Thursday, August 30, 2012

Part 2: Staying very much connected to the users!

This is the second part of a two part update on the success uLinga and after working closely with customers the new WebCON user interface was developed ...
In the previous post I talked of cricket and used it to highlight how there are many stakeholders associated with the success or otherwise of a sporting event. And I used this model to highlight how today, new products introduced into marketplaces need to be sensitive to the needs of differing users – from traditionalists with years of experience managing NonStop systems to newly recruited college graduates familiar only with the tools and utilities that they were exposed to at school.

However, there’s another side to the game of cricket that allows for it to be played in many different ways. Whether the players walk out onto pitches adorned with circles or face cricket balls of different colors, the fundamentals remain. Attacking teams still place defensive fieldsman where they have always placed them varying locations according to the skills of incoming batsman. Perhaps the rules about “no balls” are more strictly enforced, but otherwise, a batsman loses his wicket and is given out in exactly the same way (and for exactly the same reasons) as they have for more than a century.

It is this very essence of what the game of cricket is about that has helped with it adapting to modern circumstances the way it has and with demonstrable flexibility few of us youngsters ever expected to witness in our lifetimes. When it comes to HP NonStop systems, who could have guessed that, nearly four decades on, they would anchor as many mission-critical transactional applications as they do. And when it comes to networking and connectivity, who too would have thought that entrepreneurs would still be building new products to better integrate NonStop into the modern networks we have in place today.

When it comes to the uLinga product suite, so much is overlooked because the framework itself has proved flexible and accommodating and as described last week, the emergence of a new user interface catering to those more familiar with browser interfaces than command line interfaces, has appeared almost as if by magic – taking even existing new users of uLinga by surprise I would have to believe. WebCon will become an integral part of a very modern uLinga and has just gone into early customer testing.

In the post of August 4, 2011. “
Engineeringfor longevity [Part 1]!” I addressed Akuna, the underlying framework of uLinga.  At that time I quoted Infrasoft head of R&D, David Finnie who explained how “aKuna is not NonStop-centric and great care has been taken to specifically make it inclusive of other OSs. aKuna provides a large array of commonly required services, which all sit on top of an OS-abstraction interface. There is certainly OS-specific functionality in aKuna that are obviously only activated when running on that particular OS – checkpoint and backup takeover for NonStop deployments being one example.”

However, when I asked David for further explanation about the connection between WebCon and the aKuna framework, he was quick to explain how “
WebCon is a new interface built into Infrasoft's ‘aKuna" framework that enhances the monitoring, management and configuration capabilities of all uLinga products. While our more traditional Console Controller (CCon) interface provides a line-by-line command syntax familiar to anyone used to using NonStop systems, WebCon is a greatly modernized improvement. Both WebCon and CCon run seamlessly side by side, with any changes made via the CCon interface being reflected in the WebCon interface, and vice versa.”

“WebCon runs automatically as part of the uLinga product, presenting an HTTP Server that can be connected to by any HTTP Client - notably any web browser. With most mobile devices also offering browser access, BYOD use is also possible,” David then explained. “After verifying credentials and access rights, WebCon then uses HTML, CSS and Javascript to present an intuitive view of all of the resources managed by uLinga. For users with the correct access rights, resources can also be managed (e.g. started, stopped, etc.), and configured (added, altered, deleted). Additionally WebCon allows the user to view events logged by that uLinga process for quick problem determination.”

Diving even deeper into the implementation, David then added “Using WebCon is just like using any web-based application. Navigation is via hyper-links (rather than typing in commands), and all resources of a particular type can be easily viewed by expanding and collapsing lists. Additionally comprehensive searching is provided to find resources that match any attribute. Furthermore, a lot of effort has been put into providing a default Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) look and feel that can be easily tailored by customers to present their own company-standard to their operations staff.”

In my conversations with users and prospects alike, the comment I most often hear is about just how much functionality is present in uLinga and of how flexible the product has proven to be. Even more prominent are the thoughts about just how quickly such a major subsystem that today is the uLinga product suit came about – and it really has a lot to do with the experience of all the developers involved together with their approach to basing all family members on a common framework.

But perhaps just as importantly, and hidden among the comments made by both David Finnie here in this post as well as those made by Peter Shell last week, is the ability of uLinga to work on platforms apart from NonStop including Linux and Windows as well as the ability it now has to accommodate the growing buzz around BYOD – yes, pull out your favorite tablet or smartphone be it an Apple iPad or any one of the ‘Droids on sale and you will be able to check uLinga configurations as well as monitor various aspects of the transaction flows.

Future NonStop systems may be hybrids with Linux present – something we already have today when it comes to the CLIM controllers and future NonStop systems may be managed from handheld devices. On the other hand they may not. The point however is that no matter what new middleware is introduced to NonStop it is very important that options are available and that there are demonstrable ways to easily accommodate whatever changes may occur.

And with what Infrasoft is demonstrating today in its latest addition (in support of user interfaces) is just how flexible the aKuna framework is proving to be and that the early investments made in ensuring it’s robustness and platform independence are already paying off. For this alone, NonStop users have much to be thankful about and in no small way, are helping yet another group of entrepreneurs become successful in the highly competitive marketplace that is the NonStop community!

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