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! 

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