Monday, July 30, 2018

Returning to NonStop – how many enterprises now reconsidering NonStop?

Race cars, wide open lapping days, the noise the smell and the color; what does it all have to do with NonStop? How about the ride and how NonStop has pushed hard to win the mission critical computing stakes!  

After several years of being absent from track time on road courses, I took the plunge this past weekend and drove the company command center together with our red Corvette Z06 to High Plains Raceway. Located well to the east of Denver, outside the small township of Byers, this circuit is picturesque even as it takes full advantage of the rolling grasslands that create interesting changes in elevation. From top to bottom there is almost 100 feet of elevation shift and there are a number of corners that are on top of the undulating countryside where drivers’ approach them blind to what may lie beyond.

I signed up for the Friday “open lapping” afternoon – four sessions, each of 30 minutes – as well as for the Saturday club day hosted by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). This later outing gave me four sessions each of 20 minutes, but more importantly, let me circulate with advanced drivers who really put the pressure on me – strictly speaking, this isn’t racing but a High Performance Driver Event (HPDE) that includes pre-grid briefings along with session downloads.  There are always a lot of nervous drivers before the flag falls on the first event of the day.

There is a story here within the story that I will cover in an upcoming post to our social blog, Buckle-Up-Travel, and it has to do with tornados – an unexpected occurrence in the midst of a wild thunderstorm that really shook us up! However, for the NonStop community, this outing had me musing on the many similarities that exist today between where NonStop is headed and the Corvette I was driving. Now, before I get too many comments from you, I am not a racer but more a car enthusiast who enjoys going fast, safely and where everyone is headed in the same direction. And yet, having said that, like anyone who dons a crash helmet and straps themselves tightly into a capable race car, the adrenalin quickly kicks in and for just a moment, you think you really are a race car driver!

When it comes to similarities with NonStop and the NonStop development programs there is always the pursuit of goals that are just over the horizon. Out of sight for the majority of NonStop users and for good reason – ever noticed every NonStop presentation is introduced with HPE standard language telling us that everything that is being covered in the presentation or in the pdf that is subsequently distributed is subject to change! According to HPE, “
Among other things, changes in product strategy resulting from technological, internal corporate, market and other changes.”

For the NonStop community this is completely understandable, of course. I doubt anyone really predicted with any high degree of certainty that NonStop would not only pass it’s fortieth birthday but that this was a milestone that would quickly recede with the passage of time and celebrating NonStop’s fiftieth birthday is now a certainty! Who knew? But that is a story about the usefulness of rearview mirrors more so than looking over the horizon. And yet, as a community, the ecosystem that is NonStop simply loves to speculate.

Talk about bumps in the road and yes, multiple potholes! The NonStop community has been subject to some atrocious incidents. Remember when Compaq, having bought Tandem Computers, decided to brand practically everything as NonStop! They owned the badge so why not stick it on everything? After all, everyone wanted PCs that didn’t stop, right? I am not sure where I was at the time but I distinctly recall hearing of this initiative on a news update on the business television channel, CNBC. I did further googling on this topic but with no luck – can anyone fill me in what happened all those years ago and seriously, am I imagining hearing this update by Compaq?

That was perhaps the low point for NonStop and it proved to be a time when many CIOs drew up plans to leave NonStop. Major solutions vendors like ACI began looking at alternative platforms as well and many of the NonStop tools and utilities vendors began looking at Unix and even Windows, among them IR. And yet, NonStop didn’t fade from the scene and even as the numbers of users and numbers of systems deployed shrank, there were many NonStop users who simply understood the value proposition and after evaluation of alternate offerings, stayed with NonStop.

These users couldn’t see over the horizon and weathered the many bumps and potholes that NonStop hit, but behind the scenes, HPE having merged / acquired Compaq, set about stabilizing the NonStop business with the aim of returning it to profitability. This was crucial. There would be no further investment made in the platform before it showed that it had deserved investment consideration. What followed of course was the quarter billion dollar investment in NonStop in pursuit of a deep port to the Intel x86 architecture. Despite the strength of the IBM marketing machine that continued to push Power chips as the RISC solution of the future, NonStop forego its history with MIPS and indeed with Intel and Itanium to ride the x86 roadmap.

With that single change of direction, a well-executed turn demanding heavy breaking, a big tug of the steering wheel and yes, the absolute need to begin accelerating rapidly once the apex – yes, the decision to go with the project – was passed. This simply wasn’t the time or place to spend a decade on research. Results were needed almost immediately and while Cognac was a secret I knew of Cognac for a very long time, but as a blogger I kept quiet for the very obvious reason that nobody at HPE wanted to do an Osborne! When the secret came out at Boot Camp at the end of 2013, it was one of the most exciting times for NonStop as it represented a signal to the industry that NonStop was back!

This past week I spent a couple of days at a vendor’s all-hands beginning of the year kick-off event. This vendor has had historically strong ties to the NonStop community even as it was among the very first NonStop vendors to test the open platform waters. What struck me most of all was this vendor’s use of the word “purpose”. When you sit inside a car about to enter a hot track and face a starters green flag indicating it is go time, you really do understand your purpose – go fast and stay safe. After all, there aren’t any trophies involved and we all want to return to the track in a couple of weeks’ time with the same car. NonStop has a sole purpose and that is to be the very best fault tolerant computer on the planet.

Oftentimes, this message seems to be missing from presentations but it is the very essence of why anyone would buy into NonStop. It is also very important that the HPE product management team is cognizant of the fact that there will be times where they too have to change direction as what was hidden becomes known. Who would have thought that the first implementation of blockchain by HPE would be on NonStop or that the blockchain implementation would become known as the Mission Critical Distributed Ledger and capitalize on key capabilities of NonStop SQL? You need the premier mission critical system from HPE then it is NonStop and when this news broke, there were many surprised parties across the IT landscape.

Going on track in a car that is prepared to be track-ready and dealing with all the orchestrated mayhem that unfolds isn’t any different to what CIOs face when evaluating solutions and platforms. Situational awareness is what each car driver is taught to pay attention to from their very first outing on track. And it is situational awareness that is perhaps the most important characteristic of good CIOs – they are never rewarded for knee-jerk reactions. Indeed, reacting and over-reacting are the hallmarks of immature, novice CIOs, unfamiliar with what may lie just over the horizon. Fortunately for NonStop, many of these CIOs were fully aware of the situation pertaining to NonStop many years ago and for their insightfulness, they have been well rewarded.

NonStop celebrating its fiftieth birthday isn’t all that far off – just think, we celebrated NonStop’s fortieth birthday only a short time ago and 2024 is just over the horizon. Fault tolerance, mission critical and indeed, business critical together with business continuity are all as relevant today as they were back in 1974. Today everything is connected and in the world we live in, everything computes. Isn’t it a good thing to know that this can continue unabated with NonStop and isn’t it a very good thing that HPE has come to understand the value proposition of NonStop? And as a community we may never strap on a helmet or pulldown a safety harness but we can all enjoy the ride. With NonStop!  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

We don’t belong in a museum; new applications for NonStop systems!

Museums have their place, of course, and given the right circumstances can be entertaining. Fortunately for the NonStop community, HPE continues to ensure the future for NonStop remains bright!

There aren’t all that many things that surprise me these days, but the other week I was totally blown away by what I had missed out on all those years I had lived in Niwot, Colorado. Only a few streets away from our former home is the Shelby Car Museum housing priceless gems which we visited for the very first time only now! A current edition Ford GT was behind ropes having sold for $2.5Million and one of the older race cars had a valuation in excess of $40Million. The cars themselves are arranged according to historical events and there is certainly a lot of memorability surrounding all of them. I could have spent a lot more time looking at these cars as the chronicled the history of car racing from long-forgotten tracks all the way up to Sebring, Daytona and naturally enough, Le Mans.

Margo and I have been very fortunate to have seen a number of good cars parked in our garages over the years. When we had residences in both Colorado and Southern California we ended up with two cars at each residence with a fifth as the go-to all-weather option when it came to driving between the two. You might say, we had backups of our backups, but there was frequently a need for Margo and me to head in different directions and also, there was our blossoming career as gentleman racers, although we acknowledge we are using the word racers very loosely as we never competed in door-to-door competition but rather participated in untimed sessions with fellow like-minded enthusiasts. Like almost everyone we knew at the time, we enjoyed reading the book, Racing in the Rain and now that a movie is being made, we will be highly motivated to check it out once it hits the theaters.

A discussion I had with a NonStop vendor this week made me think back to the unexpected pleasure that came with finding the Shelby Museum. It also made me think back of our own vehicles and the transition that has taken place inside our garage. Yes, today we are spending more time in just one car than we ever expected doing and that is our BMW hybrid. It was yet another vendor’s executive who returned from a GTUG event held in Munich a few years ago enthused by all that he had heard about hybrid IT from HPE to where he went out and bought his own hybrid car from BMW. So much for life imitating art, one could speculate.

When it comes to NonStop there was a time when many members of the NonStop community wondered out loud whether or not their sightings of NonStop systems would only ever happen inside museums. Fortunately, life did intervene and as it so happened, it wasn’t a case so much of life imitating art as it was practicality derived from openness. And industry standards! There will come a time when every member of the NonStop community will look back at 2013 and say, I was there when NonStop broke through the last proprietary barrier as it embraced the Intel x86 architecture. In my post to this blog of November 4, 2013, of The real deal - NonStop supports x86! I included the quote by Randy Meyer, then HP VP and GM of Integrity Servers, talking about NonStop as being “a timeless architecture!” How true – five years later and NonStop X systems are gaining much wider attention across the industry. 

Anyone else noticed, too, the return of the message affirming NonStop as being fault tolerant? It only struck me during the conversation this week with the vendor already referenced earlier in this post that at HPE events around the world, signage above the NonStop X systems being demonstrated includes a reference to Fault Tolerant Compute. Check out the signage above, “Redefining Always-On Compute and Storage for Hybrid IT!” Must we say anything more?

The return to the message of Fault Tolerance, undeniably the centerpiece of all previous successful NonStop marketing campaigns decades ago, should really get us excited. And emotional! Certainly, for Product Manager Ozen Ercevik pictured above, it was evident in how enthusiastically he was greeting all those who passed by at HPE Discover. Coming at around the same time many of us reconnected with Jimmy Treybig in Dallas, after so many years, suggests the stars are realigning. And HPE is back orbiting IT with powerful NonStop systems at a time when increasingly, the complexity of imitating NonStop is resulting in more outages than ever before.

It has been more of a curiosity footnote to read how IDC ranks HPE NonStop Systems as being Availability Level 4 (AL4). A curiosity simply because few IT professionals I encounter know what this means and oh, by the way, aren’t IBM mainframes still AL4? I know I am going to light the fires under some detractors but really, IBM mainframes were never designed to be fault tolerant and at best, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Sorting out how to endear IBM mainframe’s Parallel Sysplex with true fault tolerance (and you will need a massive budget and be able to tap the few people still alive who have the expertise to create such configurations) is probably not worth the effort. But again, I digress. You want fault tolerance at the application level then read the sign. With NonStop HPE has a line of Fault Tolerant systems today and it all works out of the box! And we all do value not having to react to late night phone calls as our systems crash, don’t we? Or, much worse, waking up to see TV newscasts telling the world that our application is no longer operational!

But what is really different this time around and what is delaying NonStop systems being on display at our local technology museum?  This is where it gets really interesting. You are good at coding with Java, well then go right ahead and deploy your program on NonStop. No extra work involved and the NonStop middleware will take over and ensure your program is always available. Prefer Python or Perl? No worries; continue coding as NonStop supports this as well. Want to continue to access Oracle but don’t want to pay the bills? Well, your Oracle calls are now supported by NonStop SQL/ MX – just ask HPE IT which is doing exactly this. As with our cars sitting in garages in different cities, NonStop continues to be ahead of the curve when you need to geographically separate business critical processes; massively parallel processing properties make this a breeze and there are well-established products that drop right in that support such business needs. 

It gets even better as HPE has announced support for VMware for its virtualized NonStop product offering – think virtualized NonStop workloads running in your data centers newly developed private cloud! NonStop ready for a museum? I think not!  This is about as powerful a message about NonStop as you can read today and the good news is that by all accounts, HPE marketing is aware of the differentiation that comes with NonStop being fault tolerant and the even more compelling business case NonStop makes for running your most critical business critical applications of all!  You know; the ones that support interaction with your customers and business partners. It’s easy to argue that today, in the everything-connected, always-on, world we live in everything has become a critical process for business and is a candidate for NonStop.

Interesting side note based on recent presentations at user symposiums and HPE events, management isn’t just talking about NonStop in finance and telco but is illustrating NonStop deployments across seven different verticals – who knew? A bakery running NonStop – you’re kidding, but indeed, in Japan for instance, this is exactly what one bakery is doing today. It was an opinion paper I wrote many years ago that was published on the HPE web site and remains accessible today – just click on this link to see the complete paper
HPE NonStop Systems as you haven’t seen them before  - I wrote of some of the more surprising use cases for NonStop but after attending several events, the number of verticals and the instances within the verticals has grown significantly. Shortly, we will see early deployments of blockchain featuring NonStop and NonStop SQL and I have to believe we may see even more verticals develop where NonStop finds a home.

Hybrid IT and the engagement NonStop has with the Hybrid IT mission is truly a godsend for NonStop and the new systems announced five years ago have really helped NonStop come closer to the vision HPE has for IT. In so doing, getting close has meant there will be many more years to go before anyone considers putting NonStop on display in anything other than a data center (traditional NonStop with NonStop X) or cloud (virtualized NonStop with vNonStop and VMware). Yes, as the songwriter said, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It was worth it! NonStop covers the bases with NonStop vendors …

It hasn’t been all that long since HPE began a program for NonStop vendors but it’s working; with its third symposium, HPE delivered the goods!

Heading out the door for a long drive to California always sees Margo and me leaving with mixed emotions. Yes, we enjoy our time together out on America’s highways even as we find the freedom that comes with being liberated from airport security lines along with the hours wasted hanging around airline gates a welcome break from previous routines. On the other hand, no matter how you look at it, a trip is a disruption to our daily routines and for a writer, it means toying with story lines while hunched over a laptop on a hotel room table. However, when the drive to California includes a day or more with the NonStop team in Palo Alto then we typically focus solely on the positives – our expectations for hearing nothing but good news about NonStop.

Two years ago, HPE held their first NonStop Partner Technology Symposium. The symposium that just wrapped up was the third time such a gathering of NonStop vendors occurred and with each event, the numbers of attendees grows. It is not surprising really as vendors always want to hear the inside scoop from the NonStop team ahead of any announcements made in front of their customers; it’s only natural for them to have had time to consider their options. Two years ago, following early shipments of NonStop X systems, some vendors elected not to do further development in support of NonStop preferring to simply support their customers who stayed with Itanium-based NonStop i systems. Believing that there would be further erosion of the NonStop marketplace, their short sightedness has proved costly.

NonStop usage hasn’t stalled and in fact, with the recent addition of the NS2 to the previously announced NS3 and NS7 systems, NonStop customers have a lot of options available to them as to how best to deploy their NonStop applications and this has turned the NonStop ship around. In the past I have written about “new logos” being added to the NonStop community and what this means for everyone, but it’s clear to Margo and me now that the more you look at NonStop usage the more surprised you will be to see how widespread the presence of the NonStop systems is across many more marketplaces than finance and telco.

For our time in Silicon Valley, we took advantage of the generosity of Margo’s niece who has a place on Half Moon Bay in a development that is part of the nearby Ritz Carlton hotel. Each night we went to the hotel to eat, to watch the sun go down and to listen to the sole Scottish bagpipe player piping in the evening. Normally surrounded in fog, the weather proved to be perfect and it only added to overall upbeat mood we were in as we talked with HPE and with the vendors who made it to the event. No fog here either – the plans for NonStop were clear. While each vendor signed a CDA that HPE reinforced with vigor at the start of the symposium, meaning that the specifics of what was covered cannot be talked about for a year, there are some general observations that I can make. Not the least being how thankful the NonStop vendor community is that HPE puts on such an event at all. A stark contrast to former times and yet one more reason why NonStop development’s approach to supporting partners differs so much from other HPE product lines and the relationship they have with their partners. 

A lot of ground was covered and when you think of hardware and how there continues to be support for traditional NonStop systems as well as virtualized NonStop and then you consider the growing diversity of the software, including the big bets made in support of SQL/MX and the push to have NonStop be the premier platform supporting Blockchain, there were many bases to cover. And yes, covering all the bases was what transpired – so much so that I have a half full notebook of material I can now only allude to but it will help me in all my dealings with those of my clients who were also present at the symposium. Perhaps most important of all, we met the new management line up who will be leading NonStop for the next couple of years – the new VP and GM of Mission Critical Systems, Jeff Kyle, and the new head of NonStop development in Palo Alto, Teresa Sorg.

Unfortunately, Margo and I will not be able to make the NonStop technical Boot Camp later this year where announcements of a more public nature will be made but let’s just say right now – every member of the NonStop community should be making plans to head to Burlingame for this big event in November. You will hear so much more about NonStop – its usage and its capabilities – than probably you have heard at previous Boot Camps. So much so that you should be already encouraging your management to join you at this event! This will most definitely prove to be material to any plans you have for NonStop deployment in the future. For some time now I have been quoting Randy Meyer, newly elevated to the position of VP and GM Compute Solutions, HPE (the value business of HPE versus its volume business), that “time and data are the new currency.” But what does this mean?

Listening to the presentations as the day’s program unfolded, it became clear to Margo and me that this was a good way to think about how HPE is positioning NonStop. When you view time and data as axis then you can see how the new Superdome Flex can be plotted somewhere way out there on the data axis. Yes, it’s all about scale up! On the other hand, the NonStop X can be plotted on the time axis such that where response times are more critical to the mission of the business, then that’s where NonStop X lives. And it’s all about scale out! In other words, until we see data living on new age systems that match the “timely performance” of OLTP systems like NonStop, we will see HPE building two distinct product lines. Yes, NonStop is the “money product” when it comes to OLTP. In an age where it’s all about the Edge and the Cloud, NonStop increasingly will see its role shift closer to the edge as that’s where data first hits the enterprise and that’s where customers require attention immediately!

There are probably more elegant if not more scientific ways to describe these two paths – in former times we talked about OLTP versus OLAP and operational data stores versus data warehouses but today, with the Edge and the Cloud, its more about amorphous data lakes versus highly structured data bases. And for Margo and me, we understand HPE get this and is addressing the business needs aggressively. General purpose computer systems may still have a role to play but increasingly, it’s about specialization and when it comes to processing transactions, reliably and in volume, NonStop has no peer – IDC recently reasserting how NonStop remains the only out-of-the-box AL4 “fault tolerant” system in the marketplace capable of meeting the demands of today’s enterprises.

One final observation from the symposium: For critics of the former HP who complained bitterly about how slow HP was to respond to partners and indeed the industry, the new HPE has a completely flattened organization. Randy is now only one manager removed from HPE CEO, Antonio Neri. The owner of Compute Solutions that includes NonStop means he has a dozen possible more direct reports and as challenging as this may look on paper it reflects the real world. A NonStop developer is only a few steps away from the CEO and increasingly, when Neri wants to know something, his coffee-table talks (so I have to imagine) include those closest to the technology – a circumstance rarely seen in former times at HP. As further evidence of this flattening of the organization and a desire to know more of NonStop and the role it plays in business, Bill Dunmire, Group Manager, Mission Critical Solutions Marketing, HPE, who is a new contact for all of us. Welcome Bill to the world of NonStop and to the ecosystem of NonStop centric vendors all pulling hard for an even more successful NonStop in the future. 

I haven’t touched on anything that was covered in the symposium but I will highlight how the requirements NonStop development is prioritizing happen to be coming from HPE IT – yes, a real “user” in every sense of the word and a user we have been following for many years now. They continue to invest in NonStop even as they continue to push the boundaries of compatibility with their former platforms. Active development projects, a flatter organization and a role for NonStop from the Edge to the Cloud – what more could we expect from HPE? All in, it was well worth the drive from Windsor to Palo Alto and well worth the time spent listening to those parties directly involved in bringing new products and solutions to market. Well done, Karen, the product management team and yes, HPE. It may have been just a day but for the remainder of the year, with as many bases covered as there now are, as a community, NonStop vendors and users alike will have lots to talk about! Now for the drive home with more posts to follow …

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...