Sunday, January 25, 2015

Floating in space, I need a lifeline …

Cloud computing continues to dominate much of the popular discussions of late, but when it comes to putting real systems to work in support of real applications, there’s much to be said about the inherent value that comes with hybrid computing deployments and this is becoming netter known within the NonStop community …

During the holiday we watched the Clooney / Bullock movie, Gravity. It was a very well made, not-so-quite SciFi drama, set in space but believable in that it was about the International Space Station and a fictional journey of recovery in an old-fashioned space shuttle. The imagery was beautiful and portraying work in space entirely believable. So much so that I gradually inched forward on my seat, anxieties building and really appreciative of the tethering they enjoyed to the shuttle and to the telescope that they were repairing. Obviously, Clooney ever the adrenaline junkie was enjoying himself untethered as he drifted around doing a “spacewalk” and checking out the view.

However it was a short sequence in the movie that brought me back to earth rather quickly – and yes, it was the manner by which astronauts returned to earth. For as long as I have been watching space exploration it seems to me that rocket ships and space vehicles were hybrids. An engine module with a separate capsule or a command module and a lunar module made up the moon orbiters of the Apollo program. Space shuttles rode into space on the back of fuel modules and so on – providing unique modules in support of very specialist operations seems to be travel de rigeur for all astronauts. Even the expected flights by Virgin Galactic are based on a hybrid craft.

When the wraps first came off the Infrasoft product, maRunga, at the 2013 HP Discover event there was an emphasis on cloud bursting – Java applications running on NonStop, for instance, could burst into a cloud environment should unexpected peaks on a NonStop system occur. However, in the time that’s passed since the wraps came off the product, the conservative nature of many NonStop users makes leveraging of cloud computing resources, in any manner, unlikely in the near term. After working with the sales arm of InfraSoft, the Team at comForte, steps are now being taken to redefine the value maRunga provides with attention being directed towards hybrid computers, even as it becomes apparent that there’s increased interest in NonStop hybrids with the arrival of NonStop X.

“maRunga, at its core, represents extensions to Pathway that embrace platforms apart from NonStop,” said InfraSoft Managing Director, Peter Shell. “Just as Pathway broke new ground with Advanced Cluster Services (ACS), maRunga can be considered as a further extension of ACS, whereby other platforms such as Linux and Unix can be included. The presence of Pathway domains overseeing multiple Pathway nodes can now be all-inclusive of any platform that may be found participating in heterogeneous configurations, such as we are now seeing appear as hybrid computers.”

The dearth of references to NonStop within hybrid computers to date belies what really has been developing at a grass-roots level among some of the more adventurous vendors looking to put distance between their solutions and those of competitors.  “With hybrid, there’s the value aspect that translates to less cost but there’s also better fit in terms of both development languages and platform optimization,” was how OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, explained his decision to include hybrid configurations in support of his payment processing and switching solutions. “We have focused on NonStop but we use Linux for the monitoring / user interface support. Even as HP is talking about packaging both NonStop and Linux x86 blades in the same chassis, we can see advantages of making even greater use of two adjacent systems as this is consistent with what we have been building ourselves – to have HP build it and support it? Even better!”

And when it does come to Clouds and NonStop, for a lot more on this topic, check out the feature OmniPayments Introduces the OmniCloud as Host for Affordable Financial Transaction Switches in the January, 2015 issue of the Tandemworld eNewsletter. Watch for a future post on OmniPayments and OmniCloud in an upcoming post to this NonStop community blog.

Likewise, the folks at DataExpress include hybrid configurations as part of their DataExpress solutions. After securely moving files between systems, business managers can opt for updates via email and with almost universal adoption of internet protocols, separation of host functions from notification features (most likely, deployed as a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) point-of-presence) provides another, yet very important, level of security. “We acquired two products – DXNS for NonStop and DXOP for open platform – when we purchased what today we sell as DataExpress”, explained DataExpress President, Michelle Marost. “It turns out that having platform options and the ability to support hybrids will provide the best of both worlds for our customers.”

At the 2014 NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp, held in San Jose, I had ample opportunity to chat with Sean Mansubi, VP of R&D for HP's NonStop Integrity and x86 family of servers, database, and middleware software and solutions. Mansubi asked me about the NonStop communities interests in hybrid configurations and at first, I had little to add but after the event, I checked with vendors and like the quotes above from OmniPayments and DataExpress, it seemed there were others quietly developing product extensions that were dependent on the presence of more than one system architecture. So, after the event, I emailed Mansubi to apologize for my less than complete response to his question.

A short time ago, Margo and I had the opportunity to sit down with Ric Lewis, HP’s VP and General Manager, Enterprise Server Business – Sean Mansubi’s and Randy Meyer’s boss. While much of what we discussed isn’t for public consumption (and was mostly for my own “education”), Lewis did acknowledge that early usage of hybrid computers based on the x86 architecture that included NonStop were under way. I didn’t press for anything more, but it was clear to me that housed in a common chassis were x86 blades running NonStop as well as x86 blades running Linux. All the same, nothing more than whispers and dropped hints, I thought. But where there’s smoke, was there also even just a few sparks?

Readers of this NonStop community blog, if you read the previous post of January 14, 2015, Repurposed … NonStop the better server for database? you may have missed the comments that followed. But for me, these are the interesting aspects of blogging and I am always thinking of topics that hopefully will generate a discussion. In case you missed it, HP NonStop Product Manager, Ajaya Gummadi, stepped in and provided some rather illuminating insights. Gummadi is responsible for all things database as well as cloud computing and it was Gummadi who tipped me off about the hybrid architecture adopted by OmniPayments. However, in her comments Gummadi was anything but shy when it came to x86 blades being used in support of hybrid systems.

“NonStop X comes with Infiniband (IB) giving you 25x improvement in system interconnect capacity. What is exciting for me is that at the other end of this IB fat pipe could be a Linux or Unix computer server doing the crunches and accessing NonStop X database over IB,” said Gummadi. “Need to update the NonStop X database with the results of a number crunch just executed on the Superdome X? Sure, go ahead and send it over the IB. Need sub-second transaction data from NonStop X to include it for some real-time datalytics? Pull it at IB speeds! NonStop X is indeed enabling a new class of apps to be written. Let us get back to writing cool software.”

It has been my understanding that with NonStop X there is no externalizing of the IB pipes. IB simply terminates with controllers or adapters that support a variety of connectivity options. When it comes to NonStop X, the only thing running over the pair of IB fabrics was the next generation software equivalent of ServerNet, and unless someone was prepared to duplicate this capability on Linux or Unix, what could you really do with IB connections should they be externalized? And yet, with the improved speed IB provides and the tantalizing prospect of seeing x86 blades populated with IB chipsets, present for NonStop as well as these other systems, could this eventually become a viable part of the connectivity equation?

When I pointed out the lack of IB controllers for external connectivity, Gummadi posted the tantalizing response, “As they say, markets drive R&D and R&D shapes the market. In this case, let us start with the Use Cases and let the Roadmap evolve.” Perhaps beneath the smoke was more than just a few sparks, as clearly, some real heat is being thrown off by something taking on more serious form. The possibility of NonStop throwing its mantle around commodity processors has been a tantalizing dream of many working with NonStop and the prospect of something real eventuating is now looking a lot more likely.

And so, the new marketing message for maRunga, as it adds support for hybrid computers based on the x86 architecture, appears to be timely addition. NonStop users have traditionally been conservative and rarely open to suggestion of integrating other systems as part of a NonStop based solution. However, with the adoption of x86 hybrids, the question is turned completely around – now that you have portions of the solution running on platforms apart from NonStop, wouldn’t it be preferable to have these portions operating under the embrace of Pathway? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to be tethered to a system that ensures maximum availability? In other words, could the pull effect from deploying hybrid computers that include NonStop systems become more influential on the outcome of maRunga?

Space travel has always been depicted with hybrid vehicles – one for the long space flight with another, and more than likely multiple vehicles, for the trip to a planet’s surface. Both vehicles important in their own right with very specialized task to accomplish and yet, knowing that the mother ship is orbiting overhead, means there’s always the option of recovery no matter what eventuates. It may be a tenuous comparison but for the NonStop community, the image is all too real. Hybrid computers are coming and yes, NonStop is involved. Hybrids, by definition, are tethered and wouldn’t it be to all our advantage to make sure we keep Pathway involved? As in science fiction movies today, extending Pathway to include what else makes up the hybrid may prove to be the lifeline that keeps the hybrid whole and this might be that special market that drives the R&D that truly shapes the market in favor of NonStop!

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