need for speed”. Unlike references to Godzilla, this line was featured in a post to this blog. In the post of July 6, 2014, I feel the need for speed … I observed that should you accept that speed is of paramount importance to stock exchanges, for example, it would seem logical to consider having the order processing system partially handled by a plethora of optimized front-end processors. Furthermore, I noted in that post, for NonStop to keep up it would depend upon the overall design and the middleware chosen, but there are steps that can be taken, I added at that time, to reinstate the viability of NonStop and it’s something I know several sales folks at NonStop are seriously considering.

At the time of writing, less than six months ago, I had become aware of work being done by NonStop community consultant, Dean Malone.  Over the course of this year I have had a number of telephone exchanges with Dean and then, during CTUG, I was able to sit down with him and discuss in more detail his own plans for NonStop. You see, what Dean is championing is the potential of a very fast NonStop system now that HP NonStop development is well-advanced in its endeavors to have NonStop support the Intel x86 architecture, along with the replacement of ServerNet with industry standard InfiniBand (IB). His vision is to introduce blazingly fast new capabilities for NonStop that will make it a serious contender again in lost verticals like stock exchanges as well as new verticals where extreme throughput plus the exclusive linear scalability and fault-tolerance of NonStop are valued; but without having to significantly re-engineer those existing SMP solutions.

While Dean is known to some of the NonStop development community, as yet he is not a household name across the entire community. For the most part, Dean has worked deep down, “in the weeds”, so as to speak, where he’s been cutting code close to the metal. While not a part of NonStop development per se, he has had numerous NonStop professional services engagements at the likes of Tandem, Compaq, HP, IBM, Target, Logica/CGI, DirecTV, etc. as a solutions architect or product development /integration / deployment specialist. To say Dean has excellent credentials when it comes to NonStop is an understatement – these engagements have spanned multiple decades.

As we head to the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp I have become aware that Dean will be attending as well and will be in discussions with numerous members of the NonStop community. Fortunately, for those who would like a little more insight or who may simply not have the good fortune to attend Boot Camp, I have recently enjoyed a lively exchange with Dean that picked up on a number of points raised over that dinner during CTUG. For me, the most important component here was speed, and just how much additional speed could be extracted from NonStop on x86 / IB solely from middleware.

“When AMSYS North America was engaged jointly by IBM and Tandem Computers to do a deep port of MQ Series on NonStop,” said Dean, “I was engaged as the Chief Architect because of my prior MOM credentials, chairing panels at COMDEX and porting Momentum Software’s XIPC product to NonStop.” However, Dean’s experience doesn’t stop there. He explained how he “produced a verified design for a massively scalable message switch for ORBCOMM - a leading provider of global machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions with the only commercial satellite network 100% dedicated to M2M - that is predicated on a hybrid environment, although this was not on NonStop.”

He is also particularly proud of his role “as telecommunications infrastructure architect in 1993 for the Government of Ontario where we implemented the world’s first wireless WAN under the Mobile Workstation project that brought police, carrier enforcement and health ambulance mobile workstations with direct access to computer-aided dispatch, federal, provincial and regional criminal offences databases, an electronic ticketing application and more.”

It is with these experiences behind him that Dean has been increasingly concerned about NonStop remaining relevant, especially in those instances where applications depend upon the overall performance of the platform. This is particularly interesting as the NonStop community looks for more solutions to be ported to NonStop – indeed, even the word “port” generates a cringe among developers like Dean because of the incongruence of SMP versus MPP.  In reviews of Godzilla, trade publication MotorAuthority observed, “The (Nissan) GT-R doesn't look like the voluptuous exotics it competes with either, though it does cut a unique and instantly recognizable profile.” Moreover, and something everyone knowledgeable of NonStop can appreciate, “the car is a Japanese performance machine that can outrace some of the world's top supercars … all of which add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.”

According to Dean, “NonStop has always been about more than the sum of its parts, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t more that can be done to improve some aspects of the NonStop architecture and clearly, performance has always been something where a little more TLC can be given.” With the announcement of NonStop support for the Intel x86 architecture, together with the introduction of InfiniBand (IB), Dean recognized that there was an opportunity to rethink the way applications can be put together in a manner that could outperform even the slickest of applications available today on commodity clusters. 

“Back in 1992, I was working on message switches for brokerages and EFT/POS networks, and I read about a new software product called Pipes Platform.  It was one of the first of a new breed of software now known as Message Oriented Middleware, or MOM. Momentum Software, who had a product called XIPC, asked that I port the product for them to NonStop after Sprint expressed interest. When completed, there were discussions with NonStop development, but at the time, with K-Series processors (and DynaBus), the product was terribly I/O bound on Guardian IPM. Although it was later to be installed on an Integrity (Itanium) server where it did over 15,000 shared memory operations per second (although only 1/5th of what the same code on an Itanium HP-UX server can do with shared memory), ServerNet made a huge difference.” Shared memory? Isn’t this flying in the face of one of the very basic of premises for NonStop - shared nothing?

“Within ServerNet, there is an RDMA capability that Tandem never exploited.” Dean said. RDMA is remote direct memory access from a process of one computer into the memory of another without involving either the sender’s or target memory’s operating systems. This permits high-throughput, low-latency networking, which is especially useful in massively parallel computer clusters. Given that the handprint of ServerNet is all over IB, Dean then told me that he “was pretty sure RDMA would be there too.  I went to the InfiniBand Trade Association’s web site and downloaded the Volume 1 software specification.  Sure enough, there it was.  IB RDMA is simply an awesome game-changing technology that is going to radically change the computer industry.”

Awareness that this very basic RDMA capability is a part of IB led Dean to make another key observation. “All SMP implementations, without exception, are housed on a single node with a single shared memory address space.  With RDMA, all of that changes because now any process can access the shared memory of another node at extremely low latency and at extremely high transfer rates.  On the new X86 platform, the OFED RDMA libraries can be implemented so that at least as a raw primitive, it is technically possible for Guardian and OSS processes to access the shared memory of another processor.  I am quite sure this will take a few releases to expose to customers and vendors, though.”

According to the OFED web site, The OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED™) is open-source software for RDMA and kernel bypass applications. OFED is used in business, research, and scientific environments that require highly efficient networks, storage connectivity and parallel computing. This is why I am so interested in what Dean has been researching – any speed bumps that lie in the path of migrating new applications need to be removed. And one of the biggest has typically been the SMP nature of almost all modern applications; what would happen if this particular speed bump was removed, and what if, in doing so, the defining attributes of linear scalability and fault tolerance that make NonStop unique can be leveraged along the way?

Perhaps this shouldn’t be considered a panacea for all applications on NonStop, but what if by providing an additional MOM RDMA component new frameworks, platforms and even applications looking to support x86 were suddenly easy to port? Among the folks I contacted in preparation of this post there were comments from “Yes, if available we would leverage it” to “Wow, this indeed could change everything!”

Should you be wondering about what new platforms could be coming to NonStop then make sure you attend Keith Moore’s mid-morning Monday presentation at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp 2014 – about which I can reveal little at this point. There’s some possibility that “dots may be connected in time!” Returning to SMP – the point here is that high-speed/low-latency fabric to facilitate inter-CPU communication has been inside NonStop for a while and is the reason ServerNet radically out-performs DynaBus. With IB, the game changes yet again as RDMA and its other core capabilities reach new heights (or lows, depending on your axis).

“Plans are significantly advanced to provide a product capable of delivering UNIX IPC services (i.e. shared memory, semaphores and queue-based messaging) over IB to NonStop, Windows and Linux.  We have demonstrated these capabilities over TCP/IP on ATC NonStop and HP-UX servers.” said Dean.  “Every bit as importantly, we demonstrated that the NonStop’s IPC resources are fault-tolerant by using DIVER to bring down the CPU where the shared memory resided and all the transactions in flight recovered with no loss or duplication of data – even the HP-UX processes that were accessing these remote NonStop IPC resources.  We seek to deliver a product that will do all of this over InfiniBand with multiple orders-of-magnitude more throughput.”  

And there’s a lot more coming from Dean as well. “We have mapped out how to provide fine-grained user authentication and authorization security over individual IPC resources (i.e. a semaphore, a message queue or a range of shared memory) to thwart hackers from reading this shared memory.  We would also provide the ability to monitor these resources across a network for debugging and monitoring purposes and integrate metrics and statistics for products like Prognosis, Business Process Monitor, BPM Anywhere and AppPulse.  It has taken many man-years to produce what has already been built and we are not very far from the finish line.  I’d say we are second down, 5 and goal!”

Dean will be attending Boot Camp and will be only too happy to take up this topic with users and vendors alike. Delivering on his plans will require help and there’s already a steadily growing list of interested parties. Like Godzilla, hiding in the shadows (a supercar in disguise), NonStop has always been a sum of more than its parts but with the attention Dean is giving to critical components close to the metal, it will more than likely make NonStop of the future every bit as feared by the competition as the Nissan is today.  If the Apple turn-around of the last decade has taught us anything, it is that you shouldn’t count superior architectures out.  I see a Renaissance-in-the-making for NonStop here.

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