Saturday, July 31, 2010

Measuring up?

Out of necessity I have been doing quite a bit of travelling these past couple of weeks, and most of these trips have involved spending a lot of time on the road. For those who routinely visit this blog site it shouldn’t come as a surprise to read of how I continue to commute between Boulder and Simi Valley a trip, I believe, I could now do blind-folded. Or to read of the many times I have driven to Cupertino. There’s not a billboard or exit along any of these highways that I haven’t seen a dozen times and there’s little I come across that surprises me anymore. I’ve pretty much seen everything!

It was on one of the recent trips to Cupertino that I crisscrossed the Californian coastal ranges and checked out a number of “wine trails” – around Solvang, Paso Robles and Cambria. Anyone who recalls the movie Sideways would recognize many of the vineyards that I visited. However, it’s not just the vineyards that hold my interest – roadside cafés often prove to be an interesting adventure as well. While on this trip I stopped at a Greek restaurant that is part of Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos, just outside Solvang.

The local cheese that was on offer was fabulous, as was the roasted lamb sandwiches, and it’s a place I can strongly recommend visiting. On the other hand, it’s often the lesser known establishments that can draw a crowd and recently, out on highway 46, heading west between Interstate 1 and highway 101, I passed a café serving BBQ pork and the number of motorcycles pulling into its car park provide a compelling testament to how good the BBQ must have been. The picture above is of me outside my favorite BBQ café in Boulder, a place I often visit for good BBQ pork!

As much as I enjoy BBQ, however as an Australian, I was raised on the tradition of oven-baked lamb and it wasn’t until much later in life that I became aware of how good lamb tasted when roasted over an open pit. Even though we had easy access to pork, and I have to believe that many who lived in “the Aussie bush” knew how good it tasted, it wasn’t until I made the move to America before I really came to appreciate pork roasted over a pit. For many years at Tandem, it was hard to resist an invitation from Roger Mathews to join him for his annual pig roast - and most of Tandem folks would show up and party all night!

Talk of pig roasts takes me back to a recent quote in the August 2010 issue of Car and Driver, where a reporter talked of how his enthusiasm for a car was “about as much as a pig enjoys being measured for a pit!” While I cannot recall the actual car responsible for this remark, it certainly provided an unambiguous picture of exactly how the journalist felt as he climbed behind the wheel. I could easily add several of my own experiences and develop quite a list of activities I relish enjoying about as much as that pig enjoyed being measured.

Kees den Hartigh recently posted on LinkedIn a link to a blog entry from the Harvard Business Review titled “Fire Your Marketing Manager and Hire a Community Manager”, that also had me thinking of that pig, particularly, as I read through the many comments that followed the initial post. This Harvard Business Review blog posting reflected many of the same observations that I have made with social media. While I’m not a proponent of firing marketing managers, the arrival of social media is opening new doors to the way information is being shared and for some marketers staying abreast of all that’s going on across all the channels can be quite the challenge.

“A community manager actively monitors, participates in and engages others within online communities. These communities can be on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, intranets, wherever groups of people come together to converse and interact with each other,” the blogger David Armano suggests. And this is where the post aligns well with my own observations. So often I have written of how across our community, for every 100 readers, 90 will only do so from time to time, 9 will do so regularly, and just 1 will post a comment. Fostering additional interactions among the community is something I would earnestly welcome!

So, what is a community manager? According to the post by Armano, one possibility may be that “a community manager acts as an ambassador for your organization, whether that person is an employee or contracted to manage your social web presence. A good community manager gives a human form to the faceless corporation … A community manager must be a good or great communicator. He or she of course needs to be social, and understand the social mores of the communities served, and have a strongly developed sense of ethics … Enthusiasm is also required. Finally, a good community manager will be well connected, forming relationships with the right people in your communities, the individuals and groups you want on your side.”

All too often talking to readers of social media, including those who regularly read my blog posts, I get the impression that there’s very little enthusiasm to engage with the rest of the community by posting a comment. There’s interest in reading and in learning of what’s going on, of course. However, when I look back at all the comments posted to this blog the majority come from a core of readers whose commentaries quite regularly show up in other blogs as well. It’s as if the majority of readers show as much enthusiasm about posting comments as do the pigs being measured for the pit!

While I appreciate the message Armano is conveying, I am not all that sure that good marketers aren’t already well versed in what is being provided today in social media. The more I talk with the NonStop community the less I think I would try and persuade corporations to create such positions independent of their other communications channels. If the creation of such a position turns out to be a sure-fire way to help people become comfortable interacting with the community at large, then I am all for it. We all have our critics and there’s no escaping the fall-out from not checking the facts, but this should not deter most of us from becoming involved one way or another.

Vendors are relying more than ever on what is actively portrayed as the current sentiment within their communities and in what is important to them. Java? Clouds? Clusters? Scalability? New markets? All these subjects are ones where the NonStop community is beginning to make its opinions widely known – just check out the number of comments posted recently to LinkedIn groups Real Time View, Continuous Availability Forum, and even comForte Lounge. You will see a variety of subjects including “Do you know SCADA ?”; “Calling all Java Enthusiasts!”; “Cloud Computing”; and even “I'm thinking of setting up 4 data centers, all active, any worries??”

My own observations on the value these interactions provide is by now well known. I am a huge supporter of social media and of the instantaneous way information flows and how that, even with only a handful of voices being heard today, meaningful observations and commentaries are being provided. This represents a very big change in the way we find out how others are pursuing solutions to business problems we probably all face. You can’t always unconditionally accept everything that’s posted but generally, patterns emerge that become obvious to all. Social media is changing the very manner in which product management, for instance, goes about its business – and in a very positive way.

Yes, we could appoint Community Managers. Yes, we could ensure companies have an ambassador for their organization present within the communities founded on interests important to them and to their business. Armano quotes a BusinessWeek article “Twitter Twitter Little Star” and of how it “describes social media as a booming industry which has caught the attention of corporations everywhere.” The effectiveness however is totally dependent on as many of us as possible becoming energized to convey our own observations and express our own points of view.

Posted to LinkedIn a short time ago was a link to a study titled “the coming of Porous Enterprise” where the writer, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy, Orange Labs SF, made the observation “What seems to be happening is a shift not only from information to knowledge but from knowledge to creativity. Indeed, given the power of networks, knowledge is slowly becoming a commodity. What is becoming precious is the authentic purpose from management that drives employee engagement and passion.”

I can think of no better way to transition from being knowledgeable to being creative today than engaging more proactively in social media. Engagement and passion help move us beyond just knowing the basics, and surely, innovation is best served when pursued by creative individuals. After all, when you think about it, isn’t it time for all of us to put to one side our fears of the chef’s measuring tape?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Investing in NonStop continues ...

I spent this weekend in the Bay area and visited with my friends in Cupertino. I passed buildings on Pruneridge Avenue, Fremont Avenue, Stevens Creek: all familiar addresses to anyone who has spent time in Cupertino and Sunnyvale and who has had history with Tandem and now, NonStop! Of course, there’s still the Duke of Edinburgh, a pub that’s already been written about in earlier posts and where, if the walls could talk, so many details of much that has been implemented on NonStop could be heard! A lunch in this pub is always hard to pass up!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a lot more time on the HP campus on Pruneridge Avenue. On that occasion I had the chance to tour a temporary data center where a team of folks under the watchful eye of John Donelan, another Australian mate of mine, had assembled a very a large NonStop server. The server was destined for the new Austin data center, and was a part of the data center convergence program that Randy Mott, HP’s CIO, has been pursuing. I came face-to-face with a massive Neoview 512p sever. The picture above is of me alongside one of the rows that housed 128 NonStop processors.

The scale of the system was impressive. Four rows of cabinets housed the 512 processors while some 5,000 plus 600Gb disk drives were to provide 1.5 plus petabytes of usable data storage. There was an element of symmetry about the configuration that I particularly liked – each row was made up of eleven cabinets with a central cabinet housing essentially the engineering console, flanked either side by four cabinets, each with eight boards housing 16 processors and enough CLIMs to support just the population of disks deemed optimal for Neoview’s Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW), that was central to the Business Intelligence (BI) applications it would support. On the outer extremities of each row were separate cabinets populated with additional processors, CLIMs and disks. Forty four cabinets in all and, if I was mistaken, the temporary data center selected was in Building 44!

When the system was shipped to Austin shortly after I was given the tour through its rows, it would go through additional testing before being loaded with data and then made available to any ODBC client via HP’s global network. Hard to grasp that it would become just another network-accessible resource. Good news for all those interested in all things NonStop is that a second Neoview 512p system is being assembled in Singapore and that it would eventually find its way to Houston. Whether HP would require a third system of this size for it’s Atlanta data center wasn’t much more than a budget issue and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear shortly that yes, indeed, a third system was on its way. Randy Mott has demonstrated repeatedly that he wants each of the three data centers to mirror the others.

Looking at this system of forty-four cabinets made me realize just how many Intel Itanium processors were involved. Many more than most user installations get to see but, all the same, the developers at Intel must be very pleased in the knowledge that servers of this size were being used. I have no idea why Itanium continues to draw questionable comments in some quarters but in realizing just how much data could be processed reliably, and immediately, put aside any doubts I may still have had over this particular chip architecture. There have been NonStop systems as big as this shipped to other customers, I have been told, but I suspect they are running in sites where I couldn’t as easily view them – so seeing this set-up first hand, as briefly as I did, will be something I will remember for quite some time.

For several decades now, applications available for NonStop did it all – from processing transactions to checking tables and files to recording pertinent information on a data base, the HP NonStop Server was involved every step of the way. For some market segments where applications were available on NonStop, the market was extremely kind. According to The Standish Group in the recent paper, Megaplex: 35 Years of Evolution from the TNS1 to the Integrated Data Center, the authors even went so far as to suggest that “in markets where applications do exist such as payments, cell phone registration, and stock trading, the NonStop enjoys an almost-monopoly.”

Modern applications are being architected such that components run on different platforms, each with different price points that reflect the platforms properties whether application suitability, performance, or scalability. At a time when so much discussion is centering on the ability to deploy cheap commodity hardware that can be easily scaled-out, however, data bases are getting bigger and the properties of NonStop better appreciated. According to The Standish Group paper on Megaplex, “the future is much more interesting for NonStop applications. Five percent of a typical application could benefit from a highly reliable environment …putting the 5% of high-value applications in a NonStop environment will give the reliability and availability that may be desired, without forcing the other 95% to run on the more costly platform.”

Flipping through magazines that have piled up in my office I glanced at the August 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Yes, among the car and motorcycle magazines there were copies of Architecture Digest, The Robb Report, The Economist, and yes, a selection of Fashion magazines. What caught my attention this time was an advertisement for L’Oreal featuring the entertainer Beyonce promoting a new “infallible, never fail, lipcolour” that lasts for 16 hours! Apart from the obvious tautology this represented, it struck me how often the CIOs and data center managers that I have talked to have spoken earnestly about how they longed for technology that was infallible, never fail, no matter what happens! And for much longer than 16 hours! The NonStop architecture, in its most recent, modern, commodity based iteration is beginning to make sense to many of these CIOs – not for the whole application but for the most critical 5% that they just cannot afford to ever loose. Within this small percentage, it is the data base that is most often talked about!

At this year’s HPTF event in Las Vegas, in presentations by NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) executives, there were references made to new investments in the NonStop SQL/MX data base and that these investments included bringing some of the technology, added in support of the Neoview application, back into SQL/MX. According to Randy Meyer, NED Director of Product Management, “there are certain features and capabilities inside Neoview that are beneficial to NonStop customers. It behooves us to find cost-effective ways to make those accessible to our NonStop customer base in the most efficient way.”

For all of those attending it was hard to escape the message that NonStop was again, becoming very serious about its data base support. NED is investing to find ways to better leverage current Neoview technology advances into the more traditional OLTP / ODS data base environments of today, as well as in ways to optimize it for those future, most-critical, 5% high-value applications that will find their home on NonStop. It was also hard to miss the positioning being done in support of NonStop and its role in hybrid configurations, even stretching as far as its potential future at the very center of private enterprise cloud configurations.

This posting is not about Neoview. Many of us familiar with NonStop still view Neoview as nothing more than a very large application on NonStop. True, today’s Neoview systems, in order to meet the requirements of the BI applications that depend upon it, run a distinctly separate release of the OS where the processors and I/O are configured far differently from what any NonStop customer would use,. What this posting is about however, is the continued investment being made in NonStop. Seeing that the data base is the benefactor of some of this funding sends a very positive message into the marketplace. Nothing could cement the future of NonStop more surely than visible improvements to the NonStop SQL/MX implementation!

As The Standish Group wrapped up its first Megaplex paper, it remarked on how “in a tarot card reading the overturning of the Grim Reaper card usually solicits a conspicuous gasp. If we were doing a tarot reading on the NonStop System, The Standish Group would not be predicting the platform’s death, but instead, its rebirth. The rebirth for NonStop will be the Megaplex. In the Megaplex, NonStop will become the heart of the operating environment service. Much of the NonStop technology will be used by all the operating environments within the Megaplex.”

Perhaps pushing a little further than I would have proposed, although some of my posts towards the end of 2007 and into early 2008 that culminating with the post "My Wish" for NS Blades addressed something very similar, The Standish Group is definitely on the right track. It may take a few more years to see all the pieces “fleshed out” but what is visible today gives us more than enough clues as to where this will all possibly lead.

5% of enterprise applications needing NonStop may not sound all that much for some users, but in today’s global marketplace, the math could prove enormous. Let’s all hope that HP truly sees this possible future for NonStop and begins to value NonStop as highly as those of us aware of where this is all going have already begun to do!

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's on! Let's network!

I love the California Coastline, particularly the shoreline and nearby hills of Monterey, down by Cannery Row and the Aquarium. I come back to the area time and time again. I can sit along the old piers for hours and watch the Otters feasting on crustaceans pulled from beneath the enormous kelp beds. The weather is always cool, no matter the time of year and more often than not, there’s a marine fog layer masking the surroundings. From out of the mists, yachts and sightseeing vessels make an appearance as they too are drawn to the many tourist attractions lining the blackened piers.

It is not just the natural beauty that attracts me to the area, to be honest. Only a few miles away, twisting through the hills, lies the world famous Laguna Seca racetrack that every year hosts a round of the MotoGP motorcycle world championship. With Formula One no longer run in the United States, MotoGP is all that’s left to attract a global television audience, but I can’t think of a better venue anywhere to showcase the American coastline. As prestigious as the track has become, it’s still open to club events where locals can take their cars onto the track and this past weekend I was one of the lucky drivers to spend time circling the track.

Small car clubs develop their own sense of community. As you show up for events, you begin to recognize more faces and in time your fellow car enthusiasts begin to greet you by name. The car you take to the track becomes recognizable and your own capabilities behind the wheel are soon well understood. Just as in other sporting activities however, there seems to be far more time spent talking with your fellow drivers than is actually spent on the track and, during these down times, there’s always lively discussions about the pros and cons of suspension set-ups, brakes and tires preferences, and how much impact a good “aero” package will have. Whatever you may be thinking of doing to your car – there’s always someone at the event that has already done something similar and is eager to share their experiences.

Friendships develop pretty quickly and often under the most trying of situations. Readers of my social blog, buckle-up can remember of how, only a month ago I had to call upon help from different groups to jump-start the car and get it onto a trailer. I didn’t have to wait long either before someone else came to my rescue and lent me a low-profile car jack so I could change out the tires. It’s been like this from the very first time I participated in a club event – coming off the track tired and worn out from the physical and mental work involved, a good friend of mine simply stepped out of his race car and invited me to drive it back through the paddock to his work area while he cooled down. Only hours at the track and I had been given a real race car to shepherd carefully through the crowd and get it safely back to its garage. Cool!

This past weekend, the community quickly rallied around a good friend. Joe started taking his car to events at the same time we did and has joined the same associations as we have, participating in many of the same events. Unfortunately for Joe, who drives a near-new black Corvette Z06, the rear end pulled off line coming out of the last turn before entering the main straight, and the slight miscue pushed his Z06 into a concrete barrier that pretty much destroyed the car. The photo at the top of the page is of many of the participants all lending a hand to push the once pristine 3,000lb+ car onto Joe’s trailer. Driving a car on a race track remains a high-risk activity.

The advice and camaraderie that forms at track events are well worth the time spent in the sport, and much the same can be said about why so many of us within IT will take time off to participate in user events! I have been going to user events since 1977 when I drove from Edmonton, Alberta all the way down to Dallas, Texas for a three day event that attracted users of the database management system, Datacom/DB! Not knowing how long I would be living in North America, I thought it would be a good way to see the country and over a three week period, I racked up 8,000+ miles. However, the trip was well worth the effort as I heard first-hand from a number of major corporations who were further along the path to deployment than I was. I saw the benefits from tuning indexes and learnt a couple of tricks that greatly reduced recovery times. Swapping stories about the tools and utilities that were being used was undertaken with no less enthusiasm than can be seen at any car club event held today!

For the NonStop community there’s a long tradition of participating in user events. At the time when I first became associated with Tandem, as it was then known, I was working for a start-up networking company and we were told by Tandem management that, as part of building the relationship, we needed to participate in ITUG user event – in New Orleans (yes, it was 1987 as I recall)! Executives from our company elected to participate and upon returning, it was days before we could get them to stop talking about the amazing time they had and of how open and accessible Tandem executives had proved to be – a long-standing tradition well-known to all who have been to user-run events in the past.

For three years I volunteered to take on the responsibility of being the ITUG Summit Chair. It was the start of the new millennium and changes were taking place at a pretty rapid pace – Tandem had been bought by Compaq only a few years earlier and then, with little time to come to terms with the style of the new owner, was acquired by HP. ITUG stopped being an acronym and became a brand and globally, the NonStop community looked forward to the gatherings each year with a major event in Europe in the Spring and the Summit in San Jose in the Fall. For me the value that came from participating was not so much about the presentations and testimonials as it was the networking!

In this case, by networking I don’t as much mean the opportunity to establish new contacts or catching up on old ones. There was always plenty of opportunity for coffee just as evenings always somehow managed to cultivate opportunities to share adult beverages into the wee hours of the morning. For me, networking had more to do with the “applied side” of NonStop – what were my fellow users really doing with the platform and what products, tools, utilities, etc they relied on. What worked for them and what had not! Coming as I do from the vendor side, user events presented a tremendous opportunity to listen to the needs of users “unfiltered” and unfettered by outside influences of any kind.

I have just come away from this year’s HPTF and have written a number of articles on what I observed. It was important for me to see how this event unfolded and what role NonStop played. In the weeks leading up to HPTF I was advised of how HPTF would be the place to go to wear my NonStop badge with pride – HPTF would have a lot to do with promoting the value of NonStop to the wider HP community. And that’s pretty much what happened; HPTF was less about networking with my fellow NonStop colleagues as it was about telling the NonStop story to others. The access to NonStop executives was liberal and I had several opportunities to talk of the future of NonStop with managers and executives at all levels within HP. Based on these exchanges alone, I came away from HPTF impressed with the event and look forward to participating next year, and hopefully, encourage even greater community participation.

The NonStop Symposium, on the other hand, will be a return to what most of us will recognize as a user event. San Jose has certainly seen its many critics through the years but the value of holding events in San Jose had never been about the location as it had been about its proximity to the NonStop development center and to the product managers and developers. I am anticipating a solid turn-out from these NonStop groups, to the same degree as we saw in former times, certainly the program I have looked at already suggests several days of strong NonStop content. NonStop today, is far removed from Tandem of yesterday – the adoption of commoditization, its ability to support open standards, and its ability to work well with the other HP platforms sharing security, manageability, etc. speaks volumes for the amount of R&D invested in NonStop over the past few years. It’s just so obvious to me whenever I look at a modern Blades configuration running NonStop – who knew!

It’s the sense of participation and sharing that I have come to appreciate at user events. Anyone who has ever come across Sam Ayres, for instance, will not leave unaware of how well Java applications now run on NonStop, just as anyone who has bumped into Bill Highleyman will not walk away with anything other than the latest on how available is the NonStop platform and how all other platforms just cannot match what continues to be the industries most successful mission-critical server. There are many others – Rich Rossales of US Bancorp, for instance, as well as Joe Ramos from Visa. A cup of coffee with any of these folks is well worth the admission price!

All the advice in the world at tracks like Laguna Seca will not make me a world-class racing car driver. It just won’t happen. Whatever! There’s too much bad wiring in me. For starters, I’m a bit of a chicken at heart and I sure wouldn’t want to bend my Corvette! But there’s absolutely no reason why any of us cannot assemble a world-class solution with unmatched levels of availability, scalability, and performance – many others have done it already.

Learning the tricks and sorting through the noise is exactly why we attend user events and this year’s Symposium is headed in the right direction, in this respect. But how about you? Would you take a moment and leave me a comment – are you attending Summit this year, and why? I look forward to seeing as many of you as I can and yes, coffee, a beer, or a glass of wine will always draw out an opinion or two from me, no matter what time of day!