Sunday, November 29, 2015

To profit from business the business must profit!

There’s very little need to introduce this post as the previous post signaled that this would follow – and yes, it’s all about the strategy and vision for NonStop as presented by HPE executives during the 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp.

Last year, at the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp, I wrapped up my presentation on big data and its importance to the NonStop community by quoting race car driver, Rick Mears, when he said “To finish first, you first must finish!” I followed that reference with one of my own, to leverage big data, you first must participate. In other words, before you consider the potential value proposition from what big data has to offer, you need to take a couple of baby steps forward and try integrating with big data.

Now it’s a year later and this message remains as true today as it did back then. But here’s a new variation on that original remark by Rick Mears, to profit from business, the business must first profit. It’s a hard lesson the marketplace provides us all – a business needs to demonstrate its products make money before the business can become profitable and return dividends to stakeholders. For the NonStop community there’s no escaping the reality that the future of a NonStop system hang on by a thread for quite some time as first Compaq, HP  and ultimately, HPE, wrestled with how to return NonStop to profit – for many of us, the fact that Tandem Computers stopped being profitable back in the 1990s escapes us.

In my previous post to this blog, What did I learn from 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp? I included a teaser for this post when I blogged of how, in his keynote presentation, Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told all of us that his marching orders when being promoted to head the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), were “Fix it … or, Exit!”  I then added how Martin said he never really contemplated an exit even as he was given little room to get the business healthy. What I didn’t include was Martin’s follow on comment, “I needed a plan and I needed a strategy.”

What followed was cheat sheet for all future leaders faced with oversight of a business that wasn’t profitable; a guide map that leads to a significant turnaround (of fortunes). Martin called it his seven rules of strategy and right off the bat, as he began to walk us all through the list, it didn’t start with a customer centric focus. Nothing as cute as “Put the Customer First,” or similar, but rather, when it came to rule one it was “Be Selfish!” And here’s where he took control of the audience as he said, “If a company doesn’t make money, all other considerations are not possible.”

Several years ago, at a CTUG event, I was struck by the smile that grew across the face of Randy Meyer, VP and GM, Mission Critical Systems at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, when he told all gathered to hear his keynote of how the NonStop organization had returned to profitability. This I touched on too in the post of May 6, 2014, Step on the gas! where I referred to Randy’s presentation of the previous year, where his energy had been spent on righting the NonStop ship and plugging the leaks – the prognosis at the time was less than appetizing. It seemed, according to Randy, that with every shipment of a NonStop system, HP was losing money and on that basis, it would have been easy for HP to simply walk away.

If being selfish, as Martin admitted, resulted in the righting of the ship and a return to profitability, then many other executives should be just as selfish. But there were more rules of strategy Martin explained. If the first rule of strategy is Be Selfish, then next two rules fall somewhat into place – rule two is “Make a Contribution” followed by rule three, “Observe the Customer.” Martin then explained that for him, “I don’t just want to compete; I don’t just want to win: I want to make a contribution.” Furthermore, “In order to make a strategy, we need to observe your actions.” As opposed to “listening to your customer which is tactical.”

Talk to anyone in customer support or even product management and every community witnesses firsthand how every new widget needs to be supported even as every bug needs to be corrected and these are the most pressing issues of the day. Not! Having an opportunity to count how many x86 systems are arriving on the dock outside a data center can tell you a lot about where IT is headed and I picked up on the groundswell of support for the Plug-Compatible Mainframe (PCM) business when I first read of the plans by Fujitsu in Australia to move out of a small suburban office in Sydney to a very large new building overlooking Sydney Harbor. As they say, something was very much afoot!

Rule four of strategy brought smiles to the faces of everyone in the NonStop community, “Know your Value Proposition.” According to Martin, “I was blessed when I came to NonStop; everyone in NonStop knew the value proposition by heart – Data Integrity, Scalability, Fault Tolerance.” No matter who he talked to in the NonStop community, whether they were developers within his own organization, vendors, or customers, they all said the very same thing and this was a first for Martin. Nowhere else in IT is the value proposition as well understood as it is within the NonStop community. I believe that knowing your value proposition also brings with it incredible focus and an ability to make decisive moves in support of that value proposition, something we all have seen with the arrival of NonStop X.

Rules five and six evolve from rule four. “Understand the Technology at a Very Deep Level” followed by “Structure follows Strategy.”  Understanding technology was behind the decision to move on from ServerNet and embrace InfiniBand even as Martin’s staff at NED, all those years ago, became more and more focused on NonStop as a software offering. The transition from Fault Tolerant hardware offering to a NonStop software solution began with Martin’s promotion to NED. Readers of this blog will know full well of how long I have been writing about this transition and where it’s headed. If Martin revealed much about strategy the other word heard for the first time was vision, and with NonStop as a software solution, it’s time to think of virtualization and of a role for NonStop in a fully virtualized world.

The final rule? When it came to rule seven it was as if we were circling back to the beginning. According to Martin, this rule was “Know Your Business Model” When I heard this it brought back many memories from my childhood school days. I went to an all-boys high school as was the fashion in Sydney at the time, Normanhurst Boys High School. Our school motto was “Know Thyself” and I suspect around the planet, our school wasn’t alone in selecting such a dictum. One explanation of the meaning of Know Thyself I came across in the magazine Psychology Today, suggested that “Personal intelligence opens a privileged window into our own minds as well as into the most byzantine motivations of others.” In short, to be selfish, you need to know what it is you’re being selfish about – and for Martin, the deeper into his presentation he went, the more the audience could see there was no hiding from his enthusiasm for NonStop.

In future posts I am going to cover in more detail the vision for NonStop even as more information on this topic came the following day in the presentation by Andy Bergholz, Director of Engineering, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. As with strategy, expressing publicly a vision can only be done when there is confidence in the future of a product or service and the resounding message coming from this year’s Boot Camp was that NonStop was at the heart of numerous funded projects deep within HPE. A long term vision that has NonStop as a service? And what about NonStop SQL as a service?  There will be additional posts shortly on these topics so watch for them. Yes, truly, we have seen the return to profitability for NonStop and with profitability, all of us who are stakeholders in NonStop will profit from NonStop.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

What did I learn from 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp?

How do the words of a Jimmy Buffett song, a car magazine’s report of the Viper and the message from Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, “Fix it, or Exit” have in common? Only at the NonStop Technical Boot Camp would you make such a connection … 

Sometimes you just know that, at a time when you least expect it, your travels take a detour. Now, having said that, and with winter beginning to make its presence felt, getting hit with an icy, wintery blast shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But hit us rather hard, it did!

In the opening stanzas of the song, Jamaica Mistaica, by Jimmy Buffett there’s a couple of lines that I find appropriate at this time of year:

But every now and then, the dragons come to call
Just when you least expect it you'll be dogin' cannon balls

Having successfully traversed the Sierras and made the passage through Nevada and Utah to pull up the mountains and into Wyoming, well sure enough, we were dodging snowballs as Interstate 80 was closed east of Rawlins effectively cutting us off from any hope of making it home by Saturday night. On the other hand, Sunday morning saw the Interstate open once again, and even with some vehicle restrictions, we made it home in one piece.

However, the thought of “dogin’ cannon balls”, or in our case, snowballs, took me back to where we had been, San Jose, California. The event that occupied our attention for nearly all of last week was the NonStop Technical Boot Camp and there’s always mixed emotions whenever this event comes around.

I remember all too well the ITUG Summits of former times and miss them a lot, but Boot Camp, after an inauspicious reboot a few years ago, has come on strongly these past couple of years so much so that the events are beginning to resemble ITUG Summits of past years. If you had as yet not made up your mind as to whether you would ever return to San Jose for Boot Camp than be concerned no more – plan for it as NonStop is only now beginning to flex its technology muscle in ways many of us thought we would never see again.

Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, gave an enthralling keynote address that was, almost to the day, a decade after he took the reins of the then NonStop Enterprise Division. So, yes there was something celebratory in his presence. What he covered in his keynote I am going to address in my next post to this blog but I want to make sure I did include one point Martin made right from the get-go. 

It now seems that Martin was given very specific marching orders as he accepted the leadership position of NonStop – “Fix it … or, Exit!” Now, there were a few exhaled breaths following this declaration by Martin but immediately after telling us about this directive he then added that he never really contemplated an exit even as he was given little room to get the business healthy. Talk about dodgin’ cannon balls!

Now for a first; in the presentation the following day by NonStop management, talk turned to the NonStop vision with an update as to where NonStop was headed in the coming years. From a possible exit of the market to a comprehensive discussion of a vision for NonStop in just one day” Kudos to a corporation willing to green-light a bright future for NonStop and this wasn’t missed by any of the attendees!

For me it is still very much about what happens in the exhibition hall and for this year’s event a lot of business was transacted around the tables.
The set up of the exhibition floor, with coffee served on a regular basis and the tables used for all meals, there was ample time to talk with vendors. Throw in so many presentations by vendors on topics we all wanted to learn more about – NonStop X migrations, hybrids, new solutions and much more, and you gained a real sense that interest in all things NonStop was beginning to return to a community long on patience, but just a tad short of significant and indeed, cool technology.

My own personal favorites were those pertaining to the arrival of node.js on NonStop and with it, the support of JavaScript. From presentations given by the HPE solutions architect, Keith Moore, to the skinny on what was being provided in the initial release by the developer deeply involved in the port, InfraSoft VP R&D, Dave Finnie, there’s no greater endorsement of the contemporary nature  of the NonStop X family than seeing something as important as Server Side JavaScript becoming available. If you would like to participate in the early release phase of bomBora – the node.js deep port from InfraSoft - contact InfraSoft’s Managing Director, Peter Shell.

And in case you missed it or were unaware of what transpired, in the joint presentation by HPE solutions architects, Keith Moore and Justin Simonds, with some assistance from Alan Charley, set up some sensors that were in the room and where two of these sensors were transmitting – one was sending out current temperature and the other was a button that sent a message out when someone hit the button. The other two were receivers with one displaying the temperature from the first one, and the other would light an LED when someone pressed the button on the other one. So what’s so cool about that? 

According to Simonds, “Well the two transmitters were sending their information to a NonStop X7 at the ATC over MQTT running into Mosca (Node.js, javascript middleware) that wrote it to a Redis keystore database, also running on NonStop and available because of InfaSoft’s bomBora.  (MQTT - formerly MQ Telemetry Transport - is a publish-subscribe based ‘light weight’ messaging protocol for use on top of the TCP/IP protocol. MQTT.js is a client library for the MQTT protocol, written in JavaScript for node.js and the browser.) Redis is a pub/sub database and the two receivers in the room were getting data from this database, not from the sensors in the room.  Pretty dang cool and only available because of node.js!”

Running a close second was the sheer numbers behind the success of OmniPayments. In a presentation, Migrating to OmniPayments, CEO Yash Kapadia (pictured above during the presentation) talked openly of the architecture and modules that make up OmniPayments, but two items clearly resonated with me. If you have ever wondered about the scalability of NonStop, then stop! It’s now a moot point.

At one customer site, the message bus underpinning all OmniPayments products runs across 3,000 CPUs – more than the installed base of NonStop users running BASE24, for instance. The other significant item is the arrival of OmniCloud X where Yash has standardized on NonStop X systems to populate the cloud and if you were wondering about sales of NonStop X systems, then it’s probably a good idea to talk to Yash. He’s installed one of the 7s in his shop, loaded up and shipped out 2 more 3s and has orders in for a couple more 3s – all to brand new users of NonStop!   

High on my list too is the success with the NonStop community WebAction has had with its Striim (pronounced "stream") product. While there are factions within the NonStop community who express concerns over the viability of Big Data Analytics having an impact on NonStop then the initial deployment brings it all back to earth. Imagine having the math to be able to reduce a NS SQL database to a pattern then instantly knowing whether the NS SQL database at a backup site is current or a few seconds or indeed a few minutes behind? And then imagine too heavy penalties for falling behind by too much and simply not knowing it – well, Striim is doing exactly that for one big NonStop user.

With so many new discussions on virtualization springing up around almost every table, I should reference my latest white paper on storage virtualization together with support of both IaaS and PaaS. Written for the team at Tributary Systems, Inc. it is now available and downloadable from their web site under the heading of Storage Director: Avoid the “Lost Ark” with Critical Business Data, I cover the capabilities of TSI’s Storage Director product, which I believe is a big step forward as far as virtualized storage goes.

All things considered – and yes, there were many other presentations given including a couple where I participated (WebAction / Striim and DataExpress) that included support of Big Data and Big Data Analytics – it would have been a very brave NonStop advocate to suggest, only a couple of years ago, that the topics covered at a user event would include contemporary languages, clouds, big data and virtualization. But so much has changed and all of it for the better. NonStop as a software offering coming from HPE shortly, I think we all need to follow the vision for NonStop more closely in the coming months.

A special thanks to folks like HPE's Justin Simonds who co-presented with me on IoT Analytics (IoTA) and DataExpress's Susie Raye who helped me connect the dots between secure file transfer and big data. And watch for promotion of a webinar I am planning on doing featuring what is touched on in this post and much more that is part of an ongoing series of webinars I am doing for the team at IR and check out their web site for more details including how to register.

“Any time you’re feeling depressed about the state of the world today, just remember the Viper ACR exists, that there is actually a functioning corporation out there willing to give the green light to the consumer sale of what is essentially a (street-able) racer.” So wrote a journalist this month in the motoring magazine, Road and Track. Furthermore, “Driving a Viper, like riding an open-piped Harley (Davidson) is to place one’s self outside the influence of anything so stifling as ‘rules.’”

Arriving home from Boot Camp I cannot come up with anything better to describe the “Miracle on Hanover Street” any better as yes, the traditional, dare I add, stifling, rules of servers have been left behind with the availability of NonStop X. HPE has proved many of us wrong, the cannon balls have been dodged and the “Fix it!” plan is working so much so that NonStop now is at the very pinnacle of enterprise server achievements within HPE. Kudos all round and until next year’s Boot Camp, thanks too for all the material you all provided that will work its way into many more posts to come.   

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Time to partner up – NonStop needs you!

“We need to be frugal with how we apply both capital and engineering resources. Given the reality that we’ve got many market segments that today remain very obvious gaps in our portfolio, we need to address those,” important for the NonStop community, who of us would have guessed made this observation?

There are many parallels today between IT and other industries. The novelty of IT being different from any other business has long gone as the CEOs all share similar interests – a responsibility to provide a degree of predictability along with improved returns to each stakeholder. When I first entered IT as a “cadet” – apprenticed, as it were, to a large steelworks to learn the trade of computer programming – the internal EDP department (as it was called), was separate from the rest of the company with the understanding that there was something special about those technicians overseeing data processing.

But no more – as technology is in the driver’s seat for every business; just to stay in business no matter the business, enterprise goals are intimately intertwined with the computer technology. In the November 1, 2015, issue of Fortune magazine, in the cover article, Every Aspect of Your Business is about to Change, it quotes former Cisco CEO, John Chambers. “Soon, you will see huge companies with just two employees – the CEO and the CIO.” As Fortune notes, “It’s crazy except that Chambers has a record of making crazy predictions (like opening your hotel-room door with your smartphone) that eventually come true. 

In another publication I rarely put to one side, I came across a very interesting quote from a senior executive. “While we are part of a titan car company, Cadillac must also earn its keep within the General Motors stable. That’s our agreement. There will be strong investment in the brand, but we need to hit various brand-development milestones, and obviously included in those would be required returns to shareholders. And that also means that we need to be frugal with how we apply both capital and engineering resources. Given the reality that we’ve got many market segments that today remain very obvious gaps in our portfolio, we need to address those.”

The source was the December, 2015, issue of Motor Trend and the executive was Johan de Nysschen, CEO of Cadillac. Considered a “halo product” in the GM product portfolio, Cadillac now depends on its engineering partners whether they be across the shop floor working on other GM products in the portfolio or further down the street at independent companies. In the early days of the auto industry the likes of GM built everything right down to the tires but no more – think not just of tires but wheels and even engines, transmissions, suspensions and brakes. Even the blades on window wipers! Without strategic partnerships, the auto industry couldn’t build affordable cars and this is a message not lost on anyone in IT. Particularly, when it comes to something like NonStop!

However, before I continue further with comparing Cadillac to HPE NonStop systems, it’s only fair to point out that such comparisons can only go so far. Unlike Cadillac, where addressing a market in China versus what  Cadillac needs to do for its American customers can open up gaps in GM’s car portfolio this is not the quite the same situation NonStop faces. For NonStop, opportunities to move the platform into new areas has to be weighed against fulfilling commitments in technology areas that are already funded and are the sole responsibility of NonStop development to address.

And yet, like some ancient poster from war efforts long ago that championed the message, “your country needs you!” so too does NonStop need partners. When new business opportunities arise that align with work already in plan for NonStop then it has always made sense for NonStop development to pursue. However, where opportunities come up that require development in areas not fully funded and where vendors are already involved and perhaps, well advanced with a viable implementation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find the NonStop business forging a partnership with such vendors.  

In my previous post of October 28, 2015, I raised numerous eyebrows even as there were several members of the NonStop community who took the opportunity to chastise me for what appeared to them to be a clear case of letting the side down. Nothing could be further from the truth as the post,
Prepping for what's to come ... new HPE, upgraded Boot Camp, and more NonStop X!  was all about choice and of having an opportunity to exploit a new hybrid option to better take advantage of inherent needs of any given solution. Can everything run on NonStop? Absolutely! But increasingly today, does it all have to run on NonStop? Not exactly!

I upset supporters of Java even as I noted the shortcomings of NonStop when it comes to running Java and yes, I could have thrown SQL into the mix as well. It wasn’t my intention to go down that path but rather, I wanted to highlight how wide the net is being cast to attract partners to work with NonStop development to address opportunities as they arise. While it is true that NonStop development is fully funded when it comes to further development of Java and SQL, both areas continue to see new opportunities materialize so much so that there are plenty of opportunities for vendors to augment the work NonStop development is doing.

When you attend NonStop product presentations, seeing just how many partners are involved in addressing these opportunities in both the hardware and software areas is quite impressive. Security? Check – have a couple of partners. Monitoring? Check, again. Virtual Tape? Check, as well! Data replication and integration? Of course, strong partnerships have emerged such that the comparison to Cadillac may not be as unfair as first stated. 

With the key focus areas of HPE being Security, Mobility, Big Data and Clouds – when it comes to NonStop, partners will be involved once again. It’s the “need to be frugal with how we apply both capital and engineering resources.” At the last CTUG user event I attended, which unfortunately was a year ago, being judicious about what was tasked to NonStop development was made patently clear by Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Servers at Hewlett-Packard, Randy Meyer.

And for good reason, NonStop was now just one of a number of product lines in the portfolio he was managing under the banner of mission critical servers. So no, NonStop development cannot do it all and the ecosystems of middleware and solutions vendors are becoming the go to folks for everything from “tires, wheels and even engines, transmissions, suspensions and brakes.”

There will be those members of the NonStop user community who would prefer to buy everything from HPE and there are reasons for that. Larger users want to be able to add leverage with HPE through the sum of all purchases whereas smaller users want to have a simplified contractual process. Good reasons, and very understandable, and to this end NonStop product management has been very diligent about ensuring a selection of products are available right off the price book and this is proving beneficial to all parties.

Almost all of my clients are in the situation where partner products can be bought through HP NonStop sales.  I see the potential for even more vendors being included as this is just a normal progression for NonStop business and as we see in every other industry, think of parts of the NonStop organization becoming not just the retailers but the wholesalers as well for all things NonStop.

What I like most with this ongoing trend is the confidence it breeds among vendors. Combine that with a higher degree of assurance customers will develop given their ability to pick and choose from a bigger list of options on offer from HPE, and cycles will develop. With better opportunities to sell more products, these now-confident vendors will develop even more products, all on their own dime.

The word “ecosystem” falls in and out of favor with the media but its meaning isn’t lost on anyone – I sometimes wonder if those pushing back on the word simply don’t enjoy the benefits of having an ecosystem of their own. There’s no downside, in my opinion, to NonStop enjoying all the benefits from having its own, financially strong, ecosystem in support of NonStop systems.

The very positive byproduct from having an ecosystem of vendors supporting NonStop is that cooperation develops where there is less and less overlap between what NonStop development groups provide versus what is on offer from the vendor community. When it comes to NonStop development, there’s simply too much to do to invest funds in the pursuit of opportunities where a partner solution may already exist.

Again, it would be hard to miss during any product roadmap presentation of late that it is the strategy of NonStop development to focus on the work they alone can do and what we have seen with the work undertaken to modify the operating system in support of the Intel x86 architecture is just the most recent example of NonStop executing on this strategy.

It may appear that NonStop will always face challenging times, as it faces opportunities in different market segments, but that’s only part of the story. Demonstrating that they can make money from working with the NonStop business will surely attract other vendors to the market and that’s a good thing for everyone in the NonStop community. It is the mission of the NonStop business to ensure that NonStop systems are meeting the expectations of customers and prospects alike, delivering NonStop systems that have the attributes required of them for the market it serves. Leaving opportunities to be addressed by experienced vendors represents a degree of maturity long in the making and fueling an emerging ecosystem the way it is now doing, is a credit to NonStop management.

All the more reason, of course, to make it to the upcoming NonStop Technical Boot Camp in San Jose – it’s only a week or so away. Be on the lookout for vendors as you may be surprised just how many are participating and yes, of course, watch for the product presentations. You may just be pleasantly surprised to find that one of your favorite middleware, tools or even solutions vendor now has a place reserved for one or more of its products on the HPE portfolio – a partnership that has no downside for any member of the NonStop user community.   

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