Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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 best served by HPE NonStop systems!

There was a time not too long ago, when my appearance took on a distinctly “Steven Spielberg look”. Right down to the glasses I wore and to the cut of my hair and beard. With hindsight, the similarities became clearer whenever Spielberg was giving an interview – we shared numerous mannerisms. Without making too fine a point of this, there are photos taken of me during the 2004 Cannes Film Festival that Margo and I swear were on-sold to newspapers. Picture this, walking with Margo towards the red carpet when out of nowhere two young scantily clad ladies on rollerblades swung up to me, grabbed an arm each, turned me to the side when cameras began to flash.

Holidaying in Maui, one family followed me practically everywhere I went, taking happy snaps at every opportunity. Goodness knows what now hangs on the walls of their residence. One proprietor in the Gilroy Outlets kept calling out his staff each time Margo and I entered the store so much so that Margo would call me Steven each time. And then there is a restaurant in St Paul, Minnesota, that will happily tell you of the time they entertained Mr. Spielberg together with his entourage. Perhaps the most telling conversation on this topic that I ever had was when my own mother called to ask about my appearance on the cover of Time Magazine!

Fortunately, with time and yes, age, differences have emerged and there is less speculation as to who I happen to be. Although as much as I try to explain to folks that it would be most unusual to find Mr. Spielberg shopping in an outlet center or hanging out at a bar in a tourist hotel, it seemed I was providing a less than compelling argument. And then there was the time when seated in my usual 1B seat on a United 737 that a passenger coming through the cabin door remarked to his partner – look, there’s Robin Williams! Ouch … again, would Mr. Spielberg, let alone Mr. Williams, have been seen travelling on a commercial aircraft?

No, looks can be deceiving and it’s not all that hard to imagine coming across something that turns out not to be the item (or person) we thought it was. When it comes to technology, looks are not only deceiving but can be borderline dangerous. For the NonStop community, such deceptions can be readily observed, but unfortunately, more often than not, as a community we aren’t in a position to push back on what looks as though it might be a similar technology to NonStop.

Take clusters, for instance. How often do we read that such and such server can be purchased and configured as a cluster with the inference that in so doing, a level of continuous availability will be provided? How often are we called upon to respond to management inquiries as to why such and such processor cannot do what NonStop does? Much of my time of late has been spent in addressing what at first glance looks to be a NonStop system in another guise but even the best clusters, a NonStop doesn’t make!

Even more disturbing perhaps is the commentary that often follows: Isn’t good enough still good enough? Everyone else is using this such and such server and it seems to be doing the job; why shouldn’t we follow suite? We may think that NonStop is being out-marketed (and in many cases, this is exactly what is occurring) but do you ever call marketing when something horrible happens? When you go down and leave a community hanging, there better be a little more behind the curtain than just the marketing team.

I was reminded of this as I caught up with my reading over this holiday period. A time, mind you, that has been extended somewhat because of the global pandemic’s impact on opportunities to travel. Trips to the local store are about all I have managed to do of late and given how I have become the cook of late while Margo recovers from her broken leg, these trips to the store have been for the basics and for little more. However, two stories caught my attention and even if the connection between the two is tenuous at best, nevertheless it got me thinking about NonStop.

The first story referred to the hiring of a new coach for the New York Jets football team where the topic of culture came up. “Culture is one of those words that is overly used in the sports world, and yet not clearly defined. Why? Well, it's more of a feeling and less of a tangible quality.” It took the arrival of a recruit from another winning team for the Jets organization to explain how they were deceiving themselves if they thought they could win given the current culture. 

According to Jets general manager, Joe Douglas, when talking about the attributes of a head coach, "We’re looking for a person with great character and integrity. A person that’s going to have outstanding vision of what they want the identity of this team to be moving forward, and then what’s the detailed plan on how they want to achieve this identity, someone that’s a great communicator, a great manager.”

You have to love it, don’t you: Someone with not just a vision but a plan on how to achieve it; a great communicator! The other story struck closer to home and involved a medium that is very familiar for everyone working with NonStop. I am talking about cash and the processing of cash. In a short update published in CNBC.com attention is given to how “the coronavirus pandemic has caused a surge in demand for contactless payments accelerating the shift from cash to digital options.” Nothing too surprising here even if it is a reference to what is happening in the US. However, that isn’t the end of the story. “Despite the rise in demand for contactless payments, many states and cities in the U.S. have passed laws banning cashless stores,” noted the CNBC reporter.

With all the attention being given to our transformation to a cashless society, could looks be deceiving? Apparently so and here is where NonStop enters the storyline. Culture? Yes, we have seen the vision HPE has articulated and is now aggressively pursuing: Becoming world’s leading edge to cloud platform as a service company. Cash? Yes, supporting financial services industry remains front and center the premier market vertical for NonStop. But more importantly as a community, what looks good doesn’t cut it with us – clever tricks and sleight of hand illusions don’t deceive us when it comes to how we deploy our IT resources.   

As a culture, the NonStop community knows that fault tolerance cannot be achieved through simple redundancies and network switches. We all agree with this and we are fervent evangelists when it comes to the merits of NonStop. In this case, looks do not deceive; mission critical applications, including all those facilitating the distribution and collection of cash, cannot afford to drop a transaction. The danger arising with missing accurately posting updates about any customers financial position is clear. Drop my cash and I drop your services! However, the culture of NonStop goes much deeper. 

There is no mistaking the mission of NonStop just as there is no mistaking the steps the NonStop community takes to ensure mission critical applications simply don’t fail. With all the work that has been done in support of NonStop, HPE has now delivered on its strategy to provide the NonStop community with options – run NonStop any way you want that best meets your business needs. Traditionally on converged systems; virtually on any compatible hardware; “as-a-Service” out of GreenLake! No, the look of NonStop deceives no one; its fault tolerance continues to be delivered in ways that meet the needs of mission critical applications.

With time, I am no longer mistaken for someone else. Even during the height of this mistaken identity there were some close to me who just didn’t see it. Not possible, seemed to be the popular refrain. And yet, when my own mother expressed doubts about who really was on the cover of Time magazine, I had to stop and think about the possible deceptions that might have arisen. Fortunately, with NonStop, there is no mistaking its identity or the functions it serves. And for that, there is the assurance that comes with knowing you have the real deal. NonStop doesn’t stop nor does it hide behind a mirage. There will always be ways to mimic some aspects of NonStop but when it comes to NonStop, nothing is almost as good as NonStop. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

For NonStop, what will drive success in 2021?

No question; we know what we are driving this year! When it comes to NonStop, some questions remain but the answers will not be hard to find!

This time last year I posted a blog about our trip back to Silicon Valley where I played tour guide to my good friends, Dieter and Chris Monch. Dieter and I had worked together back in Sydney, Australia, where Dieter had been Managing Director of Nixdorf Computers. Way back in the early 1980s, Nixdorf Germany bought the company I worked for, The Computer Software Company, renaming it Nixdorf Computer Software Company and leveraged the product, EDOS (and EDOS/VS) together with the skilled team of systems programmers to launch the Nixdorf line of IBM Plug Compatible Mainframes (PCMs).

That’s right – PCMs from a manufacturer of key-to-disk systems, ATMs and an integrated hardware / software small business software package. Again, hard to imagine the thought process behind entering the PCM business with the slowest (but least expensive) alternative to IBM’s then 4331 / 4341 product line. But then again, Olivetti and Phillips were both on a similar trajectory so Nixdorf didn’t want to be left out. Working with Dieter on this new endeavor, in 1984 we managed to sell one more 8890 (as the Nixdorf PCM product family was called) than Nixdorf US was able to sell in all of North America. While there were celebrations back in Sydney I was left dumbfounded and concerned – what was the future of Nixdorf ‘s PCMs if Nixdorf US couldn’t sell many times more of them than we were able to do in such a small marketplace?

The tour of Silicon Valley and then down the coast to LA and across to Palm Dessert / Palm Springs was done in sunshine which isn’t unusual for California, but even as I write this, the seventh snowfall of the season has begun here in Colorado. Our orange Range Rover Evoque ragtop has become our go-to vehicle, but unlike the week spent in California the top remains firmly in place. I have posted a memory about this trip to Facebook but what really sticks out in my mind is that reliving past glory days with my former boss was a reminder that just when you think our IT industry has set a course for us all to follow, something comes out of nowhere and we all have to rethink our business models. It may all be sunshine and smiles in one place but somewhere ahead of us, clouds are forming and they don’t look all that friendly.

For the NonStop community, there have been numerous solutions targeting the needs of enterprises running mission-critical applications. These could be in finance, transport or manufacturing. I still smile whenever I think of the story I wrote a number of years ago following an exchange with HPE about a bakery in Japan that deployed NonStop. Included in my white paper – HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before that is still available on the HPE Tech Library  -  the bakery had to ensure bread (and I imagine, croissants) made it to shops up and down Japan, right on time. No point in delivering these goods late at night as the needs of morning people just had to be met. Mission critical? Absolutely! As for the white paper, if you haven’t read it as yet you might be surprised to find how relevant the storyline remains today.

However, it’s worth noting that NonStop is a lot more than its hardware and it’s a lot more than the operating system. NonStop is an integrated hardware / operating system / utilities, tools and languages that collectively make up the powerful ecosystem that ensures that there is no single point of failure. This ecosystem also delivers availability, scalability and security unmatched by any other vendor with out-of-the box solutions. This last point being absolutely the most important aspect of NonStop – you don’t have to do a thing! Yes, you can create an environment that is similar to NonStop using enablers like IBM’s mainframe Parallel Sysplex and you can even pull together something that gets close to NonStop with Oracle clustering but the resultant solution is only as good as the first release and can only be supported with the retention of the original developers.

Too strong an observation? Once you get past your first release of your custom continuous availability solution then the issue of it being the sum of many parts, each in different stages of their life cycles and tracking to different update release distributions, then you the user become a product company necessitating the addition of staff that you find in the bigger development houses – and paying them competitive salaries. Not a long term winning solution by any measure you care to establish. However, it’s very real and even in times where the mantra where good enough is well, simply good enough, enterprises deserve much more from their vendors.

This is not the end of the story. What might be driving success for NonStop in 2021? There is no question that there are challenges lying ahead for the NonStop team and these challenges are happening on two fronts. The first front just happens to be internal; NonStop needs to further improve its visibility within HPE. There are positive signs coming from the new leadership of NonStop’s organization who was positive about NonStop in recent remarks to the NonStop community. This is in evidence too as there are equally as positive signs “coming from the internal HPE sales side, which is actually a good thing” I heard recently. And this is a good thing as we all know that sales in the broader marketplace can only come as the sales force grow more confident in the value proposition of NonStop. And we all know that “the opportunities for NonStop lie outside the existing customer base as that market is a lot bigger than the existing NonStop customer base.”

The second challenge NonStop faces is adding new solutions. Shame on companies like SAP that simply don’t get it – in today’s huge and fast growing eCommerce market, for a company as large as SAP to not understand the value proposition of NonStop while continuing to accommodate failures is yes, a real shame. SAP isn’t the only company that I have seen acting arrogantly in this regard. Even as SAP has experienced many head-shaking moments – think MillerCoors and Revlon / Elizabeth Arden – where a fault-tolerant platform certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss – having had close exposure to Epic at our local hospital I have to believe Healthcare solutions need to target NonStop as well. And then there is transportation – what other system can run container terminals 24 x 7 better than NonStop?

Again, many of these vendors do need to be ashamed of themselves for not adding the option to run on NonStop a part of their product portfolio.  But there are answers and they can be found in the ecosystem that makes up NonStop. Collectively, they have made migration to NonStop a straight-forward proposition. There are NonStop team members ready and willing to help out – the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) being the primary go-to folks with help only a call away – as there are numerous consulting vendors specializing in NonStop. As we were pulling together the January issue of NonStop Insider we referenced once again the post to HPE by Karen Copeland, Modernizing the development world of NonStop applications where you will read of the many tools, utilities and libraries that are now available to any developer looking to support NonStop.

As the 1980s moved along, the world of IBM PCM became fraught with lawsuits as first it was Hitachi than IBM they went after and then Fujitsu. Ultimately, in winning some cases, IBM lost the battle and even as Fujitsu won arbitration deciding that “Fujitsu has the right to sell close imitations of key IBM software products, the die was already cast. Unix was about to descend and alter the landscape irreversibly. Today, there is little thought given to compatibility with one vendor or another as it’s all about open source and just as quickly as Unix flourished, Linux cast a long shadow over the industry whereby Unix has “left the building.”

There is one more answer that can be addressed and it's something that is really worth consideration. Driving our Range Rover convertible along the Pacific Coast Highway, we were reminded of how this car replaced a much smaller Mini Cooper S roadster. The enjoyment this Mini gave us led to us naming our Range Rover, “Mini on Steroids.” Each time you turn on the ignition, the Mini on Steroids message scrolls across the infotainment center. We cannot take for granted the ease though with which we moved from the Mini to the Range Rover nor the fact that given how both were ragtop convertibles, we picked up all the advantages of the Range Rover without giving up the flexibility this provided. 

For many in the industry, the mere fact that NonStop has outlived so many platforms and remains unique in the way it addresses fault tolerance combined with the reality that applications developed for Linux can be readily (and somewhat painlessly) migrated to NonStop, can we take NonStop for granted any longer? Given the commitment to industry standards and open source that has been made by the NonStop team, would it be too much of a stretch then to consider NonStop, “Linux on Steroids?”

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...