Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It’s all goodness; some useful and important information!

Where am I bound, it don't matter
Pocket dialing halfway 'cross the nation
What do I hear? Mindless chatter
All this useless and important information

Jimmy Buffett, "Useless but Important Information"

Pulling the company command center into our Boulder, Colorado, home for what will likely be the last time in 2015, it would be remiss of me not to mention just how useful having this RV has proved to be. Racking up more miles this year than any other, we have attended 2015 HP Discover, swung through the state of Texas with a visit to N2TUG before heading across to California and now the trip to Washington D.C. with a visit to MATUG before weekending on the outer banks of North Carolina, essentially seeing most of continental USA from out of the windscreen of our RV. Looking at a McDonalds sign above the exit to the city of Champaign seemed every bit as incongruous as it appears on first sight, but then again, what we see on the road we do need to share with friends. Yes, another case of “All this useless but important information.”

Unfortunately, for our trip to San Jose, with a visit to the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC), it will be back to a vehicle we can trust to get us through potential snowfalls in the Sierras or the Rockies, as given the timeframe, there’s a likelihood we will meet winter’s arrival at some point. The Jeep SUV has proved every bit as trustworthy as our command center RV, but all the same, checking into and out of roadside hotels has become rather blasé. There’s something to be said about taking it all with you! We sure will miss the command center.

Future trips always have me pulling out the maps to ensure the route isn’t one we have travelled before - after all, for us, we both like variety! I have an ancient paper map of the continental United States and after several years of abuse, the yellow highlight is fading from many of these  routes so picking out something entirely new is becoming a challenge, and yet, the thought of doing a trip that takes us somewhere completely different always excites us. With both Margo and I born far from these shores and having missed the annual family excursions in the station wagon, it’s all still very new to both of us.

With this having been said, there is quite a lot that’s similar to what we are experiencing today with NonStop. Even the most jaded NonStop supporter will recognize how each trip with NonStop is across virgin turf and that, facing any new project the first task undertaken is to bring out the product roadmaps. After all, so much has been changing with NonStop it’s almost inevitable that the yellow highlight has faded as well. It’s been twenty years this coming January since I last worked for Tandem Computers and yet, it’s hard to fathom at times – the Tandem blood flows strongly through my veins. And product roadmaps continue to keep that blood flowing prodigiously!

I have to assume by now that every member of the NonStop community has become aware that the keynote speaker at this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) will be then HPE EVP and CTO, Martin Fink. Probably the most influential technical mind inside of HPE, it’s also common knowledge that a number of years ago, Martin headed the then NonStop Enterprise Division, or NED, as it was referred to by the NonStop community. After spending many years as an ITUG volunteer I finally was elected to the ITUG Board at the end of 1999 and went on to serve as a director from 2000 to 2006 being the Chairman from 2004 to 2005.

While this may be ancient history for many in the NonStop community, by coincidence, 2004 was when Martin ascended to the top position in NonStop and I recall vividly how we both shared the stage for ITUG Europe in Berlin, 2004. I wasn’t all that sure what to expect from a HP manager, but any uneasiness was quickly put to one side as soon as Martin began talking about the benefits of NonStop and while he has taken up other posts, and his days at NonStop only a memory, Martin continues to be a supporter of the NonStop community so his agreement to be the keynote speaker at TBC didn’t come as a big surprise for many of us who are HP watchers.

At this point I have to give the game away. I am fully expecting that we will hear some pretty useful and entirely important information. It wouldn’t be anything else coming from Martin. I have always held the belief that NonStop is the unpolished gem in the greater HP product portfolio and this has been very much on my mind these past couple of days following the MATUG event outside Washington D.C. To be completely honest, my time spent this past weekend on the outer banks saw me playing the beachcomber as I searched fruitlessly, as it turned out, for the odd Spanish silver piece of eight that may have washed up on shore overnight. For the NonStop community that gem is the inclusion of NonStop as a key participant in the product roadmaps of HPE – alongside Windows and Linux, NonStop is the sole participant from a much broader product portfolio  of just a short time ago.

Expecting such useful and important information I emailed Martin for some insight and fortunately for the NonStop community he was pretty responsive to my request. “At a high-level the plan is for me to tell the story of ‘what really happened’ over the last years with Nonstop.” write Martin. “Folks see the new products and what we’ve done, but there’s the story behind the story that’s not visible to many.  I’ll tell that story.” Nothing too obscure with these remarks – we are going to hear it all. Of course, much will come down to Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Servers at Hewlett-Packard, Randy Meyer, but there’s little doubt in my mind given the usual Labs folks seeking the support of the field organization that Randy will be on board with Martin’s program. At any rate, given that Randy’s presentation immediately follows Martins, we should all know Randy’s position pretty quickly.

In a later exchange with Martin I was able to find out that as part of his presentation he would be providing, “a sneak peek into my CTO-level vision for future opportunities for the NonStop software and capabilities.” For some time now I have observed that the future role of NonStop may not be limited to just the box and the integrated stack that comes with it and essentially, ships as a fully operational system. No, for me, the game looks to be broadening to where its influence may be a tad bigger than anything we imagined, but I will stop with this as Martin hasn’t given any indication that this is part of the plan. So like you, I will be in the audience at TBC waiting to hear exactly what it is Martin has in plan for the bigger NonStop!

That I will not be sharing the stage with Martin or Randy doesn’t really count as useless but important information, but you catch my drift. Those days are behind all of us and yet, there is a real sense of continuity that almost every other platform I have been associated with through the decades simply hasn’t enjoyed. NonStop, some forty plus years on, is still commanding attention and that the most influential technical mind inside HP is coming to TBC is of significance of itself – want to hear a stronger message about NonStop? Well, try this on for size, we have Martin coming to fill in all the blanks in person.

I could add that there will be numerous vendor dinners, and cocktails will be readily available throughout the week. I could also add that there will be numerous presentations as well as product demonstrations – it will be a very full program. I could also add that there will be educational opportunities that many attendees will take full advantage of. But you guessed it. Anything more I could add now would only be seen as a lot of "Useless but Important Information". Yes, pack your bags, book you flights and accommodation. Martin is coming to TBC and it’s all goodness for the NonStop community!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cup of Joe; a quick “Squiz” of the Headlines; and back to Work!

Camped outside Lincoln, Nebraska, as I head to the MATUG event outside Washington D.C., I realize that there’s much to be learnt from being on the road. Not the least being the time to be able to think of what future NonStop systems might look like and to catch up with innovative companies that may yet impact NonStop.

Much of my summer months I’ve spent on the road. With the better weather conditions for driving it’s an opportunity to mix with the NonStop community – vendors and users equally, and the insight that this provides is always valuable. It’s a very simple equation really, to write one needs to first listen and then just as importantly, read and comprehend. The basics, right! However, it still comes as a surprise when I encounter something unexpected and so it’s never about the destination, as the saying goes, but the journey. Or to put it another way, information is out there. It exists. You just have to want it. Even if you are in the middle of the road attentive as ever as you hang on to your stop sign and yes, with not a whole lot to do, you can always pull up the news on your smartphone!

If there were one thing I could revisit it would have to do with my ability to learn and then retain information on any topic via some kind of infusion process. Touch an apple and immediately I would know everything that makes an apple what it is – juicy and nutritious. Or even easier, tune in to everything, everywhere and know it all, instantly.  This has been the theme of numerous films and television series, the most recent being the upcoming series Limitless that will debut this fall in the U.S. Based on the premise of there being a brain-boosting substance, available in a pill, that enables it’s user to use 100% of their brain capacity.

My interests in part in companies developing products and solutions in fields I consider adjacent to NonStop have always been important to me. Over the last couple of years this has led me not only to be part of companies porting new platforms to NonStop, or even developing simple solutions for better hybrid NonStop to Linux / Windows integration and exploitation, but to vendors working in Clouds and Big Data areas as well as others working on HP systems a little further afield, like the new Cloudline and Moonshot. Not being a part of HP or privy to the internal roadmaps means that I spend a lot of time looking at the tealeaves and speculating about possible outcomes, so validating assumptions with vendors much closer to these roadmaps always proves valuable. But even so, there’s always surprises awaiting me when I dig a little deeper.

For some time now I have been involved in InkaBinka – not as close to the development as if I were a product manager, but close enough to be well informed about the evolving technology and the research that is behind it. Some of the patents the InkaBinka folks have filled, I have to admit,  are a little beyond my pay grade, but that’s OK too. I do get what the intent is so don’t approach me for specifics on the implementation as the knowledge of the fine details of any product I have ever been associated with hasn’t been my forte. But InkaBinka is special in that it tells me what can be done today using very modern languages, models and frameworks with the implication that all roads eventually intersect and at some point, solutions built for one platform will have applicability on any other platform, including NonStop.

Over the course of the past couple of years I have included updates on the progress being made by the team at InkaBinka and for those who may recall, there have been several major revisions to the deliverables that make up InkaBinka. The objective hasn’t changed – can I get all the news I need in 2 minutes or so and can it be readable from my mobile device of choice? In other words, provide me with an intelligent synopsis of news as it happens and allow me to then click on icons that give me more details or even video clips on the story? Every morning on awaking I grab a coffee and sit down at my iPad and the first icon I click is always InkaBinka.

However, what really has been the major story behind InkaBinka has been the maturing of the most comprehensive approach to Natural Language Processing (NLP) I have ever seen. How they stumbled onto this and were able to complete as complex an operation as this (and in the timeframe we are talking about) is beyond anything I have previously experienced – the stories summarized for me aren’t created by a team of editors somewhere but rather are the result of continuous software analysis happening in the background. But now, as interest in what the InkaBinka NLP can do, the horizon for leveraging InkaBinka is widening significantly. As Kevin McGushion, Founder and CEO of InkaBinka, tells it, “In other words, if we built a machine that could teach itself and then teach you, quickly (that’s the essence of summary and as it turns out dialog) we will have created a very powerful technology to not only draw customers and advertisers, but to influence and educate the world.”

Now Kevin isn’t prone to talking up a big story simply by waving his hands around like an old-style big tent evangelist, as he is a true rocket scientist with the paten
ts to back him up. My first introduction to Kevin was captured in the post of June 2, 2010, What’s in your garage? and little did I know all those years ago where he was headed. But as he then explains, “We have applied for our first in a new series of patents on self-learning artificial intelligence that effectively teaches itself anything in milliseconds. It’s like that scene from The Matrix when Neo learns Kung Fu in milliseconds.” Love this video clip, by the way and one of the things I really enjoy watching on the home theatre are the Matrix movies.

As the late night television advertisers constantly remind us, “But wait, we did more! We gave this machine the ability to tell you a story in its own words,” Kevin adds. “After learning a subject it gives you the condensed version in words that are more economical (takes less time) and it enhances information with other information it has learned but may have been less accessible by you. It is an interesting paradox that at a time when information is most available, the sheer volume makes it inaccessible.  We aim to solve that problem.”

Kevin said, he and Chris Brahmer, COO and Cofounder of InkaBinka have formed a dynamic duo where, as quickly as he invents Chris builds.  Chris said it is through this highly interactive exchange at speeds that would stun most people that we are able to build so much revolutionary technology so quickly.  Kevin added, “Chris literally does all of the coding himself for InkaBinka, and its NLP and he has a unique skill set which allows him thrive in an environment of invention where most developers fail.”

Without going any further, it's worth remembering that InkaBinka is available as an App that can be downloaded from your choice of App Store or equivalent. The server side is where the action all takes place and yes, it should come as no surprise to readers to hear once again, this server implementation has been developed using Server Side JavaScript together with a full stack of complementary components all packaged within the popular framework, Famo.US.
 You don’t have to go back too far through previous posts on InkaBinka to understand why I am a huge supporter of the InfraSoft folks with their deep port to NonStop of the critical engine behind JavaScript, Node.js. But today, InkaBinka runs 100% on HP Moonshot and if you were ever wondering about the type of solutions that best fit with the goals of the Moonshot project, InkaBinka happens to be among the most successful Moonshot use-case scenarios.

In a world where the big project is fading from memory and where each and every business problem is being solved with mini-apps following an incremental “build” model, InkaBinka makes a compelling case for just how sophisticated a solution can be built using this methodology. In a recent private client email I set forth the case for solutions being built in a day – even less – and, as an industry, meeting such a goal isn’t all that far away. As a meaningful demonstration of the practical aspects from going down this path, InkaBinka is a very good example but there’s a whole lot more even for the hardest of die-hard NonStop advocate. So much is about to change as plans of HP to expand product offering to enterprise customers shifts gears – Hybrids, Converged Infrastructure and Converged Systems, Cloudline and much more.

All of which is to say, what a future NonStop system might look like shouldn’t deter us from looking closely at what’s happening on these many adjacent systems as in time, and with user input, they may just become an integral part of NonStop. Who wouldn’t want a NLP capability as exists today to help up with data analytics in real time? Take NonStop out of the box, think of it as a capability or property and then challenge HP to deliver – who would have thought that before Converged Systems began being packaged we would see Windows on x86 together with a Linux on Moonshot (ARM) in the same cabinet?

Before finishing our discussions, in true NASCAR-winning style, Kevin wasn’t shy in talking about and indeed thanking, his developers. “With a team of 7 people, we have done what no one else has ever done,” says Kevin. “We will continue to build on this. And yes, I truly owe a special thanks to Chris Brahmer for personally sacrificing so much to make all of this possible.”  And to the team, my own thanks as their efforts went a long way to seal my own enthusiasm for this approach to development and the fun it has generated – and now, it’s back to reading the headlines with time aplenty to finish my cup of coffee while it’s still hot! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Autonomous computing; tempting, but we still need input from a good design!

The story lines may take unexpected twists and turns but the enthusiasm for NonStop remains straight and true. For me, there’s much that we can discuss about NonStop but the design of NonStop? Well, with NonStop X, it’s as modern a computer as anything in the marketplace today!

For the first post of my ninth year of blogging I would be hard pressed to start with anything other than yet another metaphor derived from the auto industry. It has to do with self-driving vehicles – an abomination, from my perspective, and something that would give me pause to reconsider whether I would like to continue driving at all. No, I am not even tempted to go down this path, no matter what the signs might suggest! Even now I cause some discomfort among my friends whenever I criticize a popular vehicle solely on the basis of it providing very little driver feedback – don’t you want to be aware of the conditions of the road you have chosen to drive down? Can’t you sense the input the car is providing and doesn’t that just add to the enjoyment that comes with driving?

Readers of my posts to this NonStop community blog will also recall that the associations I draw from the world of automobiles and computers are not only frequent, but something we sometimes don’t see on first glance. Who would have thought writing about the C6 Corvette having its exhaust system improved for better performance, as was noted in the September 2, 2008, post Blood and corpses everywhere! Really? (and yes, check out the picture used) would then segue to where  I said that there’s no emerging social discontent with computing that has chip manufacturers planning some voluntarily limits to their performance. Virtualization will be part of the new landscape on NonStop.

But again, connecting the dots between exhaust manifolds and extractors to virtualization is what keeps readers thinking about what comes next and so it was that this morning I read an interesting exchange in an interview published in the September, 2015, issue of Road and Track. While this is one of the publications from which I draw inspiration it was an interview with McLaren’s design chief, Frank Stephenson, that caught my attention – and yes, at a time when the pundits are working overtime to extol what the future of computer manufacturers is with automobiles, as anyone invested in the likes of Google and Apple can attest.

When Stephenson was asked about autonomous driving and whether it has a place at McLaren, his response wasn’t unexpected. “Autonomous driving is the last thing you want from a sports car, but imagine a track day,” Stephenson responded. “The car knows the best line, the speed, the gears. It teaches you in those first few laps. You’re feeling the input from the car. After five laps, you can give it a go yourself.” Of course, this could be expected from a designer of one of the world’s finest supercars even as it renews its presence racing in Formula 1. But applying what we are watching other auto manufacturers are developing in support of autonomous driving to teaching us to be much better drivers, now that’s something I can work with.

When it comes to IT and data centers much of what I have been writing about of late has to do with the evolutionary steps being taken by companies building monitoring solutions. As the designers of today’s computers pull together mostly industry standard components and subassemblies, there’s little to differentiate one system from another and yet, as we move a little further up the stack and away from the bare metal, industry standard together with open software allow the computer designers a lot of free play when it comes to exploiting the benefits provided by the common architectures. At a time when some industry analysts still question the need for NonStop as they overlook just how modern NonStop has become, up and down these hardware and software stacks, things just fail.

However, as we look out further in to the future at what computer designers are considering building there’s a couple of items that stand out and that, in many ways, play into the hands of NonStop. As previously covered, we are definitely headed towards a software-designed-everything and I have to admit, I am pleased to see the industry headed down this path. But software-designed-everything will lead us to a level of virtualization that many within the NonStop community continue to scratch their heads about – won’t that simply compromise the capacity for NonStop to provide fault tolerance at the highest level?

On the other hand, software-designed-everything coupled with virtualization takes us into the world of self-learning and indeed, eventually, self-healing. Autonomous computing is at hand and for many CIOs, this has become the Holy Grail – whereto the high priced / highly valued systems managers, we will then be asking of ourselves? In times when so many of us are taking a step back from the industry, surely there has to be a demand for our skills as we teach tomorrow’s systems how to learn and heal? Unfortunately, this may not be the case as we head towards a world where a few clever people will lay down the foundations for all systems.

In my discussions with those inside of HP working with software-defined-everything (and no, there’s no product yet so don’t call your HP sales folks just yet), fully virtualized and with the ability to provision for any occasion, what we will see at first is something pretty basic and most likely template based. Given this industry and running this solution, here’s some basic rules to determine when to run an application, where to locate it and give it access to the resources it needs and yes, what to do when something goes wrong. But again, companies building monitoring solutions have already began taking steps along the path to predictability, learning and self-healing. And for good reason – future systems will require a higher level of intelligence to step in at the appropriate time and drive the healing. Completely autonomously and without any operator intervention!

Well, this may fly with some folks in Armonk and along Redwood Shores but for me, even where the computer knows the best time to run an application, the resources the application will require and the steps to take to recover any failed or compromised processes, I would prefer that this was all done initially in kind of a tutorial manner so that after a short period of time, it teaches us rather than dismisses us. Autonomous computer systems will be fine but at some point, it’s still the responsibility of businesses everywhere to know at any point in time what is transpiring on their systems. For NonStop then, this opens the door not only to house the intelligence overarching all that is happening but be the control box for our steering wheel that provides us with the input we need to traverse an increasingly hostile global everything-connected world.

Yes, there is still cause to celebrate good design and as much as the rest of the computer world embraces standards and builds cookie-cutter systems differentiated only on price and perhaps services, NonStop continues to provide value and in a way that is headed in the right direction. NonStop buried within a hypervisor? Why not! NonStop provisioning according to the “availability needs” template / profile? Again, of course! And yes, NonStop as the control box – even as one vendor has begun calling the latest NonStop family, the NonStop X systems, the X Box – allowing us to learn to observe and to step in with all the input needed to steer any desired course.

From the same issue of the same magazine comes the back page article, Driven by Design. Former Vice Chairman of GM and before that, Executive VP at Ford, with just a brief stint at Chrysler long enough, mind you, to bring the Dodge Viper to market. “There aren’t any bad cars anymore. They just don’t exist,” writes Lutz. “The days of seeing a comparison test of four cars where one is the obvious loser are gone, replace by a new age of automotive equality. Reliability, braking, steering, handling, ride, and refinement are all largely on par across automakers and segments. That leaves just one chief differentiator: design.”

Monitoring solutions are only going to get more important over time. But perhaps the attribute that gives these monitoring solutions the option to see it all is that they are running on the box that’s always there, X Box or not. For this to continue, the onus falls on the bevy of designers looking after NonStop systems today and to everyone in the NonStop community, what they do still cannot be replicated – and with that, autonomous computing or otherwise, we truly do have assurances that NonStop has a definitive role to play and I for one, look forward to seeing this role for NonStop eventuate as the designers work to bring us all software-defined-everything!

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