Monday, April 30, 2018

Time to take a trip to Europe; NonStop RUGs kick off in earnest ...

Many of us will be heading off to Europe very soon as the RUG season kicks it up a gear or two with HPE execs on hand to fill us in on all that’s happening. But what we all want to hear is how virtualized NonStop will shake up the market!

I have always enjoyed the times when I had to make the trip across the Atlantic to Europe. I don’t know what it is exactly, but when circumstances present themselves where I need to show up for a meeting or event somewhere in the “old country” my heart skips a beat and I immediately begin counting down the days to departure. Before coming to America to join Tandem Computers, living in Australia meant trips to Europe had to be carefully weighed against the time away from regular activities as well as costs, and more often than not it also meant looking at combining a number of activities so as to maximize the time out of the country. 

With hindsight however, the travel I did in the early part of my career was truly educational. It was a time when so much change was happening in the industry that you just had to go out there and participate – imagine my surprise when on one occasion a stretch limo pulled up to take me to an event the only other passenger in the limo was Gene Amdahl! I am not sure what we discussed but it was lively and no, I didn’t remind him of the time only a few years previous where sitting in the front row of a conference hall, I fell asleep during his keynote. So soundly, in fact, that I began to snore and had to be nudged awake!

In the late 1970s through to the early 1980s there was one major conference I always managed to include as part of my European travels and that was the National Computer Conference (NCC) held in the US and I was fortunate enough to be in attendee at the NCC in Houston and Anaheim. This was at a time when IBM dominated the industry and all the discussions centered on the flourishing Plug Compatible Mainframe (PCM) business – yes, we had standards and they were all anchored in IBM products. On the one hand, it made life easy for IBMs competitors but on the other hand, as if industry technology stalled for a brief period of time. However, it was during this same period that I first encountered the world of Unix and it was in Europe that I ran into Unix evangelists almost everywhere I turned.

For all the years I confined myself to air travel, jetting from one venue to another (and racking up the miles in the days before frequent flyer programs), the education I received highlighted how trends could be quickly identified and then validated simply by walking the exhibition halls of a major event. Of course, the biggest event on the computer calendar back then wasn’t the NCC but the original Hannover Fair (before it split and CeBIT arose); if you liked toys and playing around in the mud, this was definitely the must-attend event as alongside computers there were elevator shafts and full size locomotives! It played such a prominent part in the industrialized world that many of the participants had committed themselves so strongly that they constructed their own pavilions out of bricks and mortar!

As I look back at those times, long before the arrival of the Internet, such a hands-on exposure to everything new in IT had no substitute and it was the only way to keep abreast of the changes continually at work reshaping IT.  And yes, change was happening with such regularity that you just had to show up the following year and the year after that and then, of course the next year – today, however, IT has become so fine-grained that we really have lost touch with the breadth of our industry and as much as I can google almost anything I want to know, it’s not the same as walking up to something completely foreign, touching it and wondering, what the heck does it do! To think, I walked onto the pavilion of Nixdorf Computers in the early 1980s to see Nixdorf’s first ATM complete with heated surfaces for a better customer experience in temperatures below -40C! And yes, destined for the Australian marketplace!

On the other hand, as I look forward to what is about to take place in just a few weeks’ time, the scale may not be what it used to be and the scope may be way smaller, but those planning on attending either or both BITUG and GTUG will be experiencing much the same level of anticipation as I had all those years ago. There may not be trucks, tractors and railway locomotives or anything else like that but to the keen observer stopping by the exhibitor desks, it will be clear that NonStop today is more than just a bunch of boxes with an OS; NonStop can be deployed any which way you would like and the NonStop vendor community is already catering to any configuration your enterprise requires. Most important of all – and visible at the RUG events already held this year – NonStop has truly become a line of software products with the option of having HPE throw in some hardware!

Too cavalier, perhaps? I don’t think so; there’s no value in going to RUG events today with preconceived ideas as to what NonStop is or how NonStop should be delivered. News flash – the days of simply mulling over an upgrade to the next NonStop model are over. Every enterprise with mission-critical applications needs to think very carefully about the optimum way to run these applications on NonStop and the focus is going to return to the human component. Does your company have access to the skilled personnel it needs to run NonStop in this new world of hybrid IT where clouds are well and truly entrenched in the mindset of CIOs. If clouds aren’t on your radar and your enterprise is holding steady on a tried and true course, then yes, take the next upgrade of NonStop from HPE. However, if you are seeing clouds being discussed and you want to ensure NonStop contributes to your business, go to these upcoming RUG events and interact with HPE and the rest of the NonStop community before making any firm decisions one way or the other.

With as much talk as there is about robotics and AI these days and with as much attention being given to analytics and deep learning, perhaps the more interesting question is how exposed might you become if you picked the wrong approach to running NonStop? What I am getting a sense of is that for the majority of NonStop users, the NonStop X family of systems is the way to go and that the time to stop feeding the NonStop i family of systems needs to be curtailed. I have only anecdotal support for now, but I have to believe the supply chain behind Itanium has to be thinning out not to mention how much energy is being expended on stockpiling ServerNet switches. Not much, by my count even as I am sure some NonStop i systems traded for new NonStop X systems are being cannibalized in support of some markets. Again, purely my own observation at this point in time!

However, as 2018 unfolds take a good look around at what your peers are doing. NonStop X systems for production; vNonStop on converged virtualized NonStop systems (NS 2) for development and test and yes, NonStop SQL/MX the engine behind DBaaS running from within a cloud and fully virtualized (supporting multitenancy). Not just one way to run NonStop but exploiting the flexibility (and indeed innovation) that today’s NonStop represents. Again, when was having choice ever a bad thing? And when has mixing it up been viewed negatively when the operational bottom line has so much potential upside – think of shared DR sites that are cloud based?

My love of travel hasn’t subsided over the years but it has taken on a different look – as the NonStop community is aware of these days if I cannot drive then it takes an awful lot of motivation to get me back on a plane. In a modern twist to that famous marketing message, “don’t leave home without it today,” I actually take home with me! On the other hand, the program content and the personalities that are present at major RUG events such as we see taking place shortly in Europe are enough to get me back on a plane and I am sure I am going to hear a lot that is new even as I know I am going to be caught out with something unexpected being announced or demonstrated.

But no matter what takes place the one thing I can absolutely guarantee is that with all that is taking place today with NonStop, I will not be falling asleep during any of the keynote presentations nor will my snoring be heard above the commentary of HPE participants.  Safe travels – and I look forward to seeing as many of you as I can in that fine German city, Leipzig! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Let’s talk some more about hybrid IT

During a recent trip to Silicon Valley there was barely a meeting where the topic of hybrid IT didn’t come up and yet, almost every time, what was being described as hybrid IT was different … so, what’s going on?
Many a Sunday afternoon of my youth I spent trackside north of the Sydney suburb of Hornsby, watching the steam trains pull up a grade as they headed south into the metropolitan area. These tracks had little to do with race cars, mind you, but watching the mighty locally designed and manufactured 38 Class locomotive as well as the even more famous (among Australians at least) Garrett locomotive, with its distinctive configuration where a separate water tank was located ahead of the boilers and engines in a detached carriage. Back in those heady days I actually took a trip from Sydney’s Central Railway Station to Newcastle on the famous Newcastle Flyer where somewhere the other side of Wyong, through a downhill cutting, we hit 70 mph! Wow … and yes, we were “flying!”

The age of diesel trains arrived soon after and all the fun went out of watching trains. The 44 Class introduced in the mid-1950s was a diesel electric locomotive and as such represented my introduction to hybrid vehicle power. But absent the belching smoke and the whistles and screeching metal, these locomotives were relatively boring, but nonetheless, they introduced significant change into the transportation industry as now very long distances could be covered without the need for water tanks to be erected at regular intervals along the track. Yes, the world of hybrids revolutionized transportation finding its way not only into trains but supersized dump trucks operating in some of the world’s biggest open-cut mines as well as in ships of all sizes, including many of the cruise ships where we vacation.

With as much talk as there is today about hybrid vehicles where nearly every auto manufacturer has at least one hybrid in their portfolio of vehicles, it isn’t at all surprising to find the word has crept into IT. I can’t recall exactly when I first heard of hybrids and hybrid IT but it has to be more than a decade ago, and maybe longer.  Despite how we got here – every IT vendor is talking up their hybrid IT solutions as if nothing else mattered and maybe it doesn’t any more. In one way I thought that this would be a possible outcome for IT as businesses gradually realized that their business wasn’t IT but rather banking, retail, telecommunications, transportation, etc.

We no longer see operating theaters and lines of doctors resident in businesses just as we don’t see large architectural offices. There may be the occasional consulting doctor or architect to help a business determine future product directions but more often than not, we bring in outside consultants in these fields as needed. So why staff up as big an IT organization as we have had in the past if we look to better integrate IT into every function within the business? Perhaps hybrid IT is ushering us in a new era of computing where IT is nothing more than the data equivalent of the HVAC!

But what is hybrid IT and how did we get here? In my post of March 28, 2018,
How did that happen – I have hybrid IT? I referenced a quote by HPE blogger, Gary Thome. This came after HPE commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a survey to evaluate the current state of Hybrid IT. “While Hybrid IT is the new normal,” Thome noted, “two-thirds of businesses ended up with a hybrid estate by accident – not design.” Ouch; kind of reminds you of how suddenly we all woke up one day to find everyone had a smartphone that needed to access the data center. Or worse; suddenly every desktop and laptop owned by an employee need to have these clients access servers throughout the enterprise.

As early as 2012, however, it was Gartner who began coverage of hybrid IT where reference was also made to cloud computing and the connection between the two really energized the marketplace. According to Gartner, “Hybrid IT is transforming IT architectures and the role of IT itself … Hybrid IT is the result of combining internal and external services, usually from a combination of internal and public clouds, in support of a business outcome.” So rather than simply falling into hybrid IT by accident, the real story here is that it is very much associated with clouds both public and increasingly, private. "Many organizations have now passed the definitional stage of cloud computing and are testing cloud architectures inside and outside the enterprise and over time, the cloud will simply become one of the ways that we 'do' computing, and workloads will move around in hybrid internal/external IT environments," said Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner.

"Hybrid IT is the new IT and it is here to stay. While the cloud market matures, IT organizations must adopt a hybrid IT strategy that not only builds internal clouds to house critical IT services and compete with public cloud service providers (CSPs), but also utilizes the external cloud to house noncritical IT services and data, augment internal capacity, and increase IT agility," said Mr. Howard. "Hybrid IT creates symmetry between internal and external IT services that will force an IT and business paradigm shift for years to come." You have to really love the enthusiasm of Gartner in this instance as they suggest yet another paradigm shift – but really? While volumes have been written about hybrid IT the only paradigm shift I am seeing is that there isn’t a single, uniting, unambiguous definition of hybrid IT and that it is very much something that is in the eye of the CIO. If he says he has hybrid IT then who is to argue with him?

In 2016 it was left to IBM to begin the process of making sure any paradigm shifts under way didn’t exclude participation by traditional IT vendors. “The simplest definition of hybrid cloud is that it is a combination of private and public cloud, but that is far from the entire story. To really grasp it, think about the challenges that businesses encounter every day.” Fair enough – clearly there is more to this story after all. “Hybrid is not even just about cloud. It’s also about traditional IT and legacy applications. It’s essential to ensure that legacy applications, which usually deal with core business functions, are able to exchange information with cloud applications and databases,” said IBM. “Hybrid cloud is not just about IT. It is also about business. It’s the logical ecosystem that can support business innovation and expansion in a fast and agile way and — at the same time — preserve the stability and efficiency of core business functions.”

Alternatively, the cloud service providers (CSPs) like AWS, a counter argument soon arises and in 2018 AWS explained how, “At the most fundamental level, hybrid computing can be viewed as having data that resides both on-premises and in the cloud. This is often done to economically store large data sets, utilize new cloud-native databases, move data closer to customers, or to create a backup and archive solution with cost-effective high availability. In all cases, AWS offers a range of storage and database services that can work together with your on-premises applications to store data reliably and securely. The most robust form of hybrid architecture involves integrating application deployment and management across on-premises and cloud environments. AWS and VMware have developed a deep, unique relationship to enable VMware-based workloads to be run on the AWS Cloud.”

It is hard to argue with AWS as they are the biggest player on the cloud stage even as it is hard to argue with the massive ecosystem that has surfaced of late in support of AWS. As AWS notes on its web site, “All AWS services are driven by robust APIs that allow for a wide variety of monitoring and management tools to integrate easily with your AWS Cloud resources. Common tools from vendors such as Microsoft, VMware, BMC Software, Okta, RightScale, Eucalyptus, CA, Xceedium, Symantec, Racemi, and Dell already support AWS, and that’s just naming a few.” Clearly, there is no textbook case of hybrid IT just as there are no classic use case scenarios. For IT, there are volumes upon volumes written about hybrid IT and pulling just one of them and checking a single chapter may prove interesting but shouldn’t be considered in absolute terms.

What we can all agree upon is that at a minimum, hybrid IT includes at least two different compute models and that they support data and business logic spread across them both with optimization undertaken to better exploit each of the compute models. Hence, given this understanding even the earliest NonStop systems where Linux was present – think CLIMs – can rightfully be described as a hybrid system but not a template for hybrid compute per se. What we can also agree upon is that somewhere in the picture is a cloud – a virtualized environment that is software-defined supporting an elasticity of provisioning that traditional compute models didn’t accommodate. And contrary to what IBM may propose, running a virtualized compute model inside a mainframe really does stretch all sense of credibility even as it looks like a cloud on IBM’s slideware!

For the NonStop community the introduction of virtualized NonStop represents a giant step towards greater participation of virtualized NonStop workloads within hybrid IT. Accommodating a heterogeneous mix of NonStop systems and Linux server farms is a step in the right direction but until we have NonStop living in the true world of software-defined everything, we have ways to go before we can wave the banner of NonStop in hybrid IT. Heterogeneous support is a great place to start but it is just the beginning and this is where HPE has done us all a huge favor by stepping up and supporting the virtualization of NonStop! In so doing, we won’t be seeing NonStop relegated to museums any time soon. As for the famous Newcastle Flyer and that 38 01, according to Transport Heritage NSW, "It is currently at Chullora having work done on it - i.e. its boiler is being fitted." It is hoped that it will return to life by the end of the year - most likely November - and take its place in the
New South Wales Rail Museum at Thirlmere, an outlying southern suburb of Sydney!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

What’s inside counts and NonStop inside is counting more …

As NonStop readies itself for deployment in clouds and where NonStop workloads will become just another virtualized workload running in the cloud, the opportunities for NonStop deployments will grow considerably …

Breaking news! Every time I pick up my smartphone these days it’s as if there is something happening in the world that I need to be notified about right now. In a sense, it’s my own virtual equivalent to “stop the presses” even as I know that most times, its relevance to anything I am doing at that moment is questionable. Not to put too fine a point on it, I really don’t need to know anything more about the Kardashians or the rallies and strikes happening in some far away land or even who is heading to the NHL playoffs this year even as I know that my local team here in Colorado may have moved up from last place this time last year to being a contender for Lord Stanley’s Cup. 

What does interest me, on the other hand, is the discussions and correspondence on the future of HPE and the likelihood of further success of NonStop. My interest in these topics has in part been driven by the work Margo and I have been putting into the digital publication, NonStop Insider. With eighteen months of issues now behind us, a routine has been established, with the support from the NonStop vendor community being outstanding. If you have as yet not subscribed to this publication then you should visit the subscription page:

This interest obviously has been fueled by the need to be current on topics of interest to the NonStop community, but just as importantly, its proved to be a fun thing to be doing because, as is often stated by proponents of Blockchain, I may not trust anyone but I will trust everyone. Said another way and more relevant to what is covered in NonStop Insider – anyone can hold onto an opinion but everyone can share common goals. Just talking with as many folks as we can within the NonStop community (and yes, that includes HPE NonStop product managers and developers) gives us a certain degree of confidence that we are staying on point. And the messages have been steadily increasing for the past month. So, what is the topic of the day and is it shared by everyone?

We have come a long way since news first broke that NonStop had been ported to the Intel x86 architecture. As a server, the NonStop X family represents a bold take on a growing requirement for NonStop – embrace industry standards and open protocols. Provide choice and provide better return on investment (ROI) even as the entry price into NonStop is greatly reduced. The move from Itanium to x86, as complex as any chip swap previously undertaken by the NonStop development team, was a repetition of previous ports and considered by many as somewhat routine. However, taking NonStop out of the hardware it has depended upon for forty plus years, cutting all direct ties to the metal and placing it into something as foreign as commodity bits and pieces buffered by an intermediary control program isn’t far removed from what we read of today concerning heart transplants.

When it comes to explaining what was done in order to come up with virtualized NonStop (vNS), making sure nothing was compromised in the process seems as complex as cutting away all the connections to the old fabric and then ensuring the reconnection to the new fabric (this time, not metal but rather a control program), works flawlessly. Of course, there is only so far this image can be taken as embarrassing as it may turn out to be, a few missteps in the technology world will never have quite the same ramifications as mistakes in the world of medicine. And yet, it’s hard not to see the similarities and share the same concerns as we would if we were watching a real heart transplant.

Similarly, it is hard to argue against the concerns some CIOs have today should the proposal be made to swap out NonStop from the heart of their ATM networks and to reinsert it into untried metalwork with an intermediary control program, or hypervisor, as it is more commonly called. Reduced to a simple risk – reward equation, why would anyone want to go down that path? What could possibly drive such consideration and motivate such an investment? Surely, when it comes to NonStop, the status quo prevails where simple upgrades from traditional system models to newer traditional models eliminates most of the risk.

There is a reason why heart transplants are performed today. The very existence of the recipient is at stake and all other options have been exhausted. Again, this image can be taken only so far as well when it comes to NonStop. Mission-critical applications running on NonStop may continue to run standalone, as modern-era transaction processing PABX-like systems, but the resource that they are accumulating – data – is a much treasured resource that enterprises everywhere want to access. And it is the growth in data that is fueling the consideration of building private clouds capable of storing and providing access to enormous amounts of data. Business logic and data is finding its way onto servers making up a private cloud and these private clouds are fully virtualized. For NonStop to play as important a role within the enterprise as it always has, it too needs to be able to run as a guest workload inside a virtualized cloud.

When it comes to the future of HPE and the likelihood of further success for NonStop, it’s not surprising to read how HPE’s vision embraces the simplification of the process of transforming to hybrid IT. Expressed as simply as it can be done, hybrid IT is a mix of both traditional systems and clouds. While it could be argues that NonStop could remain a key player in the traditional systems side of the ledger, that isn’t where the growth will come from – clouds are on the rise, traditional systems are barely holding their own. It was inevitable that NonStop would make the leap to x86 and then make a further leap into virtualization.

Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in the March – April, 2018, issue of The Connection. In the article by Prashanth Kamath U, Senior Product Manager, NonStop, HPE NonStop takes New Strides in its Journey through the Cloud he says, “We do realize and appreciate that ‘cloud’ has a much wider scope. It has different technologies, business models, deployment models and several other dimensions. We are carefully looking at these various plays in the cloud world and charting out the future course for HPE NonStop to enter your datacenters as the preferred deployment platform.”  More importantly and very much to the point, Prashanth then writes, “We are overwhelmed by the customer interest for deploying their Mission-Critical workloads on the NonStop platform in their private clouds.”

Headlines may come and go. Interest in a topic among journalists is always fleeting – of interest until the next news break occurs. But where HPE is taking NonStop is neither fleeting nor inconsequential. It’s groundbreaking for the NonStop community as it aligns NonStop with the major vision of HPE – transforming to hybrid IT. Even if transforming demanded transplanting, which moving NonStop dependencies away from the metal and onto a hypervisor clearly represents, the risks endured by HPE were well worth taking. Assuming that the customer interest is as high as Prashanth states, and I have no reason to doubt that customer interest is high, then the risks of joining the transformation to hybrid IT with NonStop are certainly worth serious consideration.

It is still early times for NonStop X and it’s still even earlier times for vNS. Choice is obviously important and there will be strong cases made to stay with traditional systems. However, if clouds have begun being deployed within your enterprise’s data center, isn’t it a good time to give due consideration to vNS? And what’s inside the cloud really does count – there is no lessening of the need to support Mission-Critical applications with NonStop! To date, all the bets taken by HPE have panned out as expected – shouldn’t our expectations be for a NonStop that conforms to the visions and strategy of our enterprise? I sense we are going to catching glimpses of more news about NonStop customers pursuing the transformation as after all, it only requires a little heart to achieve and we all know that “having a heart” has been central to everything the NonStop community has ever done!

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...