Friday, December 22, 2017

C’mon; since when did virtualized become the new “Traditional IT?”

Containers certainly transformed the transportation industry and even today, are being re-purposed in interesting ways. But for mission critical solutions running on NonStop, virtualization beats containerization every time!

Moving house and resorting to temporary storage facilities made this past year a time where total disruption prevailed. While there was some anticipation over what was about to become our new home there was still many anxious moments in the lead up to that eventful day. However, the move itself was rather painless and when the van finally showed up, inside were three or four fiberboard containers holding all of our much-treasured belongings. Turned out, as the movers held onto our belongings over the summer it was easier for all parties to simply package everything up into a container to better facilitate the multiple transfers that took place.

You may recall seeing this picture before. That is, the one at the top of the page that features two 40’ containers repurposed as a bar here in Boulder. It follows on from the success enjoyed by another pair of 40’ containers deployed for similar purposes in Estes Park, just a little further up Highway 36. It opened for business even as we were in between homes and over the summer months, there was more than one afternoon when you could have found us astride stools sipping on a local microbrewery libation.

At the time when I referenced these containers I was focused on the message of standardization and you can read about the numerous ways I referenced containers and standardization if you tab to the label container and
click on the link. Through the years, I have referenced containers and standardization in half a dozen posts, but now, more recently, I have turned my attention to containers in the world of technology where so much is being discussed about containers and clouds. In so doing, I have embraced a theme for containers that is up for a lot more discussion than ever there was surrounding standardization.

In recent presentations given by major vendors it is hard to ignore charts depicting traditional IT and virtualized IT inside the one box, as these charts then place containerized IT in another box before labelling other boxes with the names of public clouds. Furthermore, it is the assumption here that containerized IT is all that we will find in private clouds and conversely, private clouds will be created whenever containerized IT is deployed. I guess I have to admit I missed the memo about virtualized IT being legacy.

When I look at how enterprise IT is progressing there is a long way to go before anyone I know inside enterprise IT is going to step up and admit to their CIO that well, yes, we are embracing HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) as we virtualize the workloads that, to the outside world, turns out to be a transformation from one legacy environment to another! Ummm …

On the other hand, what I can admit is the PR machines representing the container lobby are working overtime to depict a future based on containerization, but not all applications benefit from containers! I am fully aware as well that not all applications benefit from virtual machines but mission-critical applications we have running on NonStop suggests that the PR underway might be underselling the value of virtualized IT. Just another iteration of legacy or traditional IT? I don’t think so! Whenever you have a middleware approximating what was once called a Transaction Processing Monitor (TP Monitor) such as IBM’s CICS, HPE NonStop’s Pathway that has been renamed, TS/MP, and even Tuxedo then the benefits from embracing virtualized IT quickly becomes apparent.

To the contrary, try to run CICS or Pathway in a container and look to monitor thousands of instances of each - it soon becomes apparent that little is to be gained from containers for this purpose. Likewise, for those running Java and node.js supporting apps on mobile devices then it’s a whole different story. Even if the JAVA JVM sounds like a virtual machine (with an underlying hypervisor) it is better described as containerization as there is no hypervisor involved. 

What hypervisors are very good at is allowing virtual machines to run virtualized workloads each with different OS requirements – yes, you can run a HPE NonStop workload, a Linux workload and even a Windows workload in three different virtual machines and the hypervisor isn’t at all bothered. Not surprisingly, this is what you often encounter within enterprise IT. Hypervisors can run on host machines as they support guest machines where each guest machine includes everything an application may need, including the supporting OS.

Furthermore, hypervisors can run as bare metal hypervisors or as hosted hypervisors and it is the hosted environment that we are encountering more often these days. When it comes to OpenStack / KVM the hypervisor is a hosted hypervisor implementation atop of a Linux kernel. The same can be said about Hyper V as it is yet another hosted hypervisor but this time, atop a Windows kernel.

Point is, containers don’t let you initiate different OSs as part of the container – all containers run atop an OS which, in one sense, makes them a much lighter-weight proposition and, in so doing, have the potential to offer better performance. So yes, there are limitations when it comes to containerization. And yes, when it comes to supporting applications by vendors providing public clouds the preferred way is to support containers as their task becomes simpler, but it’s all a trade-off. HPE has recently added support for HPE NonStop as a virtualized workload. When configured across two or more physical machines, the same level of availability can be achieved as was provided in the past on traditional systems.

However, no such availability profile can be achieved with containers as the requirements for running NonStop in a true 24 x 7 x 365 environment, with NonStop as it is engineered today, cannot be realized no matter how you look at containers. Virtualized NonStop workloads must have access to the NonStop OS and this is only possible when running the complete stack in a guest machine. And yes, those guest machines need to be able to communicate with each other via RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) which is becoming much easier to find.

In a November 28, 2017, interview published in The Register,
Right, HPE. You've eaten your hyperconverged Simplivity breakfast. Will it blend?  Paul Miller, VP of marketing in its software-defined and cloud group, said, “We see customers wanting to run both virtual machines and containers within their HCI environments.” Equally as important, Miller also highlighted how, “HCI and composable are part of the software-defined infrastructure category. HCI provides simplicity, agility, elasticity, security and predictability for virtualized environments and composable provides the same for bare metal, virtual and containers.”

In other words, when it comes to HPE enterprise customers embracing HCI no longer have to fear their CIOs. HCI and virtualized environments along with composable (and container environments) represent just two sides of the same coin – the move to software-defined everything. And virtualization is definitely not a part of traditional IT, not in the way we have historically viewed running virtual machines.

On September 5, 2017, HPE published a paper,
Comparing composable infrastructure and hyperconverged systems where the authors state that, “‘hyperconverged’ means any hardware solution that uses direct attached storage (DAS) and local compute plus clustering to implement resiliency of processing and data. Virtualization is assumed as the primary means of moving a computing workload from one host platform to another.” No indication here that virtualized IT is part of traditional IT.

In fact, quite the contrary, as HPE portrays virtualization “as the primary means” and this is pulling NonStop into the picture. Any hardware / software infrastructure described as HCI, as long as it is based on the Intel x86 architecture, supports RoCE and where there is a hypervisor present (such as KVM, VMware and potentially, Hyper V), arguably can become a potential target for running future virtualized NonStop workloads.   Returning to the opening observation, it simply isn’t accurate to bundle virtualized IT with traditional IT, suggesting virtualized IT is little more than a variation of traditional IT.

In a world that is giving so much attention to transformation and hybrid IT, HCI, and virtualization, there is a need to recognize the important role both virtualized IT and containerized IT play. Failure to do so will most definitely lead to some spectacular “unintended consequences” as expectations aren’t realized and, quite possibly, lead to escalating hardware costs and manageability uncertainty. Yes, there are reasons to run either virtualized IT or containerized IT.  When the topic of mission critical applications supporting online applications built atop a TP Monitor comes up then CIOs everywhere can relax; virtualized IT is the best option and the news that virtualized NonStop is now coming to market will prove to be good news for all those who continue to demand true 24 x 7 x 365 operation.

Containerization has transformed the freight business. It proved disruptive to the shipping industry even as it disrupted the stevedoring services needed in former times to work the docks. It brought a level of standardization (yes, like everything we touch, there are more than one standard when you look more closely at the container industry), and when it comes to technology, the containers we now reference provide much the same degree of isolation and standardization – you want a truck to carry your container? How about a train or a ship? However, for mission critical online systems where the scale-out is already well addressed, the option for virtualized IT prevails and will do so for many years to come.

And remember, if you still want to run containers than load a virtualized Linux as a guest and run containers atop virtualized anywhere – there really isn’t any limits to either your imagination or creativity / optimization when you have transformed to virtualized IT and with that, the future for virtualized NonStop is assured even as it opens doors to rafts of new solutions coming to its fault tolerant platform!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Slippery slopes facing today’s computers …

When we look closely at NonStop are we indeed treading on a slippery slope when it comes to assigning a role for NonStop? Can the new NonStop satisfy multiple business requirements?

Since my return to Windsor, Colorado, it has been nothing but sunny days. Sure, there was one overnight instance where snow fell, but for Coloradans it was more like icing sugar than real snow. Just a dusting that, by mid-morning, had mostly vanished leaving behind just a few dark damp spots and not much else! It is becoming hard to believe it is winter with Christmas just around the corner and yes, there are still golfers out on the course right next to our home. As our local weather station reported, it’s difficult to tell the seasons apart these days even as we continue to spend afternoon’s outdoors, grilling steaks and drinking beer!

Having spent almost the entire month of November at one vendor event after another, one of the overriding takeaways has been the blurred lines that are beginning to appear. Where once we had very distinct categories of computers and peripherals, and where we knew what their capabilities would be just by their size and indeed, the vendor badge appended to the chassis, this is no longer the case. When you first see the HPE supercomputer that is about to spend a year or more in space, it looks more like a large PC than a “real computer.” On the other hand, open the doors to expose some larger systems and all you see is, well – nothing. Cabinets that are mostly empty space with just one or two racks having anything on them at all, even as the individuals promoting them talk at length about what you can do with so much (compute / storage / networking bandwidth / etc.) capability on hand.

In its annual Car of the Year issue motoring magazine, Motor Trend, began by noting how, “The development pace of semi-autonomous features (is) starting the slow process of disconnecting us from traditional 100 percent human control. It’s a slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions that begs the meaning of what is to be an automobile. Our old friends the sedan, the coupe, the station-wagon and the minivan – the familiar car variants that our mom and dad and their moms and dads have no trouble defining – are in the midst of a major identity crises.”  Two messages stand out here – the disconnection between drivers and their cars and, more importantly perhaps, the identity crises that has arisen as automobile manufacturers cross the lines to produce car variants that are sometimes hard to rationalize. Open their hoods and what’s inside doesn’t really tell you anything about their capabilities on hand.

Let’s start with the disconnection aspect of the message above. When it comes to computers and to more advanced topics like automation and autonomous operation, nothing comes to mind more quickly than the robots we see today among us. While I was attending the HPE Discover event in Madrid, there was a lot of discussion following the release by Boston Dynamics of its humanoid robot, Atlas, doing backflips. According to WIRED magazine, in a November 15th, 2017, article,
BOSTON DYNAMICS' ATLAS ROBOT DOES BACKFLIPS NOW AND IT'S FULL-TILT INSANE, “To be clear: Humanoids aren’t supposed to be able to do this. It's extremely difficult to make a bipedal robot that can move effectively, much less kick off a tumbling routine.”  Furthermore, “Over the years, (Atlas has) grown not only more backflippy but lighter and more dexterous and less prone to fall on its face. Even if it does tumble, it can now get back up on its own.”

All I could come up as my contribution to the discussion was that perhaps we were all witnessing the evolution of American gridiron players. With as many problems as there have been reported about brain damage among the players, what better use of a 6’9” humanoid that can move effectively than to make them the heart of your football team – the offensive and yes, defensive lines! Even with ice hockey, a couple of these as defensive brutes might paint a different picture for some teams. If they lose a limb or worse, a head is knocked off then, no worries, a replacement part can be bolted on to them immediately and send them back out into the fray!

While not on the same page as these hulking humanoids, there were many specialized robots on display at HPE Discover with perhaps the ABB unit solving Rubik’s cube (in very little time) attracting a lot of interest. With very clever “eyes” it was able to view the cube from different angles and so, quite rapidly, do the math required to shift the planes to ensure the colors came out correctly on each surface. ABB and HPE took advantage of HPE Discover to announce the creation of a partnership that had as its goal, providing “actionable insights across industrial plants, cloud and on-premises data centers for higher productivity and innovation.” So, yes be it on the playing field or deep within a factory, the lines between humans and humanoids are clearly becoming blurred.

However, it is the identity crises occurring with computers as we have known them that holds more interest for IT professionals, including those who are members of the NonStop community. For so many years, we all knew what a NonStop system was just by looking at the cabinetry and oftentimes the NonStop badge appended to the side of the system. Then there was the console where simply a brief glance was all that it took for any system manager to recognize that there was a NonStop OS in there somewhere. But today, we are definitely descending a slippery slope when it comes to understanding what NonStop is becoming.

There are still many individuals out there who really do want to return to the workforce in support of NonStop. Time hasn’t been kind to so many of them as for a decade and a half the future of NonStop looked dim. Enterprises stopped investing in NonStop as solutions vendors have sought alternate platforms. However, with the resurgence of NonStop it is no longer the NonStop these individuals recognize and the skillsets demanded of them have become quite different. For NonStop programmers, all you need to know is a development environment like Eclipse in order to write code and when it comes to familiar roles for systems managers well, you better know a whole lot more about hypervisors and virtual machines than you may think as provisioning a NonStop system today with a shared nothing underpinning isn’t for the faint of heart.

No, NonStop is now just software and yes, NonStop is now just one more virtualized workload. As a premier scale-out option for many mission critical applications, the size of the servers it runs on can be anything from just a few processors to a roomful of them – the lines between systems have become so blurred that you really cannot safely say that indeed, NonStop runs here! It may have at one point and it may even return, but the provisioning algorithms have been working overtime to ensure the lowest-cost server option is being exercised in order to meet negotiated SLAs.

This isn’t bad news for NonStop or the community of experienced programmers and systems managers anxious to return to the workforce and to make a contribution. It’s just different and there are new skills to be learnt. But ignoring the opportunities and forsaking further skillset development is a slippery slope of an entirely different kind leading only to the nearest EXIT sign. And from the discussions I have had on several social media forums, nobody that I have talked to is ready to exit the market. Humanoid robots may be able to do summersaults and solve Rubik cube problems and they may even be more effective walking into hostile environments unsuitable to us but they are yet to prove themselves skilled in NonStop.

Few of us in the industry would have missed the most recent news coming from Google. As reported in the November 5, 2017, issue of The New York Times,
Building A.I. That Can Build A.I., “Google may soon find a way to create A.I. technology that can partly take the humans out of building the A.I. systems that many believe are the future of the technology industry.” Well, perhaps they can and perhaps the combination of summersaulting hulks capable of advancing AI will play a big part in our future but that doesn’t detract from the here and now, NonStop still needs a community to support its future growth.

Given all that we have seen and the expectations by HPE for future sales of NonStop – traditional and virtualized - that slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions together with systems indistinguishable from one another, each capable of doing any job we ask of them, simply means NonStop will likely be everywhere. And everywhere is a place I like and it should be well understood, being everywhere will demand everyone to be on hand. So yes, it may very well be hard to tell the seasons and it may be as equally hard to tell where NonStop is running but let that not be a distraction. NonStop not only needs a community to support it, but so does HPE and that isn’t something any of us should ignore!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Big events; big agendas and yes, big news for the NonStop community

HPE is better articulating its message even as it is backing it up with product; NonStop community should be pleased to see the elevated position NonStop now occupies …

As the last days of the month come around I create a folder that I simply name for the coming month together with the current year. So, yes it was only a few days ago that I went to December 2017. Inside the folder I create another folder, Submissions. Yes, each and every month I follow the same process and all because of the desire to create a digital magazine, NonStop Insider. Others have pursued similar goals for a lot longer than I have while others have been more casual with their publication dates. But for Margo and me, it’s always been about pulling the magazine together during the first week so those we work with have a week to upload the content and to add all the necessary heading, links, etc.

I only dwell on this as this month, it has been a very difficult month and for a while I was hypnotized by a completely empty folder. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. There was the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) and then there was Thanksgiving. For bloggers like me these events just happened to be followed by even bigger distractions like HPE Discover and for someone who doesn’t like to fly any more – flying business or business first can sweeten the deal, of course – it was tiring all the same. With this many sources for new material I thought that there would be a lot to cover but for many of the NonStop vendors, it was also a time for company kick-off events and other worthwhile retreats.

Which is the long way around to say that the December issue of NonStop Insider has been a tough row to hoe! Then again, just as the empty folder looked back at me forlornly, the submissions began to arrive and for sure, the past couple of weeks have proved fertile backdrops for numerous stories. As I create the folder each month I also take time to send out a reminder to the NonStop community that you will find posted to the LinkedIn blog, Pulse, and if you missed the latest post you can read it at:
Now the focus has come back on to my commitments for this month’s issue of NonStop Insider, but that is always a nice problem to face.

However, the back to back events of the past three weeks have really brought a lot of attention to NonStop. If you were to remember just one thing from TBC it had to be the emphasis placed on virtualization. Certainly, existing NonStop users with Itanium-based blade systems will continue to be supported for many years to come, but the reality is beginning to set in that the world for NonStop is virtual. Pulling together the separate threads associated with HPE’s grand mission of simplifying hybrid IT, it really only begins to take shape when virtualization has been achieved. All the new tools associated with clouds and software-defined everything can only be leveraged to the best of their capabilities when directed at virtual worlds.

For NonStop users however, simply getting to virtualization isn’t as easy a task to accomplish as has been other upgrades. The NonStop team has done a fantastic job when it comes to the L-Series operating system such that any application running today on L-Series can run on any underlying systems L-Series supports. And that means a choice of traditional systems as well as virtual machines. When it comes to hypervisors supported by L-Series it was good to hear of the progress made since last the NonStop community had met on support for VMware. While OpenStack and KVM may be options for some NonStop users when it comes to the traditional enterprise marketplace where NonStop has a presence, VMware is the more dominant hypervisor.

However, given how virtualized NonStop runs on systems apart from those provided by the HPE NonStop team  that is, commodity, off-the-shelf (COTS), hardware from any vendor with a system based on x86 and supporting RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE). With those two foundation stones in place, any server can be used and together with the right switches, you can “roll your own” NonStop system. Well, not quite so fast. It’s turning out that it’s not that easy to do and to end up with a system as resilient as one sourced from HPE as a true, out-of-the-box NonStop X system. At TBC we heard for the first time that this situation would be addressed with a third product line being added to the NonStop product portfolio – the Converged Virtualized NonStop system (or as it has been whispered during sneak peeks, a NS 2).

All of this has been covered in commentaries published here and elsewhere but what is coming through loud and clear is that when it comes to bigger messages being articulated by HPE, the NonStop product line isn’t being left out or overlooked. There are plans where NonStop aligns itself more closely with HPE’s key strategic initiatives around simplifying hybrid IT as well as powering the intelligent edge. At polar opposites of the technology spectrum – the center versus the edge – HPE is seeing the rise in popularity of clouds (the center) and IoT / Edge (the outer ring) as places where it can provide value. And as HPE continues to articulate its message in forums around the globe, it’s always about HPE seeing its role in providing high-value solutions – cracking the difficult code pushed aside by other vendors. This too is a further acknowledgment by HPE of its return to its roots. It’s a technology company that once prided itself with the tag line, Invent!

At HPE Discover we heard this message being amplified in ways many within the NonStop community may not have anticipated. Yes, HPE is driving towards virtualization and software-defined everything and the work being done in support of Synergy frames is perhaps the best example as too is the technology implicit with SuperDome Flex. Both Synergy and SuperDome Flex, by the way, are early examples of leveraging the memory-driven compute model as extolled by those working on The Machine. That’s right, The Machine. Evidence was to be found on many of the exhibits of ways The Machine was influencing development of new systems. And now it has it's own logo, visible behind and to the right of HPE Labs Chief Architect, Kirk Bresniker.   

In a joint presentation to the group of bloggers whom HPE had invited to the event (many thanks Becca and Laura), pictured above and labelled by HPE as “influencers,” a representative from the former SGI openly talked about how they think the acquisition of SGI by HPE (and driven by our own former head of NonStop, Randy Meyer) is a match made in heaven. They too were developing hardware in support of memory-driven compute but they didn’t have the resources to address the software side of things. That now has all changed for the former SGI folks and the creation of SuperDome Flex incorporates much of what SGI had been doing in memory-driven compute. Hence the performance gains they are seeing running such things as SAP Hana.

Could future derivatives of Synergy and SuperDome Flex (remembering too that these are primarily Linux boxes capable of supporting KVM and VMware hypervisors) see NonStop finding a new home? This is not part of any product roadmaps today and indeed, as NonStop team’s VP, Andy Bergholz, was quick to highlight, the sweet-spot for these systems is scale-up and not scale-out, so it may be many years before any convergence between NonStop and these platforms occurs. But the fact remains, NonStop remains a core software offering of HPE and as such, will ultimately be an integral part of future new technologies where the memory-driven compute model gradually influences all development programs.

And why not? Today transaction processing isn’t an isolated application and while the scale-out suits the model for transaction processing as we know it today, that is all about to change. Think blockchain and in-memory retention of blocks. Think analytics and in-memory workloads looking at everything arriving at NonStop and yes, mandating analysis of many other data streams from social networks to networked sensors.

And yes, think too of the disruption that will accompany the growing “enrichment of transaction” their value also increases to where running fault tolerant will be the norm and not the exception. Many more advocates of NonStop will appear and don’t rule out just how many of them will come out of HPE itself as already, listening to those presenting blockchain at HPE with little to no background in NonStop have become overnight acolytes!

The December 2017 folder is now filling up nicely and already there are a dozen or so entries in the completed submissions folder. Shortly we will be passing it all over to the good folks at TCM in Scotland for loading and massaging so yes, it’s all very much on track for its regular publishing timeframe of late next week. For the NonStop community the articulation of key messages by HPE over the past couple of weeks is taking hold with its customers and prospects understanding the direction being taken by HPE.

The most recent big-tent marketing event, HPE Discover Madrid, was certainly a success and although translating the messages into deployed solutions will take time, I am now looking forward to this summer’s HPE Discover event, which I encourage as many of you as I can to participate. Hope you can make it as already, I am looking forward to seeing many of you June 18-21, 
2018 at Discover 2018 Las Vegas!

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