Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another anniversary … and NonStop still holds center stage!

Anniversaries are always important and there’s always consequences should we fail to remember them. When it comes to blogging there’s no similar downside but all the same, from a bloggers perspective, there’s a genuine mix of surprise along with the thought of only having just begun – so yes, thanks for all you support over these past eight years!

Last year I was a couple of days late in posting the anniversary post and opened with an apology that kicked off with me reminding myself not to forget writing the post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. But I do forget key dates and for many years now, following an incident I will not get into in any detail, the number of our car that we have driven on road courses for many years is 161 – yes, a reminder of the 16th of January, my wedding anniversary. With the completion of this post, I will commence my 9th year of blogging having first posted on August 20, 2007. As for the cars now in the garage, Pyalla 1 and Pyalla 2, think of them as being Primary and Back-Up!

Numbers of posts don’t really tell the complete story nor does it reflect the many changes I have seen across the community. In the fall of 2007, shortly after I started blogging, the NonStop community was gathered in Brighton, just to the south of London, for the European ITUG event. It was memorable simply because participants came up to me and said that they had started reading my posts and this was all the motivation I needed at the time. Now, supporting numerous industry and vendor blogs, I have really warmed to the task of writing incessantly about all things NonStop and in so doing have watched many others do likewise. At a time when so many in the NonStop community express concern that NonStop is overlooked by the mainstream press, the cumulative work of the NonStop folks delivering content to social media channels fills a very important niche.

Soon I will be pulling out of the driveway yet again for a week’s sojourn on the west coast, visiting both southern and northern California. Brief meetings of investors will occupy our time in SoCal whereas vendor meetings will hold center stage in NoCal. The weekend will be an entirely different matter as we spend time at Sonoma for the final track event of the Indy Racing League (IRL) where our good friends’, Brian and Jan Kenny, together with their son-in-law, Bryan Herta (who owns an IRL team Bryan Herta Autosport ), who will be contesting this final event of the year. Talk about anniversaries. Yes, it was the Bryan Herta Autosport team that won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500 race in 2011 and where the winnings and publicity spurred him on to build a team to run fulltime – the weekend at Indy for that Indy 500 event he won just happened to be a one-off for the team. Success can lead to some surprising outcomes so our trek to Sonoma is bound to be a weekend full of surprises.

My attention this month has been on the topic of modern. The upcoming Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the community magazine, The Connection, has modernization as its theme, but rather than writing another article on the act of modernization my thoughts this time have been on what exactly is modern? Does something today considered to be modern have clearly identifiable attributes? A modern house, a modern car, a modern television – what does it mean to be modern? Is something considered by one community as being cool be immediately agreed-upon by society as being modern? Do we all share a single appreciation for what’s modern and does this understanding cross over to computer systems?

On the LinkedIn group, Mainframe Experts Network, an interesting discussion developed when a member posted the headlines, 71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core business on the mainframe. Forget for the moment that this is posted to an IBM mainframe centric group and read on. “The mainframe is a hugely viable business asset. The alternative is not necessarily better, or cheaper. Mainframe's have a marketing problem, not a quality, function or reliability problem. Why? because perception is, it is more expensive and every IT hardware, software and services company or alternative, is aggressively creating FUD because they all have something to gain if they can persuade prospects to move off what had been labelled as ‘legacy’”.

Forget too for the moment that the IBM crowd is complaining about others using FUD on them – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. FUD has been the stock-in-trade response of IBM for decades to any counter-proposal to using the mainframe. But the observation that perception that (the mainframe) is more expensive and that businesses can gain from moving to another platform resonates with everyone belonging to the NonStop community. Then again, this could be expected as after the IBM mainframe, the NonStop is now the second oldest architecture managing to out-survive highly popular systems from the likes of Prime, Wang, Data General, Four Phase and the like. And as a community we fully understand that the alternative to NonStop doesn’t always end up being better or even cheaper.

However, here’s the kicker. Whereas IBM moved on from proprietary chips and fabrics / backplanes to its own proprietary Risc chips, NonStop elected to head in a different direction as it kept evolving to where today, no piece of its hardware is proprietary. While both systems today support languages, tools and frameworks that make programming applications no more difficult to do than on any other platform, be it Wintel or something else, NonStop continues to deliver an integrated stack in support of openness – something IBM hasn’t quiet managed to do after all these years. I know I will get push-back on this observation but with IBM there’s options and with options comes complexity and complex systems are inherently less robust and tend to fail more often.

As for NonStop, how many of us have forgotten just how much Pathway does for us – in terms of being a framework in support of our applications as well as a working model on how to build other middleware and frameworks with the same characteristics? While it’s still the realm of development shops to do the heavy lifting needed to support fault tolerance, the ability to develop persistent applications on top of these fault tolerant core management and monitoring components has become easy to do. But this is exactly what a modern system needs to possess today – an integrated stack from metal to data that lets developers focus on logic.

Where the commentary on this LinkedIn group heads is familiar territory. Training of the younger generation of IT professionals. “It is always a challenge to convince the younger management group to believe in IBM, and especially so when they ask the question, ‘who can we hire once you retire,’” was one observation that generated further comments. And for many in the NonStop community, this is also true. That is one reason I continue to blog as I do – I may not have the answers but I sure do know who to contact and where to direct questions. NonStop systems are modern systems by any standard of measure and HP has invested considerable funds into NonStop, making sure it is industry standard and open – equipping the next generation of IT professionals to be capable of fully exploiting its capabilities. It all comes down to setting expectations. NonStop is not a general purpose computer, but rather, it’s a transaction processing system capable of processing transactions in real time.

However, modern systems aren’t all we need to communicate as the NonStop community is aware that today we live with modern perceptions along with modern expectations. By this I mean that the model of “good enough” being fine, and yes, “No Service” being a temporary nuisance, shouldn’t apply to the systems at the heart of our business solutions. Having interviewed as many IT professionals as I have over the past eight years it still comes as a surprise to realize that what the NonStop community values so highly is of only passing interest – oh really? The system never fails? NonStop systems must be expensive and complex and very hard to program! All of which is to say, my uneducated IT professionals would likely pushback on having to work on such a system even if it is as modern as we know it is.

NonStop is not a general purpose computer and as such it will never capture the share of Global 1000 corporations many other systems claim in their marketing promotions. But again, that’s not the point – we are talking transaction processing. So the numbers HP is now throwing up on the big screen during presentations about the ongoing success of NonStop in markets like finance, Telco, retail, manufacturing and transportation are impressive. In particular the potential for growth in the mobile phone network markets, looks impressive and is one market segment I suspect few have been aware of the presence of NonStop before seeing HP’s presentations. The signs are all there – just talk to any member of the NonStop vendor community about sales figures this year – in all likelihood, the business of NonStop turned a corner earlier this year. Chalk that up to yet one more modern perception that is in dead wrong – NonStop is shifting into a growth phase and that may be the most surprising observation of mine over the course of eight years of blogging.

Numbers of posts don’t tell the story, but all the same, they do highlight the many channels through which the message of NonStop travels. From association blogs (e.g. ATMmarketplace and more recently, BAI), to vendor blogs (IR, comForte, DataExpress, WebAction, etc.) to NonStop community blogs like this one, Real Time View, there have been more than 1000 posts with readership anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 plus over the past eight years. I often blog about the difference individuals can make and while I remain bullish on this front, I also think persistence counts for something. As does growth - have you noticed, too, just how many orders have been placed for the NonStop X? If you missed it, look for another post on this topic shortly. And so, for the immediate future I will persist – expect many more posts to follow, naturally! Thank you all for your support these past eight years as you too have all played a big part in making a difference, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Modernization versus Modern – is there a difference?

Working on an upcoming feature for the Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the NonStop community magazine, The Connection gave me the opportunity to differentiate between modernization and modern even as it gave me an opportunity to look at the subject a little differently in this post …

As much as I continue to enjoy living in America now that I have U.S. citizenship, after twenty plus years of residency, it’s hard for me to ignore what’s happening in my country of birth. I still tape the Rugby League matches that make it up here – well, DVR rather than tape, I should say – and of course, who can ignore last weekend’s monumental Rugby performance as the Wallabies beat the All Blacks from New Zealand for the first time in goodness knows when. However, the games keep evolving and the rules change constantly, so much so that the modern game of Rugby – League and Union – has elements I simply don’t recognize from the time I committed so many days to playing both codes.

In previous posts I have written about the changes to the America’s Cup yachting event and as a former competitive sailor, who actually made it to Newport, Rhode Island, to watch the 1977 series where Captain Outrageous, Ted Turner, skippered Courageous to a dominant win over the Aussies aboard Australia (4 to 0) I barely recognize these strange multihull yacht mutations that compete today. Then again, coming too from IT, where change is ever present, I should be the last one to complain over the demise of older – dare I say, more beautiful - classic yachts of the past. Sailing, rugby, even the stately game of cricket (and no, I won’t mention The Ashes) have all seen changes to bring them into the 21st century.

Stopping by Starbucks in the Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA, we ran across wireless charging for the first time, pictured above, and it became a talking point. See the Starbucks News on this topic posted in November 2014. Oh yes, this is something that’s very modern! But modernization and modern are really two different attributes, particularly when it comes to IT.

Unfortunately, whenever we bring up a topic of modernization there’s an assumption that we are talking about legacy systems – we wouldn’t be covering modernization if the subject wasn’t old. And truth be told, I may be getting on in years, but my interests remain very much focused on what’s current and what’s topical with few occasions that call for me to wax lyrical on systems of the past. When I think of the cost of systems of decades ago and the capabilities they offered I am still shocked that as an industry, we were able to serve business as effectively, and indeed as efficiently, as we did.

Networking, industry standards and open systems along with Moore’s Law running rampant has seen the world change and for more than four decades NonStop has moved right along with it. The latest NonStop family to be introduced to businesses everywhere, the NonStop X, is arguably as modern as any other system on offer today, particularly when it comes to requiring a cluster for scale-out even as the internal processing power can be easily scaled up via software. As we have all come to appreciate, the move to support the Intel X86 architecture, together with industry-standard InfiniBand (IB), it opens the door to many new possibilities, given so many businesses along with government agencies have been predisposed to Intel for quite some time.

However, none of this comes as news to the NonStop community – we have seen how NonStop has demonstrated flexibility through the years embracing numerous changes of chip sets, interconnect fabrics, storage and network connectivity. Not always a sure fire winner (remember the big push behind Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) for all communications connections?) but always moving forward and remaining relevant, such that today NonStop is a modern system. It may not be recognizable to those familiar with NonStop systems of the past. Compared to a large VLX or Cyclone system you may be forgiven for simply walking past a modern NonStop system having ignored its presence as you think it’s just another network cabinet.

In the upcoming September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine the theme of the issue is Modernization. I am fully anticipating the usual suspects to provide articles and commentaries with numerous references to the use of Java and to SQL and of the benefits that come with leveraging Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) along with Web services. There will be coverage too of different options for supporting smartphones and tablets even as new protocols and services are supported. With NonStop anchoring solutions in industries that move slowly and are cautious about embracing anything modern at all, having access to so many different programming models is a major benefit for business held captive to such solution longevity.

However, in the article I have submitted, I have elected to focus on Modern – a celebration if you like of what we now have available to us with the arrival of the most modern of NonStop systems of all time, the NonStop X. Perhaps the observation I liked most came from Infrasoft Pty. Limited Managing Director, Peter Shell. When it comes to being modern, said Shell, “The technology you chose has to support where you want to go even if you don’t know precisely where that will be at the time you acquire the systems, middleware and solutions. That means a level of flexibility and indeed compatibility with languages, tools and frameworks common across the broadest pool of developers that will be likely candidates to develop these new solutions.”

I also like the observation by IR COO, Alex Baburin, who said that when stating a system is modern, “It is really the perspective of the customer and their judgment is usually based on their needs. If our product were to meet the operational and interoperability needs of these CIOs corporate architecture, then our system would typically be deemed ‘modern’”. In essence, a modern system today has to meet our needs today and yet be flexible enough to be easily reconfigured to meet the demands of the future even as we appreciate that being modern is very much in the eye of the beholder, so as to speak.

There’s still one very important attribute of a modern system and that’s its price and the most important aspect of price is that initial price tag when the system, with the software stack needed to run a solution, passes through the door and enters the data center. “Perhaps overlooked in any discussion about today’s modern systems is the price. Many companies have become a little jaded over discussions about the TCO as increasingly, every vendor puts their own spin as to what to include in the calculations,” responded OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “For me, then yes, it’s all about the TCA as this is the bottom line amount and truly influences the decision to purchase. Before turning to the calculator to see if the TCO is beneficial for any Financial Institution (FI), CIOs first must justify that initial purchase.”

The upcoming article in the September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine includes numerous other observations and I will leave it to you to check them out when the magazine is delivered. The difference between modernization and modern is very real – we all know full well that we can run an older, legacy, solution on a very modern system but the reverse isn’t quite that simple. Running a modern solution on a legacy system is fraught with potential incompatibilities where vendors prove quick to distance themselves from what is being deployed. While I am not a fan of rolling updates and changes we have come to expect from many of the programs that make up the open source movement, on the other hand, doing absolutely nothing for a decade isn’t any better. In time, working with a modern system fails both the price test as well as the ability to access a large pool of qualified personnel.

Coming this far and not seeing a car metaphor may be a shock for some members of the NonStop community but any discussion about modern systems, the emergence of hybrids utilizing clouds public and private, has to mirror what’s happening in the auto industry but that’s a subject for another post. However, the recent exposure of modern cars to computer hackers is proving to be a wake-up call and it’s a circumstance that led me to write a separate post on the subject for the comForte Lounge blog – watch for the publication of the post, The system is safe – where did you hear that? On the Internet!

The modern car, just like the modern computer, is comprised of industry standard sub-assemblies and components and the ability to choose transmissions from ZF, brakes from Brembo, tires from Goodyear resembles the options we all recognize as paramount for any computer to be considered modern and even as I have referenced a number of them in this post, it’s still worth considering how far we have come in the past four decades and not to shy away from those detractors who may not be as well-informed as us; relax, breathe easy, NonStop is modern and I didn’t need to check the internet to draw that conclusion!  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Redundancy! How many NonStop systems needed to bring merriment?

HP NonStop systems have embrace industry standards and yet, for many their fault tolerant properties don’t eliminate the need for redundant systems – a lesson learnt from years of experience as nothing can eliminate disasters and just plain bad luck!

In client newsletters and in posts to other blogs I have bemoaned the fact that even with additional cars in the garage there can be times when you simply don’t have a car to drive. Such was the case in July when even the company command center, the ever reliable RV, was checked in for a routine service. In the same week, the Corvette was diagnosed with having no brakes and had to wait for new pads and rotors, even as punctures took out both of the remaining cars. Yes, the “Trackhawk” Jeep SRT8 pictured above (with ultra-low-profile tires, sometimes a leak can be hard to detect but trust me, it was flat), as well as our Grand Tourer where a front tire simply rolled right off the rim were both victims to flat tires - "when it rains, it pours" as good friend Robert Rosen told me! Tires needed to be shipped in and in both cases their unusual sizes and construction demands meant a week of waiting.

The Holen – Buckle family was reduced to asking immediate family for help and they graciously responded. Much of this was covered in the post to our social blog of August 1, 2015, With places to go and plans in place, the wheels fell off … where you can read more about this predicament. This wasn’t the only instance where the issue of redundancy came up. Among the NonStop vendor community there are those vendors with the sizable inventory of NonStop systems. In some cases, there are systems (vital to these vendors’ customer support programs) that date back to the NonStop Himalaya K-Series systems. However, as with any business model, due consideration continues to be given to just how many systems need supporting and at how many locations?

For the NonStop community the absolute minimum of everything is two, but in recent times, when it comes to systems and indeed locations, this number has steadily risen to where three or more sites with many more systems is not uncommon. Indeed, even as the NonStop community acknowledges a consolidation among the NonStop user base following many years of aggressive M&A activity two sites, each fully replicated (with at least four sites), is not only not rare, it’s more common than we may think. The rise in popularity of Disaster / Recovery solutions in the last decade and the number of product offerings to choose from has certainly contributed to the increase in system numbers and sites.

It is well known throughout the NonStop community that the German luxury auto manufacturer has a pair of NonStop systems deployed at every manufacturing site on the planet and that this duplication of systems has been a cornerstone of the services their IT group provides the company. It’s clear that, even in the highly connected world we live in today, redundancy on this scale is appropriate. An extremely large configuration buried deep underground may be the image depicted in movies but should the site fail for any reason, there’s always the back-up somewhere, but even here, relying on just a single back-up, makes today’s CIOs extremely nervous.

Distribute pairs “everywhere” and make sure there’s distance between each pair with separate power and communications infrastructure may still see one location going offline. Disasters, whether natural or man-made, continue to occur with regular monotony.  However, when your business relies on dozens of locations, such granularity provided through redundancy keeps critical production lines operating. Furthermore, when consideration is given to what is a modern system and perhaps even more importantly, what is a modern data center, then redundancy is a major check list item CIOs would be inclined to check off with a big positive tick!

In a recent interview with IT Director of comForte, Patrick Eyrich, he talked how the sustained organic growth based on the partnership with HP, together with the latest inorganic growth following M&A activity, has made it very important for comForte to treat their systems as a whole, rather than as just a collection of isolated servers. Keeping operational this “whole”, even when individual systems and components may be offline, without affecting the support comForte provides, is a critical concern of their senior management. For more on this interview, check the recent post to the comForte blog, Following the sun ...

In an upcoming post to the comForte blog, Eyrich talks about having, “a pair of NonStop systems in Neuruppin, Germany, and a further pair in Berwyn, U.S, together with yet another pair of NonStop systems in Sydney, Australia.” Eyrich then adds that this is going to grow even bigger as “we have a new entry-level NonStop X system on order for delivery this year and in total, this will allow us to support NonStop OS versions from G, H, J and now L.” Redundancy is just that important and while it may add to the overall operational complexity, the upside certainly makes it worthwhile.

With the new NonStop X system on order, did comForte really need three NonStop Himalaya S-Series systems? “We were considering retiring one of our NonStop S-Series systems but then again, what would happen should our primary data center in Neuruppin totally fail due to some catastrophe? Disaster – Recovery (DR) is just as important as security,” acknowledged Eyrich. “Knowing that we have replicated NonStop systems running elsewhere at two locations outside of Germany, as we have with our data centers in Sydney and Berwyn, greatly reduces the fears of senior management, so yes, we will keep these three S-Series systems for some time to come.”

The systems included may span several generations but the issue of redundancy has more modern overtones than we may first think. In former times, buried deep in the back office, was the mainframe. For nearly two decades I sold software into the mainframe environment and very few sites had anything other than that single mainframe. Walking into an installation with two mainframes was a rarity and yet, for the majority of corporations, relying on tape back-ups was the sole recourse should disaster strike. But today, while we cover a lot of territory when it comes to availability, underpinning recovery is a fabric of redundancy my former colleagues could only have dreamed about – adding 32K of real memory to a pair of IBM 360/30 mainframes in 1970 represented an investment of $750K each!

No solutions or service provider would think of going into business today without redundancy especially when they are supporting mission critical applications. In a brief exchange with OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, he told me how “Redundancy anchors the manner in which we build out or data centers for development as well as support for those customers we support directly using our own systems.” While it’s received considerable publicity of late in blog posts and articles, Yash is pushing into cloud computing utilizing NonStop systems and in so doing, “we simply have to have more than one NonStop system to execute and with the introduction of the entry level NonStop X systems, we can progress by taking small, baby steps.”

As for being a recognizable attribute of a modern system, Yash also noted that for OmniPayments, “presenting an image to prospects of having modern systems at the core of our operations mandates we have redundancies almost everywhere we turn and being able to accommodate the addition of new customers, the introduction of new products and features, all while changing the operating system and the full stack that goes with it, simply isn’t possible without redundant systems and is clearly a highly visible hallmark of what a modern system today looks like.”

In the July, 2015, issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld, Yash wrote of how, “OmniPayments easily expands to provide additional functionality when needed and supplies complete security functions for every financial transaction handled. It will survive any single fault, requires no downtime for maintenance or upgrades, and supports a range of disaster recovery solutions”. And yes, OmniPayments is “now available on NonStop X”.

Before leaving the topic of redundancy, within HP there are some interesting projects – CloudLine to provide bare-bones, no-label Intel servers to those very large operations that buy servers by the thousands and don’t need any of the vendor support infrastructure most enterprises depend upon. Get out of my way; think Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo! There’s a redundancy present on a scale unimaginable with many servers down (to be thrown away) at any given time.

Then there’s the Converged Data Center Infrastructure that looks to separate processing, storage and networking resources as it throws in layers of virtualization to suit rapid reconfiguration as it provisions resources to meet the needs of the day. In both situations, the redundancy involved suggests that at some point someone inside HP will have the bright idea to completely overhaul what we see today in NonStop and bury it deep beneath the OSs to produce a far more competitive solution – yes, NonStop lives but someday soon we may no longer recognize it!

Taking a car to the shop for repair can see a car lay idle for a day or so and for many of us, while it might be a nuisance; it’s not a circumstance that would see us rushing out to buy a second car. Just in case! For those of us in family situations that necessitate two cars, seeing them both sidelined can prove extremely inconvenient and isn’t something we would expect to see happen. And yet it does happen! When it comes to our systems, as every NonStop user can attest, redundancy simply is the way we think and without it, the availability story loses considerable credibility. How many systems do we truly need? As my father would state as the family gathered – the more the merrier! 

Looks can be deceiving! HPE NonStop; when being the best still matters!

For the NonStop community, we know what looks good may not only be deceptive but borderline dangerous; mission critical applications are bes...