Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The new abnormal – if the shoe fits, right?

Call it the new normal, the not normal or even the new abnormal, our world as we knew it when we celebrated the new year is long gone; on the other hand, for IT and NonStop things are becoming clearer, with a meaning …

One of the more enjoyable aspects of spending my days writing is that it is a legitimate excuse to leave the family and go hole up in my office. In so doing, I can switch off and put the rigors of daily life behind me. I can escape into a world of my own making, right? Well, not exactly! More like only after I have helped clean up after breakfast, assisted in making our bed and even taking out the trash.

Yet, it goes without saying, the escape is real even as the opportunity to lose myself in my work overrides all else. For the record – my wife’s view on all this is totally different to mine – Margo claims I use my writing as an excuse to retreat to my office leaving the breakfast mess for her to clean up. Statistically she is probably right, but those 4 times this year when I cleaned up after breakfast just stuck with me!

 It was while I was looking at stories for ideas about possible themes for new stories that I came across an article that stated unequivocally that we were in transition to the new abnormal. This was the title of a vinyl LP released by the American group, The Strokes. Unfamiliar as I am with the group this led me to look at the lyrics of the songs hoping that indeed there was a title track of the same name. But no, while their lyrics wondered all over the place, this short but sweet title was the only reference to the new abnormal.

It was only a short time ago that I posted to Margo and my social blog, Buckle-Up, a post with the heading, The new normal; are you ready? But the thought that perhaps it isn’t the new normal that we are anticipating but rather, the new abnormal! Of course while carrying out my chores before heading to the office I also had to dress for the office – something I am sure you are pleased to read – and while pulling on my Clarke loafers, I realized that no matter how disciplined we happen to be and despite the routines we follow by rote, there is nothing normal whatsoever about where our journey is taking us. The global pandemic, apparently in retreat according to pundits and politicians, will not see a return to anything remotely associated with normalcy but rather to the beginning of a new era.

This isn’t something to be said in jest or taken lightly. No, if you haven’t read about this as yet then take it from me that you are reading about it here first; the past is in the past and to some extent, it was best left to Nelson Mandela when he said, “Forget the past.” On the other hand, it was a more forceful statement by former Chicago Bears football coach, Mike Ditka (and probably spoken following an embarrassing loss on the field) to say it in a style only his fans could appreciate, “I don’t believe in living in the past. Living in the past is for cowards. If you live in the past, you die in the past.”

Then there are these lyrics by the Moody Blues many of us will recall:

Do you understand
That all over this land
There's a feeling
In minds far and near
Things are becoming clear
With a meaning

For the NonStop community after so many decades of relevance and for so long the premier fault tolerant offering at the very heart of some of the biggest names on the Fortune 500, things are becoming clear; with a meaning. Have you found time to read the post of May 14, 2020 How easy it is to NonStop! ? In the closing comments of this post you will read of how business continuity in these times is of paramount importance. Having proven business continuity plans in reach at all times is a necessity. Deploying NonStop simplifies it further.

The connection? The significance? It’s all about continuity in times where it’s not just about business or indeed product but about all that we view as being important to us. Clearly, in talking to many within the NonStop community we had few plans in place to better support live continuity but then again, we didn’t have a feeling that we would be facing a global pandemic. Then again, Margo and I happily stepped about the Emerald Princess for a cruise deep into the south Pacific in February with only a passing concern about this new flu strain that seemed to be affecting some folks.

NonStop has carved its niche in the marketplace by accommodating what’s thrown at us. Availability isn’t just an attribute it’s an attitude. NonStop doesn’t stop is not a catch phrase; it’s what NonStop does. And yes, there is a marketplace for permanent availability – something the NonStop community was reluctant to embrace for so long and yet, there are other vendors now stepping up to say exactly this when all along, permanent availability has been the hallmark of NonStop for decades.

Anchoring a business continuity plan on NonStop systems separated and isolated to better ensure permanent availability goes beyond simply accommodating planned and unplanned downtime to include disasters natural or otherwise, is a necessity of business today. For the price tag, nothing comes as close to the savings that can be achieved in running mission critical applications on NonStop. 

Perhaps this hasn’t yet occurred to IT management. In minds far and near it is recognized that the complexity of IT today has only led to fragile infrastructure and greater risk being born by IT Managers. If you are into Big Data, Analytics and access to clever routines and code stubs then by all means, lean-in on cloud opportunities. However, as has happened many times in the past, when there is strong advocacy for one solution or technology to become the be-all and end-all then be very wary about the level of your commitment to such a solution or technology. 

Let’s be very clear, cloud computing has its place but when it comes to supporting mission critical applications, no level of permanency can be assured. Every cloud computing service provider ensures they have language in their SLAs that protect them on every occasion (there’s a glitch). Like many in the industry, when I am being told that everything will go to the cloud my antenna goes up – I have heard this too often in the past to simply assume that such a proclamation is absolute. The silver lining that comes with clouds is that it has triggered conversations about whether we have the optimal solution deployed in support of our business.

NonStop has a true sleeper in its arsenal and it’s not virtualization or the NonStop X NS2, but rather the NonStop X NS3. Viewed by some as suitable for development and test or perhaps participation in a distributed environment and a system best suited to emerging markets the NS3 has the same Zeon x86 based ProLiant servers underpinning the system as are found in the more powerful NonStop X NS7 systems. Lacking the expansiveness of the NS7 and limited to just four CPUs with only an option for one or two cores, nevertheless licensed with the NonStop OS stack and NonStop SQL/MX, it represents a potent offering that shades many similar Linux systems particularly when equipped with legacy database offerings like Oracle.

It may be overlooked when developing migration plans, but other than those NonStop users with multiple sixteen CPU systems where the NS7 is the logical next step, many businesses will find that their IT expenses are significantly reduced in going to the NS3. Even more importantly, when you run the numbers the NS3 truly does destroy the myth that any Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) system is more expensive when compared to SMP-based systems. It’s simply not true. The new abnormal may in fact be referencing the true cost of availability with NS3 – arguments that cannot and should not be ignored.

The new normal or the not normal or even the new abnormal will take some getting used to, but change is happening and there’s little evidence that there will be any returning to a working and social lifestyle previously enjoyed. Is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t happen to think so. Any change that has us rethinking processes is a good thing. The manner in which we have been brought to this point is tragic and cannot be understated with the loss of life staggering. However, in the coming weeks as restrictions begin to lift, let’s not forget that what was once normal is in the past. After all, Things are becoming clear; with a meaning … and the new abnormal will soon by our own normal.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How easy it is to NonStop!

From video clips to social media posts to publication editorials, NonStop is gaining traction whenever availability is no longer an option. But the question remains, can you afford not to NonStop?                                                                     

We are now deep into spring and for us, living in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is in sight. For us Americans, Memorial Day isn’t all that far away and with this remembrance of times past, we begin a period of backyard BBQs and days at the beach. Yes, it’s nice to step outside to enjoy a timely glass of wine. Well, sort of; no one is prepared just yet to get too far ahead of themselves as we continue to be influenced by what is driving all of our plans – the global pandemic we know as COVID-19.

This past week has been a time where Margo and I have been focused on publishing the May issue of NonStop Insider. Have you read it yet? Have you checked out Margo’s editorial? Just as importantly, have you become a NonStop Insider subscriber? What we have come to enjoy reading are numerous opinion columns that are submitted as they provide different perspectives on NonStop the product and NonStop the community. It has been our goal to limit the editing to a bare minimum so that readers can enjoy the story lines “as they are written!”

It shouldn’t be a surprise for any reader of this latest issue of NonStop Insider to know that the focus of many of the articles is on business continuity and in particular, on the need for business continuity plans. NonStop systems offer levels of availability unmatched by any other vendor, but even so, this doesn’t negate the need to be prepared for outages manmade or natural. In these most trying of times, nothing can be taken for granted, but fortunately the NonStop community is well-served with many good products addressing business continuity available from NonStop vendors.

It is all too easy to imagine our current predicament lasting longer than authorities predict. Any forecast being given by any institution can be taken with a grain of salt as the unknowns do outnumber what we understand today. Given how so many of us are working from home (and doing a really good job as best as I can tell), we are all watching to see how our employers react when time is finally called off on self-isolation and we can begin to assemble, in numbers, in offices and cubes left idle for so long.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to read of how even now there are major enterprises that are still taking outages at this critical time. To be honest, aren’t you surprised that there isn’t more attention being directed at those businesses that have failed us – how long did it take you to get through to your bank, your travel agent, your government agency? And when we did get through, all we were told was that “our systems are slow” or indeed, nonfunctioning? In many ways, it is a source of frustration to the NonStop community that enterprises have an option not to suffer outages and yet for one reason or another fail to consider the opportunity to run 24 x 7 with an off-the-shelf product.

In a May 8 video
HPE Cancels Coveted Customer Award, HPE NonStop Sales Specialist, Steve Kubick, suggests that perhaps it’s down to our own enterprise’s architects not realizing how easy and how inexpensive it is to deploy NonStop. Existing NonStop customers do not tolerate outages and yet, it still hasn’t dawned on these enterprise architects that they too need not suffer from downtime planned, or unplanned. Kubick makes it very clear when he advocates for NonStop advising these same enterprise architects of “how easy it is for you to NonStop!”

The antithesis is often overlooked by these same enterprise architects: How difficult and in fact expensive it is not to NonStop. Rather than going into the benefits of NonStop it’s better to paint a picture of availability using very broad strokes. And in doing so, let’s line up NonStop against Linux where Intel x86 architecture is exploited. When it comes to hardware today’s NonStop is built atop HPE ProLiant servers linked via a Mellanox (soon to be Nvidia) InifiniBand (IB) switch. But there’s no big price difference here as you can build a similar configuration using anyone’s x86 servers linked via a similar fabric based on IB.

Then again, continuing with the broad strokes, NonStop can run virtualized so any enterprise already deploying x86 servers where VMware is deployed, the fabric required for virtualized NonStop is simply Converged Ethernet where the interface is via RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE). Again, no substantial price differences here and we have an option to run mission critical applications within our server farm that leverages the benefits of a fault tolerant virtualized NonStop (alright, I can live with some enterprise architects naming this their private cloud as yes, painting with broad strokes continues).

As for software here the Linux advocates begin to lose ground. On paper, there is so much open source on offer that surely, we can build out our platform free but here the first missteps can be identified. The enterprise wants full vendor support for any open source brought into the data center preferring to go with RedHat, for instance. Ouch, now you have the “configuration twostep” to master (and maintain). As you build out your stack with messaging and transaction support then add a database and move on to sort out replication and monitoring these separate products bring with them considerable feature overlap that requires a level of expertise (indeed experience) to sort out. Which product is responsible for logging, for instance; and the logging of what exactly?

By comparison, out of the box NonStop comes with a completely integrated stack with no feature overlap as NonStop developers talk to each other. Surprise? What this leads to is that the costs to get to a usable level of availability without considerable fragility through complexity is now in the same ballpark that you will experience with NonStop. So, where is that cost for NonStop enterprise architects seem so ready to promote? A decade or more ago, there was a price premium to be paid for fault tolerance, but no more.

One last item to consider as these broad strokes continue to be made on an almost complete canvas: the costs associated with staff, be they developers, systems managers or operations personnel. In case you missed the memo, most popular DevOps tools, utilities and libraries are supported with NonStop. Did you check out the earlier post to the HPE Community blog Modernizing the development world of NonStop applications where the topic of DevOps is covered? NonStop SQL is now so compatible with Oracle you don’t have to worry your DBAs about something unfamiliar. As for operations everything is done online – a NonStop system never has to stop; no need to plan for downtime whatsoever.

Where the scales swing back to favor NonStop however is the drop in staff required to manage NonStop versus Linux. DBAs can be reduced to a part time responsibility and operations? Well, so much is automated today that this too becomes almost a casual assignment. Too broad a stroke? Not really as all you need to do is check in with any large enterprise running NonStop and no matter the industry, there are plenty to choose from who have elected to run NonStop.

Business continuity in these times is of paramount importance. Having proven business continuity plans in reach at all times is a necessity. Deploying NonStop simplifies it further. These days, perhaps it’s even harder than ever before to ignore HPE NonStop as you will find today that it has become so much easier to NonStop. So, all that remains is to ask you; what stops you?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Scaling out: NonStop, the “secret ingredient” within HPE product portfolio

An uptick in blog posts and even video clips helps ensure the story of NonStop continues to resonate with IT professionals even in times severely impacted by global events.

There has been a constant reminder in our neighborhood that we each are looking at the world differently. The global pandemic has forced us all into thinking about how big our social network should be – do we have enough friends? Do we need to reach out to even more colleagues and acquaintances? Is there a minimum set that ensures our happiness? A maximum? Can our emotions scale accordingly, such that our friendship is all embracing without breaking down into an inner circle and a perimeter?

This weekend we saw an impromptu performance taking place on a neighbor’s driveway that attracted a number of passersby. A simple guitar was all that was involved and yet those listening to his performance considered it good enough to stop whatever else they were doing. Our next door neighbors arranged a number of deck chairs on their backyard lawn, the better to maintain social distancing, for an opportunity to roast s’mores.

With very few breaks we have watched golfers walk by, isolated as they are in individual golf carts, all the while practicing social distancing as they take turns to sink those final putts.  Colorado weather changes in the blink of an eye; it was only a week or so ago that the course was covered in snow.

The world, however, isn’t the same as it was as we still have cars sitting in the garage on battery tenders as we wonder when next we can plan on driving to a NonStop Regional User Group (RUG) event. The latest update on planned events for 2020 that we received from Kathy Wood was depressing as we scrolled down through the list of cancelled and postponed meetings.

What hasn’t changed in these times, however, is the need for our infrastructure to remain reliable. It would seem that with each government initiative that is announced, the supporting infrastructure runs into problems. In Australia and the US, program beneficial to the community seem to have run fowl to the collective inabilities of applications to scale up to handle the rush of responses each program created. Higher education bodies have struggled to support student populations working from home.

All the while financial institutions we have put our faith in have likewise struggled to provide the reliability we expect at a time when accessing the dwindling amount of cash we might have becomes a priority. In her May 1 post to the HPE Community blog, Unplanned downtime and outages can happen. But not with HPE NonStop Karen Copeland, Manager, Worldwide HPE NonStop Product Management, references recent outages at well-known fintech, Robinhood.

Popular investing app Robinhood went down in early March,” said Copeland. “According to CNBC, the commission-free trading platform experienced a massive outage on March 2 that resulted in clients unable to access the market during a huge rally. The service faced downtime again on March 9 before managing to restore its systems. CNBC noted the firm blamed the outage on an ‘unprecedented load’ on its infrastructure caused by volatile market conditions, record trading volume, and a piling in of new users.”

Copeland also referenced another source, Cointelegraph, and quoted Pankaj Balaji, Delta Exchange CEO, who said, “The technology needs to be built in a fashion that it is able to distribute the load and handle such spikes. These frequent outages expose the fact that there are issues with Robinhood's technology and its ability to handle volume spikes in such high volatility environment.” For the NonStop community, the collective sucking noise as we gasp at such statements should be heard worldwide. Surely not – unable, you say, “to distribute the load and handle such spikes?”

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Availability has always been the strong point favoring selection and ultimate deployment of NonStop systems. As a very modern interpretation of a fault tolerant architecture that has proved reliable for decades, it still surprises many that so little is discussed about the suitability of NonStop to support applications in a way that no single point of failure will bring them to a halt.

While other vendors promote the level of redundancy built into their systems, and of how such redundancy extends to duplicate power sources being supported, fault tolerance is so much more. What HPE has with NonStop is an integrated system from the metal to the operating system to the middleware stack – it’s all integrated in a manner that application failings don’t bring the system down.

How often do we have to remind ourselves that it is take-over and not so much fail-over? NonStop simply steps in and intervenes whenever situations arise that NonStop deems likely to end in a failure of one type or another. However, availability is only one part of the story. As a massively parallel processor with a shared-nothing architecture with NonStop, scalability no longer is an issue.   

In an upcoming article to be published in the May, 2020, issue of NonStop Insider, HPE NonStop Sales Specialist, Steve Kubick, promotes his most recent video posted to LinkedIn on Integrity and Inheritance. “When it comes to availability we measure it as being five nines (of availability) – three seconds of downtime a year. When it comes to maintenance or planned downtime, NonStop does that on the fly – all those things you need to do to maintain a system (can be) done online,” says Kubick. 

Just as importantly, Kubick continues with the observation that, “Without an outage: NonStop delivers AL4 uptime. And it does this while still providing a level of scalability that delivers 98% of each added processor resource (up to 4080 processors) – all in a single system image. So imagine what you could do with NonStop.” When others are struggling to scale-out to handle the unexpected volumes that come with business spikes, as we are seeing happen more often of late, NonStop takes such spikes in its stride.

For those relatively new to NonStop, you may have not realized that in the stock market crash of 1987, Black Monday, when the market dropped 20% in a single day, processing of orders were being performed on a NonStop system. Through planning, the exchange had additional processors on hand and then-Tandem engineers were able to add these processors online and without any necessity for an outage of any kind. The exchange didn’t stop trading that day because of a lack of scale but rather, its famous stock ticker couldn’t keep up.

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...