Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Isolation and an opportunity to hit the pause button …

The biggest question we all have is whether business returns to normal. The global pandemic has seen change and with change a rethink in the way we work. So, what's next?

The view through the window can be distracting …

Are you happy to be working from home? Are you enjoying social distancing and the opportunity to work flexible hours? Realizing that it’s not all that bad to be in an environment where you can simply get up, wander between rooms and look out the window at neighbors all while casually attired? It’s a new world and even as we read more stories about whether or not we will see a return to practices of the past we wonder whether this will be the new norm for most of us.

The global pandemic isn’t something abstract. It’s not a story line to be read in a far-off newspaper. It’s not even a movie or television program. It’s real and because of the imminent danger to all of us, fortress home has become not just our hiding place but our new center of the universe. Boxes arrive at our doorstep almost daily even as our expertise in navigating e-commerce sites has improved. We change our passwords regularly even as we make sure our presence on social media isn’t ignored.

As for our IT industry, where we work has always been the subject of discussion among company founders, investors and HR managers. After all, take out the expense of an office and you have a lot more available cash for investing in what you really want to pursue – new products. And yet, what about our culture? What about our sense of belonging? What too of our desire to network even as we look for a possible change of career? Are we truly happy to be working from home?

I am writing this post not to be viewed as being knowledgeable in all things related to working from home. I am writing this post to encourage all those who are looking at what might come next. Not everyone has a passion for coding just as not everyone has a passion for writing. For almost all of our professional lives, there never has been an opportunity to hit the pause button and yet, here we are, looking into the screen and wondering is there something new to be explored?

As summer comes to an end it will see me completing 13 years of posting to this blog. At the request of the then ITUG board, I transitioned from writing a column for a traditional magazine to where I would be posting to a blog of the same name – Real Time View. You may have noted that the URL is itug-connection and this is a further reminder that it all started with ITUG and its then Connection magazine. However, that was a simple toe-in-the-water test that set the stage for what followed.

In an update for a client and as an exercise for my own education, I tallied up some 2,000 posts, articles and features. Most of them for digital publications but occasionally for traditional publications as well. These have appeared under my own name even as there have been numerous occasions where I have ghost written for others. There have been pictures, graphs and charts included in the posts as have PowerPoint slides all done to help develop the story line of the day.

I started this endeavor with the support of my colleagues at GoldenGate who were initially more than amused to see me putting it all out there for everyone to read. Amusing that is in the sense that well, having to come up with a story line every couple of days meant I had to draw on recent experiences and that led to some offbeat topics. But eventually, it came together and now, with three or four posts a month, there is an audience ready and willing to read each post.

GoldenGate may have been at the start of this endeavor but shortly after starting to blog GoldenGate was bought by Oracle that saw me at home, in an alcove, staring at my home office computer. It was a simple laptop with a keyboard and a screen. Even so, I felt obliged to keep on posting and as I did so, my changed circumstances let me explore new career opportunities I had never previously contemplated pursuing. Call it a transition to being an independent blogger who was joining the “gig economy.”

It was early fall, 2009, and a plan formed that I fine-tuned for the remainder of 2009. It involved finding sponsors to pay for my attendance at RUG events and to get support for speaking engagements. This came about and it led to my participation at the Darmstadt, Germany, GTUG event. Participation saw my plans put into action and, to this day, I consider that event as the start to my new rather different career. As I look back at what transpired it was still touch and go as to whether I could deliver value.

At the time I was working out of my wife, Margo, and my part-time Simi Valley, CA, condo but a short time later, we moved back to our permanent home in Niwot, CO. The office was more substantial, with a lot more space to wander around plus the view out the windows was so much better. Inspiration for more stories? I like to think so, but I also have to admit they were often times as much a distraction as they were inspirational. But then again, we call it a home office for a reason and it was nice to be home.

The most important aspect of working out of a home office is developing a routine. There are obvious distractions, naturally enough, and no matter where we reside, there will always be the unexpected. Yet it is important to set aside time to work whether it’s developing a new application, fleshing out important infrastructure or simply writing a post to a blog site you support. Routines may not define us but they sure do help us follow the plan. Routines help clear the mind for what task is at hand.

Having written 2,000 plus stories has meant that on average, two stories a day needed work. The NonStop community has never been averse to work and a quick look around the NonStop vendor community that even now focuses on NonStop and you can tell that a lot of heavy lifting has been done to bring products to market. You can also tell that this involves a global presence and contributions come from offices everywhere on the planet. Vendors tap skill sets wherever they can be found.

The global pandemic will be winding down sometime soon. Social distancing may be less important in the months ahead. The impetus to leave our homes and head to the office will be strong. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that many of you didn’t return to a traditional way of working. No more cubes and shared spaces and no more water-cooler conversations. Do we even still do that? I can’t tell as I don’t have a water cooler.  

The Sydney Morning Herald carried a story, A city of homebodies? How coronavirus will change Sydney and it has implications for us all. According to Kerry London, Dean of the School of Built Environment at Western Sydney University:

 “People have got back time in their lives through ‘commuting upstairs to their home office …  It has shown us a whole new way of working that allows us a greater measure of control if we are smart about it.”

David Sanderson, the Judith Neilson chair in Architecture at the University of NSW, went further:

 “I don’t think people will forget how awful commuting is … It would be astonishing if it doesn’t have some impact on middle-class people who can afford to work from home.”

Whether we stop commuting or not, what will remain as important as ever is to find our niche. Find what you like to do and before you hit the play button, we do need to be sure of where our passions lie. While I have pursued a career in social media for over a decade, NonStop has been doing well for more than four decades and that isn’t anything to be scoffed at. No vendor does fault tolerance better than HPE with NonStop. So, as you hit that play button, is what you will face yet again what you truly want to do?    

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Hope lost! But perhaps, not so fast … Echoes of Milton?

It begs the question, what next? In a world focused on ensuring isolation, going online seems right. Will NonStop meet the needs of those who just don’t want to stop? 

I have only just written a post for another blog site about hope. In that post of April 14, 2020 to ATMmarketplace, As our need for cash declines, will ATMs follow suit? I mused on how given all that is taking place –

“(T)hese nationwide shutdowns we read so much about aren’t helping with fostering hope. No, the hope of good things to come seems to have been thrown onto the back-burner and left to simmer out of sight.”

As much as I would like to say that I enjoyed waxing lyrical, in truth I was attempting to light a fire under hope, as like many of us on this planet, we were hunkered down, practicing social distancing and taking every step possible to ward off this global pandemic. It was while writing this that I caught references to pandemonium at which point, I recalled that it was Milton that penned in his classic poem, Paradise Lost that Pandemonium was the capital of Hell. Ouch … 

Reading poetry is not for everyone, nor is delving into the backgrounds of poets and of the times in which they lived. Even so, when it comes to looking into Milton’s verse, perhaps it’s worth noting that it was William Blake, the most brilliant interpreter of Milton, (who) later wrote of how “the Eye of Imagination” saw beyond the narrow confines of “Single vision”, creating works that outlasted “mortal vegetated Eyes”. Perhaps even more relevant to the events of today is the reference by the poet Wordsworth who “began his famous sonnet London, 1802 with a plea: ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee.’”

Delving even deeper into the background for this post it can be traced back to the many stories being written about the fate of the cruise lines. It would be completely understandable if the next cruise ship launched in the coming months was christened “Hope for Better Times.” Or maybe even, “Hope y’all come Back, y’hear!” To suggest the population at large has lost hope in ever happily cruising again is perhaps one of the more obvious fallouts following the arrival of this global pandemic.

It’s a safe bet to say that none of us truly imagined that something like this coronavirus would wreak such devastation on countries. COVID-19, if you prefer, is a bellwether ringing in change no matter how blasé any of us might be about eventual outcomes. But then again, hope has been in short supply for some time now. When it comes to the IT industry in general and to HPE, its Mission Critical Systems group with NonStop specifically, how many of us trust he likes of Gartner any longer? Or any tech industry analyst for that matter? Along similar lines, what of Silicon Valley?

Whenever discussions about hope arise then it may have been slow developing, but the events of 2020 have helped little with promoting the idea of infallibility of tech. Yes, even as we take a good hard look around us, doesn’t it strike you that well, things fail? For the NonStop community it is still shocking to read that failure is tolerated and outages garner less attention than they once did. Is mediocracy the new norm? Or as Milton wrote, “What though the field be lost? All is not Lost.” Yes: Hope springs eternal!

Across the NonStop community we have a strong appreciation for how best to deliver solutions to best serve Mission Critical deployments. Business may have stalled but it hasn’t lessened its need to meet customer expectations. These expectations have evolved of late as more of us turn to our laptops, smartphones and even smart TVs to conduct business. Perhaps more so as we go about living with a dependency on our every need being satisfied with the ring of our doorbell announcing the arrival of just one more item needed to sustain us.

When it comes to necessary infrastructure then the markets are being primed to better appreciate fault tolerance. We know robots never get sick. Nothing ails them and they don't stop as perhaps we do but ultimately it is the consumer, that all important end-user, and less so machines that drives tech. In turn, tech will continue to drive Silicon Valley even as our hope is not so much anchored in pivoting and disruption as much as it is anchored in an expectation that our new lives will be as they were in the past, albeit very different. Social distancing: There is hope that the current dictates are eased but will we ever be happy to return to shaking hands? Giving each other a hug? Crowding into a conference room?

There will be much that is going to gravitate to electronic exchanges, be that ZOOM, Skype or any mix of social media channels you care to name that what will emerge is a new found appreciation of the value of virtualized everything. Underpinning it all will be systems and infrastructure we expect to have working no matter what. If hope truly springs eternal then isn’t the shape of things to come all about continuous availability? To this end, surely, with a system that won’t stop, truly primed for brighter days with NonStop?

Isn’t it time then to take hope off the backburner and reposition it front and center of our plans? “Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee.” So easily could this read NonStop, we have need of thee!” It could happen; the scene is set – do you have the energy and inclination to make NonStop a reality in support of your business infrastructure and solutions in 2020? The promise is clearly there and easily realizable. Once again it’s NonStop that, as a community, we all know, won’t stop!   

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Everybody’s on the phone? Disruption, followed by innovation?

Remember the lines, “Alone again, naturally!” Or maybe the lines from other songs that in these times reinforce the massive societal changes under way – will these changes be with us for good?

There is something very comforting about kicking off a post to this blog with lines from a Jimmy Buffett song. Resonating with the times, Jimmy penned the lines -

Everybody's on the phone
So connected and all alone
From the pizza boy to the socialite
We all salute the satellites

On the other hand, as Margo and I continue to practice social distancing and yes, washing our hands at every opportunity, it is still very unnerving to watch how society has changed. Yet again! We have spent a month holed up in our Windsor home, so grateful that we bit the bullet and finished our lower floor complete with a media room and a wet bar. After a brief scare when we were diagnosed with Influenza B there was a follow-up this past week with x-rays and blood tests and it’s all good. Sigh of relief coming from the Buckles household.

One upside from being housebound is that it has given me plenty of time to catch up on magazines, blogs and emails. I know, I should be doing it on a regular basis. NonStop Regional User Group (RUG) and major Big Tent Geo events all cancelled – there are some postponements, but even so, it’s still not certain if they will proceed. They cancelled Wimbledon? They postponed the Indy 500! And golf’s Masters is likewise postponed. But catching up on my reading is a pleasant enough task that I am finding excuses to skip household chores while I check out an “interesting story.”

As I skimmed magazines I came across the following in one magazine I turn to for relevant quotes. Imagine my surprise then to come across this –

“In the realm of detestable corporate lingo, the term ‘disrupter’ barely rates.

“It might be routinely and annoyingly misused to dress up a mundane change or as cover for a disastrously bad business decision but compared with linguistic crimes such as ‘peel the onion,’ ‘let’s unpack this,’ and ‘drill down,’ the word ‘disrupter’ is a paragon of clean, simple language. It has a meaning that’s not easily captured by other metaphoric mumbo-jumbo.

“In general discourse, ‘disrupter’ refers to a product, person, or process that upsets the status quo.”

Understandably, these were the opening lines in a comprehensive review of all that is new in the world of automobiles and appeared in the April 2020 issue of Car and Driver. If you missed its relevance then think again. We are in the midst of a global pandemic where everyone I know is affected and when working from home means an office may be anything from the kitchen table to a sawhorse in the garage. We may not consider this an era of disruption and yet, at every turn we see disruptions.

As for technology, the markets NonStop serves have become even more critical – getting cash to a society struggling to keep its heads above water has become a priority. Mission critical is every bit as relevant today as it has ever been and products built on a fault tolerant architecture make a significant contribution to maintaining a semblance of normalcy during these times. Business Continuity Plans (BCP) are being put to use as supporting an upsurge in staff access is just as important as ensuring applications remain available.

As for Jimmy Buffett’s observation that we are “So connected and all alone” even as we have become so dependent on the internet, it’s hard to miss his often “We all salute the satellites!” Where would we be in these dire times if we lost our connections? Of course, some connectivity options look more elegantly implemented than others! Against a cultural backdrop so dependent on our interactions, I cannot recall how many invites I have received this past week to Skype, GoTo (a) Meeting or Zoom. My smartphone has never been busier and I have to admit, I am not a phone guy in normal circumstances. But there you have it, we truly salute the satellites.

For the NonStop vendor community the changes are obvious. So many development and support staff have become remote workers and yet new products and features continue to be produced. Did you read the announcement coming from TANDsoft and NTI? There’s now a new product, FS Compare, hitting the market and to read more on this, check out the NTI article in the upcoming April 2020 issue of NonStop Insider. No, innovation knows no limitations or restrictions but is constantly fueled by creative folks.

I was reminded of this just recently of how, during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), beginning in 2007 and extending into 2009, we have seen the arrival of such powerhouse companies as Dropbox (2007), Groupon and Cloudera (2008) and even Uber, Slack and Square (2009). I would alsolike to point out that DocuSign, started in Silicon Valley in 2003, was named a disruptor 3 times by the time it went public but truly came into it’s own during the GFC!  

 I don’t think any of us would be surprised to read in the coming months of even greater innovation taking place, particularly in healthcare and the bio sciences. The stock market may be a roller coaster for now, but I suspect it will turn around pretty quickly with the arrival of new companies breaking out and creating new markets and industry verticals.

One industry that certainly could get a boost is robotics. After all, robots never get sick and already there are pictures on the internet of robot greeters directing folks to appropriate counters, etc. for support. How far to take this is a question for economists and technologists to sort out in the coming months, but I cannot help but wonder; could a robot really clean our house? And not just our floors as can be done today! Our workplaces and indeed our very lives are being disrupted on an unimaginable scale, but already I am seeing trends develop that may be with us for a very long time.

The biggest hit once life returns to normal? Real estate and in particular, commercial real estate! Why do we need those multistory temples supporting little more than corporate branding? Do we all need to be taking up office and cube space at a prohibitive cost to all stakeholders? There is considerable speculation that, looking ahead to what might be here to stay, society will have so adjusted to social distancing that there is little point in bringing everyone back to the office.

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott had a lot to say on this topic just last week. “Australia,” he said “won’t look the same because it will impact a whole generation of our customers, the way they think about technology, the way they think about borrowing, the way they think about employment, the way they think about frankly the capitalist system and democracy." Looking back at previous pandemics including the 2008 GFC, Elliott noted that, “For Australia in particular and New Zealand, all of those other crises were something we almost watched on television, and we experienced in some ways. With this one it’s fundamentally changing our way of life. That is, I think, psychologically massive compared to all the other ones.”

For the NonStop community for the most part this represents only a small shift in current thinking as remote workers have been part and parcel of our daily lives for quite some time. Put it down too to the emergence of the “gig economy” where in tech there are so many individual contributors that without them, costs would soar astronomically. But therein again, lies further potential for NonStop. Wouldn’t you want your support infrastructure – your desktop, your comms, you data and yes, your security lead you back to a fault tolerant system? NonStop is certainly one desirable outcome in this respect.

Alone, but connected! Remote, but an integral part of the team! We all salute the satellite and in so doing, have become fully aware that the longer society operates in this current manner the lesser the likelihood we will see a swing back to practices of the past. Tech may be the bellwether for disruption and the driver of further innovation but within tech, there are the seeds of even greater change. Suddenly, “Home Alone” may not have negative connotations. Nor will it be a reference to a neglected child! Ultimately, we all may welcome the change and embrace the disruption for what it truly means: Freedom to innovate!

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