Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On the move …

A temporary change of residence is a reminder that oftentimes situations develop that necessitates a move. Given how HPE executives have identified three pillars supporting their strategy – hybrid IT, the intelligent edge and services, NonStop too is on the move and hybrid IT is its target!  

We pulled the company command center out of storage for a smog test – yes, these diesel pushers still need to pass the same smog regulations as cars do, but you have to take them to a special testing facility capable of handling the biggest of transportation rigs. There are lots of places that smog test cars, but only a few equipped to handle an RV. The RV did pass its smog test and is now all good to go for the next two years – hard to believe but 2017 will be the sixth summer we have ventured out onto America’s highways. For Margo and me, the picture above is also a reminder of where we once lived as the RV is parked alongside our former home in Boulder that is barely visible through the trees. Yes we have become temporary tenants in our former Niwot home.

It is common knowledge among many in the NonStop community that we are on the move – figuratively and literally. We have rolled the dice and are having another house built but as it turns out, there is a month or so where we will be homeless. You guessed it; we will be making the company command center our place of residence.  For the NonStop community, it wouldn’t take much to initiate a conversation about NonStop being on the move. After a lengthy period of simply holding onto its market and making sure the requirements of a core group of customers were being met the potential for NonStop to return to the mainstream and to be a force to reckon with is tantalizingly close at hand.

Could we see a real resurgence of NonStop and could enterprises begin valuing the NonStop attributes as highly as everyone in the NonStop community has been for decades? After all, no business likes to live through outages and no service provider, no matter how big they may be, can really dance around leaving their users floundering high and dry without and compute capabilities. The most recent outage at Amazon, and their S3 data storage offering, being the latest example of a major corporate embarrassment!

According to the data coming from the NonStop team, shipments of NonStop X systems are beginning to roll. The NonStop i family of systems – those Itanium based – may have held down the fort a little longer than some of us anticipated, but with 2017 the NonStop X family is on the ascendency and why not? With the last vestiges of proprietary components and packaging gone – it’s just an assembly of Intel x86 servers with InfiniBand interconnect fabric – the price/performance metrics reflect the reality that HPE has never before made a NonStop system this powerful, and for a lot less money.

As a user you still have to negotiate of course – wait for the last day of the quarter / year, naturally – but there are deals to be done and savings to be made. And this all leads to new applications being considered for NonStop. As one vendor told me late last year, there was so much headroom remaining on the NonStop X system that his company migrated two applications from Unix back onto NonStop and I am hoping to hear even more about situations like this as the year unwinds.

NonStop is on the move in other ways as well. It’s been almost two years now since we first heard of vNonStop, or more correctly, Virtualized NonStop (VNS). I understand from HPE that the primary driver for VNS was the telco industry following its collective move to Network Function Virtualization (NFV) – with NFV, any telco function “may consist of one or more virtual machines running different software and processes, on top of standard high-volume servers, switches and storage devices, or even cloud computing infrastructure, instead of having custom hardware appliances for each network function.” In hindsight, perhaps HPE had no other option than to pursue VNS for the telco marketplace but the upside here for the NonStop community is that yes, we now do have VNS.

VNS is no panacea. There’s a big price to be paid for running virtual – talk to anyone who first experienced VM on IBM Mainframes back in the 1970s. There’s also an issue of supported hypervisors and unless you are really into OpenStack, the real commercially-viable VNS solution may have to wait until VMware is supported. Even when VMware is supported, there is still the issue of the hardware itself. True, it only needs commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), hardware but ultimately, the HPE NonStop team may be in a position to provide cheap x86 servers and all the associated switches and connectivity capabilities for less than it might take an enterprise to assemble a working cluster of x86 servers themselves. So the HPE NonStop team will not be entirely out of the systems game, no matter which way you cut and dice the offerings.

Where the move to VNS may develop traction and prove to be a financially-sound alternative is where an enterprise has already populated a private cloud with x86 servers. Those enterprises having container loads of x86 servers delivered to their loading docks will likely not be paying very much for their hundredth plus 2 or more x86 servers. On that scale, and with that degree of leverage that they might wield, those 2 or more x86 servers may essentially come for free – thrown in as a deal sweetener. No matter, the point is where private clouds begin being populated by racks of low-cost x86 servers, firing up VNS atop VMware may prove to be a cost-effective solution for some of the biggest users of NonStop. Think of VNS as taking advantage of the white-space often found in x86 server farms of this size.

And what would we find running on VNS is these situations? Here the moves by HPE IT tell an interesting story. By now the NonStop community should be very familiar with how HPE’s own IT is testing VNS supporting NS SQL/MX as a potential DBaaS offering and this makes a whole lot of sense for two reasons. It helps reduce the count of databases reported as being supported today – some 25,000 database instances – as it adds to the story of HPE using its own products. Within Silicon Valley the mantra “eating one’s own dogfood” still carries weight, even among the most jaded of investors.

What I have written here should be familiar to every reader. We have been watching NonStop on the move for a couple of years now and it is occupying center stage within the Mission Critical Systems product portfolio.  The only real question remaining for HPE – will the company finally go all-in on NonStop? Will HPE put its marketing muscle behind NonStop and will the NonStop team move heaven and earth to make sure NonStop truly participates in hybrid IT – one of the three pillars supporting HPE’s strategy for the enterprise.

The NonStop team still has a lot more to do to ensure NonStop stays on the move. They have come a long way in a relatively short time and Karen Copeland and Andy Bergholz are to be congratulated for their achievements to date but there is more that needs to be done and it all involves a new level of cooperation and participation with the bigger HPE. Will the bigger HPE want NonStop? Does HPE value the capabilities of NonStop as much as other products and solutions in its overall product portfolio? Will Mission Critical Systems be “weaned out” of HPE? There are only a few short months to go before 2017 HPE Discover in Las Vegas but already my level of curiosity has risen – how big a spotlight will be directed towards NonStop?

Much of this will be addressed in a follow-on feature, to be posted next month, where I will cover the just completed NonStop Partner Symposium that Karen Copeland put on for the NonStop vendors community. This is an important opportunity for one of the most critical stakeholders in all things NonStop. NonStop users have an event focused on their needs – the NonStop Technical Boot Camp. Enterprise management have their own event too (even when NonStop may be a secondary consideration) – HPE Discover. Seeing the NonStop vendors community being accommodated in this fashion is certainly a step in the right direction, but again, and further to the questions asked above – will NonStop become a featured product in the much bigger HPE Partner Symposiums / Summits that are scheduled to be held in just a few weeks’ time?

And that’s where the story stops for now. For their part, the NonStop team are doing everything they can to ensure NonStop doesn’t become an island. As every stakeholder in the NonStop community is coming to appreciate, as we watch the NonStop team reach out to the bigger HPE – isn’t it about time to see HPE reach down and give this NonStop team a hand up? After all, NonStop Team certainly has done more than enough to earn a presence on center-stage, under the spotlights. C’mon HPE – extend that hand! We all know that you can, so isn’t it about time you acknowledge just how well this new NonStop physical and virtual aligns with all of your major initiatives? If you aren’t sure then there is a community out there only too willing to help you better understand NonStop! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Always a tight fit … the successful launch of NonStop Insider!

Sometimes you just have to work at it to fit a sizable project into an already tight schedule but for the NonStop community, the creation of the digital publication has truly been a labor of love …

Hustling the Jeep into the space normally occupied by our RV certainly shone the spotlight on just how little room there is to spare when we drive the RV into our allocated storage location. Blue skies above the facility go a good way to explain what was happening here – with temperatures along the front ranges soaring well into the 70sF (20sC) it was time to get the RV smog tested and begin the preparation for an early return to Americas highways. With the sale of our home and office and with a couple of week’s gap before we take up residence in our new home and office, this will become our temporary residence.

Getting into and out of tight spots has become routine for Margo and me, but it still is a tentative situation first up as the winter months finally shake their hold. And not soon enough by my book – I’m no longer a skier so the snow is something that keeps me indoors rather than provides a playground for winter activities. On the other hand, it does mean that I’m spending a lot more time at the keyboard than happens mid-summer and with event activity ramping up and social media channels requiring content, it’s not something I shy away from.

I enjoy a great relationship with many members of the NonStop vendor community as well as with HPE but whenever I am asked about where all the stories come from the simple answer is from all of you! I can’t imagine a week passing by without a vendor or user making either product, directions or organizational changes so it shouldn’t surprise any reader of this post that content is never the issue. Finding the right mix of content with the right media channel often leads to some parring of material just to squeeze it into the publication at the very last moment.

The March / April 2017 issue of The Connection will soon be landing on our desks. For me this continues to be a major communications vehicle for all NonStop stakeholders and whenever the opportunity presents itself, I do my very best to work up a story that fits in nicely with the theme. “Empower data-driven organizations with NonStop (e.g. databases / manageability, products that provide / move NonStop data for consumption)” is a topic near and dear to my heart. Having spent four years working at GoldenGate and before that about a decade working at Insession, the sales channel for GoldenGate, moving data for consumption was all I thought about. So look for this issue when it arrives and check for the story, “Data-driven organizations now realizing the value of NonStop – data has to be fresh and accurate!

However, it has been a publication of another kind that has really captured my attention and perhaps now has become even more near and dear to my heart, and that is the digital publication, NonStop Insider. Readers of my column in The Connection, Back for more … that appears on the back page of each issue may recall the column in the November / December, 2016 issue where I first referenced the appearance of this new digital publication. In that column I expressed how it was NonStop Insider Managing Editor, Margo Holen, who summed up best why NonStop Insider was created. According to Margo, “For some time now I have become aware that even with the newsletters and magazines available to the NonStop community there was a real need to provide unfiltered information covering all that is happening with HPE and with NonStop.” Furthermore and perhaps more to the point, Holen then added that “I consider it the goal of NonStop Insider to provide a variety of perspectives from many parties that continue to work closely with NonStop users.”

Yes, we all know that Margo is my wife and that together we founded Pyalla Technologies. However, what might not be as well known is that Margo sat on the board of ITUG and as ITUG Board’s Vice Chairman ,was instrumental in the creation of Connect where she was the first Vice President of Connect following in the footsteps of then ITUG Chairman, Scott Healey. It was at the prodding of both Scott and Margo that this blog, Real Time View was launched and now, with multiple vendor and community blogs together with a couple of magazines, some physical and some digital not the least of which continues to be The Connection, it was this emphasis of providing a forum for unfiltered information covering all things NonStop that continues to drive the editorial focus of NonStop Insider.

I closed my November / December 2016 column Back for more … with the admonition that developing one more media channel outlet still required the support of the NonStop community. As I said at the time, it’s well known that CIOs look first to their own IT organization for information on products and services; credibility is highest among those working the closest to the CIO. So all that is left for the user community to do these days is to make sure the many newsletters, commentaries and posts aren’t simply left in an inbox. Content is still very much the king so take all the steps you need to take to ensure NonStop content is as visible as you can make it within your IT organization!

It’s now six months on, and with the publication of the March 2017 issue of NonStop Insider there have now been six issues published where the number of articles, commentaries and OpEd pieces has steadily grown to where now, for the last couple of issues, it’s represents a significant body of work. Readership is via subscription and while the numbers continue to climb, it’s now past 1,250 subscribers. And for this and for all the technical support being provided, it would be remiss of Margo and me not to express our gratitude to the team at TCM Solutions for all the support they continue to provide. I am anxious to roll-out an App in support of NonStop Insider but that’s still a work in progress, but one I personally want to see unveiled as nearly everything I do these days is from my smartphone.

“From our perspective to see the work Margo is doing in her role as Managing Editor is not only keeping our folks on their toes,” said TCM Solutions CEO, “but her knowledge about all things NonStop and her expansive contact reach is something few executives we know can match. When we first threw around the idea for NonStop Insider, Margo was immediately onboard and the quality of the content in each issue is a reflection on her intension to guarantee only the highest quality material makes it into each issue is a reflection on both her integrity as well as her commitment to the NonStop community. We really are enjoying our association with Margo on every level.”

For those who view the latest issue of NonStop Insider for the first time, make sure you read Margo’s editorial. In her opening editorial remarks, Margo makes the observation that “NonStop Insider seems to have found its unique voice among the growing list of NonStop publications, and I hope we will continue to evolve into a ‘something for everyone’ magazine.” To that end, what you will see are a number of OpEd pieces from well-known thought leaders within the NonStop community. Whether the topic is security, replication and backup, database or even the business of being a NonStop vendor then expect to see many more contributions coming from very familiar voices within the NonStop community.

When it comes to parking the RV, it’s a very tight fit. It’s also a recognition that it takes work to make sure parking is done right. As for the NonStop Insider digital magazine it has been a tight fit to work it’s creation and sustenance into all of the other commitments we have made. But somehow, Margo has found the time and indeed the focus and energy to ensure this was never going to be about the publication of just one issue. Six months on and with subscriptions on the rise, it’s becoming very clear that the audience Margo was seeking – yes, providing a variety of perspectives from many parties that continue to work closely with NonStop users –has come to fruition. As for me, it makes my task of blogging so much easier as there is now a serious publication that each month provides me with more storylines than I could wish for. But about that well, that’s a story for yet another post ….  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Clouds in my coffee? Support for IoT will take us into clouds!

Clouds are coming and for NonStop it’s inevitable. One likely cause? The need to tap data from IoT – but be careful, clouds can burst and rain on our parade. 

As I walked into the kitchen the other morning to pour the first cup of coffee of the day I happened to look out the window. The view of the mountains to the west caught me by surprise with a vista of a bright orange glow edging the clouds – it may not look all that impressive, but now I know why the Denver Bronco football team wears blue and orange. I am rarely the first to wake up in our household and it always takes me a while to get going but on this occasion, as I poured the coffee into my mug, I took just a little longer to take it all in – breathtaking, indeed. I often wonder how many times circumstances catch us out. Surprise us, perhaps, and even on occasion, simply take our breath away.

Being IT professionals it takes a lot to really surprise us but on those occasions when we are surprised it’s rarely because something went wonderfully well. However, when it comes to clouds and IT, it’s not the hues that matter as much as the ahas! With the advent of cloud computing it’s almost as if we are quite prepared to ignore all the experiences we have accumulated over decades – let’s just leave it to the cloud provider to ensure we have access whenever we need it. The cloud is all rather nebulous anyway and could be anywhere – surely, it’s all virtualized to where it will find a path to a working server / comms / storage component no matter what. And to that I can add, that swampland I bought in Florida is begging to look very promising indeed. Do you have a couple of bucks and I will sell it to you, right?

Coffee and clouds or probably more specifically, clouds in my coffee. As Carly Simon used to sing all those year ago:
I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee …

Yet, here we go again; dreaming! It takes very little to upset it all and suddenly it’s simply vapor. Nothing. Clouds in our coffee! What prompts these musings is my acknowledgment that without taking the necessary precautions, clouds can be as temperamental as any system and the level of availability as fleeting as any commodity server. And this brings me back to what transpired at Amazon last week. Their much-vaunted cloud offering, Amazon Web Services (AWS), went AWOL. Just like that, access to files and databases – anything that was pushed to storage – went dark. Literally hundreds of thousands of companies large and small no longer had working, operational, systems in support of their business.

If you missed reading about the AWS outage, it may be worth the time to check out the story in USA Today where the outage is addressed in mostly non-technical manner. In the February 28, 2017, article, Massive Amazon cloud service outage disrupts sites reporter, Elizabeth Weise, opens with the observation that the outage ‘didn't quite break the Internet, but a 4-hour outage at Amazon's AWS cloud computing division caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of websites across the United States.” Furthermore Weise quotes Dave Bartoletti, a cloud analyst with Forrester, who said, "This is a pretty big outage. AWS had not had a lot of outages and when they happen, they're famous. People still talk about the one in September of 2015 that lasted five hours.”

A few days ago I included the above as part of a weekly email that I provide my clients. I write this email to keep my clients alerted to events that perhaps otherwise they may have missed, but in this case, I don’t believe anyone missed such a newsworthy occurrence at Amazon. However, it was what I also included in that weekly client email that perhaps triggers more memories among the NonStop community. I jumped to the end of the USA Today article to something that the NonStop community could really take to heart.

“Companies have been steadily moving storage to the cloud because it is cheaper, easily accessible and more resilient. But the downside is that when there are problems, there's a cascade effect. It's possible to contract with multiple companies to avoid potential problems, but that strategy is pricey, so many companies make peace with the knowledge that on rare occasions they're going to have a very bad day. ‘Only the most paranoid, and very large companies, distribute their files across not just AWS but also Microsoft and Google, and replicate them geographically across regions - but that's very, very expensive, Gartner's (cloud analyst, Lydia) Leong said.”

Only the most paranoid?  Is that us? USA Today writes that it is only the most paranoid and yes, those very large companies (enterprises) we know well that distribute files across multiple clouds (and replicate) to make sure an individual cloud outage doesn’t impact their business, are the exception. Paranoid? Really? And yet, this has been the story of NonStop for decades – loosely coupled, shared nothing, massively parallel processing. Again, are we now to be considered paranoid because we bought a system that survives single points of failure? Rather humorous when you consider what is being implied, don’t you think? How many times of late have we proffered the advantages inherent with NonStop to senior management and business unit managers only to be looked upon as having two heads but then again, two heads? That’s another story, obviously. On the other hand, maybe you say paranoid like it’s a bad thing!

The innuendo from such discussions, when they occur, is that we are caught up in a legacy model that no longer applies to modern IT. Modern data centers, complete with redundant everything, no longer take outages or so we are told. They are reliable and there’s simply nothing to worry about – any additional costs to do something better is simply not worth the money. Well then, tell that to Amazon. Tell that to any of the airlines too who have seen cascading failures of their reservation systems. Tell that to some of the biggest stock exchanges as well.

However, not lost on anyone is the inevitability of cloud computing and of the inroads it’s already making into enterprise data centers. Staring out at the morning clouds, the aroma of fresh coffee unmistakable, I began to wonder; it may not be the applications we already run but brand new applications that we implement to leverage clouds. And for the NonStop community this may very well be the result of looking at Industrial IoT (IIoT). That’s not to say transaction processing is going away any time or that the ability to process transactions in real time is going to lessen in importance but rather a simple acknowledgment that more may be happening at the end points than simply the transaction.

Dr. Tim Chou, the keynote speaker at last year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp, just posted to the Avnet web site, Is IoT the killer app for cloud computing? According to Tim, “the major wave to using compute and storage cloud computing will not be driven by migrating existing applications. Instead, as with the move to client/server, the driver will be building completely new applications. So what are these applications? And what will be the killer app for cloud computing? Perhaps IoT.” This is something we often overlook in our discussions about NonStop and clouds – while some of us are busy trying to shoehorn existing applications into clouds perhaps we are missing the opportunity to come up with entirely new applications.

Take the humble ATM for instance. With each new generation of the ATM, more sensors are being added. This trend will likely only continue to where ATMs become agents for tracking largescale demographic and other social-related data. One connection will be involved in an ATM transaction while other connections will be transporting multiple data streams. New applications may simply start out by correlating cash withdrawal activity to the weather, what’s showing at the cinema and which direction passers-by are headed. There’s no limit and it’s this hybrid world of what Tim calls the Internet of People juxtaposed with the Internet of Things where the action may lay in the coming years. And NonStop exhibits no signs that it will back away from support of either. So yes, start dreaming big!

So, what did happen at Amazon? What was responsible for creating a four hour outage? It has now been revealed that members of the AWS S3 storage team “were debugging the billing system and someone entered an extra command. After accidentally taking the servers offline, the various systems had to do ‘a full restart.’” Yet one more instance of “Operator Error!” Recalling those lines by Carly Simon, “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee,” maybe there are many of us within the NonStop community simply dreaming after all, but then again, having systems that don’t fail running in support of People and Things makes sense and it’s becoming a common practice to accept outages then surely, new business opportunities abound for those NonStop vendors and users who dare to disagree. And yes, perhaps IoT will bring out the best in the new NonStop after all!    

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...