Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Volunteering, networking and blogging – it all helps!

The opportunities for NonStop programmers may not be as bountiful as they once were but this doesn’t mean we need to let the knowledge we have about NonStop be overtaken by current events …

Many years ago we took our car to a track where we had to do double duty as volunteer corner flag workers. Hadn’t done it before nor was I confident I would grab the right flag at the right time but as it was pointed out at the time, by volunteering we made track rental a lot less expensive and everyone I talked to was in favor of lower fees. After all, we still had to pay for gas, tires, brakes etc. so volunteering didn’t see all that bad. And did I say I was a corner worker at the time Margo was on track and there is no better close up of a driver than from behind the corner barrier! Or more entertaining than waving flags as hard as I could whenever Margo was right on the bumper of a lesser performing driver!

There are a lot of talented NonStop community members now on the sidelines, often times far removed from the action. When you consider what has happened across the NonStop community for the past decade it hasn’t been the best of times. Sure, NonStop systems are still playing a critical role within many enterprises and there are more than enough financial institutions and telcos committed to NonStop to keep many NonStop programmers gainfully employed, but increasingly, fully employed NonStop programmers are becoming scarcer by the year. Technology moves and continues to evolve and capitalizes on changing customer expectations as well as faster and cheaper components. Listening to the Apple announcement of their new phones and watches it was hard to ignore just how much computing power could be packaged within a watch – a dual-core chip, no less! In a wristwatch!

There continues to be numerous discussions over the strategic posture of NonStop – for a four-decade old architecture that hasn’t been matched by any other it’s a constant reminder of just how impressive the original architects had been in getting the basics of fault tolerant so right in a system so relevant even today. But this doesn’t change the prospects of NonStop programmers all that much other than to keep their expectations high – surely, there will be a new NonStop user nearby where I can continue to contribute and help deploy new applications on NonStop. Unfortunately, taking a leaf from the cloud phenomena, any demand being created isn’t quite what we expected as increasingly it’s a world best described as looking for NonStop programmers “as-a-service!” We used to call them contractors and even consultants, but mostly, independent contributors who are focused on projects.

So, what of volunteering? In part the answer is visibility – NonStop programmers cannot simply post resumes or hire companies to look for opportunities. The internet and social media have changed the game considerably but it is still mostly about the network and how strong our network remains is where I see so much talent being left warming the benches. As the likelihood of Insession remaining independent and the prospect of ACI acquiring Insession strengthened, I volunteered for ITUG and in due course, I managed to get elected to the ITUG Board of Directors. But this only came about because of my network – in the late 1980s I brought about the formation of a local RUG in Sydney that became OzTUG.

In due time, Tony Bond became head of OzTUG and it was through Tony, that I made it onto the ITUG Board. Margo and I were only looking back at how this all came about and it was really due to the support of some forward-thinking managers in the Sydney branch offices of Tandem Computers. However, here’s the bottom line. I had only been with Tandem Computers for just on a year and by volunteering to work on forming a user group, my visibility within the company and indeed, as it turned out, the local press, expanded considerably. As I left for fulltime employment with Tandem in Cupertino, the local Australian publisher of ComputerWorld approached me and asked me to write a feature story centered on my observations of life in Silicon Valley and this I agreed to do. He already knew that I wasn’t short of stories so perhaps this little nudge into the world of publishing was self-serving on his part, but the fallout from volunteering (I was an unpaid feature writer), was to expand my network even further.

Again, volunteer and build the network. I am recounting these experiences to encourage those NonStop programmers who are wondering where their next gig will come from. Finding a fulltime assignment that is well-paid isn’t on the cards for most NonStop programmers I talk to. Seriously, it’s very slim pickings out there and the time-off between productive days only seems to get longer. But we all have skills and they are mostly centered on what it takes to support a fault tolerant solution and how best to leverage the NonStop integrated stack! And here’s the really good news. The lack of training of the next generation of NonStop programmers is going to see the needle swing back firmly towards us – we are more than likely going to see a pickup in demand for our skills as junior, over there on his tablet, knows little about the real world of transaction processing!

There are a number of members of our community that you see commenting on posts to blogs, asking questions on social media groups – LinkedIn groups being one example – and yes, regularly contributing to their own blog. The one observation about opinions is that yes, we all have them. The same goes for assumptions as we all assume one thing or another even as we form and then communicate these opinions. We need to remember, however, when it comes to opinions, according to Australian writer, Peter Mulraney, “There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, as long as you understand that it’s just how you see it.” On the other hand, it was Isaac Asimov who wrote of how, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”

Point is, our experiences with NonStop have placed us in a position where we can provide sound advice, most of the time, and as we continue to write we develop a brand that in time becomes recognized. So yes, to all my good friends out there who email me about what they should be considering doing next I am suggesting just three things – volunteer, network and yes, join the world of social media and find your voice. Blog! As I have already mentioned the world of NonStop is about to come to you.

Think for just one moment of what may transpire should virtualized NonStop (vNS) really take off. Consider too that the community of vNS users will most likely be entirely new and that they are running it on VMs within server farms and clouds – do you think for one moment HPE has the skillsets in place to cover such a possibility? When it comes to global coverage, HPE or their chanel partner selling vNonStop systems, is going to have to tap the knowledge that already exists and they won’t know about you unless you get ahead of the curve and build your brand!

As I look back at how I came to be doing what I am doing today I have just a couple of parties to thank – the managing editor at ComputerWorld (Alan Power along with Graeme Philipson); Tandem Computers, Sydney, manager Steve Bailey; OzTUG and later, ITUG Chairman, Tony Bond; GoldenGate Software executives Tim Rathbun and Sami Akbay; and finally, my wife Margo who today continues to be my primary editor. As you can see, it wasn’t a large group of folks and when you spread their input across the three decades involved, it didn’t require very much from them either. We all need mentors and for me, the mentoring I received came from this group.

In closing, we are coming up to this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp. It is still very heavily skewed towards vendors and HPE but then again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is our objective to stay close to NonStop. Volunteering, networking and indeed blogging all benefit from opportunity so even as you may be considering just how to get off that bench and let the broader NonStop community benefit from your expertise, start thinking about where best to showcase your skills.

Boot Camp may be a tad too expensive for many but at a minimum, there are always the RUGs and after all, if it wasn’t for the time I put in as a volunteer in support of OzTUG, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. Wouldn’t have happened! And should you happen to see me at one event or another and this is a path down which you would like to go then by all means stop me and I will be only too happy to chat about all of this and more. Waving flags or not, these are intriguing times so don’t let the opportunities that I see coming to fruition pass you by!      

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Look for the signs – NonStop community has much to watch!

Visions, missions, tactics, strategies – how does it all come together for NonStop and just how many paths is NonStop going down that will prove advantageous for the NonStop community?

Reading one of my favorite car magazines (and the source of many anecdotes for posts and articles already published), Road and Track, I came across a feature story on the Nürburgring – a magical place for all car enthusiasts and where Margo and I had the good fortune of laying down laps during a track-only day (no busses or motorcycles, just Porsches, Ferraris, Lotuses and Nissan GT-Rs).

Our time on the ‘Ring was back in late 2010 and you can read more of that in the post Respect the ‘Ring! of September 23, 2010, to our social blog Buckle-Up-Travel The Road and Track article, Master’s Program, informs its readers of how, “At most tracks, it’s not uncommon for a first-rate professional racing driver or even a talented club ‘shoe to be up to speed after as few as a dozen laps.” Then adding, “Not at the’Ring. You won’t come close.” More revealing yet, “Like any track, there are references that a driver can use to let them know exactly where they are, where the car should be positioned, and what the driver should be doing. (The) difference here is, there are easily 10 times as many of those reference points spread out over 14-plus miles.”

The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, for instance (depicted above and with Margo behind the wheel), is always exciting as it has few signs forewarning you about what comes next. All of which is to say that signage and reference points are important on race circuits and I am sure there are other activities where much the same can be said. Here in Colorado we understand and appreciate how downhill racers know every inch of their run down a snow-covered mountain. When it comes to computers, sometimes it’s more difficult to spot signs and catch important references. It also requires a completely different set of skills most of which take a very long time to develop.

For starters, what does strategic really mean and who really does set strategy? Where do we turn to for confirmation that something is relevant, important, and even strategic? Is it our favorite vendor or our primary vendor? Is it an industry analyst or simply a journalist we know well? Turns out that it is a combination of all of the above that somehow we need to weight and prioritize based on our experience with all parties. Not all information is the same nor does it necessarily reflect the real story – you just have to check the tangible reference points that are all around us.

For the NonStop community it is proving to be a very difficult time. The initial euphoria that came over the community when news first broke that NonStop wasn’t being spun out to Micro Focus as part of the offloading of non-core software assets gave the NonStop community a real boost. NonStop isn’t non-core after all. Furthermore it had escaped being relegated to a couple of part timers determined to keep the torch burning brightly, albeit with somewhat limited funds as had happened to OpenVMS. No, NonStop was proving to be special and something HPE valued more highly than other assets it had accumulated over time. However, being core or at least, not part of the non-core software portfolio, isn’t translating into strategic and that is where the concerns lie – if it is core but non-strategic, what does that mean?

Again, it’s time to check our reference points as we look for familiar signs that will help guide us with the decisions we have to routinely make. Do we continue to invest in NonStop systems? Do we bring additional applications to our NonStop platform? Do we invest in middleware and infrastructure products that will help lift our productivity? Will we even spend money sending staff to events and summits held in support of NonStop? Just as importantly - whereto Mission Critical?

The answers today are not that clear and with the passage of time following the completion of the various spin-merges and offloads, the silence coming from HPE is, as they say, deafening. Could it be that it is a simple case that HPE doesn’t know? Could it be that HPE has as yet not focused its own resources on looking at where NonStop could take them? Might it even be a case that NonStop has been forgotten? We often talk about “best-kept secrets” but when it comes to NonStop it isn’t productive to think this way, as it’s a bit of a cop-out reflecting the lack of any real marketing effort being expended by HPE.

At this point I am observing a paradox. NonStop isn’t strategic for HPE – just look at the HPE vision and you will see references to simplifying hybrid IT, empowering the edge / IoT and then offering services in support of both of these pursuits. As HPE adds additional products and indeed vendors to better support this vision and, essentially, map it into a workable strategy, there’s no specific reference to NonStop. Quite the contrary, look at project New Stack unifying management across on-premise systems and clouds private, hybrid and public as well as Simplivity and Synergy and there is no references to NonStop whatsoever.

Indeed, it would take considerable new development to bring NonStop into play and have it participate in any fashion – and yet, look at the strategy behind these products and you could see real advantages of having NonStop participate. No, NonStop isn’t strategic and isn’t making a contribution to HPE’s strategy at this point. And yet, it is still holding down a place in the HPE slideware pulled out on every occasion – so what gives?

There is no shortage of evangelists supporting NonStop nor is there any shortage of references highlighting exceptional use-case scenarios. We often look to finance and telco industries to find references to NonStop but in reality, NonStop clings to handholds in almost every vertical from manufacturing, distribution, entertainment and yes, even healthcare. With all the security issues we read about almost daily and the outages of critical infrastructure components we hear about almost as often, you would think a lot more attention was being paid to reliability but it just isn’t the case. The assumption is that all systems, no matter who the vendor is, provides 24 x 7 capabilities and outages by any of the systems was just an unfortunate incident most likely attributable to human error. A situation that will always be present as long as there is human engagement involved! So why even consider a NonStop system and all the added expense that would involve?

However, evangelism alone isn’t going to cut it – we need a lot more and we need it from all stakeholders. The simple truth is that NonStop will do very well without being strategic. When you consider other manufacturers you will see there are numerous categories for their products – strategic, tactical, utilitarian, general purpose and yes, even halo! Point is, champing at the bit to push NonStop to the top of the list of strategic products isn’t really going to get us anywhere – what is more important is returning to the topic of HPE having a strategy for NonStop. And this is where the signage is better illuminated.

Being strategic and having a strategy are very different pursuits and are oftentimes, unrelated. We expect HPE to be able to articulate a strategy for the company as a whole – we all want to be better informed about where it is headed. But when it comes to individual products in the portfolio, strategies will vary by marketplace, region and even personalities. Just take a look at the reference points surrounding NonStop today and you will get a good sense of not only where HPE sits with NonStop but where you are relative to a strategy for NonStop, best described as a holding pattern.

There are two very distinct and yes, quite separate NonStop paths today and they contain numerous pitfalls for both users and vendors alike. What may work when following one path will not necessarily work when following the other path. HPE will continue to make NonStop systems – it’s strategy for NonStop systems is to continue to follow the Intel roadmap that will give us the latest x86 chips as Intel regularly ups the performance. The key piece of the strategy here is that the marketplace for these NonStop systems will be existing users with only marginal increase in the NonStop user population at best.

In developing virtualized NonStop (vNS) however with vNS, HPE is taking NonStop down a completely untested path and here’s where the problems arise – we have no reference points. We are approaching blind corners and cresting hills with no visible signage as to where the road is headed. Having said that, there isn’t a firm strategy for vNS as yet and for the NonStop community it appears that the strategy for vNS remains a work in progress. And yet, vNS is anything but in a holding pattern – it may turn out to be the only outcome for NonStop that becomes strategic but for that to happen, vNS may not be solely resident within HPE.

When looking at these paths down which NonStops are headed, there may not be ten times the reference points we need to check but there is still much to observe. Hopefully with the NonStop Technical Boot Camp fast approaching, we may learn more even as these reference points consolidate and we come to see just a simple sign. For now, what matters most isn’t whether NonStop is strategic for HPE but rather, does HPE have a strategy for NonStop and will that strategy embrace the NonStop we know today even as it lifts the veil on the NonStop we all see coming. NonStop systems will likely be with us for a couple more years but as for vNS, well-executed and well-supported by HPE, it’s influence may be felt for decades to come!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

HPE – styling itself to better suit NonStop users

There has been a lot written about HPE of late following the completion of the spinoff – mergers. For the NonStop community, distractions of the past are now behind HPE and this is good news for the NonStop community!

It was back in the mid-1970s when I established my first company, Uralla Holdings Pty Limited. Uralla (and yes, another Australian Aboriginal name) sat atop a rather complex setup that included such companies as Advanced Technology Computing as well as a family trust. At the time, it made a lot of sense and to paraphrase the Eagles’ Joe Walsh yes, “I had accountants (and I paid) for it all!” While not setup to minimize taxes it did help even if in the long run, when all was said and done, I paid a lot of taxes indirectly through leases and purchases as well as the income I shared with others; strange as it may sound, in Australia this was common practice among almost all IT professionals.

When I elected to provide analysis and to write articles and blog posts, creating a company seemed a natural thing for me to do and as a result, Pyalla Technologies was born. It was only recently I caught up with how similar Uralla and Pyalla sound so I am now left to wonder, what happened in my youth to so influence me. Whatever it was the formation of this LLC gave me a vehicle that allowed me to establish business relationships with my clients. Without exception, I am always asked about my company structure and given the nature of my business model, my clients have all come to appreciate this style of operation and the reduced workload this places on them and their staff.

Today, there are many options open to companies and we are hearing a lot more about just how they go about their business. When it comes to HPE, for instance, how many of us had even heard of the term, spin-merge, before it was included in the announcements by HPE that it was divesting itself of its services and software business?

In doing so, and adding weight to what exactly a spin-merge implied, HPE retained a majority, albeit very slim, interest in the partner it worked with as part of the spin-merge. Furthermore, it unlocked considerable value to then-HPE shareholders even as it lessened its own need to fund business entities where margins were always under pressure. Smart? Among the financial community it certainly encouraged them to stay invested in HPE but among technologists, spin-merges of services and software seemed a little odd given how many industry analysts predicted that future growth for technology companies was going to be fueled by precisely these types of businesses.

However, for the customer, HPE’s stated objective of offloading non-core software together with underperforming services while focusing on infrastructure and platforms gave them a strong sense of wellbeing as they became better informed about the strategy and vision of the new HPE. Simply being customer-driven (on the needs of its enterprise customers) looked good in slideware but when it came to specifics, proved to be too broad a vision; customer-driven, as we all now know, is all well and good if you can articulate where you are headed.

Otherwise, no matter how big a vendor you are, you can quickly flounder and be tugged in every direction influenced solely by the customer you last visited. Technology customers absolutely want to know where its vendor-of-choice is headed and just how effective they will be in translating strategy and vision into real products targeting their needs!

Until we heard references being made to spin-mergers, it wasn’t a common term. Spin-offs into new companies that are in turn made up for two or more parties that merge to create a new company place huge demands on the participating companies to be fully in synch with the mission outlined for the new company. With HPE it would seem that they indeed got the ingredients right as I haven’t read one negative response.

For a while there, Dell was suggesting HPE was headed in the wrong direction but soon after, Dell offloaded its own software business mostly, it turns out, to trim the servicing of the debt it took on to go private and then to buy EMC. And the debt the new Dell EMC is carrying is quite a sizable millstone around its neck despite what positive news emanates from the company – who plans to grow a company by first taking on billions of dollars in debt?

No, the path HPE has successfully negotiated has a lot more upside than what many pundits first predicted. Even the recent slide in the stock price was purely an adjustment recognizing the additional value HPE shareholders would realize. As I recently advised my clients, the drop in the price of HPE shares was little more than a market adjustment to the changing world of HPE as the spin merge announcements become reality.

As one publication described it, “this plunge wasn't due to some unfavorable business development. Rather, it was driven by the completion of a planned spinoff and merger of the enterprise computing specialist's non-core software assets with U.K.-based Micro Focus International.” The results of which was that, “HPE received a $2.5 billion cash payment, and its investors received 0.13732611 American depositary shares (ADSs) of Micro Focus for every HPE common share held as of its record date on Aug. 21, 2017. Based on Micro Focus' closing price at $29.50 per share yesterday that equates almost exactly to the per-share ‘decline’ we saw in HPE stock today. In short, the transaction is effectively a zero-sum game for HPE investors, who now hold roughly 222 million Micro Focus ADSs representing 50.1% of its fully diluted ordinary shares.”

In this case and particularly for the NonStop community, HPE’s execution proved to be beneficial to all and gives HPE a better opportunity to not only fund its strategy and vision but to better reshape itself product-wise to better suit the needs of its customers. With the removal of the distractions that otherwise occupied the attention of many HPE executives they could now focus on middleware and platforms and in particular, the transformation to hybrid IT and the empowering of the edge.

As Whitman said, in her briefing to analysts following the publishing of the Q3 results as well as the completion of the spin merge with Micro Focus, “With that transaction now behind us, we have the right strategy and the right portfolio to succeed in today’s environment. Our strategy is clear, to make hybrid IT simple, to power the intelligent edge and to provide the services to make it all happen. It is based on what customers are asking for today and where we see the market moving.”

Yes, HPE is part of that right portfolio (of products) to succeed in today’s environment and this is something the NonStop community shouldn’t lose sight of – whether a user or a vendor, NonStop isn’t “non-core” but rather, another right product for HPE! Of course, we would all like to see a higher profile for NonStop develop as well as to see it occupy more of center stage at major HPE events. However, this may indeed be developing. As much as I champion the attributes of availability and scalability at every opportunity, perhaps the real differentiator for NonStop, particularly as NonStop develops momentum atop virtual machines, is NonStop SQL/MX (NS SQL).

With many of the unique features once only a part of Neoview together with a more complete “Oracle compatibility” option, HPE’s continued investment in NS SQL isn’t happening by accident. HPE has a need for NS SQL internally and it sees NS SQL support of DBaaS as something customers will benefit from as they move to hybrid IT. Furthermore, the work being done in support of blockchain – the port of the R3 Corda to NonStop – is layering the distributed immutable ledger right on top of NS SQL. And for all the right reasons – combine NonStop and NS SQL with blockchain technology and you will provide a very serious solution that absolutely better suits today’s customer’s needs.

HPE is reshaping itself from a business perspective and on a personnel basis as well. There will be a lot of organization changes taking place before we head into the start of HPE’s next financial year some of which have already leaked to the press involving the sales organization. HPE is also reshaping itself from a product portfolio bases and the good news here is that NonStop made the cut – not just NonStop but critical middleware including NS SQL, TMF as well as TS/MP (formerly, Pathway). What’s not to like about all of this?

From my perspective, very little but it will always come back to how well HPE can execute but if the style of the company now being projected continues to better shape it to suit the needs of its customers, the NonStop community should be the last to complain. Look around, when it comes to the right strategy and the right portfolio, isn’t this a big change from the past to know that it includes NonStop? HPE’s spin merge may have the heads of other technology firms spinning but for the NonStop community what it really represents is the creation of a strategy and vision focused solely on where HPE needs to go and with that, as a community, aren’t we the happier to read of this?

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