What insights are we looking forward to; transactions meet analytics!

Even as the finishing touches were put on the upcoming September issue of NonStop Insider, it proved too hard to ignore the observations about NonStop, analytics and the age of insight!


The telltale signs of summer coming to an end are beginning to become apparent here in Northern Colorado. In a matter of a few days’ time, snow is predicted with a forecast maximum temperature of only 39 degrees, Fahrenheit (4 C), and summer isn’t truly over nor has Fall arrived. Too bad about those last lazy days of summer being spent around a lake or on your favorite bike trail – change is on its way and there’s little we can do to stop it. On the other hand, it’s hard to reason with the season, or so Jimmy Buffett sang some time back.  

Driving to my local car service center, a warning message appeared – overdue service, 8/2020 – which was the first indication that anything was required, raised an eyebrow. Standing by the service center desk I was politely informed that it would be several weeks before the car could be serviced as all the SUVs suddenly showed up wanting a winter-prop service. Seems that in today’s highly connected world our cars know more than their drivers about what servicing they require. No more flashing lights but rather, a forceful reminder that with our apparent driving style, attention was needed and yes, it had to be done right now!

In a world where we are seeing more interest being paid to providing management with insightful information, it’s hard to know that important information will flash by unexpectedly, or where. Will I be told that I have left the kettle on and that the iron is still connected and getting hotter by the minute? I cannot tell you how many times I have turned the car around to check on that iron just on the possibility that I did leave it on. But today, as IT professionals, providing insightful information carries more important information than a potential ironing board mishap.

Can we call it insight when our credit card fails to process a transaction due to lack of funds? On the one hand, it’s a not too subtle way of informing us to either pay the bill or top up the account. Either way, it’s hard insight! As for something more useful would be text messages many of us already receiving – particularly if you use Starbucks – telling us that we have run too low and that a top-up has automatically been done for us. An example of soft insight! You may not agree as to what’s hard and what’s soft but for most of us, it’s tied to the degree of embarrassment we feel at the time.

For the NonStop community our lives have been very much focused on executing the transaction. Ever since its introduction many decades ago, NonStop has been prized for its ability to relentlessly process transactions with no downtime, ever! For making sure what is initiated by an end-user runs to completion without interruption or mishaps of any kind. The fact that NonStop is built, form software through to the hardware, as a total fault tolerant package, has served us all well for many decades. But what’s happening with NonStop when those same transactions could benefit from having additional insights to draw upon? What are our options for improving on a simple yes, or no?

I haven’t heard anyone argue with the benefits of having access to additional information – enriching the interaction, if you like – but the question remains; do we run any kind of analytics processing on NonStop systems? Perhaps not! And analytics are, after all, key to how we obtain insight. After years of building data warehouses and populating data lakes, ponds, streams whatever, it is the power of the analytics engines that deliver the goods. By this I mean there is a lot of choice out there when it comes to analytics engines but none run on NonStop. And for good reason – they are CPU intensive in a way that is at the opposite end of the processor-devouring spectrum than what’s needed to complete you average transaction.

For quite some time there have been discussions about whether or not to add a GPU to Nonstop specifically to run analytics. Or perhaps a custom box akin to a CLIM added specifically as a type of co-processor onto which CPU intensive work can be offloaded. Then there is the concept of peer processor whereby a capable Ethernet connection to a Linux box ensures the heavy lifting is done when needed and without disrupting the transaction processing under way on NonStop. Well architected, the peer processor could fail on occasion without any downtime taking place on NonStop.

Then again, such discussions can become a never-ending story. Arguments for and against could continue where such vacillation could ultimately prove unhelpful. Transactions on NonStop, in combination with analytics, need to be addressed, and soon. This is the topic covered in the upcoming September 2020 issue of NonStop Insider. Look for the regular column, HPE NonStop Corner – one partner’s perspective. And check out what comes about when we reach that “AHA!” moment.  

Whichever way you look at it, there are ways to address combining the world of transaction processing with analytics. It’s a technology that holds the promise of separating all the so-so-run companies from those that grow more rapidly. Figuring out the best way to serve an end-user has always been the goal of business and it was in such a pursuit that so much of the mundane devices we interact with today came about – the ATM, the POS, the smartphone and much more. Every time we walk up to a self-service device its presence has come about because the enterprise recognized there were transactions we felt more comfortable doing with a device than interacting (and facing disparaging looks) with and from a human.

But maybe we don’t need to fuss too much over the pros and cons of combining NonStop with co-processors. What is now making it more interesting is that when we look at combining the world of transaction processing with analytics, suddenly consuming analysis on the basis of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) makes even more sense. In fact, some of the peer approaches under consideration may in fact involve connectivity between NonStop and a cloud environment – private or public depending upon our appetite for secure processing – whereby analytics is tapped as and when it’s needed. Not all transactions benefit from a lengthy Q and A that otherwise might be initiated.

Analytics, and for all the discussions we may be having about the intersection of transaction processing with analysis, is in its infancy and we are only seeing early baby steps being taken by most solutions. However, no matter how far they reach and how quickly they get there, the important thing is to be aware that even with NonStop, it’s best to take some early steps to reconcile both worlds. Enterprises need to be better prepared for what’s to come and in an age of insight, as HPE keeps reminding us about, we can’t have NonStop developers ignoring the need to tap analytics. 

For my money, analytics server up as we need them, on the basis of SaaS, is looking likely to be the best bet. Simplicity may be the key driver as might be agreed-upon, open APIs allowing ease of access and operation. Perhaps too it’s going to come from knowing more of what NonStop’s development peers within HPC can offer. Perhaps it’s in the coming world of GreenLake that we find some answers. Ultimately, our transactions need feeding; where, and how, the insights are provided that enterprises will value most suggests that simply executing the transaction will not be enough.

Looking at the forecast for Colorado, you may not need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows; just look to the mountains. Or as Jimmy Buffett sang, “the wind is blowin’ harder now … there’s white caps on the ocean.” When it comes to the weather, we can see for ourselves that changes are taking place. We don’t need a flashing icon on our dashboard either to know we need to change the oil; it’s simply the right time to do it.

As for NonStop, analytics, SaaS, private clouds, virtualization – it’s all there. The pieces have taken on form and now it’s just up to us to decide how to pursue the integration of transactions with analytics. Shouldn’t we at the very least start a conversation within our own IT organization and yes, shouldn’t we use this as just one more opportunity to talk openly of how far NonStop has come in the decades that have past its introduction all those years ago?    

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