Monday, November 18, 2013

… 84, 85, 86! Did someone say NonStop on 86? In particular, x86?

HP NonStop is planning on supporting the x86 architecture and already vendors like comForte are making plans – but one thing we know for sure? There will be plenty of opportunities to innovate!

It’s been a long while coming, and many within the NonStop community have simply been counting down the days. With a simple introduction by Jean Bozman, Research VP, Enterprise Computing Group, IDC, and with a video clip from HP CEO, Meg Whitman, part way through the presentation HP VP &GM, Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer, told a packed auditorium that there were firm plans for NonStop to support the x86 architecture.

It may not have been a case of a community collectively holding the breath and counting down the days without some expectation that they would breathe again. In the past “tomorrow” seemed to be the popular mantra coming from well-placed sources. When product management polled the audience, a little later in the session, only a couple of hands raised acknowledging  the surprise. For many, discussions and commentaries on numerous LinkedIn groups had almost given away the plot, and in the lead to 2013 HP Discover, these comments had the potential to set false expectations.

Now we know for sure where NonStop is headed. There will continue to be a commitment to the Itanium roadmap, with the latest announcement of the newest addition to the NonStop system family, the NB56000c, a reinforcement of this commitment. Utilizing the Itanium 9500 (Poulson) the door remains open to embrace Kittson, and potentially Kittson+ at a later date, as NonStop continues moving forward in lockstep with the Itanium roadmap.

The announcement by HP of the plan for NonStop to support x86 architecture simply adds a new dimension to NonStop. Embracing the most popular chip architecture on the planet will quell the anxieties of many CIOs and further cement NonStop system’s place in the premier category of servers, where failure is simply not an option. NonStop will now combine software architecture value proposition utilizing standard components at a time where its one remaining competitor, IBM, with its mainframe, continues to utilize proprietary components.

To date, I have written numerous posts and responded to many more comments following the announcement. However, the email from former ITUG Chairman, Scott Healy, summed up best all the exchanges I have had to date when he wrote: “That is a very interesting development ... what do you think is the intent, extend life of the product with existing customers or compete with the likes of Oracle Exadata/Oracle RAC, IBM z series, new applications, etc.?”

When it comes to the intent of HP, I think we can all speculate but I suspect only a small team within HP is adequately equipped and prepared to respond to this. Having said that, in my opinion, I think the intent follows two paths. Continue to provide even the biggest users of NonStop systems with a path forwards as well as providing an acceptable option for smaller Tier 2 and Tier 3 enterprises with alternatives to more traditional options. Again, when failure is simply not an option, extending the reach of NonStop to lower levels of the technology-demand “pyramid” can only help sustain a healthy future for NonStop.

As for tackling the likes of IBM and Oracle, this is where the support of the solutions vendor community will play a major role. To date, there’s been a slow trickle of new solutions appearing on NonStop – the uptick in options for financial institutions, where only a short time ago there were just three viable options, but today, there’s more than ten is ample evidence of this gradual move to NonStop. However, HP has much bigger plans and are throwing open the doors to their Advanced Technical Centers (ATC) to many more vendors as of the beginning of 2014. Many enterprises have built strategic plans based solely on the x86 architecture, and now NonStop will be able to step up to the plate after a lengthy spell on the bench.

In a separate exchange within a LinkedIn discussion, comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, considers: “One potential added benefit of moving to X86: you eventually will be able to run the NonStop OS on exactly the same hardware that you are running Windows and *nix on (and that) it would give HP customers the flexibility to run ‘NonStop on demand’ insofar as they could always use their hardware for something else if demand for NonStop (changes).” This is again an important message that will not be lost on CIOs around the world.

HP is going to help existing solutions migrate easily to the new architecture – there will be compilers and accelerators as in the past. With many previous transitions under their belt, the community is right to be confident that they will be looked after. Indeed, according to one ATC manager, the move to x86 will likely go more smoothly than the earlier move from Himalaya S-Series to the early Integrity offerings. Moving brand new solutions to NonStop will require consultation with HP experts as such moves still mandates some knowledge of the NonStop OS APIs in order to exploit the true fault tolerance of the platform.

As for Clouds, Virtualization, and the like – how will NonStop on x86 stack up in this arena? In the short term, don’t anticipate NonStop living happily atop of a Virtual Machine (VM) as a guest, as is the manner of more traditional VM. However, virtualization has many variants – virtualization can take place at the metal, above the OS, and even at the process or application level. When viewed in this light, the HP team responsible for NonStop truly does have options; I fully agree with one HP executive, who predicted that future data center managers will stand in front of their data center, wave their hands across the myriad rows of servers, and pronounce, “NonStop is out there, somewhere, but as to where I can’t really say”!
It’s a new world now that NonStop supports the x86 architecture. There will be plenty of room, and opportunity to innovate, as enterprises committed to using x86 will expect more from the architecture in the years to come. Intel has demonstrated a willingness to work with its partners and will continue to do so. Clearly, the future of NonStop looks particularly bright. So much for all the naysayers predicting doom and gloom for NonStop and for all of us who had been counting down the days, tomorrow has arrived!

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