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!  

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