Monday, February 29, 2016

Files, logs, and backups … just keep it all rolling!

It was a wild ride into New Orleans but we had to continue driving – there wasn’t any alternative as commitments had been made. How often do we make plans even today without fully exploring back-up options?

I have covered a lot of distance over the past couple of weeks and with February already drawing to a close these trips have included visits to Las Vegas and New Orleans. What we observed and how we handled the travel have been covered in previous posts, but it’s fair to say, both towns share a couple of things in common. They are entertainment capitals certainly, but they are also living on the edge – gambling is in evidence everywhere you turn.

A history steeped in riverboat gamblers is hard to hide in New Orleans even as the crime bosses inventiveness in Las Vegas too seems to still permeate its streets and yet, there’s a constant stream of visitors to both locations who seem focused on doing nothing other than gambling. And with risk come rewards, but only to a select few and even as we forked over a few dollars there was never any real expectation of winning big at the tables.

Recently I have spent a lot of time digesting much of what constitutes The Machine. While the implications for the NonStop community are still a fair way off, its influence however can be seen already. Just the acknowledgment that NonStop is a software offering and that in the labs NonStop is running in a virtual machine, gives credence to the fact that moves are being made to give enterprises the opportunity to extend the timeline for NonStop well into the future. A future we all know is beginning to rotate around The Machine. The catch phrase all those who attended 2014 HP Discover in Las Vegas heard was hard to miss as according to Martin Fink, EVP and HPE CTO, “all you need to know is that ‘electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store.’”

Paging through the HPE web site, I came across the blog, Behind the Scenes, HPE Labs, where I came across a post published shortly after the announcement of The Machine, The Machine – HP Labs launches a bold new research initiative to transform the future of computing . A couple of sentences from the post caught my attention and without reposting too much from that post, here’s what I liked. “The Machine is a multi-year, multi-faceted program to fundamentally redesign computing to handle the enormous data flows of the future. It aims to reinvent computer architecture from the ground up, enabling a quantum leap in performance and efficiency while lowering costs and improving security.”

This was followed by quotes from Fink’s announcement, “In our photonics research, we’re using light to connect hundreds of racks in a low-latency, 3D fabric. And our work in Memristors points to the development of universal memory – memory that collapses the memory/storage hierarchy by fusing the two functions in one hyper-efficient package.”

The inclusion of Memristors in the announcement of The Machine shouldn’t have come as a surprise in hindsight, as HPE had been working with Memristors for some time albeit without too much success. But the promise of Memristors nevertheless is tantalizing if for no other reason than it changes the game when it comes to memory/storage. In short, there’s no hierarchy any more – all memory is the same and indeed there’s only one type of storage. Memory, as supported by Memristors. And the memory expands almost to infinity – you can now access almost unlimited amounts of memory without any of the latency overhead associated with lower layers of memory in the former storage hierarchy.

As much as The Machine is a game changer and a complete break from computer architectures of the past, should HPE pull off this enormous financial gamble, it will likely start appearing in data centers as soon as late 2019 with partial implementation in the form of The Machine ready operating systems and even processes. Moonshot, anyone? Recall how Fink said, “With Moonshot we’re creating system-on-a-chip packages that combine processors, memory, and connectivity,” so will some of The Machine make its first appearance as options for Moonshot servers? For the NonStop community that typically takes a long time to make changes to its systems, 2019 isn’t all that far away, so it’s the right time to ask questions about how it all will work for them.

How does this affect our understanding of computing? What about files and databases? What about the movement of files and indeed, moving files offsite? Surely, with The Machine there’s no expectation that we will simply rely on one instance of The Machine – good business governance surely dictates we have a second, and indeed potentially more than two sites running The Machine. Furthermore, if you look at the impact Big Data and Data Analytics are already having on transaction processing systems, including NonStop systems, we are still going to be pulling data and files in from other locations, many of which will not be residing on The Machine. Finally, regulatory authorities are still going to need the files even as other institutions mandate key business files are stored off site for many years.

One instance of the impact from The Machine is consideration given to simply replicating to a second instance of The Machine – reading log files, necessary for modern replication products, following the Change Data Capture (CDC) model – certainly it will run fast, but will the database log files really be in memory? Would a log file solely created in memory meet all of our log file requirements? If we elect to connect The Machine to other storage offerings, assuming that The Machine even supports such connectivity, although with the powerful transformation to hybrid infrastructure messages coming from HPE we can expect some relief on this front, so hopefully, the commercialization of The Machine takes this into account.

And what of moving data between The Machine and other systems performing Data Analytics – in theory, columnar databases that we associate with Big Data should have no problem utilizing the massive amounts of memory on The Machine but does all that extraneous and oftentimes unnecessary data need to be on The Machine?

“Rest assured, in the foreseeable future, it’s a safe bet that pulling select information from a volatile database is best handled by looking at the log files created at the time updates are made to the database. CDC has been a process well understood for a long time and has been the vehicle vendors, in the file and database replication business, have relied upon for years,” said Sami Akbay, Cofounder at WebAction, Inc.

“In recent times, this same process is being used to not just replicate files and databases, but as a valuable source to feed to data stream analytics processes, something Striim is now doing," said Akbay. "When you think of all that’s involved in turning petabytes into something meaningful and of use to online transaction processing, then connecting with the source via CDC is the only viable way to view data as it is being born. But will we be looking to do this to logs residing in memory on The Machine? I guess we will just have to wait and see but I am anticipating finding the data we need will be off platform for reasons apart from speed and reduced costs.”

However, Memristors still represent a gamble on the part of HPE and early iterations of The Machine may be introduced without Memristors. As the author of the blog post already referenced noted, The Machine represents “a multi-year, multi-faceted program” where a complete system will likely take time to be introduced  – certainly, The Machine that itself is a hybrid cannot be ruled out. There are certainly many in the NonStop community who will watch patiently from the sidelines for a while and I am expecting few within the NonStop to be early adopters. 

While the full capabilities of a complete The Machine may still be a pipe-dream for many, as Shawn Sabanayagam, Chairman and CEO, Tributary Systems, Inc., suggested recently, HPE faces challenges when it comes to presenting options for logs, files and databases and the best approach for taking backups. “Memory, unlimited or not, is volatile; providing memory, infinite in size and non-volatile (still very hard to envision), off system storage and backup will always have a need and a place, Shawn said. “One cannot archive data in memory – not practical and not possible.” And Shawn could have as easily added, it doesn’t even make sense.

For instance, explained Shawn, “Technology and methodology may change on how backup storage is created and managed but backup storage will not go away.” Among the reasons listed for its continued presence in the data center are the many issues with an all-memory approach. “Volatility, security, longevity, susceptibility to corruption, leakage and data loss,” Shawn suggested. And this was just for starters!

“What we really anticipate with the arrival of The Machine is just one more phase or step needing to be addressed by products, including our Storage Director. We have passed from just moving files to tape; then disk to tape; then it was disk to multiple targets (all policy based by pools of data); then from flash to disk and flash to tape to cloud; now, going forward to a full virtual instance (as in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud - EC2, a web service) running in the cloud with a software defined data center model etc. etc. So the NonStop community can rest assured that this is all just a continuation of the need to satisfy user requirements in a manner best suited to the technology of the day.”

Gambling has been with us through the ages and irrespective of your take on the nature of gambling and whether it’s what we associate with technology corporations, the element of risk definitely applies. Looking out of our hotel window at the mighty Mississippi rolling by, as it has for eons, I couldn't help but observe the timelessness and persistence of nature and contrast it with the often dramatic changes that take place across the IT landscape.  

HPE has placed all of its chips on The Machine and it’s a square that is not the only square on the table. However, it’s also a solution that will be introduced over time where HPE takes incremental baby-steps along the way and where subtle shifts in the priorities of NonStop projects will see NonStop contributing to The Machine.

When it comes to configurations of The Machine capable of replacing current NonStop systems, there will be options, of course, but will they be all that different to what we have today? If I truly was a betting man I would have to say, the more things change the more NonStop may simply look the same!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You have NonStop solutions but who you gonna call!

A chance forced detour out on the highway reminded me of just how important good service is - for the NonStop community there are many options when it comes to service and I suspect there will be even greater demand for services in the future. Think for a moment about Hybrids and NonStop as Software!  

Driving the many miles we do, attending one conference or another, we probably spend more time in car service bays than most. Throw into the mix the need to accommodate extreme temperature changes that living next to the continental divide creates, and the expenses climb steadily through any given year. Seeking the assistance of service managers isn’t restricted to where we live either, as we have been forced, on occasion, to pull into garages all across the western states of America. Service, particularly when it comes to cars, is something Margo and I know a lot about. As much as it really hurts to own up to such familiarity with car service centers across the country, it’s our bank account that tends to suffer.

This post is being written after having just returned from Las Vegas and where in a few days’ time, we head to New Orleans for the ATMIA US Conference 2016, where the theme is “Connecting Consumers and their Money to the ATM.” As the original “cash dispensing machines,” the ATM “remains a convenient and trusted self-service channel.” Last week I was in Las Vegas and Sin City is fueled by cash and you can’t escape the presence of ATMs or for that matter, Bill Breakers, but as for trusted self-service … these days, it’s almost as if service has lost out to products and applications. How often do we hear today that yes, there’s an app for that!

By chance, we learnt of an app provided by the Colorado Department of Transport (CDOT) and we installed the app. Turned out, it was a good thing we did. CDOT was very forthcoming in telling us that the main arterial highway connecting the west to Denver was closed in both directions. A major rock fall had sent boulders crashing onto the highway blocking lanes and causing damage to the roadway.

Turned out we had to follow a 130 mile detour to the south but even as the miles added up, we were thankful for the service being provided by CDOT. While I have written many column inches on products available to the NonStop community I may not have given enough attention to the many services on offer from the same vendors. Nor have I written about vendors we know very well who are thriving today even though they started out providing services long before they brought products to market.

“Our origins are deeply rooted in the services business – the products you see today grew from observations we made while providing services,” recalls OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. For those of us who know Yash well, this comes as no surprise as it was the opportunity to consult with customers worldwide that gave him the impetus to create the modules that eventually led to the creation of OmniPayments.

Likewise, at DataExpress, according to CEO, Billy Whittington, “Our roots are firmly anchored in services. Our technical competence has always been in moving data, whether via IBM products or third party such as NET/MASTER File Transfer or NDM/Connect:Direct, and it was this competence that opened the door to consulting. That’s where we started and how we gained our first customer. Our move into products came about when we saw an opportunity and today, with DataExpress NonStop (DXNS), our services offerings are focused on being complementary to our product offerings.”

Origins, and indeed, roots in services and consulting; an obvious path to gaining the credibility needed to sell products. Not surprisingly, the more I talked to the NonStop vendor community the more this became a recognizable pattern, and for good reason. When you place experienced people in front of real problems and the requirements raised are seen as having universal appeal, the transition to building a tool or a utility or even the foundation for a comprehensive product set, seems the obvious way forward. It’s a characteristic of really smart people that they don’t want to do anything more than once so helping themselves out by developing a tool, utility or product seems an obvious path to follow.

That was many years ago for most of the NonStop vendors I talked to. Times change and now, with so many discussions around transformations, hybrid computers, clouds and the infrastructure that is typically required, most data centers where NonStop systems are present aren’t equipped to install, integrate, and deploy the many tools, utilities and products that are involved. Even the simplest of utilities requires hooks into existing business logic at some point and that requires choices to be made. Not for the faint-hearted is deploying a new product on an operational NonStop system. Services from established vendors are now welcomed by almost everyone in the NonStop community.

“Our success lies in us providing services, particularly into emerging markets, where the primary vendor doesn’t always have the skillsets readily available – our solutions are easy to install but every customer needs help in establishing rules, best practices and even connectivity with their business partners, all of which are well catered for by the staff on hand at OmniPayments,” said Yash. Increasingly, this has become the expectation of enterprises new to NonStop. As the NonStop vendor community look to broaden their presence in different markets, moving out of an original niche and embracing something new becomes less daunting.

“At DataExpress, we are exceptionally strong in the Financial Services market segment but more recently we have turned our attention to Healthcare. We are looking to develop a foothold in this market segment where we anticipate growth coming from our DataExpress Open Platform (DXOP) product,” added Whittington of DataExpress. What DataExpress has experienced from offering services is that even among the biggest banks in America, the need to provide consulting services, sometimes spanning many years, isn’t unusual and for DataExpress, such multi-year opportunities help develop a very strong bond between user and vendor. 

Recently, I was exploring the subject of services with comForte CTO, Thomas Burg. The NonStop community knows all too well of how  comForte’s roots date back to the late 1980’s / early 1990’s where the focus too was on services and custom development for “Tandem” Customers. From that services work sprang the ideas for some of the products we all are very familiar with.I had just completed a post to the comForte blog, The End to Security as an Afterthought: 2016 Trends in which Burg had told me that, “we are driven to provide as many services as we can, with or without our products, as security is such a demanding pursuit. With these latest service deliverables, we consider our main drivers to be providing value to the customer.”

Furthermore, said Burg, providing these services benefits greatly when we tap the skills of others and recently, “We decided to work with Knightcraft. Principal consultant, Greg Swedosh, is someone we have come to appreciate as we know that he has plenty of experience in working in the PCI area. We can benefit, of course, whenever we can complement our current service offerings with even more expertise and Greg brings with him a strong background in Safeguard, general NonStop security and vendor security products.”

Today, the services provided by Burg and his team at comForte can be obtained directly from comForte, whether as part of a product purchase from comForte or independently, even where there are no comForte products present. Leveraging the security expertise of comForte and its associates is a service that will only grow in importance as, when it comes to security, we all need as much help as we can find.

The need for the NonStop community to involve vendors providing services will only increase following recent HPE disclosures of their product roadmaps. HPE Executives have been noticeably vocal about where they are headed and while the information disclosed to date is very encouraging for the NonStop community, many NonStop users will definitely be looking for help from their partners. “Like other vendors within the NonStop community, we are following the HPE announcement for NonStop X and Hybrids and it is our expectation that the need for services from DataExpress will likely grow considerably,” DataExpress’s Whittington told me. “We are prepared to meet that challenge head-on.”

It’s an old saying, but still pertinent all the same. Service can differentiate products – those products where good service is also provided often end up gaining the upper hand in the marketplace. And rightly so; it just makes sense to work with those vendors who can provide services as needed. The NonStop community is well supported by vendors able to provide services and as much as it may be the untold story, should the NonStop community expand in the coming years, as I sense it will, then simply knowing who to call for that expertise will make future growth a whole lot easier. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Back to Vegas … sights firmly set on even more NonStop events!

With road trips about to kick off in earnest, it’s good to be getting out and about among the NonStop community. And the good news is that NonStop is still here, still funded even as it remains highly visible to senior executives within HPE!

Calendars are being reviewed and with a flourish of highlighting pens the first half of 2016 is beginning to take shape. Who says that the NonStop community isn’t active or that there’s little support for user events? Clearly, the first half of the year will be bookended with 2016 HP Discover, but there will be other events including MRTUG (Chicago) and possibly GTUG (Berlin) that are really must-attend occasions. I would have liked to have penciled in SunTUG, as the folks out at Tampa are always fun to be with, but already we have to deal with conflicting dates.

There are also plans firming up for Margo and me to participate in industry association events as well, with the
ATMIA event in New Orleans scheduled for later this month now top of the list. In the past this has attracted numerous NonStop customers as it’s becoming the highlight of the year for many financial institutions and already the list of NonStop users and indeed vendors who will be participating continues to grow – at last count, there are more than 85 exhibitors, including well known NonStop supporters such as Pulse / Discover and Visa. There will be many road trips crisscrossing the country before summer is fully upon us.

On the other hand, putting Colorado snow days behind us is tempting. Digging out from the latest 18” plus snowfall may be good exercise but it’s nothing we want to grow accustomed to. We will be driving to all of these events, GTUG excepted of course; we will be mixing in numerous customer and vendor cafĂ© chats – with Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas and possibly a stop in between is already highlighted in our calendar, if you would like to join us for coffee on any of these dates, let me know. It’s still early and we have considerable flexibility at this time. With the price of gas continuing to head south, going the extra miles isn’t as onerous as it used to be.

We have started packing our bags to be ready to head out later this week as Margo and I are doing our first trip to Las Vegas for 2016. In the past we have organized meetings with clients to coincide with trips to Vegas this time of year. We end up entertaining a lot during HP Discover events so we will be doing a little extra scouting of the restaurants, but clearly,
Mastro Ocean Club, Las Vegas, continues to be at the top of the list and we always manage to entertain parties from HPE at this venue.

If you are as yet not familiar with Mastro then you are really missing out on one of the best fine dining experiences ever, and don’t be fooled by the name, visits to the ocean club are still all about their steaks. It was while we were in Simi Valley that XYPRO’s Scott Uroff first told Margo about the Mastro experience and we have been hooked ever since. In Las Vegas, Mastro is situated in what the locals call the birdcage – a distinctive architectural element within Crystals at City Center.

However, when it comes to the NonStop community the opportunities to get together and to talk, to reminisce, to plan and to compare notes are on the uptick. Whether or not these events include adult beverages and a night on the town isn’t as important as the opportunity to hear firsthand what HPE plans are for NonStop, and if 2015 was any indication of what those plans really are then 2016 can only see more good news install for the NonStop community.

As we have covered in previous posts, we are now facing a richness in NonStop unlike at any other time that I can recall. There are two families of NonStop systems, NonStop i and NonStop X, each with multiple siblings. And then the veil has been pulled away from NonStop as software and even more impressive, consideration of an eventual NonStop as service(s) offering is being openly discussed.

One other event I am particularly looking forward to attending is the partner event HPE NonStop product management is arranging, set for May 24, 2016. If as yet you haven’t seen the advance flyer promoting the NonStop Partner Technical Symposium then reach out to HPE’s Karen Copeland or MOMI’s Kathy Wood.

I can recall back in the late 1980s when the Tandem Alliance program was in full flight how similar gatherings of partners proved to be extremely lively and I have the sense that this year’s event will not be lacking for either enthusiasm or challenges – already, talk around Palo Alto is with consideration being given to the size of the venue, vendors may be limited to just four attendees and that sends a positive message in and of itself.

What I think most vendors will be looking for in terms of updates from HPE NonStop product managers is news on pilots and early-stage testing of YUMA – the new API and services in support of hybrid configurations featuring NonStop and Linux / Windows. Without giving too much of the game away as best as I can tell it looks like the key selling point of NonStop and Linux hybrids is cost savings and not from reducing the size of NonStop, but rather, moving away from proprietary databases such as Oracle. Continuing to let the application remain on Linux while accessing NonStop SQL seems to be attracting users and any opportunity to lessen their financial exposure to Oracle warrants giving NonStop a second look.

But again, I think there’s more here than just offloading the database – in time I believe more than one NonStop vendor will begin offering middleware that extends the mantle of fault tolerance to adjacent systems where reinforcing the persistence message to applications and files not designed to run on NonStop can be considered. Point is, there are a lot of smart folks familiar with the workings of NonStop who will begin to exploit Yuma with hybrids inclusive of NonStop, and in all likelihood, NonStop will remain relevant with future hybrid configurations as it adds value in new and exciting ways.

I can only reiterate that companies that put in motion plans to scale back their dependencies on NonStop systems may have acted prematurely as bottom line, running NonStop SQL on a NonStop X in a hybrid configuration that includes applications running on Linux is much cheaper than running Oracle on a Linux cluster. NonStop SQL continues to impress anyone who takes a closer look – its support of mixed workloads remains unmatched in comparison to alternate offerings.

If you think that statement is a stretch then ask yourself, why is HPE looking at ways to make NonStop SQL as a Service a reality in the mid-term? Possibly as early as the 2018 timeframe? NonStop continues to bring a lot of value to the table and that is clearly substantiated by the turn out at recent user and community events. Maybe there are not as many NonStop supporters prepared to put as many miles on their cars as Margo and I do nor are there as many enterprises running NonStop as there once were.

But the good news is that NonStop is still here, still funded with major investments in NonStop systems ongoing, continues to be a profitable member of the HPE Mission Critical Server portfolio, and probably most important of all, NonStop has visibility all the way up the HPE management chain to the CTO himself, Martin Fink.

I’m not averse to shoveling snow from around the house even though I am now looking for the first signs of spring and the news out of the east according to those well-known rodents is that an early spring is being forecast. With as many road trips as we have planned right now, that is a relief – snow may make the landscape more picturesque than it otherwise deserves, but as February sets in, enough is enough!

Looking forward to catching up with as many of you as we can and yes, NonStop without limits, restrictions or caveats? A real player on today’s IT stage? Absolutely, and for the NonStop community this creates probably as many warm and fuzzy feelings as the first signs of spring.

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