Monday, June 22, 2015

Deep in the heart of Texas …

For the next three weeks I’m on the road – talking with clients, users and of course, HP. I will be presenting at N2TUG, a vital NonStop user group in Dallas, on behalf of a client even as I am being challenged - Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X!

Having just crossed the state line into Texas, shortly we will be on our way to Dallas where we will set up temporary company Command Center from which we will be working for the next six days. N2TUG will be the first engagement, before catching up with clients and prospects; squeezing in a side trip to good friends at IBM is also part of the plan. Yes, IBM, and given my long history with straddling the fence separating two of the biggest players in enterprise computing, it’s always good to see whether the grass is truly greener on one side or the other.

Cadillac Ranch – ever been there? A monument to cars of decades past, converted over time into art forms some appreciate while others quickly dismiss as vandalism and graffiti-riddled; half empty spray paint cans litter the ground, just waiting to be picked up for a little ad-lib! And yet, they stand as sentinels from a time when Cadillac truly represented the very peak of automotive excellence – yes all those years ago the Cadillac of cars was a Cadillac. Sitting back on the fence, I often wonder if the IBM of computers is any longer IBM? Or HP? Or anyone else for that matter – and more relevant given today’s cavernous data centers full of nameless server farms, is there a role for quality, and of course, the three Rs - resilience, robustness and reliability!

We passed the Cadillac Ranch a short time ago even if that only adds confusion about our exact route to Dallas, but more about that will have to wait until I post to the social blog, Buckle-Up. What’s more important though is the disruption inside the data center we have all witnessed in just this millennium. It’s been 15 years and while I can recall the 1990s well, and even parts of the 1980s, though the timing of specific events is proving more difficult to pinpoint of late, it seems a very short period of time and yet, despite the havoc wrought by the collapse of the dot com bubble, we have the internet as ubiquitous as everyone expected it to be, the blossoming of the smartphone and tablet marketplace and yes, the broad acceptance of open source and with it, the applying of the IT “seal of approval” on all things cloud related.

Survival - yes, the Cadillac survived even as it has morphed into something quite different than anything that had been produced in the past – a Cadillac station wagon with a supercharged V8 that was as much at home in a supermarket carpark as it was hurtling around the famed Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring! Today Cadillac’s best seller continues to be its SUV, a category not even invented in Cadillac’s heyday in the 1950s. In a recent interview with Cisco CEO, John Chambers, on the CBS This Morning show, he quoted Intel’s And Grove (in part) when he said, “Only the paranoid survive”. Grove’s complete quote was that “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” And for many, this succinctly sums up a good number of decades in the life of Cadillac.

However, two other comments Chambers made (and I am not sure whether he was quoting others, although he made no mention of that) were, facing a recent audience of CEOs, he said “40% of the business here (in the room) will be gone in 10 years.” Even for the paranoid, this certainly sounds alarming but then, Chambers went on to note that today, “companies either disrupt or are disrupted.” All up a cute way to say that you have better innovate to the point where you disrupt a technology or marketplace or else; others will be doing the disruption and you will miss out, leading to your own demise. Again, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

What we have all witnessed in just the last year and a half is HP upping the ante on NonStop. Doubling down, if you look at it another way – yes, HP investment in NonStop is apparent and the product family just unveiled is as modern, and indeed as relevant, as any other server in the marketplace. When it comes to NonStop X, many argue that the hardware journey has ended and that from here on out, it’s all about the software and that may indeed be true. But don’t think you can cable together your own servers and switches and simply order a NonStop distribution to throw on top of it all – HP is very much in the solution space and so NonStop will be a blend of commodity hardware together with the integrated stack comprising the hardware, the fabric, the OS, the data base, etc. Success, yes! Complacency, I don’t think so, well, at least not now given the evidence we have with the availability of NonStop X.

But then again, even as the expression “complacent” may have been levelled at Cadillac for several decades, perhaps the paranoid inside GM did survive and with their survival, a new car has emerged and it’s just “borrowing” the Cadillac moniker. Somehow it reminds me of the lyrics to the song by the Eagles, James Dean, “You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye”. Fast? Perhaps it’s best left to Bruce Springsteen who gave us the song, Cadillac Ranch, where you can hear the lyrics, “Open up your engines let 'em roar; Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur”. It’s no surprise then to hear that on my first trip to Raleigh, N.C., in the early 1980s,  the IBM VP who picked me up was driving the latest Cadillac Coupe de Ville – by then Cadillac was no longer fast, but somehow out on the interstate it felt like a dinosaur and the association with all things IBM wasn’t lost on me. Another case, perhaps, of “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Before Chambers finished his interview with CBS he made one comment, and this time it was regarding JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon. It was about Dimon’s May 2015 conversation with the Wall Street analysts that has been referenced numerous times since as what Banks Can Learn From Silicon Valley. The way Chambers told the story, Silicon Valley is coming to Wall Street and we all becoming technology companies. What Dimon actually said, talking of how Silicon Valley is increasingly encroaching on businesses once controlled by banks, "Silicon Valley is good at getting rid of pain points; Banks are good at creating them. In a capitalist society, you better be looking for ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper." You better be the disruptor or you will be disrupted and yes, 40% of businesses will be gone in ten years mostly because they failed to heed this simple message.

The question remains – does HP have more to do for NonStop to ensure it continues to be disruptive? Is the value proposition from being available, scalable and dare I add secure with great data integrity, still relevant especially as we see the gradual shift from baby boomers to millennials to Gen X’s and shortly, even  Gen Z running today’s data centers? True, with their exposure to consumer devices that routinely drop calls, screw-up downloads has educated a whole generation that it’s OK to restart or even power off / power on?  Has availability lost all relevance today? Once Cadillac epitomized luxury but, thanks to Madison Ave. marketers, luxury no longer means all that much to anyone buying a car. And yet, even as NonStop continues to epitomize availability, there’s a place in every data center for NonStop. No, there may have been a perception of complacency over NonStop, but no longer and there’s plenty of opportunity to generate even more success in the future.

Heading into Dallas and to the upcoming N2TUG user group meeting, it was hard to miss the message of their open invitation to the NonStop Community. “N2TUG presents ‘Hit a Home Run with HP’s NonStop X’” with its reference to finishing the day with a visit to the ballpark of the Texas Rangers baseball team. But hitting a home run is exactly what the arrival of the NonStop X family of systems is all about and perhaps after all Intel’s Andy Grove only got it half right – it wasn’t that the paranoid survive but perhaps, after all these years and with the right product families, the paranoid thrive! Yes, to quote another Texas family, this is turning out to be a good day, for a good day!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

About the kids ...

People wrote and talked about their impressions from the 2015 HP Discover and all I could think about was how much younger the crowd looks. There are some distinguished silver heads (we used to call them silver backs, but they took offense, so we stopped that), but they seem to be in leadership positions. Everywhere else it was bright and cheerful smiles coming from younger people only too happy to man the booths twelve plus hours a day.

Most of the troops looked like our kids … and there is a reason! With HP offering attractive retirement packages of the kind “you’ve got to be kidding!” most of the older baby boom generation of workers, and even some of the older leaders, just could not refuse. This would tell me that HP wanted to encourage its older cadre to simply go home – the experience and accumulated knowledge isn’t a value worth pursuing any longer. Youth, energy, new ideas and an open mind to embrace the open source; is that what it’s all about today? Is it now a given that age isn’t accommodating of change? Are there those out there who perceive the possible contributions of us, deeply rooted in technology, as less tangible than those coming out of college?

I think with the company taking on the new brave world with The Machine, even as those working on the open source story were getting tired of the skeptical older folks wandering the corridors and talking about the dangers of “giving the shop away” (by going even further down the open source path) little consideration was given to what was being lost. But not every IT elder thinks this way and indeed, some of the most vocal supporters of open source are aging too – just think about the open source movement that started back in the late 1990s! As for the Free Software Foundation, founded by Richard Stallman some thirty years ago, it was way back in October, 1985! So this is not a new concept but has been welling up for some time, supported by many who now have silver in their hair.  

Paula Giovannetti, CPPM, wrote a great blog talking about the older folks having a hard time finding a job. See Perhaps most revealing of all was when Giovannetti acknowledges that, “One of my most valuable assets is forty years of networking. It would be hard for you to come up with a topic in my field for which I do not have a number of very capable professionals to whom I can turn for advice and answers.” Often, this aspect of experience is simply lost on many as the review the credentials of potential candidates for an employment opportunity.

Between the pruning by HP, and personal stories from the older folks having a heck of a time finding employment, it dawned on me that the future is not ours; the future truly belongs to our kids! Yes, to echo the words of The Who, apparently, “the kids are alright!” If those of us with gray hair continue to participate then that’s cool but seriously, even with the kids proving to be alright, isn’t the experience and knowledge spread across our NonStop community worth a lot more than simply being told to go home?

This of course brings the issue of what will happen to the leaders steering the ship toward the bright new future – they too may become eligible for a 6, 12 or 18 months package, and guess what – that future will happen, no matter what or who, and Richard told me that he actually heard it said, in the general session on the first day of the 2015 HP Discover,  “The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” according to Charles de Gaulle. 

Even now, as we drive back to Boulder I am calling my hair dresser making an appointment to have the deep roots of my hair tinted a golden hue – perhaps it really is that simple to correct the perceptions that seem to be every bit as deep rooted. And off color!

Monday, June 8, 2015

First impressions – all that happened in Vegas at 2015 HP Discover!

2015 HP Discover proved eventful for numerous reasons - less about The Machine and more about Composability ... for the NonStop community, the future is beginning to come into view!

It’s been a hot, dusty and somewhat dirty week in Las Vegas and returning to the green landscape that is Boulder has brought into stark contrast the difference of just a few hundred miles. Living in the command center wasn’t without its challenges this year, as unfamiliarity brought unintended consequences. Who knew a push tab on the shower head would reduce the flow of water to barely a drip and who knew that the pilot light on the RV’s hot water system would go out … but in the end, we were able to keep our cool (and our hot) while showering with good water pressure!

The world takes on a completely different image when all is well on the motor home front. Rested and looking forward to each day’s program, 2015 HP Discover was all about perceptions and presentation. Passing an exits sign on Interstate 15 for the Utah township of Browse - even with the assertion that there would be no services – more or less summarized my intentions for participating in 2015 big tent event by HP, as I had many questions I wanted to pursue.   

What would happen to the event itself following the HP split and would the new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) continue to be a good home for NonStop? Would HPE become more like the desert of Nevada or be as verdant as Boulder? Of course, like everyone else’s in the NonStop community, my hopes are high that with renewed focus on the enterprise HP will place even bigger bets on future contributions NonStop can make to the company.

On my way to HP Discover I caught up on emails and newsletters, among them my old favorite, The Rust Report. Author Len Rust has been a stalwart of the Australian IT industry for decades and was responsible for me landing a very good job back in the 1980s, so I always give him the benefit of the doubt when he writes about IT, but in the newsletter of May 25, 2015, his editorial column, Rust Bucket, I found myself agreeing to all the points he makes. In the changing landscape Rust let’s fly with a broadside, telling us that “The IT world today is rapidly moving from legacy application software to SOA, SaaS integration and APls all driven by the power of convention over configuration and the promise of agility and better operational efficiency”.

So far, so good – nothing too extraordinary or earthshattering at this point, but then Rust adds, “A profound change is occurring in the IT world; the power of technology has been discovered! After years of relegating computers and information technology to the back office as a cost cutting productivity tool, the community has discovered that technology has an exciting potential as a force in the marketplace.” While it may have taken some time for companies to make this discovery, Rust then makes the observation, “Companies of all sizes today are grappling with aging complex systems that are costly to maintain and too inflexible to support new business initiatives … Innovation today is no stranger to the information technology function … Many corporate leaders though are now raising the bar: they expect IT’s core mission to expand from cost-cutting to enabling revenue generation all within a short period of time.”

The crowds for 2015 HP Discover appeared as big as I had previously experienced, even as there were those I talked to speculating about an audience down in numbers from previous year, but come time for each day’s General Sessions and the large auditorium filled quickly. As depicted below, it was quite the spectacle although, I have to admit, the choice in welcoming music was a little puzzling and about that, I will say nothing more.

The most critical message that came from HP CEO, Meg Whitman, and HP CTO, Martin Fink, during the Wednesday General Session at the 2015 HP Discover event was that, “Time is the enemy”. In my most recent client newsletter, released this weekend, I noted how these two HP executives went about launching the concept of “composability” and defining it as the “key enabler for this continuous everything world” they also expressed how vital it was for business and IT that they understand that the “need to compress time to value (and get resultant insight) will never stop accelerating”. 

Furthermore, when you consider “our legacy systems, think concrete buildings; once we knew what we wanted, we poured concrete walls and (the result was) a structure that was strong but very rigid”, Fink told the audience. “But now, if we operate with the notion of buildings, we lose; we have to think more of writing symphonies where it (the finished musical score, over time) may be subject to changes of instruments, tempo and even key.” In the same way, we should all expect our business services be capable of self-composing based on business rules, policies and context and just as Rust pointed out in his newsletter, it’s now all becoming a case of the power of convention over configuration!

In all, Fink talked about the “digital business platform”, the “transformation services” and the “infrastructure as code” as the core elements within composability. While there were a number of detours, the most important, and indeed relevant, topic was the launch of Grommet , which is a big bet by HP on an open source framework. But this detour into the launch of Grommet was for the most part, a demonstration by the new HPE of just how seriously they were taking open source.

As reported in the June 4, 2015, edition of the UK publication, The Register, Open source? HP Enterprise will be all-in, post split, says CTO “‘We have taken this very, very seriously and we are all-in on the notion of open source,’ Fink said, adding that even game-changing big bets like the Machine will be backed by open source software. ‘We are the Number One contributor to the OpenStack project (and) we contribute large bodies of code to the Cloud Foundry project. We are heavily involved with partners who lead open source projects – like Hortonworks, for example. We are contributing heavily to making the cloud open source and making that real for you."

Furthermore, according to The Register, “Going forward, however, Hewlett Packard Enterprise will be more vocal about how it takes advantage of existing open source projects and will be more proactive about contributing code of its own. To prove it, on Wednesday HP announced Grommet, a new user interface framework that's specifically tailored for enterprise applications and that HP has released under the Apache License. ‘I want to stress something here: It is not called HP Grommet. It is called Grommet,’ Fink said. ‘It is HP's contribution to the IT industry to bring consumer-grade capabilities with an enterprise user experience framework so that all of you can take advantage of it.’”

Less information was provided this year about The Machine although there was a lot of coverage of The Machine in the HP Labs booth. Walking to the booth after Wednesday’s General Session, I ran into Fink, the Enterprise Group head, Antonio Neri, and Meg Whitman walking the stand and interacting with those manning the booth. See below for the brief video clip I captured – without a security entourage (that I could see) or a bevy of handlers, it was pretty good to see such interaction by HP’s most senior executives. 

While the trip to Las Vegas gave me plenty of time to read and catch up on correspondence, the return trip was an occasion of quite a difference nature – I spent much of the time in thought. Yes, The Machine was progressing as was Hybrid Computing and as such held significance for all in the NonStop community. What was more important however was the very significant message about just how open HP was becoming and just how big an impact open source was having even among the most senior HP executives! Could we ever see NonStop as software and perhaps, even as part of open source either in part or in full? More about this at a later time ...

HP Discover events rarely disappoint and this year’s big tent was one I found most enlightening. If you missed my daily updated to the LinkedIn group, Real Time View, you can see them all listed under Managers Choice. IN particular, check out the final post – Final day – all things come to an end … In a few short weeks’ time I am off to Dallas, Texas, for the N2TUG NonStop user group meeting where I hope to catch up with more of the community, but again, impressions remain important for everyone in the NonStop community and the lasting impression from this year’s HP Discover is one of focus, intent, and greater differentiation versus their competitors, and yes, a sound home for all that today is NonStop!

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