Wednesday, March 25, 2020

NonStop – it’s all about trust and track record!

What comes to mind when you think about home court advantage? NonStop has the experience and yes, the top score when it comes to running mission critical applications! 

It has been almost two years since Margo and I last ventured onto a race track. Over the course of a decade we turned up at events in various cars but when asked, we both enthusiastically supported our beloved Viper SRT/10 as the true car of choice for track weekends. With regard to our favorite tracks, in time High Plains Raceway (HPR) became our favorite simply because it was our home track. Previously it had been a track out on the edge of California’s Mojave Desert, Willow Springs International Raceway (WSIR), which was our favorite and, for a time, it was our home track.

If you have seen the movie Ford v Ferrari (or Le Mans ’66 as it has been called in some markets) you will be somewhat familiar with WSIR as in that film they made extensive use of the property, but drove around the track counterclockwise – something we never had the opportunity to do. As we head into Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere there will be a lot of discussion about new cars finally hitting the marketplace, but here’s the thing; whether your intentions are to drive a backroad, commute, or take to the track today’s cars have become so good that you can do it all with few changes needed to your motor vehicle.

Put it down to standards if you like – almost everyone has a ZF or Tremec Gearbox and everyone has a cable they can plug into any cars industry-standard ODBII interface to see what’s going on and, if you have the skill and software, gives you the opportunity to re-program your car. Simple: It’s all standards based. Even so, you have some choices – Wilwood or Brembo brakes; Toyo or Hoosier tires; Pfadt or Bilstein suspensions. And it’s become very similar in our IT industry today – numerous architectures, infrastructure, utilities and tools and even message formats. All universal and all designed to ensure business keeps its eyes on what lies ahead.

Whether you call it a home track or a home field, there are advantages of competing on familiar turf. Or pavement! How often do we hear the cry go up, “Not in my house!” and this is where the conversation about the importance of standards intersects with the need for creating business value. If the cry of “Not in my house” aptly applies to sports contests how can we ignore a cry of “NonStop, won’t stop!” In other words, when it comes to projecting the true value that NonStop brings to business then it’s hard to ignore the decades of trust NonStop has created among businesses in general. No NonStop user can ignore how NonStop meets all the criteria businesses impose when it comes to availability.

In presentations given by the HPE NonStop team members it’s hard not to be impressed when they quote the likes of VocaLink (now a Mastercard Company) –

“It comes down to trust and track record. When you are running systems this large you have to find a way to be able to sleep at night and the only way you can sleep at night is to have exactly the right tools for the job. And for these really high performance, large scale, cant’ ever fail applications, NonStop is the right tool for the job!”        

However, possessing the best system for the business implies more than technology. You can have the most impressive hardware architecture and software implementation but if in its uniqueness it calls upon levels of skill not readily at hand, then CIOs and IT departments will likely shy away from the solution on offer. Fault tolerant computers arrived when hardware reliability was problematic and carved out marketplaces where business needed support for mission critical applications. Today, businesses have as pressing a need for reliability not because of unreliable hardware but because the sheer complexity of modern deployments has become fragile at best.

We may think modern cars have become complex, but in reality they are the sum of components and sub-assemblies tried and tested over decades. So much of what goes into modern cars is the same where the only differentiation is style, comfort and yes, perhaps color. Engineers and service mechanics can download manufacturers tools to a laptop and become familiar with your car in no time at all – even the codes generated by the engine control unit (ECU) have been standardized across different models. Modern cars are little more than computers – the engine is programmable, as is the transmission as are today’s electronic differentials. One report on the new Corvette talked of there being two million lines of new code just to manage the e-diff!

It’s easy to gain consensus from NonStop professionals over issues like trust and track record, but what is very new is that with the commoditization and standardization of NonStop as it transitioned to x86, is that it has opened the doors to modern development environments. The same teams employed to write and operate modern applications via programming languages, test tools and the like can direct those very same capabilities at NonStop. There are almost no remaining barriers to developing applications on NonStop using exactly the same stuff as have been used developing applications for other systems.
In her post to the HPE Community blog,
Modernizing the development world of NonStop applications, Karen Copeland, Manager, Worldwide HPE NonStop Product Management, made a point of highlighting just how far NonStop has come with respect to ease of programming - 

What may also surprise CIOs is how DevOps tools like Git and Jenkins can be used to develop applications even as NonStop developers directly interface with products like Ansible.

To which we can now provide an update to what has already been published by adding –

What may surprise IT management even more is that there are now groups within the NonStop engineering team working on NonStop middleware that are actively using GitHUB, Jenkins, Ansible and other open source tools for DevOps to deliver many new offerings for the NonStop platform.

If you have trouble with the above hyperlink, you can always cut and past the following link into your browser -

It makes a very big difference when it comes time to consider NonStop for your next project – there will be applications that continue to be mission critical and CIOs and IT departments do want to sleep at night. NonStop has always delivered the highest level of availability even as IDC continues to endow on NonStop the much coveted Availability Level 4 (AL4) -   where “AL4 servers will failover in a way that the user won't notice.”

The days of heading out to the garage to build your own race car are long gone. The need for heavy investments in cutting edge technologies does not exist for weekend excursions on a racetrack. We may have our home tracks and we may have preferences for simple things like oils, brakes and tires, but ultimately, there are lots of options when it comes to turning to off-the-shelf components and perishables. As for that Viper featured atop this post it will always hold a special place in our hearts even as it no longer resides in our garage.

When it comes to systems, HPE NonStop has pursued a radical program for NonStop embracing industry standards, including support for open source software. It demonstrates considerable flexibility in support of traditional converged systems even as it supports virtual machines. And now, the need for costly support and operations staff has been negated as well. When it comes to any home track advantages, there is no denying that for CIOs, it’s time to deploy NonStop, “in my house!”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fires, floods, pestilence and plagues; all of biblical proportion: What next?

NonStop has been tagged as being reliable, robust even rugged but unlike any time in the past, NonStop is being called upon to keep on running, continuously, in spite of everything else that is occurring today …

It has been a headlines driven year so far. Images appearing in our nightly newscasts have shown fires in Australia, floods in Venice (and yes, in Australia as well), swarms of locusts in East Africa and now, cities in lock-down following a plague of a virus originating in China that has turned into a global pandemic. What did we do? Obviously, in a globally-connected, social media-driven world news travels faster than ever before, but really, how many of us were prepared to face such an onslaught?

No sooner than events were organized in Australia in support of volunteer firefighters than events were cancelled due to concerns over “community spread.” In Australia, one minute you have crowds saving that most-treasured of dwellings, the outside loo (or "dunny" as the locals like to call it) from encroaching fires and at the very next moment, barely an individual prepared to face the mobs given the rationing of toilet paper. If there is any message we can take from this is that in 2020, all things are possible and being prepared for everything is now the new norm.

When you consider the roller-coaster ride that investors have been on for the past couple of weeks it is as if there is now a heavy gloom settling over us all. We are locked down, with our homes “off-limits”; we have no money anymore with our savings shredded; and we are out of toilet paper! All we need to hear is that the global networks that keep us all informed and essentially connected with each other has been compromised and we can no longer download our favorite movie. What next? Well, a good laugh might be one way to respond. Even as the seriousness of our situation begins to sink in, perhaps it’s a good time to postpone that trip to grandma’s and that vacation on the Côte d'Azur.

First we received news that the DUST Regional User Group (RUG) meeting in Arizona had been cancelled and then just last week, we received news out of Germany that the organizers have decided to postpone eGTUG European NonStop HotSpot / IT-Symposium 2020 planned for May to sometime in the fall. Possibly September, well before November’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) comes around! As for those of us looking to participate in events any time before the summer well, it is probably prudent to think of making alternate arrangements, just in case.

For the NonStop community this is a stark reminder that there is a reason why we have deployed NonStop in support of our mission critical applications. There is a reason too why we have disaster / recovery plans and there are very good reasons as to why we test and test again out ability to handle outages. If events of the past couple of weeks have taught us anything at all it is that outages will happen and furthermore, our systems will be subject to stress. Those key attributes of availability and scalability suddenly seem to come home way more than just highlights on PowerPoint slides. But what do we mean by mission critical in today’s hostile world?

“If you are a rocket scientist, or pilot, or consumer, your definitions are very different when it comes to expectations surrounding mission critical,” said Randall S. Becker, Managing Director, Nexbridge Inc. “The point is that the length of the mission and the availability during the mission, have to be BOTH defined. They are connected but not identical, like urgency and importance.” Furthermore and by way of explanation, according to Randall, “I view ‘reliability’ and ‘priority’ as meta words that group their respective two.” When banks transfer huge sums over a short period of time, they want their systems to be online. Likewise, an online purchasing network needs to be truly available 24 x 7 because customers can be anywhere and up all night!

The NonStop community is well-served with multiple product solutions when it comes to disaster / recovery preparedness. There is probably not a NonStop user that doesn’t have disaster / recovery plans in hand, whether it includes a second site capable of taking over or up-to-the-minute backups resident in popular clouds. There are many ways NonStop users can go about ensuring that they have the protection they need. Again, it’s not just the loss of a site and its ability to process transactions as this also includes a site being overwhelmed and just as unable to process transactions.

“If you truly cannot afford to be unavailable for any reason, there are cost-effective solutions today,” said Tim Dunne, NTI Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales. “NonStop users deploying DRNet® have known for many decades now that there are ways to protect your enterprise and it really doesn’t matter the type of disaster being faced, a disaster is always a disaster and you just have to be prepared. This truly has become the new norm in 2020! While NTI has broadened use-case scenarios of late, it’s still the ability to keep multiple sites synchronized that lies at the very heart of NTI’s product suite.” 

The history of NonStop is steeped in tradition that is focused on surviving faults. It has a culture too that few in Silicon Valley have duplicated, where every move made by NonStop development was focused on ensuring that there would be no loss of accessibility even as there would be no loss of data. Looking back to when it was Tandem Computers, the NonStop system of the day kept on processing transactions when the Wall Street crash of 1987 took place and yes, they even kept running when the “big one” struck Northern California – the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 – that I for one will not soon forget. Yes, over at Forge, where Tandem maintained its support operations, the systems kept on running!

When a customer called in following the quake that their system had “fallen over” conventional wisdom evidently was that well, the system had crashed for one reason or another. But no, the Tandem computer was still running but false flooring had given way and the computer was now lying on its side; could that be a problem? Or so the story goes but as Randall tells it, “The system that fell over was the Tandem MIS system itself. The Ampex drive had walked the floor, hit the limit of the wire, and fell over. It kept spinning – don’t ask me how the disk heads didn’t crash.”Irrespective of which system was involved following the quake for many of us it became a time where we were all obliged to work from home. Sound familiar?

We often talk about the one constant being change but there really is another constant: Uncertainty. Systems we relied upon can be disrupted. Applications we use as a matter of course go missing. Recall the Polar Vortex that hit our home state of Colorado last year? It brought such extreme cold to a state where cold happened often but it was the background for a memorable quote by climate scientist, Jennifer Francis at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It’s a complicated story that involves a hefty dose of chaos and an interplay among multiple influences, so extracting a clear signal of the Arctic’s role is challenging,” she noted.

The NonStop community knows well enough that NonStop systems provide continuous operation even with single points of failure but increasingly, it’s complicated: Chaos abounds! And it’s into this world that NonStop continues to play an important role. So the next time you hear those famous lines from a popular song:

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end

Fires burn out; quenching rains come even as floods appear and then ease; there’s protein in those locusts, or so it seems, and now we are looking for the curve to flatten as the virus plague is upon us in earnest. Ultimately, it all comes back to:

So bare your heartaches your grieves and pain
Whether the sunshine and the rain
Just know it cannot last
(Choir) This too will pass

Hunkered down here in our Colorado home, there’s just one last thought. Know well that today’s NonStop will support your mission critical applications in ways that too will never end. 

So, what’s next? Returning to the lyrics of the song by James Taylor:

Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things
To come    

And if this rings any bells then just give me a call!  

Monday, March 9, 2020

Where are we headed: Looking back over half a century!

This past week marked a milestone; and what a trip it has been or as Jimmy Buffett once sang, “Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic. But I had a good life all of the way!”

During a recent road trip in Colorado, Margo and I were late in realizing that we were happily driving along “Richard’s Lake Rd.”. With as much talk as there is of late about Data Lakes, it’s hard not to think about how big a lake might be out there with information about any of us. Really, how big would “Richard’s Lake” turn out to be and just as importantly, should anyone even care? We all know that data is being accumulated at an enormous rate so I have to believe there is a lot of data on me, considering how active I am on social media.

This wasn’t always the case … there was a time, a long time ago, when just getting published in the newspaper meant something. This month it wasn’t just the road trip that had me late in realizing something important. With the arrival of March 2020 I am celebrating fifty years in IT. There are bound to be many who have diligently pursued a career in IT for longer than I have, but that really isn’t the point – it’s not a competition. However, as I look back through all that has transpired for nearly half a century I cannot help but muse, how did I get here?  

With my love of music and with my attraction to clever lyrics, this is perhaps an ideal time to reference the later part of the opening verse of the song, Once in a Lifetime –

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Quite right; automobiles, houses and a beautiful wife have been featured in much of my writings and when I look at how I did get here then, in all honesty, it’s a mystery to me! I suspect no other NonStop professional has done more to derail their career over such a lengthy span of time as I have managed to do. Given how it is my anniversary and is such an important one, indulge me for just a paragraph or two before I return to the topic of lakes and in particular, data lakes.

While I was recruited in the Australian summer of ’69 by IBM and having passed tests and interviews, I showed up at the Steelworks in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on March 2, 1970. Yes, those who have been so kind to send me birthday greetings over the past couple of days, this was my birthday – in more than one sense, an ominous portent of what was to transpire. Two years in the Steelworks as an IT cadet was followed by stints as a programmer and then systems analyst at Overseas Containers Limited that included a transfer from Sydney to London. And then it was a couple of years with a Caterpillar distributor in Edmonton, Alberta.

However, after eight years working on the user side of the profession I jumped ship and joined the vendor community. In 1977 I returned to Sydney where I became the youngest Australian resident Managing Director (CEO, as it would be called today) of an American software company. In this instance, it was The Computer Software Company (TCSC) – what a name; imagine calling yourself that these days, but in the late ‘70s there weren’t too many software vendors so why not! But this is where the roller-coaster ride really began.

My area of expertise in 1977? Well it was database and in particular, relational database management systems and my product of choice, Datacom/DB. Fair enough, but it was only a few years later that Nixdorf Computers acquired TCSC, launched a plug compatible mainframe where I managed to secure the position of National Manager, Australasia Compatible Information Systems. Start-up and a Managing Director role followed by an acquisition and a senior manager role continued through to 2010 – forty years. Who would have planned such a path or at least, who would have openly admitted that this was their game plan all along.

TCSC to Nixdorf Computer; Systems Technology / Netlink to Tandem Computers; Insession to ACI Worldwide; GoldenGate to Oracle! Except, with this last acquisition, my roller-coaster ride came to an end! There was no room for me at Oracle and in almost every way I consider this to be a bullet well dodged!

While still back in Australia, I was coming to the attention of the media and for a while, Australian Computerworld identified me in articles as a “voice close to the industry”. A moniker that took decades to shake however the upside was that by the time I joined Tandem in Cupertino, I was a regular guest columnist in the Australian Computerworld newspaper. I had even written a couple of feature articles including a four page feature on the arrival of the Tandem Cyclone.

Little did I know that meeting a deadline and dreaming up story lines all those years ago would prove to be every bit as important a cadetship as when I showed up at the Steelworks five decade ago. This was a cadetship too that benefited from the many times I moved country – in all eight international moves – Sydney to London, then to Edmonton, Canada, to Dallas, TX, back to Sydney then of to Raleigh, NC, back to to Sydney again and then to Cupertino, CA. It took me three attempts to finally get the right visas to live full time in the US and for that, I have to thank my managers at Tandem.

Fifty years have passed by and it’s almost as if I can hear familiar lines from a Jimmy Buffett song; I did go to Paris after all. Many times! In fact, I proposed to Margo in Paris. On one occasion I even took an Air France Concorde flight from New York to Paris and it’s really a pity that you can no longer do that. Given I was a non-smoker, I had the whole back section of the Concorde – all 48 seats – to myself which led to much speculation among those seated forward. Bringing this to a close, there is no doubt that the data that could be accumulated about me would probably fill a disk drive. Or, a thumb drive! However, my only response to this would be “good luck” – when you figure it all out, let me know. Perhaps there is a story line after all.

In my conversations of late with HPE folks, there is nary an occasion when privacy and security don’t come up at some point. Writing about where I have worked as I have done here is pretty much acknowledgment that try as I might, I couldn’t have expected to keep it a secret. The message of NonStop has evolved over the past two decades to where it’s now very much about availability, security and scalability. When I first joined Tandem it was very much a message of availability, scalability and data integrity. But I digress – the important message is that now, security is right up there with only availability having a higher marketing priority.

And what have I learnt about security? It’s all really simple it turns out. Just as in the late ‘70s the issue was fallibility of hardware that in turn gave rise to Tandem that survived single points of failure, security needs to be addressed in the same way. Start with the real foreboding that any system any application will be penetrated and with this knowledge, build security solutions that are based on the premise that you will be compromised. Someone will get it – it’s as inevitable as a hardware failure was all that time ago.

Dig a moat, build a wall, disconnect from the internet, whatever – the bad guys will find a way. Fortunately, for NonStop it will be a little more difficult than most, but as the statistics of late highlight there is a marked increase in “insider penetration.” Clearly, while a NonStop system hasn’t suffered a hack to date it may very well happen at some point so moats, walls and isolation will only get you so far. The obvious solution? There are numerous NonStop vendors already all over this – make what you might find inside a NonStop totally useless. Nothing in the clear, whatsoever.

In the past this wasn’t always an option but with the speeds of processors these days, taking a few extra steps to make it all worthless to anyone other than those authorized to access the NonStop is a starting point. As for those accessing NonStop I continue to be a huge fan of two-step verification. I am no real expert in security, but fortunately there are those in the NonStop community who are and even so, sometimes we just make it too easy to get to our stuff!

I may be cavalier in my approach to protecting my own presence inside the ether and yes, I have been subject to malware and even ransomware attacks but in all cases, ignorance is bliss. And so far, nothing has materialized. However, when it comes to our NonStop systems, this simply doesn’t fly. Privacy isn’t my thing either. As a blogger I am fair game to anyone building a really bad profile of me through selective use of stories I have written. And yet, that data lake out there; that Richard’s Lake, just has to be full of data about me that I suspect can only be considered confusing at best. 
On the other hand there are those institutions and indeed countries where this is a big deal so again, take as many steps as you must to make information unreadable – sure, a Cray will crack the code eventually but who has a Cray these days? And I know multicore Intel chips can match a Cray in some instances on tasks like this, but again, I am simply not worth it! Just call me – I will fill you in on what you might want to know! And yes, that was me doing a U-Turn on the Sydney Harbor Bridge one night. Very late at night!

Five decades in IT and it has all passed by so quickly. Where are we headed? What five decades have taught me is that as soon as we see a dominant technology or solution on the horizon, just over the horizon is something completely different! And those data lakes? Water always wins and sooner or later, the need for lakes will evaporate – it’s all going to be a memory! The only good news for the NonStop community is that I will not be blogging for another fifty years. That ship has most definitely sailed. But to all of you who have joined me on in my topsy-turvy roller-coaster ride that has been fifty years of IT, many thanks. Simply put, I couldn’t do what I do today if it wasn’t for all the missteps I took along the way. And here I am, finally: The CEO of me!

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...