Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Prepping for what's to come ... new HPE, upgraded Boot Camp, and more NonStop X!

Welcome to the “Idea Economy” and here’s a big idea! NonStop helps the enterprise with the transition even as the NonStop community makes the preparations for greater participation …   

This week it was all about getting ready for the arrival of winter. If you live in America and you have seen the weather maps you will know that, starting Wednesday of last week, snow has been falling across the continental divide with some places, such as Wolf Creek Pass, getting more than 20” plus of snow in one 24 hours period. If you are into skiing, and I am sure many of you are, the resorts are capitalizing on the ground chilling and snow making machines are working around the clock. Just a week ago business took us to Beaver Creek where we spent the night – and there wasn’t a snowflake in sight, as the picture of Margo here highlights. But almost as if right on cue, one week later there’s the first blanket of snow clearly visible wrapping itself around the nearby peaks. Winter is coming!

With October drawing to a close and the first snowfall in evidence, it was also a time to check the condition of the tires on the vehicles we rely upon for winter. Adding a front wheel drive Mini to the mix certainly will help our short trips around town and it came with new all-season tires which should suffice. As for the AWD Jeep, that was another story and it took all of five minutes to realize new tires were in order so on went a set of all-season tires as well. We have chains as well, as all-season tires have their limitations – one day I am going to have to do a dry run of sorts and take the chains out of the bag – and it’s only a matter of a few short weeks before we make the drive across the Rockies and the Sierras to participate in the annual NonStop Technical Boot Camp.

It is probably a good time to talk about other preparations under way. Yes, Boot Camp is on the minds of many of us as the date for submission of presentations has closed and the agenda is now rapidly being finalized. This year add one more member benefit to the program in case you missed it – on Monday night there will be a late night reception for all those attendees returning from their numerous vendor sponsored dinners. The details are pretty much being sorted out as this reception is being sponsored by OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. It’s recognition that in previous years, following these usually well-attended vendor dinners, there wasn’t any place to go to end the night other than the bar and at the Fairmont, this isn’t always the ideal place for a group to congregate. Yash’s reception will run from 9:00 pm till midnight so even the tardiest of stragglers should be able to make it. As for me, this is an upgrade to Boot Camp and that one I am going to support, with vigor!

I wrote a couple of posts these past few weeks that have highlighted anniversaries we’ve celebrated. This blog has passed another milestone and yes, our company Pyalla Technologies celebrated being in business for one more year. But perhaps what’s most important of all for the NonStop community is that this is the last post from me where HP still exists – when the next post is published, we will have the separate HP Enterprise and HP Inc. up and running. And I have to believe there will be a huge sigh of relief coming from all those at HP who have been involved in making the split a reality. Perhaps there will be a number of HPE folks involved with the split at Boot Camp and perhaps too they will find their way to Yash’s reception as they may find themselves wanting to support it every bit as vigorously as I will be doing!

There are a couple of technologies and programs worth watching as the strategy of HPE unfolds. For those who may have missed other posts of mine to vendor blogs, I found the
cover story of the Fall 2015 issue of Connect Converge (C2) very informative. An interview with Sue Barsamian, Senior Vice President and General Manager, HP Enterprise Security Products, is featured and it’s hard to miss her main points even as you can’t miss the initial highlighted quote right at the very start of the story, “A company’s most prized assets are their people, applications and data. The interactions between these parties are increasingly difficult to protect because they often go beyond the traditional perimeter.” Now the rest of the story features her take on security which is well worth reading but as she introduces the topic of security, she covers some of the strategic goals for the new HPE.

“Our strategy is comprised of four key areas that represent what we believe are the most significant transformations companies must execute to bridge from traditional IT to a new world where you can turn ideas into business value faster than at any time in history,” Barsamian tells the interviewer form C2. And how were these four key strategies identified? Well, turns out that they all add weight to expediting the transition to what HPE is calling the “Idea Economy” which, according to Barsamian, is the “environment in which ubiquitous access to technology and digital connections provides the opportunity to turn ideas into business value faster than at any time in history.”

Barsamian then notes that a HPE defines these four areas as being:
Transform to a hybrid infrastructure to power the apps that run your business
Protect your digital enterprise
Empower a data-driven organization
Enable workplace productivity and superior customer experiences
Topping the list is my own personal favorite, the transformation all of industry is talking about, that being a transformation to a hybrid infrastructure. And it’s not just slideware or simply market-speak.

Even IBM is preaching hybrids and indeed, in a recent presentation I saw, IBM now talks about “Systems of Record” and “Systems of Engagement”, separated by a firewall, of course, but where there’s “continuous feedback and improvement” between engagement and record – yes, it’s a hybrid where mobile, for instance interfaces with the systems of engagement whereas the database is part of the system of record – and no kidding? You will need an IBM System z to be the system of record whereas an IBM Power System (System p, most likely) for the system of engagement – follow? Could you work with just a single mainframe running as a hybrid with z/OS and zLinux? As soon as you virtualize the firewall, then certainly.

But definitely, transforming to a hybrid system, whether it’s from HPE or IBM or whoever else elects to get with the program, tops the list of HPE’s four key areas. And for good cause – we have gone way past the days where general purpose computers did it all. Optimization continues to be the phrase most vendors associate with the transformation to hybrid systems. This is simply short hand for saying that different processes can be best supported by processors designed for their optimal operation – think horses for courses, naturally. As everyone in the NonStop community has come to recognize it’s not that easy to port a Unix application to NonStop even with the OSS personality pretty much up to par with the Guardian personality.

Java still has issues and unless you really want to dig into the code, move stuff around and even rewrite select routines, it has it’s issues – sure, on NonStop X it now runs fast but not as fast as on other systems. So let it run on the part of the hybrid that’s optimized to support Java. “Nothing more to talk about here – move along,” so it seems we hear daily from news feeds around the world. Then again, I am pretty chuffed to see the effort put into bringing support of JavaScript – totally unrelated to Java, but that’s another story – where the dependency on that bugaboo of all NonStop systems, heavy kernel level threading, no longer is an issue. Yes, if you have separated your systems of engagement from your systems of record, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a common programming language available on both sides of any wall?

It is against this background of HPE now focused on “helping customers transform to the new economy” that the news came out just a few days ago that HPE will be backing away from offering public cloud support, preferring instead to focus on private and potentially managed clouds. This makes a whole lot of sense – Microsoft and Amazon own the lion’s share of this marketplace and in reality, this horse has definitely bolted from the barn and, for all intents and purposes, is a solution uncatchable by others. This for many in the NonStop community represents a wise choice on the part of HPE and brings the discussion back to hybrids – clearly, NonStop as the system of record and a private cloud for the system of engagement recognizing all too well that when interfacing with consumers and clients alike, there’s no reckoning with how much processing power will be needed by individual processes such that the elasticity clouds provides will be a further boon for the enterprise.

So for now, it is all about preparation. As a community, do NonStop users have a plan for what runs where? In any movement from proprietary, legacy and just plain old custom code, to a hybrid infrastructure in our pursue of the idea economy, the latest NonStop X systems bring with them many obvious benefits – it’s open, industry standard, x86 / InfiniBand – do we know where to split? Does our investment in Pathway over the years that has given us “knowledge of the HP NonStop server requester-server concept” now provide us with an edge over other architectures? Of course this comes down to how good an API NonStop development delivers, as part of the YUMA Project, together with our own enthusiasm to explore each and every opportunity that we come across, but the pieces are all there - in fact, think of this as part of the preparation for a new beginning for NonStop!

With Yash providing a nightcap for all participants at this year’s Boot Camp, together with the previous night’s traditional Beer Bust, there will be more than enough occasions to talk about this over adult beverages and a couple of coasters and I am sure that this will happen even if there was no stimulus provided. NonStop is right there – past important crossroads and on a widening path to broader industry acceptance. It’s a critical system in the portfolio of products to be sold to enterprises by HPE – again, have we begun to prepare for our business to participate in the idea economy? See you at Boot Camp in just a few weeks’ time …

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Still talking; still writing; most importantly, still here!

What will NonStop look like in the future? Worth discussing of course but what NonStop can do right now is very impressive. When it comes to hybrids, being cloud-ready and indeed, virtualization a closer look at NonStop may surprise you …

The other week I attended MATUG – the opening welcome address pictured above - and it was well attended and full of energy. However, this week I had time to recall some pretty bleak days of about the same time, late 2009. While sitting in my favorite Simi Valley Starbucks the news came of the passing of my father.

Members of the ITUG board had the opportunity of meeting my father shortly before I became Chairman of this organization as our home was a popular venue for board meetings as well as gatherings of the executive team. Other members of the community may also have encountered him – back in Sydney there was more than one Tandem employee who took advantage of the services he provided, be it picking up folks from a railway station or simply fetching a good bottle of red wine which he was known to enjoy later in life. Reminiscing about my father’s passing was something I covered in the post of August 30, 2011,
Stories we could tell …

Year 2009 was also the year GoldenGate was acquired by Oracle and a short time before Oracle launched into its bloody battle with HP over Itanium, the upshot being that all involved with UNIX, Oracle included, watched a rapid downward spiral in interest in all things UNIX. Today, the UNIX business is only a shadow of its former self and as all participating at the recent MATUG event heard, with the emergence of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), there’s good news for the NonStop community. Avoiding such labels as old, proprietary, or even legacy HPE grouped its current mix of products under the heading of Continued Innovation. Included in this group were HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop. However, looking ahead at what will be participating in the HPE product portfolio going forward, under the heading of Transformational Advancement, all present at MATUG saw just Linux, Windows and NonStop listed – no more UNIX and no more OpenVMS. How times have changed, and fast!

Perhaps the highlight for me was that in October of 2009 I started my own company focused on consulting, research with some analysis, and writing; Pyalla Technologies, LLC. I continue to be asked about Pyalla and what it means, but it’s really all very simply. Pyalla is an Australian Aboriginal word for “to talk”. And just like that, six years have passed by and the best part? I continue to really enjoy what I am doing – perhaps this small business thing isn’t such a bad gig after all! It was with some trepidation, I have to admit, that I wrote in that first post of October, 2009, Let's talk ...  of how this was to be the beginning of a new phase, a change of seasons, of adjustments better aligned with what I really like to do, and yes, even back then, I had to admit that it’s a new world even as I acknowledged that I was having a lot of fun – fortunately, creativity and enthusiasm are still in great demand and I just love to talk!

They say the first year of business is the hardest and should you survive, you will be fine. What they never say is that the first five years are even harder, or that with each passing year it gets even harder.  Having elected to focus on the NonStop community I may have limited my business model, but here’s the deal. Looking ahead at where NonStop is headed I am getting the sense that limits of the past may be falling away and that my decision to stay focused on NonStop knows no boundaries. Yes, I am part of the enterprise community and that’s where the most dramatic technology changes will occur. Over the course of the next four years, to when I will be celebrating ten years of being in business, can we guess what the NonStop will look like? And which market segments NonStop dominates?

How about looking nothing like it does today, even as HPE will be only too happy to supply you with NonStop systems no different from the familiar ones of today, even as their presence in market segments will continue to grow? New languages, new tools and frameworks, new plug and play integration, all using common industry standard components and underpinned with tried and true familiar attributes of NonStop. Solutions that can be easily “dropped in” on any NonStop system, and yes, newfound desire within HPE to “seed NonStop” within other projects and platforms – I expect that in another six years’ time, we will see a vastly different world of NonStop.

How so? It would be easy for me to look well beyond my headlights and try to describe the shadowy shapes that I see in the murkiness well beyond the illumination my headlights provide, but it wouldn’t be of that much value to those making decisions today. However, having said that, I do foresee a time when NonStop is a part of other platforms and solutions making up HPE’s product portfolio. Wouldn’t we all like to see the defining attributes of NonStop leveraged more broadly by HPE – with an uptick demand for the skills we all share when it comes to building products for NonStop?

In the near term, what is shining brightly in my headlights is the upcoming hybrid support for NonStop. That is, NonStop participating as part of mixed system configurations such that a common chassis will house NonStop X blades along with Linux and even Windows. The work being done by development as part of the Yuma project – the provision of an API in support of accessing adjacent systems in the common chassis – has reached the point where there are a handful of important partners participating in a PoC, but talk of hybrids also brings with it discussions about NonStop being cloud ready and I have to admit, NonStop having a hand in cloud support, and in so doing adding additional security and robustness to the cloud, is a tantalizing vision shared by many in the NonStop community.

It would be remiss of me, however, to consider hybrids and cloud-readiness without providing some commentary on virtualization as the more we see in our headlights the more we realize that there’s a need for a virtualization story. It may come as a surprise to many when they see the latest NonStop roadmap presentations that includes the slide, Fully-Virtualized Integrated Stack. It may also come as a surprise that in Pathway today, NonStop has a process virtual machine already sharing many of the same properties as a language-specific virtual machine. But of course, the presence of the more popular system virtual machine, such as many of us are familiar with in IBM’s z/VM and EMC’s VMware, has as yet not shown itself to the NonStop community. Here the image begins to fade back into the night but even so, I am convinced that when it comes to NonStop, it will not be left out of future discussions on virtualization. 

Don’t get me wrong, for as far as I can see into the remainder of the decade, the NonStop community will still have a choice of NonStop systems from both, the i and X families. But again, in a very brief exchange with Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Servers at Hewlett-Packard, Randy Meyer, he reiterated that indeed, there’s a lot NonStop can do around hybrid, cloud-ready and virtualization. With Randy sharing the stage with HP EVP and CTO, Martin Fink, consider this just one more plug for the upcoming NonStop Technical Boot Camp in San Jose this November. In the meantime, there’s more writing I need to do, even as I remain as enthusiastic as always about all things NonStop!

Yahoo News just wrote of how Americans shift away from traditional jobs: study. “More than 42 million Americans are part of the independent workforce, representing a shift away from traditional jobs as more people join sectors such as the ‘on-demand’ economy,” says Yahoo reporter, Rob Lever. Here it is again, the “on demand” economy. By this, Lever notes, “The study by MBO Partners covers a variety of professions, but a growing portion of those are made up of young workers taking "gigs" with startups.” Gene Zaino (founder and chief executive of MBO) is reported to have said, "The independent workforce is thriving, and we're predicting that it will expand at more than five times the rate of the overall hiring growth in the United States in the next five years."

Perhaps my taking up this gig as Pyalla isn’t so strange, after all. Perhaps it’s not just about having fun as much as it’s about taking a giant leap of faith and joining the on demand economy that is gaining as much attention as it is these days. Irrespective of your own assessments of the work I have done, these past six years the initial message I received from Randy Meyer still resonates strongly with – it’s all about generating more ink for NonStop and there’s little to detract from how I have kept that message front and center in all that I do. So yes, here’s to the next six years and as always, I really enjoy the feedback you provide and I suspect on this occasion, there will be little to restrain any of you from passing a comment or two.

Friday, October 2, 2015

How many DBAs does it take to change a light-bulb should it not be NonStop?

Taking a look at street signs may not be the best way to tell in which direction you are headed but on the other hand, NonStop roadmaps contain strong signage as to what is coming next …

Standing at the intersection of Confidence Drive and 100 Year Party Court, I knew I was back in Boulder County. It’s nearby our home and a place we routinely visit for early morning muffins and bagels.  Apart from having a good dose of confidence it would be presumptive for most of us to suggest that they could keep any party kicking along for a hundred years and yet, after some forty plus years in the marketplace, NonStop is doing just fine and might even make that anniversary. Irrespective of that possibility it did get me thinking this week about what all is involved in ensuring something just keeps on going – just like the famous Energizer Batteries in the television commercials.

No matter the month or even the year, picking up on this theme, it seems as though I can never escape routine maintenance. Whether it’s a car needing new tires, the outside BBQ needing a thorough clean (as fall approaches) or changing light bulbs inside the house! I just finished pulling out the old bulbs and replacing with newer, more eco-friendly variety, and once I started I was surprised at just how many light bulbs had failed over the summer. Then again, I was reminded that maintenance is never a one-time shot as no one has ever suggested that any apparatus only ever needs to be looked at just once.

Since time immemorial, data centers have been subject to regular maintenance. At first, it was simply a case of cleaning the card reader and removing paper dust from the printers. Part of any service agreement for a major system included scheduled down time for maintenance for which enterprises paid a small fortune to ensure was performed regularly and to a plan. But can we safely ignore some tasks today and save the money? Surely, just rip out the server that’s failed and replace it with a new one – what’s the point of spending time trying to fix a computer that is little more than a board? Has the price of industry-standard components dropped to the point where we really do enjoy the luxury of having disposable systems?

Just recently I attended the MATUG user group meeting in Herndon, Virginia. This was held on the HP property that is located on EDS Drive, close by Washington D.C.s Dulles airport. Even though our navigation system couldn’t help but call the thoroughfare Ed’s Drive, nevertheless, we were reminded how times change and how street names once thought impervious to change harken back to former glory days. Nearby where we live, here in Boulder, CO, are the former premises of the once mighty Storage Technology and while the buildings were all demolished a while ago, off the arterial highway that now takes you to a shopping mall there are sign posts for both Disk Drive and Tape Drive that lead nowhere at all.

HP Product Manager, Mark Pollans, did an excellent job of reviewing the NonStop product roadmap and while he had the audience literally “Oohing” and “Ahhing” on a regular basis, one item did catch my attention. I know I have heard reference made to it in the past, but for some reason this time it had me thinking. When it came to supporting Solid State Disks (SSDs), that are essentially extensions to the thumb drive technology we all have come to depend upon of late, it wasn’t a straightforward task for the engineers at HP.

The problem is that they just wear out. Just when you least expect it, they're not going to let you write anything more. Who knew; makes me take a second glance at all the thumb drives I have stashed in a side draw of my desk that each carries a different PowerPoint presentation. The wear out monitor is a feature of the drive and it is externalized via Open System Management (OSM); it is OSM that will alert you as an SSD is getting close to wearing out – giving customers ample time to replace the drive.

But here’s the thing, as I understood it from Mark, when it comes to the HP NonStop systems using SSDs, there’s now new capabilities incorporated into the drive that provide feedback on just how long they can be used so that monitoring software can graph the potential failure time so enterprises will not be caught out by surprise.

Vendors working in the application monitoring space are also aware of this property of SSDs on NonStop and assure me that they have this base well and truly covered. All sounds rather simple when you think about it – letting us know when you can no longer write data to an SSD - but no, seems that bringing this to our attention (as it is about to happen) was a requirement of the HP NonStop team.  Ooh! And yes, Ahh!

And this cuts to the very core of why we have faith in the NonStop engineering team. Not for them is an easy path, but rather, tackling every problem from the perspective of the user and not just individual items in isolation, but how they impact the total operation of a NonStop system. I am often told of just how good the hardware has become and I am being questioned about the continuing relevance of NonStop.

To many folks, it’s once again a case of thinking that good enough is well, yes, good enough. But it isn’t and it’s proven time and time again in the real world. Outages hurt and there’s no ducking the issue and yes, planned outages hurt every bit as much as unplanned outages – I still become highly agitated when my online banking application tells me that it will be down for maintenance Sunday between the hours of 4:00pm and midnight. What the heck is that all about … But now, for users of NonStop systems with SSDs it’s safe to run even the most accessed NonStop SQL (NS SQL) tables on the latest in SSD offerings from HP.

When the NonStop developers first started discussing the need to provide an SQL database on NonStop one of the most important properties covered was how to keep SQL up and running even during times of maintenance? As I am so often reminded, the very nature of SQL and the relational database manager supporting it, database administrators (DBAs) need to run certain utilities that check out just how fragmented the database has become and then, after gathering statistics, and then perform routine maintenance. All the while, the database is offline as with all other popular SQL implementations, you have to take down the database and have some other option for handling queries that may continue arriving at the application.

Several years ago I wrote a research note on NS SQL for HP (that is no longer available on the HP web site, but can be provided upon request), and the fact that NS SQL was a part of the “integrated HW, SW and OS stack” simplified NS SQL in ways other implementation simply couldn’t emulate. In that research note I made the observation of how, from the server’s hardware and disk storage subsystems to the operating system itself, on up through the platforms low-level access methods and audit, logging and recovery features, at every turn the DBA faces compromises and trade-offs when it comes to tuning an SQL database.

Whether it’s simple maintenance or more complex modeling to cater for growth; trouble-shooting because of user input errors and unexpected resource locks; monitoring performance, running statistics, and updating query plans, there’s no let-up in the demand it places on DBAs. Perhaps central to what drives much of the activity of the DBA is the underlying problem that the SQL database instance is but one of many technology “layers” the DBA needs to be aware of. Even with the tools on offer today, there’s still much that simply relies on the judgment calls of skilled DBAs.

“I think ease-of-management is a valid argument,” said Sami Akbay, formerly VP of Marketing, GoldenGate Software, and now Cofounder and EVP of Striim (Nee WebAction). “Having fewer systems instead of ‘fragmented’ infrastructure is something that favors the NonStop SQL offerings!” Just as importantly and highly valued by DBAs supporting NS SQL/MX is the ability to run mixed workloads as a byproduct of this tight integration without, for instance, competing resource management schemes. “We update statistics and query plans on a monthly basis, for most objects and we do it on the fly!” Rob Lesan, formerly of AOL and now part of the vendor community, confirmed all of the above before adding “maintenance? Truly, we run reorgs, statistics, splits, column adds, etc. all without taking anything down. It’s the NonStop fundamentals!”

Of all the attributes of NS SQL that I know the NonStop community value most of all is that there’s no need to break for routine maintenance – it all can be done on the fly while the database is being accessed by NS SQL applications anywhere in the network. Ooh! And yes, again, Ahh! Try that out with Oracle or even SQL Server without resorting to complicated cluster options together with background data replication in place, all glued together with complex scripts demanding a whole lot of operator attention. Gee whiz, hope nothing breaks right now! Of course, the answer to the question of just how many DBAs do you need when not running on NonStop becomes a sore point for enterprises. 

SSDs that degrade with warnings and SQL that doesn’t have to be shut down all help reduce the maintenance load expected of NonStop systems and this is proving to be a major consideration going forward. If you want to enjoy that 100 year party you need to look very seriously at all that NonStop offers and yes, have the confidence to promote internally! No, when it really matters most, NS SQL, and the integrated stack it is part of, remains unmatched in terms of underlying technology than any competitor’s offering and for this, the community can sit back and exhale – ooh! Ahh!

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...