Friday, July 19, 2013

Living on the edge - NonStop; the case for Cloud front-ending!

Does the arrival of Cloud computing hold the promise of a rejuvenated NonStop? Could stepping up to the very edge of Clouds assure an even brighter NonStop future? Whatever NonStop users do with Clouds is going to reverberate widely and possibly change all we think we know about NonStop!

I have always had a fondness for rollercoasters. Can’t fully explain why that it is, but I can recall the first ride I ever took. It was back in the ‘60s and it as at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney – the equivalent to a state fair here in the US – and I think it was the Wild Mouse. It would be many years before I ran across a similar rollercoaster at Sydney Harbor’s famous Luna Park, and the excitement each ride generated is memorable to this day.

Over the years, I have ridden many rollercoaster and I have to think that the attraction still lies with the element of uncertainty over whether the whole contraption will collapse before the ride ends. Yes, I really do like riding the old-fashioned wooden rollercoasters that only further enhances the feeling of imminent doom! Irrespective of which type of ride, or where it was taken, there was always the element of living on the edge and of there being a trade-off between exhilaration produced by the ride and the element of fear.

While it is all part of what amusement parks attempt to do, when it comes to business riding technology rollercoasters isn’t for the faint of heart. Few CIOs relish the thought of their IT operations collapsing, and yet so many of them seem to tempt fate. No sooner has a technology appeared on the landscape that they are quick to embrace before all of the potential (for failure) is fully realized. No more so these days than the rapid escalation of interest in Cloud computing.

Featured in the July 20, 2012, issue of The Economist is an article, The IT Cloud ‘Sliver Linings’,  where the reporter observes how “Big banks have generally migrated less of their activity to the Cloud than newer, smaller ones. This is partly because of legacy systems, partly because of regulatory concerns about data security and privacy.” However, the reporter then adds, “One way of improving cost-income ratios is to lob activities into the Cloud. Many banks are reconfiguring their own computer systems into private Clouds, a hybrid step on which they have sole use of the data centers (these are shared in the ‘public Cloud’), but derive some efficiencies from using the software and systems that run public Clouds.”

Justin Simonds, Master Technologist with HP, wrote a feature article on the Persistent Cloud Computing Architecture in the March / April, 2012, issue of the NonStop community magazine, The Connection. “Cloud computing is one of the hottest topics in IT today. Articles abound on how Cloud computing is a potentially disruptive architecture and how businesses will, or will not, take advantage of this new computing paradigm.” Simonds then noted that the  “Notorious outages and failures that have recently occurred within the public Cloud systems have sparked huge interest in how and where HP NonStop can help customers in their journey to Cloud services.”

In Simonds’s article, hybrid and composite applications are described with NonStop systems on the edge of the Cloud (as part of the Cloud system infrastructure) as well as exploiting Cloud computing as an integral part of the solution. Explaining that HP had been validating, “Parts of the composite application were defined as informational, or “retry able” (look) and other parts as critical (book),” Simonds had written. “We reasoned that when an application can be subdivided into informational / critical portions, it is possible to run the information portions in the Cloud yet preserve the critical portion on NonStop.”

Perhaps there is too much excitement over Cloud computing and perhaps it can be compared to riding a rollercoaster. The outages that have been documented in the press are well known, just as the concerns of CIOs, as noted in The Economist, resonate strongly across IT today. In their feature published in the May/ June 2013 issue of The Connection, comForte 21 co-authors Thomas Burg (CTO) and Vadym Shkil (IT Analyst) go so far as to ask, “As a HP NonStop users, you run the most reliable hardware in the world – should you even be looking at Cloud computing?” However, as The Economist went on to conclude, “These problems may change the pace but not the direction of travel. The cost advantages of Cloud computing mean that banking services are likely to move inexorably into the ether.”

Burg and Shikl then add, “The answer will depend first and foremost on your business requirements, as well as what is technically feasible and in your budget”. And this is where NonStop may experience a renaissance, possibly as significant as when the very first ATM was attached to a NonStop system almost forty years ago. The adoption of Cloud computing will be a journey and for those who attended HP Discover, they heard HP’s Dave Donatelli, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Group, describe it this way in his keynote address. Fortunately, journeys are something new to NonStop customers particularly financial institutions.

Residing on the edge of a Cloud and becoming a gateway doesn’t rule out the potential for NonStop to be the recipient of information coming directly from within the Cloud nor does it rule out the Cloud as a source for logic that in turn is simply front-ending NonStop itself. Connecting to Clouds holds the promise of flexibility that many businesses haven’t fully explored as yet. However, simply connecting today’s NonStop systems to one or more Clouds could be all that it takes to start a journey to Cloud computing.

The complexity of ATM networks in their day, for instance, were every bit as fragile as we see today with Clouds, and having Clouds front-ended by NonStop, on their edges – yes, I would expect that there is an eventuality of mixed private and public Clouds being utilized among even the biggest banks – would let the robustness and durability of NonStop mask the fragility of today’s Clouds.

This is a theme of an upcoming opinion paper I have written that will be made available shortly by comForte 21. It is part of the early promotional support for maRunga – a new product already covered in posts to this blog. However, what’s really interesting those in the NonStop community that I have talked to of late – users as well as solutions vendors – is just how big a role the presence of NonStop might play as companies begin their journey. These are early days for maRunga, as it’s just now becoming available, but the promise it holds for any enterprise contemplating embracing Clouds could be a game-changer to the same degree the NonStop supporting ATMs proved to be.

Riding rollercoasters isn’t for the faint of heart and just this weekend, we have been reminded of just how dangerous they can be following a tragic accident in Texas. While not as extreme in terms of the risks involved, committing all of your processing and data to a Cloud is not without risks. However, if the first steps you take in your journey to Clouds involved NonStop as a gateway, on the edge of a Cloud bridging the existing world of IT with all the Clouds now represent, may not be living as close to the edge as you might otherwise expect.

As for the direction, then as The Economist so forthrightly predicts, the cost advantages of Cloud computing really do mean the direction of travel in this journey is one way – to the Clouds!

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