Wednesday, December 18, 2013

For the NonStop user, when it comes to X 86, “I´ve Got My Mind Set on You”

New downloads on the web site included an update by IDC on fault tolerant computers and the emergence of a new model for IT, the 3rd platform. While it may not be anything new for the NonStop community, it’s still makes or a good read …

This past week an executive at an auto show unveiling an updated car model, remarked that the last time they pulled back the drapes from this product, they played tunes by the Beatles, snapped photos on their Kodak cameras, and broadcasted emails from their Blackberries. Even as he took pride in the fact that his car remained popular, he couldn’t help observing how the car’s longevity exceeded that of other entertainment and industry icons.

The view we, as members of the NonStop community, embrace is that NonStop too is a halo product for HP, and in particular, when it comes to fault tolerance, is as iconic as anything else we care to consider. IDC, an industry analysis company, recognizes just four levels of availability and reserves the top category (what they call Availability Level 4 – AL4), for fault tolerant computers – a category where only NonStop systems and select configurations of IBM’s mainframe (i.e. with Parallel Sysplex) participate.

In November, HP interviewed Matthew Eastwood, Group VP and GM, Enterprise Platforms for IDC and the resultant write-up is now available on the HP web site:

In the interview, Eastwood makes a couple of important statements that everyone in the NonStop community should help convey to colleagues everywhere. “IDC defines the rapid growth of cloud, mobile, social, and big data analytics as the emergence of a new IT paradigm called the 3rd Platform,” said Eastwood. “The emergence of the 3rd Platform is driving robust transaction growth, including mobile transactions.” Deeper into the interview, Eastwood then adds, “One of the biggest IT impacts associated with the 3rd Platform is availability. As users spend more time online, IT services must be available around the clock. Windows for planned downtime become increasingly difficult to manage, and users are unwilling to accept unplanned downtime.”

For the NonStop community this begins to cover familiar territory, but then Eastwood concludes that, “For high-value applications where enhanced performance (i.e., high availability) is a requirement, the availability of sufficient IT budget to sustain the SLA is equally important. Standardizing on common modular components, such as those utilized within an x86 architecture, can contribute to the economics and efficiencies needed to ensure critical business processes and to balance a tight budget.”

NonStop is not only a halo product for HP but it’s also the subject of transformation on a massive scale. We have seen the hardware shift to commodity components as well as the implementation of industry standard software and open programming interfaces. Simply put, the NonStop is now as easy to program and as easy to manage as any other hardware platform. When combined with the NS SQL, in many cases it’s even easier to manage, often requiring the services of far fewer technical staff.

Announcing plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture, as IDC’s Eastwood indirectly acknowledges, will give even greater credence to the value proposition of NonStop at a time when CIOs everywhere are being wooed by paradigms such as IDC’s 3rd Platform. My own interest in NonStop on x86 has been well documented and couldn’t have been missed, being the theme of my most recent posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View. With headings such as:
The real deal - NonStop supports x86!
HP continues to set goals very high and the NonStop community is enjoying the stretch!
NonStop offers balance, and why not?
As well as posts to other vendor blogs including, 

Aside from my own interest in NonStopx86, it was probably Integrated Research’s (IR) General Manager – Products & Alliances, John Dunne, who  stated the obvious most succinctly, when he said, “There were concerns that Itanium would be the undoing of NonStop. With the architecture moving to a mainstream chipset, as is the case with the x86, NonStop won’t fall off the ‘chipset cliff’ as Itanium reaches end of life and is discontinued.”

Equally astute was comForte CTO, Thomas Burg’s, observation, “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’!” Belief over the benefits of NonStop x86 are certainly buoying both vendors and users expectations alike. I really admire the efficiency in the way NonStop capitalizes on standard hardware, all while meeting the challenges from “robust transaction growth, including mobile transactions”.

HP’s halo product for fault tolerance, NonStop, is not just the best out of-the-box AL4 solution providing an ideal 3rd Platform solution, but with support for x86 on the horizon, the economics as IDC notes will only get better. “For many years, IT has been pressured to reduce complexity and lower delivery costs through consolidation and standardization,” responded IDC’s Eastwood when asked about balancing budgets – efficiency versus standardization. Eastwood then added, “However, it is important to note that heterogeneity in the datacenter continues for very important business reasons, and ensuring appropriate availability levels for a given workload is an important reason IT infrastructures are not completely standardized.”

Sometimes we simply forget just how capable NonStop systems have become. Sometimes we simply shy away from talking about how appropriate fault tolerance is, when it comes to supporting mission critical applications. Sometimes, we accept that other architectures are almost good enough, cheap enough, that we will be OK. Mostly. But perhaps, not so fast, says IDC’s Eastwood. “Fault tolerance is about much more than redundant hardware design, with full fault tolerance achieved only when data integrity is maintained at all times. Because fault-tolerant systems deliver resources that are optimized end to end for reliability, availability, and serviceability, the system cannot easily be confused with a more general-purpose system serving a workload with potentially lower business value. This could be the case with a more mainstream failover Linux cluster.”

The reference made at the auto show to the Beatles, Kodak and Blackberry reminded me of the lines from a popular George Harrison song “ I’ve got my mind set on you”. One stanza simply says:
“It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time”

And for the NonStop community nothing could be closer to the truth – we have known of the value of NonStop for decades, even as we begin to see industry experts better articulate the value proposition to higher levels of management. There’s little that is new or that surprises any of us when companies like IDC talk up the merits of NonStop. I suspect that while it may take time, patience and time, it may end up not taking “a whole lot of precious time” before HP’s halo is a whole lot more visible!

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