Monday, December 19, 2016

Extremes of weather, locations and systems and yes, NonStop too relishes extremes!

It’s in the very DNA of NonStop – you want extreme availability, scalability and yes extreme performance and now SQL? Then you got it! And NonStop could prove extremely beneficial for you …

Staring out the back window of our family room what greeted me was a chilled landscape. Overnight the temperatures had dropped some 30 to 40 degrees from the day before. The poolside chairs seemed to be looking on forlornly at a pool and spa no longer serving any purpose. For more than 15 years we have come to expect chilly weather, but this year, with the return of that dreaded Polar Vortex, the overnight lows are having us checking the plumbing each morning to ensure pipes haven’t frozen even as we have raised the thermostats setting. What is depicted above is Boulder, Colorado shivering in -2 degrees, Fahrenheit.  

Texting our good friends in southern California brought us little sympathy. Even though they had been out on the coast celebrating a boating festival, when they returned home they felt compelled to remind us why so many people prefer southern California at this time of year. Taken only a few hours later than my own photo the difference couldn’t be more extreme. Palm trees, clear skies and just out of sight, a grill and bar about to be put to good use as “grillin’ time” had arrived. If all goes to plan in a matter of weeks, Margo and I will be joining our friends, poolside, with thoughts of shivering on chilly Boulder mornings all but forgotten.

Temperature extremes, just a thousand miles apart, are something the good citizens of the U.S. grow accustomed to and there are reasons why so many of them have winter homes in the Sunbelt states. It’s also one reason put forward as to why Silicon Valley continues to be the engine of technology, disruption and innovation. It’s a lot easier to step away from your office and walk to a nearby coffee shop when you don’t have to dress like it’s an Arctic expedition. There may be the occasional moisture-laden breeze blowing in through the Santa Cruz cutting but it’s nothing compared to what much of the rest of the country has to endure and the correlation between warmth and creativity cannot be easily discounted. The once mighty technology engine along route 128 circling Boston used to be competitive to Silicon Valley but those days are long gone and I put much of the discontent that arose at companies dotting both sides of that highway, down to Boston’s miserable winters.

Many years ago I predicted Australia’s Gold Coast as having the potential to be a smaller version of Silicon Valley. My premise was based on there being a great climate, a university nearby albeit a private endeavor about which I have heard little since – Bond University. A major metropolis just up the road in Brisbane and of course, there’s the motion picture studios we heard so much about this year given the restrictions the rest of us have to observe when bringing out pet pouches into the country. According to news releases, late in November, 2016, the “The Queensland Government established Defense Industries Queensland to help create a smart, connected and efficient defense sector within the state.”

Unfortunately, even with the key ingredients of a thriving defense industry, a university and really good weather, the article I wrote for Computerworld was among only a few submissions I made that never saw the light of day. As I had written the article while living in Silicon Valley, the only response I received from this publication’s editor echoed much of the sentiment in Australia at the time, “you must be dreaming!” And yet, there is no hiding the growing expectations of many cities across the globe that they too will be the next Silicon Valley. On the other hand Silicon Valley with its universities, warm weather and proximity to multiple government agencies is really more than the sum of the parts and as such is seen today as the engine behind extreme disruptions. 

When it comes to extremes it would be hard to ignore just how extreme NonStop continues to be – after so many decades have passed, extreme availability and indeed extreme scale out, remain the cornerstones of NonStop systems today. From every corner of the globe have come attempts to build systems almost as good as NonStop, but over time, they have all faded into the background. Perhaps the biggest complement being paid to NonStop today is that modern server farms allow individual servers to fail with what constitutes a modern day load-balancing algorithm that redistributes the workload even as transactions come to a halt and data is lost.

I know as I have experienced it many times with the only explanation provided by the site that there has been an error, and, can you start over? Whether it’s an ecommerce transaction or simply posting to a blog, not a week goes by without being informed I have to go back to the start and re-enter because what I had been doing didn’t complete. And yes, the dreaded “unexpected error” message is always heartwarming as it is highly informative. Whenever I mention this to my peers unfamiliar with NonStop the only response I get is that well, get over it. Get back to work!

To say that when working with applications running on NonStop, they keep me working, may be a bit extreme but the sentiment isn’t lost on anyone familiar with NonStop. Perhaps the single most important aspect of NonStop that is so often overlooked is the extent to which NonStop development has gone to ensure backward compatibility. If you wrote if for a NonStop 1, you can still run it today. Try explaining this to your friends submitting to open source projects. And a fully operational mixed workload RDBMS and SQL where maintenance can be performed without taking down the database.

If you missed the post of October 2, 2015,
How many DBAs does it take to change a light-bulb should it not be NonStop? you may recall this quote. “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!” Talk about extreme SQL well, it doesn’t get more extreme than this – show this to your Oracle or SQL Server DBAs and see what conversation then develops. 

Furthermore, as HPE IT embraces NonStop SQL/MX and looks to deploy as a DBaaS, it’s not because they have to as in NonStop SQL/MX is a HPE product, but rather, the advantages that come with NonStop SQL/MX simply make alternatives a nonstarter. Like the majority of stakeholders in the NonStop community, it will be an interesting year ahead for everyone as we watch and wait for more news coming out of HPE IT on this major undertaking and I am sure those of the NonStop community making it to HPE Discover 2017 in Las Vegas will be looking forward to hearing more about this project.

If you want to think more about extremes, just think that HPE acknowledged they had 25,000 databases that they supported. If NonStop SQL/MX reduces this count by 20% or even 30% think of how many licenses to vendors apart from HPE can be retired. But again, this all comes back to the innovation that went into NonStop – looking at every aspect of the full NonStop stack, from the metal to the user interface, to ensure there is no single point of failure with no requirement to ever kill a process. And today with active-active data replication solutions readily available for NonStop two, three, five and more centers can be integrated to the point where even forklift upgrades can be seamlessly accommodated with zero downtime. Extreme? You have to believe it; nothing “steady as you go” or even “middle of the road” when it comes to NonStop.

As a society we are often wary of extremes. When it’s really cold we stay indoors. On the other hand, when it’s particularly conducive to imaginative blue-sky dreaming, oftentimes we find ourselves drawn to such environments. Silicon Valley is extreme. NonStop is extreme. That NonStop was created in Silicon Valley is understandable. Perhaps as NonStop X and vNonStop enter the mainstream a larger proportion of the user community will come to realize that systems don’t have to break and applications don’t have to go down and that service can be provided 24 X 7 without interruption. Extreme? You bet, but then again, shouldn’t technology that we value, as all about us undergoes change, be extreme? Or, am I still just dreaming?       

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