Wednesday, August 29, 2018

NonStop community in its journey to virtualization values service providers!

From products, hardware and software, for the NonStop community conversations turn to solutions and staffing as services!

Looking out over this vista in Utah’s Capital Reef National Park I immediately thought of the saying “between a rock and a hard place.” Can’t imagine why this came to me, but then again, the barren landscape stretching to the horizon was certainly not a pleasant place in which to become lost – the river beds are mostly dry, with the vegetation providing little by way of shelter. No, best to take it all in from alongside the roadways that run across the ridges! If you have ever traversed Utah state highway 24 to the junction with Utah state highway 12 and then continued on to pick up US highway 89, you would see some amazing sights. And yet, as this picture captures so well, the desolation that you would face, should you leave the well-travelled highways that traverse the park, would definitely place you between a rock and a very hard place!

These past few days Margo and I have had the good fortune of enjoying the company of some very knowledgeable NonStop folks. You probably all know them very well as they have been part of the NonStop community for decades, with some of them responsible for bringing into the NonStop marketplace some very useful middleware and tools. Part of the NonStop landscape today, but back in the early days of Tandem Computers, it was just as barren a landscape as depicted here. Practically every tool needed by a NonStop systems manager had to be developed from scratch – a situation no user today embracing NonStop has to face. Almost every requirement systems managers or operations personnel have today can be satisfied with at least two, often times three or four, quality products. Needless to say, the NonStop community has continued to support new vendors arriving on the scene with a regulatory that defies the odds.

During an informal meeting with Striim cofounder, Sami Akbay, just a short time ago, talk quickly turned to commoditization and openness. “When you look at what we are working with today,” said Sami, “it’s no longer about the hardware. It’s now not even about the software, even though NonStop product managers are strongly evangelizing the benefits that come from NonStop now being strictly a software play, but rather, services. By this I mean, all the action is taking place ensuring functionality is on offer as a service whether it be Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (Paas) the expectation among enterprise users is that they can turn to providers of services for nearly every component up and down the stack that they used to have to develop from scratch!”

Is this putting traditional vendors between a rock and a hard place? “Certainly some of the biggest traditional providers of software think so,” said Sami. “Just look at how they have to cannibalize their own customer base just to stay in the game and that’s a tough act to follow if you have committed your business to growth!” Anyone following the financial reports coming from major vendors including the likes of IBM and Oracle, know what is a stake for them and the difficulty they are facing now that their competitors are Amazon, Microsoft and even Google. But this is just one part of the story about services. For most readers, when the topic of services comes up, thoughts turn to those vendors providing consulting, management and operational services.

What galvanizes NonStop users today is the many choices that they face – and the fear that some of these users are expressing to us over who is going to help them plot a course is palpable. Could HPE have come up with too many options? Has the path that HPE has elected to follow with NonStop opened the door to less than optimal choices being made by the user community? And perhaps more importantly, with the aggressive rollout program HPE is pursuing with NonStop – NonStop X and now virtualized NonStop (vNS) – how deep is the services bench capable of helping out NonStop customers moving to completely new systems, traditional and virtualized? One way to assess this is to look at what one managed services provider is already tooling up to support and to this end, I engaged in an email exchange this week with Daniel Craig, Operations Director for TCM.

“For the moment and based on what we have been responding to on an almost daily basis,” Craig began, “Most of our customers are looking to go with NonStop X systems and are sticking pretty closely to configurations that HPE is proposing. When you look at the nature of the solutions these NonStop customers have deployed, it is completely understandable that they are risk averse. There really isn’t an upside for them to be too adventurous at this stage.” This is not all that surprising, as the change to x86 wasn’t anticipated by many NonStop users. Although there had been rumors for quite some time, HPE kept a tight lid on the project to port NonStop to x86.

The subsequent development effort to support virtual machines with vNS, on the other hand, proved to be a much bigger surprise for the NonStop community – how was this going to work and how was HPE going to ensure no lessening in availability? Was it even going to run NonStop the way NonStop users were used to seeing NonStop running on traditional systems? The conservative nature of the NonStop community is now only just beginning to think about the value proposition of NonStop running on off the shelf commodity hardware and once again, access to managed services providers becomes an important consideration for those planning on adopting vNS.

“For now, we aren’t being overwhelmed with requests for vNS implementations - though it is becoming an increasing part of the dialogue we are having with the NonStop community,” said Craig. “Most of our NonStop users, with well-established solutions in place, are more than happy to upgrade to NonStop X systems – taking delivery of systems they are familiar with seems to be dominating the conversations we have been having with them. As for vNS, they recognize that they will need a lot of help as virtualization is new for all of them. They also recognize that there isn’t a wealth of services talent to be had at this time and so they have turned to us. We are already experiencing more questions than we have previously experienced with the introduction of new NonStop product families.”

On the other hand, according to Craig, maybe it isn’t the existing NonStop users that will drive major deployments of vNS. “When it comes to rolling out vNS, it very well my turn out to be the role of solutions vendors, introducing new solutions into the marketplace that drive adoption of vNS,” said Craig. “Obviously, a little more risky for NonStop vendors, but also more likely to gain traction with a very risk-averse audience. We believe that if we can build not just a system, but a solution around this that can be delivered as a simple call on/off service, that we remove the risk of the unknown.” Now that NonStop development has introduced a reference platform with NS2, some of the unknowns have been addressed but even so, questions about the degree of NonStop-ness continue to come up.

“Yes, we are always being asked about this. I think we are still some way away from there being the necessary amount of NonStop expertise out there in the market for NonStop users to tap into and therefore coming to a service provider and product expert like TCM is key,” added Craig. “Even if this is just to get over the initial ‘lack of experience’ hump and to be present should things go wrong, vNS is still a vital piece of the NonStop puzzle.” This isn’t unexpected and for the next couple of years it will be normal for enterprises to question every step along the path to running virtualized NonStop workloads in environments apart from traditional NonStop systems including NonStop X. “One thing has become clear to TCM is that this is very much an area where we plan on investing and while this is very much in its infancy, as far as products and services are concerned, our plan is to build something that can be adapted to provide an array of services to NonStop users and then see which options have the greatest uptake, and go from there!”

Hand-holding is one way to traverse a barren landscape. Having an experienced guide by your side goes a long way to minimize risks that may arise. There is no question about it, turning to a virtualized NonStop running somewhere in a server farm or even a private cloud isn’t without its downside in terms of making sure it is still every bit as NonStop as running on a  traditional NonStop system would represent. And yet, there are commitments being made among the managed services providers to be able to be that experienced guide and, with their help, maybe there is no need to worry about ever being caught between a rock and a hard place. Even so, it definitely isn’t going to hurt to know that managed services providers are aware of the situations we face and are taking the first steps to better serve the NonStop community and maybe, just maybe, the transition to a landscape that is virtual will proceed virtually as effortlessly as any NonStop migration the NonStop community has faced before!      

Monday, August 20, 2018

Anniversary – how quickly they come around!

As we celebrate ten years blogging about NonStop there is no letup in the stories we can tell as investments in NonStop continue to reveal a NonStop in tune with the times …

Who would have predicted it? Who could have guessed that after leaving corporate life Margo and I could enjoy such a fun time working with the NonStop community! I for one never imagined it, but as I return to my office following a week on the road, literally, meeting with clients, I looked at my calendar and the date jumped off the page. It’s August 20 and I am about to start my twelfth year of posting to this blog. Yes, with this post, I celebrate more than a decade of blog posts – an anniversary worthy of further commentary.

At the heart of this celebration for Margo and me is that yes, we have something to celebrate. A completely revamped and transformed NonStop product line. There have been numerous occasions where I speculated about where I would like to see NonStop go, but that was purely speculative on my part with no input from HPE or the NonStop product managers. If you want to see how this speculation developed through the years, all you need do is click on the label,
Wishes. If you would like to know more about what I covered in the first of these posts that became known simply as the Three Wishes, then you might find it interesting to read the post of February 12, 2009:

And so my first wish is to see HP BCS deliver on the slideware Martin Fink first unveiled as the “Shared Infrastructure Blades” package. This is where any mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, and Windows Server OS’s will be supported.

My second wish is to see a hypervisor introduced where NonStop can be configured as a “guest OS” in much the same way z/VM is used on the IBM mainframe. The trick here is to see this introduced without marginalizing the traditional association between NonStop and the hardware with respect to being fault tolerant.

But it is my last wish where I really want to go out on a limb. If you assume Martin is successful and a shared infrastructure blades package becomes available with a native, or bare-metal, hypervisor (NonStop as a guest with no loss of its NonStop attributes), then wouldn’t it be advantageous to users if interrogation of the incoming transactions would direct mission critical transactions to NonStop, important informational but not quite mission-critical to a Unix or Linux, and voluminous inquiries to Windows?

Yes, indulge me here a little as this post generated a PowerPoint slide deck that I used at several NonStop Regional User Group (RUG) events in 2008 on through 2009, with the presentation I gave at SATUG being the most memorable as it led to an invite to HPE’s EMEA BCS Sales event in Prague where I gave an updated version over dinner, without the slides, to the EMEA NonStop sales team. Hard to imagine that yes, this was all the way back in 2008 after posting to this blog site for six months. However, this isn’t the real story, or perhaps even the biggest story. What has actually happened with NonStop is far more than just a couple of catchy sound bites and a few flashy PowerPoint slides. No, the real story here is the commitment HPE has made to NonStop. And it’s a story I tell in writing as well as in webinars!

In dollar terms – and many figures have been thrown around by lots of different folks – when it comes to just how big a financial investment HPE has made in NonStop, by my reckoning, when you add up the initial investment to do the deep port to the Intel x86 architectures, rollout multiple product options in the then new NonStop X family of systems, not to mention the work done with NonStop SQL both in terms of Oracle compatibility and benefitting us all as a potential DBaaS offering, and then yes, the multi-phased program to support virtualization including the reference model, the NS2, then you come up just a tad shy of half a billion dollars spread over almost a decade. Yes, we all knew NonStop was worth it, but clearly, level-minded heads high up in the ranks of HPE executive team also thought it was worth it!

NonStop has been completely transformed and yes, it’s data center ready even as it’s cloud ready. What is your appetite for trying something new? There is still a huge untold story about the potential value that will come from running NonStop in public clouds – and yes, AWS comes to mind as I just know you will be able to run NSaaS / DBaaS out of AWS very soon. Who will be the first NonStop user to pull this off and enjoy a savings killing as a result? I am not predicting this will come from the Financial Services installed base but when it comes to other sectors, Retail and Manufacturing, there’s plenty of upside potential. While not quite on the same level as AWS, OmniPayments is working aggressively to support its OmniPayments products as SaaS / IaaS, but that’s short term as it builds out its own cloud offering optimized for the retail and yes, banking industries. If you need or want to know more of course you can reach out to Yash directly. So yes, following many paths, NonStop is headed to the clouds and that’s an exciting prospect – if you want AL4 for you application then just click on the AL4 as a Service!

I am often asked about the stories I write and of the challenges that this must entail. But the truth is that oftentimes, I have to pull back to focus on just one story. It’s all happening for NonStop and if you aren’t sure where there is a lot happening, talk with any member of the NonStop vendor community that recently toured Taiwan and Korea with HPE as these countries held their own RUG events. It’s all new and shiny for these communities and the move to embrace standards, utilize commodity components and make the resultant product line open to almost every imaginable development environment speaks volumes about just how well the huge investment made in NonStop by HPE is playing out. Perhaps we in the Americas and in Europe will eventually catch on – NonStop as an architecture, a technology, a product and a solution continues to reinvent itself in ways to provide contributions to the business wherever it is deployed!
When I wrote that very first introductory post back on August 20, 2007, I first provided a short update on my own experiences with Tandem and then later, NonStop. But as I closed on that update, I ended with the following observations and questions that now, a decade later, are every bit as relevant as they were all those years ago:
The important thing for me is looking ahead - what's going to happen now that Tandem has found a great home within HP.

So, to get started, what did we all think about the recent HPTF&E - how many events do you go to each year? Are they meeting your needs - all of them? Some of them? I am particularly interested in the overall positioning of the NonStop server suite - and whether you value HP's commitment to this product line.

So there you have it. The community not only values the commitment to NonStop made by HP / HPE but we have seen ITUG Summits and then at the HPTF&E events that followed, together with the HPE Discover, Technology Bootcamps and Partner Symposiums that have evolved in recent times and the focus on NonStop developed through the years. Who could forget seeing the prototype NS2 sitting desktop and running virtualized NonStop just a few years ago? I know from time to time I do seek your indulgence as I push the storyline aggressively on occasion, but it’s all for a good cause, right? Will I be writing another anniversary post in 2028 – who can say, but the odds are that NonStop will be still a force to reckon with, running as it most likely will, from the edge to the core and from the sensor collectors to the clouds!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Social media – what does it mean for NonStop?

It’s all about your customer experience; NonStop community needs to step up and join the conversation!

It was only a matter of time before I started writing for an automobile magazine. This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to the NonStop community as for many years stories about cars have been liberally interwoven into story lines featuring NonStop systems. I am now writing a column for the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) magazine, Speed News. I have a really good professional editor in Brett Becker who is really helping me out when it comes to shortening my stream of consciousness and turning it into something you would want to read.

If you belong to NASA you may want to check it out as I am now covering the High Performance Driver Events (HPDE) sessions NASA runs for those who simply want to take their own cars out onto tracks across America to have fun in a safe environment. Usually, you will find all the cars headed in the same direction which isn’t necessarily the case on America’s interstate highways.
There is a correlation between NonStop folks and those who take their cars onto road courses. I am not talking about that mutant sport drag racing nor am I talking about the theater that is NASCAR, but rather, those who race around tracks designed for today’s high-end sports cars. 

For Margo and me it all started following a conversation with former head of Mission Critical Systems R&D, Hal Massey. Hal was an accomplished semi-pro and he was a whole lot of fun to be around when track weekends arrived. So too was former lead NonStop development manager, Mike Plum – if you want to buy a real race car, Mike is now selling his Plum Crazy Camaro Mustang Challenge (CMC) race car! And then there is Simon Whitworth whom I caught up with during my time at GoldenGate who tracked a Mazda Miata. No summary would be complete without a reference to my former boss, Chris Rooke, who for years thought nothing about thrashing his lovely Porsche on California’s many tracks.

Writing a column for a motoring magazine has brought me back into conversations about the value proposition of social media. What do the many social media channels do to better communicate a message, a company and a brand? What kind of community do they foster and what level of interaction occurs among readers who turn to social media for product information and user insights? There is a lot being said these days in support of mainframes and yes, mainframe-class systems and no, apparently, you cannot run mainframe class anything on x86. This has led me to push back hard on one financial services investors blog and yes, the response has been something I expected to see happen.

If you want to know more about those exchanges I have summarized them in the upcoming Social Media Round-Up column to the August edition of NonStop Insider. Watch for it and check it out – should be published in a matter of days. But it has also led me to publish a separate post to the LinkedIn blog, Pulse, and you may want to take a look at that as well:

Point is, when it comes to social media channels and the messages that bloggers and commentators provide, they absolutely demand our input and it’s not unexpected to see push back as sometimes, enthusiasm and an almost religious zeal, come across. However, all too often it’s clear that some of the religious zeal does become a bit much and is more akin to the preaching originating in a cult. And that never ends well, from all that I have read.

Two years ago, TCM Solutions CEO, Tony Craig, suggested I write the column, Social Media Round-Up, for one very good reason. Very few members of the NonStop community have the time to chase down everything that is being said on social media. Nor does the NonStop community have time to get engaged in some of the more volatile exchanges. As for me, well, by now it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone as yes, this is my job! Being tasked to write the column has only further fueled my interest in watching as many social media channels as I can and to step in whenever I see misleading information being conveyed.

However, I am not alone in this matter and increasingly I am seeing other members of the NonStop community stepping in – seriously, would any of us doubt someone like Randall Becker not taking bloggers that make erroneous statements to task. Or what about the updates that come from Bill Highleyman every time there is a failure somewhere in the world – was a NonStop involved? While we would love to see a more active role being played by the NonStop product managers there are legal constraints involved and I am sympathetic to what they have to read on occasion. After all, decades ago I was a Tandem product manager and I know first-hand how hard that is to take. But then, we had Bill Heil as our manager and he didn’t stand for any misinformation being published in any media channel.

For NonStop social media is very much a two edged sword. Become too agitated and your message gets discounted. Oh, it’s only Richard yet again – he wears Tandem underwear! Or socks! Whatever! Try to be persuasive relying on facts alone and readers become bored and turn to something else to read. And try to mediate a middle ground and well, you quickly entice those who want to better educate you and sway your opinions to positions they prefer. It’s all a delicate ballet in many respects and yet, novice or professional, the NonStop community does need to do a much better job of engaging the IT community at large.

One of the byproducts of social media is that it truly has relegated the analysis by well-known research firms to a secondary role. Yes, they continue to charge a premium and if you absolutely need the inside skinny as to where a market is headed, they provide value. But try to influence them or inch your way onto charts well, it may not be worth the premium commanded by these firms. Likewise, former hard-copy publications like ComputerWorld or even Datamation (remember them?) have gone digital, of course, but who has the time to page through these publications. And other than picking up a copy left in the back pocket of an airline seat, who even sees CIO magazine these days? Give me the essence in a brief tweet! Perhaps not; there is still a need for in-depth analysis along with user perspective on selection and then deployment of middleware and solutions.

Web sites are suffering a similar fate. Great places to store your marketing collateral and to provide updates about the management team – but when it comes to engaging with the community, these sites provide little comfort. And whoever came up with chatbots – Hi! How can I help you? What are you looking for? Well, get out of my face! A bit tough, I know, but the novelty has worn off and I know the tire sizes of my cars and I know the manufacturers I trust. Can I just order a new set and pay for them? Now!

Every vendor I interact with is anxious to develop ecosystem around their products. They want to see an “enthusiastic community” develop to support their business pursuits. And it is the instant gratification that comes with interacting with social media that offer perhaps the best prospect of developing such a community. This week I wrote an email to my clients where I referenced an article published in Forbes magazine a while back that captures the real value of social media by my way of thinking. 

According to a Forbes contributor, Daniel Newman, Social Media Is No Longer A Marketing Channel, It's A Customer Experience Channel:
“The business world is finally beginning to realize what the ‘social’ in social media means—and can do—for every organization. In my Forbes 2016 marketing predictions piece, I talk about how brands will increasingly recognize that social media is no longer an isolated marketing channel used primarily to sell their product or service. What once served primarily as a platform to increase sales is now a meeting space, and has become part of the brand experience itself. If you've noticed a drop in participation or followers, now is the time to reflect on how you are using social media platforms …”

Writing for a car magazine and one focused on motor racing is part of developing the customer experience. Racers just love to see their name in print just as they like even more to read about their winning a race somewhere. More than one vendor in the NonStop vendor community also races cars and for Margo and me it’s become a fun way to determine the qualifications of an engineer. Do they fly a plane? Do they play a musical instrument? Do they race a car? More often than not it’s two out of three but you get the idea, right? As for the picture above, this was taken of me on track just outside Denver when a tornado touched down just a couple of hundred yards away – kicked off quite a storm. Isn’t it about time we kicked off a storm of our own?

The NonStop community possesses a very powerful voice and it’s one that is supported up and down the line by HPE development dollars. So, next time you see something that isn’t portraying NonStop accurately then step right in. But if this isn’t something you feel comfortable doing than by all means, let people like Randall, Bill, and yes, Margo and me know about it. You can be assured we won’t let any falsehoods thrown NonStop’s way survive unchallenged in the media!  

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