Monday, January 15, 2018

Summer in the Southern Hemisphere means cricket – and there are lessons for the NonStop community!

Someone once told me watching cricket was like watching baseball on Valium. It’s not that bad, really: But there is something to be said about the fervor of each team’s supporters that the NonStop community may want to consider …

For the past couple of months I have spent sleepless nights hunched over my laptop looking at the BBC web site and watching line-by-line updates coming from a cricket match in Australia. It is now summer in the southern hemisphere so that means days spent playing or watching cricket. Not just any cricket matches, mind you, but later-day warfare between two otherwise closest of friends. Whenever the English cricket team tours Australia the ultimate prize is ownership of a very humble urn – the repository of “The Ashes.” Dating back more than a century, following the earliest cricket match between the two countries where England lost, it was The Times that printed a match report in the Obituary column claiming the loss was tantamount to the death of cricket in England.

Equipment used in the match was ceremoniously burnt, the ashes collected and placed in the urn, and the greatest of all trophies has come to symbolize the height of competitiveness between the countries, but of late, each time England tours Australia, they falter and yet again, after five “test matches” over five days each, Australia has captured the urn.  Cricket is a funny game and there is not enough time to explain the many nuances of this game of chess played by flannel fools on a patchwork of brilliant grass but suffice to say, viewers from both sides go to extraordinary lengths to support their team. And nowhere in the world is there a more vocal group of supporters than England’s famous fan base, their Barmy Army!

Reading each line as they appeared on my laptop and relishing every run scored by the Aussies even as I barely had time to make a cup of coffee between the falling wickets of the English, life was as it should be – an English cricket team being skewered under some of the hottest sunshine ever endured by any touring side. Yes, they had to call it quits over at the tennis championship but not so for the cricketers. But the heat haze rising from the center of the pitch gave new meaning to these cricketers being toast! But enough of the cricket as it reminded me of groups and the communities that come together to support a person, team or event.

There was a time when being called a groupie came with nothing but negative connotations as in silly or mindless. A sense of blindly following and indeed adoring someone else whether they be an entertainer, a sports person or even a religious leader. Never anything good ever came out of being a groupie, or so the popular sentiment of the day seemed to believe. However, there are times when belonging to a group is more valuable and that’s where that value comes from information. 

Each time I come away from a major vendor event I am struck by how over the course of just a few days, a sense of community develops even as everyone is only too excited to tell you how to do something completely different, only better! Later in the day, fierce competitors can all be found propping up a bar somewhere exchanging pleasantries as if they knew all along that all of their product lines did much the same thing. And each time they gather there is always an update or two on who now works for whom and where their latest travels had taken them. There is absolutely nothing wrong or out of the ordinary with any of this, save for the fact that they all want your business and by themselves, would readily point out all the weaknesses of the product you may have been considering purchasing just an hour or so earlier from their competitor.

When the events are held by major vendors, like HPE, the audience is keenly attuned to the electricity in the air – if participants sense a developing buzz around the event, the buzz will continue to grow as the event proceeds. However, if the body language of key participants exudes anything but confidence in the future then “all bets are off” with the bars filling more quickly than usual. Whenever HPE Discover events are held and general sessions are about to start, I always pay attention to the music being played and if you haven’t done the same, you may be amused to know that major vendors rarely pay attention to the selection of songs in advance of the event – all they want is something high-octane to get the audience pumped up for the show!

On one occasion, the music selection stunned us all. As I was recalling the titles and quoting lines from the songs, it was very clear someone was having some fun somewhere out there in the darkness of the dimmed rapidly-filling auditorium. Looking back at it all, it was kind of funny to hear: “Wake me up (when it’s all over)” followed by Here's to the damned, to the lost and forgotten; It's hard to get high when you're living on the bottom” and then, “If your lips are moving, then you're lyin', lyin', lyin' …” before closing with, “Well we rushed it, Moving way too fast. That we crushed it, But it's in the past.” When it comes to local events, such as those aimed at the NonStop community there is neither high octane music with catchy lines or opening acts but rather, an almost immediate cut to what attendees want to hear – all the news about NonStop! Nor would I expect that those in attendance would have been mindless about what was being played – they would have caught on quickly!

I have been involved with user groups since well, forever. In 1979 I attended my first ever, IBM Mainframe user group, SHARE, at the time of its Australian foundation, when rules concerning participation had yet to be finalized. But it was my time with ITUG where I really came to appreciate the value of community and where my future path pretty much was determined. Am I NonStop groupie? Am I part of some informal NonStop supporters “army?”  Am I that last man standing at the bar long after “last call” for drinks? Maybe the answers to all of these questions could include maybe, could have happened and yes, could be totally true.

Point is, the history of NonStop and, before that, Tandem Computers, is populated by folks who know and understand the true value of fault tolerant computing and find all other platforms a step backwards.  On FaceBook I am a member of the public group. Tandem Computers. Recently, participants began sharing photos of coffee mugs, clothing and even pins – mementos of their time at the company.

But the one that struck me that came out towards the end of Tandem’s independence as a vendor was the one depicted above: YCDBWYCID. In case you cannot recall what it meant, it simply reminded folks that “You can't do business when your computer is down" … yes, I want to belong to that club? Yes, count me in as a follower! Here’s the thing though – I am neither barmy, nor mindless. And I checked with my wife Margo before writing these words, just to be sure. NonStop today is often being talked about as undergoing significant changes as it transforms to meet the needs of today’s hybrid IT but what hasn’t changed and indeed continues to be its redeeming grace is its undiluted support for fault tolerance. 

You don’t have to necessarily go to FaceBook to read about NonStop or the community. If you subscribe to LinkedIn, for instance, there are many LinkedIn groups that are either industry related or vendor specific and they contain a wealth of information. For the NonStop community there are a lot of choices and no matter which LinkedIn group you are a member of, there will always be a willing contingent of knowledgeable people prepared to answer any question you may have. If it has been a while since you searched through the groups, among the most popular are the Tandem User Group and Connect HPE User Group Community. As for my own tastes, I continue to monitor both Real Time View and yes, of course, Fools for NonStop.

To many cricket may be numbing if not mindless and those that are prepared to spend seven or more hours a day for five days straight watching a test match between countries, a little odd. And yet the game has such fervent followers that it begs the question – would these same people be just as prepared to watch two cockroaches, one from each country, race up a wall? Perhaps not! Enthusiastic, almost evangelical in their fervor but willing to spend time talking about their systems and solutions, the NonStop community remains somewhat unique. Less fickle for sure and more focused, clearly, but this is good news for the NonStop community. There is always a place to turn to for information and there is always someone to call and whether you make it to the more popular big-tent events or not, be assured – the NonStop community will continue as long as they know, YCDBWYCID!   

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