Sunday, March 18, 2012

NonStop - community, it’s global; development - it's global too!

So much has written concerning how unfortunate it is that not more NonStop development is done in Cupertino or Palo Alto – but those days led to a product line that wasn’t profitable – and you cannot provide value if you don’t exist. So, now we are global!

I have been rather preoccupied of late as I have been playing catch-up with what has been discussed in a number of blogs. I really have no one to blame on this front as I am part of the problem, I suspect, as much of what I have been attempting to catch up has involved comments posted to some of my own material. But tucked away in the comments there are always some gems.

But the one that really stood out for me was the concerns over NonStop today being purely a software play, as well as some other concerns about the development of NonStop being done mostly in India – offshored some time back for financial reasons. Perhaps both of these topics are related, and along with them there is something even more pertinent to the comForte community – does it matter all that much where we run across NonStop expertise?

I wrapped up an opinions paper for HP last week where I interviewed many customers from all over the world and a link to the paper should appear shortly on the HP web site. I promise to let you know how to locate it as and when that happens. And among the vendors that provided commentary is comForte, so look for a number of quotes from Dr. Michael Rossbach.

The opinion paper had its roots in the requirement to revisit the fundamentals of NonStop and to examine whether, with the new Blades hardware and BladeSystem chassis, customers were still as enamored with NonStop as they were a decade or so ago. Without disclosing the plot the short answer is yes – NonStop systems are as available, scalable and have the data integrity users rely on.

All the customers I interviewed however were aware that the hardware had become commodity based and that indeed, with the exception of specialized “daughter cards” in support of ServerNet, all else was the same for all HP BCS servers. How NonStop uses this hardware, and the way the firmware and millicode (or equivalent) exploits all the circuitry on the most current blade may differ from other OSs – including the cache, memory or even the paths around the boards (still a mystery to me) – and there’s no escaping in that, fully exploiting commodity hardware, NonStop has become a software play.

And this in no way has lessened the character of NonStop –it’s every bit as available, scalable with data integrity and even security as ever was present in S-Series or earlier models. The fact that the staff needed to operate a NonStop has continued to remain fairly neutral, unlike other platforms, with the same staffing levels required for an S- Series (or earlier), all that is required by the most recent platforms is something that does fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Moving on to where development is undertaken I am sad to admit this – but I simply don’t care, and I will leave this to the development execs within the HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) and the political discussions about the virtue of made in America. I have spent many years in the company of NED executives and management and cannot believe for one moment any of them have anything other than the greatest respect for everyone in the NonStop community.

But having said that, it was only a few years back that HP was losing money with every NonStop system that was shipped –this was not sustainable. To continue to grow and be profitable and be seen within HP as making a contribution, then something had to give, and as unfortunate as it turned out to be, that meant much of development went off shore. The only element within the NonStop community that continues to misjudge the value that comes with global development are those who long for a return to the good old days, but unfortunately those were the days when NonStop simply couldn’t make money and I have little appetite to revisit that model.

From the perspective of the vendor community – this isn’t surprising, as nearly all of them have mastered “distributed development”. Within comForte, development outside of the U.S. – indeed, outside of Germany – was a byproduct of their growth as they opened new offices as well as from acquisitions and partnerships. Leveraging the skills of gifted engineers, wherever they could be found, has always been the mantra of smart software vendors and comForte has been no different. It has now created a development community with a presence in pretty much every corner of the planet that, just by the nature of the geography provides 24 X 5 support (with 24 X 7 option provided for a premium) and is the wiser for having done so. And HP NED is no different.

As for me, when it comes to NonStop then if the quality of the team can be retained wherever it is located and the oversight includes product managers and key architects in Cupertino, then I just don’t have any issues where NonStop development is carried out these days. Right now India is the place and they know for sure that they have to work extremely hard to maintain a competitive model; a situation I believe will prove challenging for India in the years to come. comForte arrived at a similar situation but followed a different business model that was more expansion-focused, and the results are a little different but putting that aside, comForte just further reinforces the value from global development.

Checking out the blog postings and looking at the discussions on community groups is always important. If you want a sense for what is topical, you can quickly spot the issues that generate the comments. And this is not lost on any of us who stay close to the NonStop community, and as I wrap up this post, I look forward to reading more of the comments from all of you!


  1. May I suggest you missed the actual issue - the replacement of developers with 20+ years experience in NonStop with relatively new developers lacking this background (irrespective of where the developers are located). Yes, such a move does reduce costs - but at what impact on product quality? By way of example, one situation I'm painfully familiar with is a NonStop product developed by the new crop of developers which when it exhausts virtual memory, goes into a tight loop waiting for memory to become available (which given the way it was coded would never happen as all other tasks in the process are preempted by the looping task). I'd argue that the more experience developers would have implemented a much more graceful solution to the problem which would either have failed fast or maintained service to existing users.

  2. In all my experience, quality is not an age thing - yes, you can develop more experience but I have seen many developers unable to grow or improve with the added years. And no, they didn't all become managers! Fundamentally, good programers show value very early in the cycle.

    Your observation is well noted, though, and wasn't ignored. It's just that of late much is being done with global development to improve quality and by way of an example the latest releases of NS SQL/MX - 3.0 / 3.1 - are a big improvement over earlier releases I am hearing.

    My final observation - and yes, as an Aussie expat living in the US - the value programmers place on themselves these days in the US makes them no longer competitive. And that's pretty much all that counts - being a programmer with any discipline isn't a license to expect much higher pay. It isn’t going to happen and there is no return to the former "glory days" ...

    Too tough? Unfair? Well, I am open to other opinions and observations of course :-)