Sunday, March 31, 2019

Living on the edge

A lot of images come to mind when discussing technology’s edge but nothing detracts from our understanding that it is the edge that now drives the core!

After having taken the two elevators needed to reach an upper floor walkway atop Munich’s “New Town Hall,” stepping out onto the small catwalk-like walkway that was part of the buildings bastion, the view of the city it provided was spectacular. This town hall dominates one side of Munich’s famous Marienplatz that is at the very heart of Munich. Even as snow had just begun falling – it was early March after all – it couldn’t detract from all that could be seen all the way down to the Alps peeking out from under the low hanging clouds. What came to mind almost immediately was the refrain, “Livin’ on the edge!

Looking back through posts to this blog I was surprised that given all the talk of late about the edge, I had only made references to living on the edge in two previous posts – October 2, 2012, NonStop you! and then a couple of years later February 29, 2016, Files, logs, and backups … just keep it all rolling! The latter was a reference to gamblers and their lifestyles based on uncertainty while the former was a reference to business travelers and their lifestyles seemingly based on uncertainty too when it comes to airline travel.

However, for today’s IT executive “living on the edge” has a completely different meaning, albeit many of them would express some anxieties about possible outcomes. Yes there is still a good view to be had of past technologies even as occasionally there are glimpses of what it is likely to appear next: What’s more relevant is that enterprises everywhere are facing the world of distributed computing, or client / server computing, all over again except this time the industry is calling it edge / core (cloud) computing. Whatever, mind you, no sooner will we have sorted it all out and deployed solutions beneficial to our enterprise, it will change. It always does … that’s the essence of IT.

As an analyst and blogger working with mission critical applications with a focus on payments, nothing illustrates the world of edge / core better than a HPE NonStop X system running a payments solution in support of a network of ATMs. I remind myself that there really is no substitute for experiencing IT in action and whenever I travel I inevitably head to an ATM at some point just to check out what ATM manufacturer a bank prefers and then what capabilities are on offer. Having said this it was during my last trip to Sydney, Australia, when I was completely turned off by what I saw in a branch office of one of Australia’s major banks. 

It was a firsthand experience that I covered in my post of February 28, 2019, to the ATMmarketplace blog, Loose change: Time to lose the change? In that post I called out how I had to walk out of a Westpac city branch office in Australia as the diversity of machines was overwhelming and I couldn't quite figure out which machine was actually an ATM. Nearly two-thirds of one wall was set up to support businesses and a much smaller section was set up for the average consumer; a situation I put down to the branch location in the central business hub of Sydney.

My visit to Munich was a return to my roots in many ways as it was back in 1981 that I first ventured to the city having recently seen the U.S. company where I worked, The Computer Software Company (and a great name for a software company selling an OS to IBM mainframe customers at a time when IBM provided the OS for free) was acquired by Nixdorf Computers. A short time later I was present in Sydney’s inner city warehouse district to witness the very first Nixdorf ATM being uncrated - an ATM destined to be displayed at an upcoming computer trade show.

This time my visit to Munich included catching up with former colleague and now longtime friend, Bernhard Woebker, who was an executive with Nixdorf at the time Nixdorf launched an IBM Plug Compatible Mainframe (PCM) – hence Nixdorf’s interest and eventual acquisition of a software vendor in the Plug Compatible OS business. Bernhard went on to become President of the U.S. based Nixdorf Computer Eng. Corp., but now serves on the boards of a number of companies and continues to maintain contacts with former Nixdorf colleagues as well. When the topic of Nixdorf today came up, conversations quickly turned to Diebold Nixdorf and how its position in the world of ATMs saw it holding the top position.

The NonStop community blossomed as the intelligent front-end to many IBM mainframes and to put this into historical perspective, many IBM customers were running IBM ATMs. It was only a few years into this business that IBM sold its ATM product line to Diebold, so if you recall the badges on your ATMs as saying IBM, then you will probably recall this transaction occurring as it was one of the earliest “product unloading” instances at IBM that proved to be just the beginning. By the time the 1990s came around there were literally hundreds of tier one financial institutions running back office applications on their IBM mainframes, payments solutions that were including switching on their Tandem Computers, together with a network of Diebold ATMs. Today, Diebold has a million plus ATMs and equivalent Cash Dispensing Units under management – fully one in every three ATMs carries a Diebold Nixdorf badge.

Through Bernhard’s contacts I connected with Devon Watson, Chief Marketing Officer of Diebold Nixdorf, who in turn put me in touch with Mike Jacobsen, the company’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications. What followed was a highly informative email exchange that filled in many of the missing pieces. As is the case with many vendors that started out in hardware, Diebold Nixdorf today is transforming itself as it looks to become “software lead; services driven.” An all too familiar ambition for anyone who has been part of the NonStop community for the last decade, but when it comes to Diebold Nixdorf, even though it is starting out rather small, its software revenues are growing exponentially.

When it comes to the future of ATMs and the morphing of ATMs with Kiosks and other customer-facing products out at the very edge of the network, it is looking very good. Despite the nay-sayers predicting the end of cash and of the humble ATM going the way of the FAX machine, nothing could be further from the truth. “As banks and ATM deployers continue to analyze and ratify their footprint strategies they are considering both ‘market entry’ and ‘leave behind’ strategies,” said Jacobsen, “self-service / ATMs can play a pivotal role in the establishment and reinforcement of a ‘physical brand presence.’”

The folks at Diebold Nixdorf say that “the functionality delivered at that physical point of presence must then meet the needs of the demographics in that area / country / consumer segment being served. Our point of view would be that the self-service/ATM (blurred lines between ATM / kiosk) is very much a part of the digital strategy of a bank / deployer as their mobile banking platform would be – offering the same capabilities, authentication, authorization, and transactional support. But again, sometimes it will also handle physical media (cash / checks / etc.) and so it comes down to a deployment strategy and plan; and these ATMs, Kiosks and other customer-facing products can morph over time as consumer behavior and demographics change.”

What is inescapable here and was reinforced repeatedly by Jacobsen is that ATMs, in whatever form that they might morph to in the future, are with us for many years to come and with that, the networks they need will grow and the processing capabilities of the systems in support of these networks will likewise remain an important consideration. Of course, there’s even more in play here when it comes to discussions about what is morphing into what as Nixdorf has brought with it a substantial POS presence that Diebold previously didn’t enjoy. All of which is to say that HPE with NonStop, particularly the new NonStop X that is based on the Intel x86 architecture as well as the even newer virtualized NonStop (vNS), has a growing world it can support.

When you think of HPE NonStop today, Diebold Nixdorf might not come to mind and yet, they are the edge to a NonStop digital core and to the cloud, too, when you are running vNS. Knowing this, is it any surprise that every HPE PowerPoint presentation featuring its Mission Critical Systems product portfolio highlights how there is $3.6+ trillion in credit / debit card “charge volume” passing through at least one NonStop system every year. And growing! The edge will be everywhere, from the first point of contact a consumer has with technology all the way to where clouds interact with each other and the digital core of one business or function may simply be an edge to another business.

Expressed another way, it was ZDNet’s Larry Dignan who posted October 24, 2018, that:

Hewlett Packard Enterprise said it will invest in managing edge-to-cloud data, multi-cloud model and a consumption based model while continuing its own digital transformation.
CEO Antonio Neri said HPE is exiting 6 years of digital transformation work and now is in a good position for the future. Edge computing means that "millions of clouds will all be connected," said Neri. "Every edge to every cloud. That's the future and why I'm excited about the future of the company."

Living on the edge brings with it many images, from elevated platforms overlooking cityscapes and more natural wonders to rock anthems to technology outposts. When you consider all that HPE is addressing and where NonStop systems are playing a role, it’s inescapable that the future of NonStop will be heavily influenced by what transpires at the edge. And there is also no escaping NonStop’s history with financial institutions where support for ATMs, POSs, Mobile Phones and the Internet have played a very large role, which is even now shaping the future for NonStop. Living on the edge? “Exciting,” as Jimmy T himself would say; “isn’t it!”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Check out the view … we didn’t miss a thing!

The view ahead often is only at its best following difficult times and for the NonStop community there is only upside ahead with views to match!

With all the talk that followed the recent very severe and somewhat unusual “bomb cyclone” hitting the front ranges in the northern part of the state of Colorado, what is sometimes overlooked is the view you are given once the clouds lift and the sky turns blue. It is as if someone tipped out all the vanilla cream and draped it over the jagged mountain landscape. As chilly as this Saturday morning scene appears turned out to be rather pleasant, with almost no wind whirling through the trees. As for the view, it’s what you see once you crest Highway 36 on your way into Estes Park with views all the way round to Long’s Peak. Being this far back from the mountains and taking in the long view, it was breathtaking to say the least.

The photo was captured by our guests for the weekend, Jan and Brian Kenny, who were driving the car behind us and I cannot recall ever having been part of a photo while behind the wheel. It now seems more than appropriate to be driving a white car trimmed out in black with a splash of blue. As much as I would have liked seeing a little more Tandem red being utilized I have to resolve myself to the fact that the trim in the Kenny’s car was red. Fortune had smiled on Margo and me this past week as we had been in Munich, Germany, mostly on business and just happened to fly into Denver the day after the bomb cyclone burst, but from what we could see in our neighborhood there is no denying just how severe it was as we counted car after car buried in snow, left abandoned alongside the interstate highway.

A dropping barometer, blinding snow propelled by hurricane-force winds, no visible landmarks to be discerned and temperatures plummeting below freezing – it all sounded so horrible. And yet, for the NonStop community, there could be arguments made suggesting that something similar has taken place with NonStop this past decade. On the other hand, it’s clear that we too have all crested the highway and can now take in the long view. NonStop is painting a picture today few of us could have predicted earlier this century and yet, in having crested the highway and seeing the vista laid out before us, it’s hard to ignore the challenges now facing NonStop. Are we the driver in the sleek sports car or the lad on the cycle? Are we warm and cozy or are we bundled up dealing with the cold air being blown our way by the cars that pass us by?

The good news here is that I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t think we were now nicely seated behind the wheel of a fine sports car. Yes, we are very much different from everything else we happen upon while on the highway and yes, we are capable of heading in any direction we care to imagine. HPE has done a tremendous job in pushing ahead with sizable investments in NonStop even as the NonStop team has embraced the NonStop vendor community in ways unseen in decades dating all the way back to the previous century and the message is very clear.

When it comes to the Mission Critical Systems product portfolio, depending upon who is presenting the PowerPoint slides, NonStop stands apart from the other products – a system with a very pronounced future (unlike the bundle of systems we see depicted at the end of the slide that includes the legacy platforms that were once so dominant in the marketplace.)

The good news here too is that as we read about enterprises pushing ahead with other platforms, one by one they are failing. Ouch … yes, a cloud here, a server farm there and a complete data center on top of all that. Gone! Maybe briefly and perhaps just a loss of say a decade of photos and memories and perhaps even the loss of a couple of transactions as well, but there is always loss; there is always an emotional loss suffered by one party or another. Outages aren’t ever without a price being paid. It wasn’t so much that the recent outage of Facebook caught out a lot of folks as it was the news that broke that there were global enterprises relying on Facebook for internal communications.

Jason Wong picked the wrong day to restock his false eyelash line. Yesterday, in the midst of a nearly day-long Instagram and Facebook outage, Wong and his company, Wonghaus Ventures, planned to run a Facebook and Instagram ad campaign to promote the restock, and to have influencers post sponsored content about it. The posts went up, but few people saw them. Wong estimates the outage cost his company around $10,000 in revenue.

According to CNBC update on March 13, 2019, Facebook said its services were coming back online. "Yesterday, we made a server configuration change that triggered a cascading series of issues," said a Facebook spokesperson. "As a result, many people had difficulty accessing our apps and services. We have resolved the issues, and our systems have been recovering over the last few hours."

Facebook and similar social media channels are today’s newspapers and television channels deriving revenues the old fashioned way; through advertising and while this may not be viewed by all NonStop stakeholders as anything close to mission critical, increasingly these information delivery vehicles are playing an increasingly mission critical role in our lives. Outages hurt and information is lost!

As the old maxim suggests – if the picture / video didn’t appear did the event even happen?  Today’s enterprises are using sites like Facebook to grow their customer / prospect lists and they do so in clever ways although most savvy technical folks are seeing through those specials suggesting we “join 150,000 of our peers in being given advanced headlines of upcoming events – just sign in here, please!” But surely not banking or manufacturing or travel would build their business around such technologies? Well, yes they do and therein lies the rub – we aren’t just seeing the commoditization of hardware and the standardization of software but the utility-ization of your data center. 

I'm not a big fan of the term "cloud." I'm even less of a fan of "private cloud," mainly because it's a made-up phrase meaning "your normal datacenter with some different management practices in place, and tools to support those practices." OK, it's shorter than that, but it's still made up.
The word I prefer is "utility." At the end of the day, utility is what's going to matter in IT.

Our consumers want us to be invisible, reliable and forgettable. That takes a lot of work. There are obviously some services we can never outsource - line-of-business apps are an easy example.

This appeared in a trade publication all the way back in June, 2013, but here you already see the lines being drawn. Some services we can never outsource – line-of-business apps are an easy example. Is advertising (for a small company) “line of business?” Well, yes, so it turns out … And line of business apps aren’t part of your normal datacenter either – ever wondered why the move to APIs across some industries (to foster greater cooperation) is going ahead as slowly as it is. There are just some apps that the business depends on so deeply that they are part of what differentiates their business from that of their competitors. It’s just too valuable to start opening up to one and all.

Applications running on NonStop are just too valuable to be replaced by utility-ization. Commodity hardware? Well, check – done that! Standard software? Again, check that as well. All good and all part of the new NonStop being sold today with the added value that we can let HPE deliver the latest NonStop system to our loading dock or we can deploy it as a virtualized system. It’s as though NonStop has become the “layer of sensibility” for all those enterprises wanting to jump on the cloud platform. Done right, even the most fragile of private cloud implementations can be given the NonStop seal of approval and become ready for prime time. Even for advertisers!

Our view to the horizon may not be as clear as what we saw on our most recent trip into the mountains. The weather in the days before the trip was atrocious, but then again, isn’t that familiar for many of us? Faced with challenges to turn IT into a utility, how many members of the NonStop community are standing up and admitting that well, that’s OK but we have NonStop today to ensure critical line-of-business apps keep running no matter what?

Like many of you I am often asked “what is the business case for running NonStop?” and I have to say, it’s pretty clear: Do you want to stay in business? Are you looking for your business to become an overnight basket case without NonStop? Perhaps the further we see the more we begin to appreciate NonStop being better after all, NonStop isn’t missing a thing; it just makes sense to run NonStop!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Landscapes change but whom they serve stays the same …

City landscapes keep changing but when it comes to what can be seen inside the data center, it is changing even faster with little that reminds us of the past! 

Counting down to the 500th post to Real Time View – only nine to go with the publication of this post - and considering I have just celebrated yet another birthday, it leaves me to wonder; where did all that time go? It’s just a little over a decade following the publication of the very first post but already, the NonStop landscape has changed in ways none of us could have predicted. Back in 2007 I had been off the ITUG Board for little more than a year but after an ITUG Board meeting in Chicago somehow a discussion followed where the topic of social media was raised at which time someone suggested I may want to start blogging about NonStop. The details are sketchy and who was part of the conversation, but no matter, I took the bait. The landscape has certainly changed – ITUG is now part of Connect and NonStop is part of Mission Critical Systems, a thriving business unit within the new Hybrid IT organization.

It’s hard to imagine when you look today at the skyline of Sydney that during my youth the tallest building in Sydney was the AWA tower. Taller than the old clock tower of the Sydney GPO, the main post office, now the Westin Hotel – it was a time before the office tower building boom really took off in the 1960s. Today you have to look really hard to even see the AWA tower, but during my stay at the Westin Hotel in January my hotel room gave me the best view I have had of this former landmark in quite a while. In fact, I had almost forgotten about the structure so hidden as it now is behind office skyscrapers that have popped up all around it. It may just be a small footnote in history but it was AWA that manufactured the very first Netlink (formerly, Systems Technology) SNA_Gate (formerly, the 3703)  protocol convertor; Netlink was instrumental in my journey taking a distinctly sideways shift that eventually led to me joining Tandem Computers.

The AWA Tower has now lost its bright red AWA signage. If you see it for the first time you may be puzzled by its presence on a busy Sydney thoroughfare but the art deco design of the tower and the fifteen story building atop which it stands ensured that it would be preserved and remain a reminder of what Sydney once looked like. Its initial task was to ensure ship communication between Sydney and the U.K. could be initiated. However, if the landscape surrounding Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) on which this tower looked down has changed dramatically so has the landscape surrounding NonStop. Will the passage of time be as kind to NonStop as it has been to AWA?

When you look out over the NonStop landscape today it is very much recognizable even as it’s all about to change. The NonStop systems in production look much like they have always looked, even if the colors have changed with time. Yes, we have seen them colored black, gray, beige, and now as servers mounted in racks, it’s back to black much like you would find in any upmarket hi-fi component rack. In other words, what a NonStop looks like today is vastly different from what it looked like decades ago and yet it is still unmistakably NonStop. The original shared-nothing, massively-parallel, fault tolerant architecture remains and no matter the criticality of the application, when it needs to run without any downtime, NonStop continues to deliver.

Remember this advertisement for the “new” NonStop II? The system advertised here promises “a brand new system which builds on the original and includes an enormous expansion of the system’s potential.” How enormous? “The new system utilizes 32 bit addresses to give the user access to virtually unlimited data space. Up to one BILLION bytes of data per processor under the direct control of the Operating System.” Clearly, well short of the numbers being thrown around today when it comes to storing (and processing) data and where perhaps the biggest disruptor to conventional data center “landscaping” is about to make its presence felt. Data, and more data! 

This advertisement was published in June 1981 (it may have appeared in other publications before that date but not much earlier) and is a reminder of just how much the landscape has changed, but it is of interest in that at the time, there was a heavy emphasis on the hardware by other vendors whereas with Tandem Computers, there was as much attention given to software as was given to the hardware. Both the message of software and the ability to handle virtually unlimited data still resonate with the NonStop community to this day.

Under HPE oversight, NonStop has evolved to where it can be purchased as software only to be run on your own x86 / Ethernet servers. Enterprises who want to continue purchasing complete NonStop systems – hardware, software stack, and even services - can continue to do so, but for others, being able to order virtualized NonStop (vNS) and deploy it on their own hardware, will prove attractive. Even more so contemplating running NonStop applications on private clouds where hypervisors like VMware are standard. The changing priority for NonStop and its shift to being a software solution shouldn’t be a surprise to any member of the NonStop community that has followed HPE for any length of time.

In a July 22, 1991 advertisement in Computerworld, HP said:

“If you’re planning to add a system to handle a new strategic application, call us. We’ll deliver a computer solution that will tackle the immediate task. At the same time, it will integrate with products from other vendors, with other platforms, operating systems and application.  Key to making this work is our broad range of systems software technology.”

Almost thirty years ago, HP was admonishing the IT world that compatibility and integration were key to deploying new systems and once again, this same message is taking center stage with the new HPE. Whereas NonStop move to being a software solution may have caught some members of the NonStop community off-guard, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see HPE giving the NonStop team that all important hand-up that has lifted it from out of being part of a pure hardware / platform play. When we discuss changing landscapes and the emergence of Hybrid IT, it’s worth noting that the products HPE includes as part of this transforming strategy have roots in developments that date back decades. No surprises here that NonStop supports vast amounts of data even as it continues to build on its original fault tolerant architecture or that HPE knew that providing a broad range of systems software would be key to adding clouds into the mix with traditional systems.

The landscapes of some cities have changed dramatically over a short period of time – think of London or Singapore or even Shanghai. On the other hand, Sydney’s cityscape is changing rapidly but even so, it pays homage to its past with everything from full restorations to fa├žade architecture of which our Westin Hotel on Sydney’s Martin Plaza was a fine example. However, the landscape of IT is changing even faster and at a pace that sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend what is being deployed. Users’ needs keep expanding even as the customer experience becomes more demanding but through it all, the architecture and technology of NonStop prevails and the audience they serve – those customers who just have to complete their transactions – remains the same as it always has despite the many changes to the manner whereby they interact with the enterprise.  

The passage of time has been very good for NonStop and is yet another endorsement on just how well architected NonStop has proved to be – well thought-out and well-built structures do stand the test of time and who knows, with another 500 posts to this blog possible, what will the then-new NonStop look like? One thing I am pretty sure will happen is that in 2024 we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of NonStop (nee Tandem) and who would have thought about that back when NonStop II was announced! Can you see NonStop as part of your data center landscape? Don’t be surprised if your competitors are already onboard as in 2019 the structures may have changed but what constitutes NonStop will still be supporting real-time mission-critical applications, no matter the audience!          

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...