Monday, November 25, 2019

Calling the Severance Police!


Taken by surprise to see our neighboring city called Severance, Colorado – it brought to mind separations we know all too well … and all good, mind you!



When you move to a new town it’s not unreasonable to expect that you will take a drive to see other townships nearby. For Margo and me it took a little longer for this to happen, but eventually we did take the drive that led us onto some previously unexplored roads. Imagine then when just a few miles north of Windsor, Colorado, we happened upon the township of Severance. It turns out the townships of Windsor and Severance are more or less joined at the hip, sharing responsibilities for the Windsor – Severance fire brigade. However, Severance still maintains a separate city police department.

Needless to say, I just had to back up to take a picture of the local Severance Police patrol SUV even as many storylines began forming in my mind. As time passed I more or less forgot about this photo until another storyline I was developing brought me back to this scene. Before getting any further into this post, it will not be an account of all the times Margo and I have found ourselves looking at our employment options albeit there have been occasions where we sure wish we had the Severance Police on speed dial. On the other hand, severance or better still, separation, has been a common theme among members of the NonStop community for some time.


Severance has been a small farming town, but the townships tagline leaves nothing to the imagination but then again, perhaps there are more meanings to severance than separation. Two things come to mind though when I look back at the discussions over separation with the most dominant topic being the separation of NonStop from hardware dependencies. For those who may have missed the importance of the date, Tandem Computers came into being around this time, forty five years ago and when cofounder Jimmy Treybig cashed that first check from then Kleiner Perkins the Tandem team included Jimmy, Michael Green (Software) and Jim Katzman (Hardware).

Between them they focused on an idea Jimmy came up with while working at HP and that was for a fault-tolerant computer “a niche in which it essentially had no rivals until the early 1980s.” A lot has been written on the rapid rise of Tandem in the late ‘70s through mid ‘80s – it was the fastest public company to generate $1 billion in revenue (a feat that was surpassed a matter of a few years later by SUN, but now is routinely eclipsed) – but even with competition, no vendor invested in the combination of metal and software stack integrated to the extent Tandem did to ensure continuous operation, no matter what.

Severance? Yes! NonStop separates from hardware ...

Jimmy was a great showman and that helped the company. It was reputed that during one demonstration of the effectiveness of a Tandem computer, there was a handgun discharge into a disk drive and yes, the Tandem kept on running. I am still to verify the many accounts that I have read about this – did a platter from that disk get framed at one time and hung in an office somewhere on the Tandem Computers Cupertino campus? Now that we are well into the twenty-first century, while the focus on software remains central to NonStop, the hardware, well not so much. It all started with the deep port to the Intel x86 Architecture that gave us the L-Series operating system. The availability of the L-Series operating system eventually separated NonStop from any requirements of the specific hardware,, except for the x86 chipset and Ethernet.

Deciding to focus on fault tolerant computers has now set up HPE Mission Critical Systems organization to proffer from virtualization whereby today’s NonStop is little more than a collection of virtual machines. While we watch early testing of virtualized NonStop (vNS) on different hypervisors – a Debian Linux with the open source Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor in the case of NS2 virtualized converged systems, to the more commercially accepted VMware / vSphere – separation from the hardware is allowing NonStop to take its first baby steps into the brave new world of clouds. Why is this important? Strategically, HPE has pointed to a future where clouds will be everywhere – public, private, managed and much more and it’s significant that NonStop systems have the opportunity to play an important role in the enterprise as this cloudless strategy unfolds.

Severance? No! Community stays with NonStop ...

There is another aspect of severance that was in evidence at the recent NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) 2019 and that is, the NonStop community itself. Even as members of the NonStop community have come to accept the transition from Tandem to NonStop – and yes, there are members of the community where this connection isn’t as well-known as it possibly should be – there is still a strong historical link between ITUG and CONNECT. The name change wasn’t all that striking – just as IBM has SHARE we now have CONNECT, effectively conveying similar messages – and came at a time when HP at the time lobbied for a single user community spanning multiple systems and platforms. 

The value of it was recognizable by all parties and yet, as TBC 2019 demonstrated so effectively, the icons of ITUGs past are alive and well – the networking opportunities, parties and yes, beer-busts all echo ITUG Summits passed. Forty five years later and it’s not only surprising that HPE values NonStop as highly as it does given its deep roots in Silicon Valley but equally as surprising that in turn Silicon Valley ended the run of that other Tech Valley spanning both sides of Massachusetts famous Route 128! Who knew …

The late acceptance of NonStop within HPE and the willingness to invest in NonStop also highlights another separation – those within HP that were present when Jimmy set about creating Tandem Computers are no longer a factor inside HPE. Separation is opening a new chapter and the book has mostly empty pages. Writing a new history for NonStop separated from the hardware is only just beginning and it’s another example of NonStop enjoying exciting days ahead. The executives and senior managers now responsible for the future of NonStop “all get it!” and the NonStop community understands the significance of this even as we heard from one sales region after another that sales of NonStop – the most important metric of all – are well ahead of plan. Not just for the year ended but for the coming year as well.

And so, we have separation of NonStop software from NonStop hardware even as we have a growing recognition that we are not separated from our history. There’s no need to call in the Severance Police should you be concerned about embracing our history, celebrating forty-five years of Tandem and NonStop, or telling stories out of school that someone, somewhere, shot up a disk drive. Tandem may indeed be NonStop but ITUG is definitely living strong within CONNECT!

There are times when separation represents steps well taken but then again, when it comes to history and where we have been, it’s so encouraging to see so many members of the NonStop community where the user community keeps on coming back in ways so reminiscent of days when the fault tolerant niche was proving to be a bet on technology that simply keeps on giving back and the truly nice thing about all of this – we were all there and the memories linger. As for that next beer-bust I am looking for more education from you all as there are still many storylines that need telling! 

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