Systems and Platforms: the lines in the sand.

Before we begin to look at HPE NonStop platform updates becoming available in 2021 it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and look at exactly what constitutes a platform. Like with every opinion, everyone has their own take on what constitutes a platform. It was so much easier when we all understood what was a computer, an operating system or an application but of late, the lines have become less clear. Can we still draw meaningful lines or have they become lines in the sand, subject to change every time a breeze disturbs their presence.

Whenever there is a presentation given by a major IT vendor it is as if they need to provide a glossary of terms once they leave their title page. I cannot recount the number of times that I have seen system, platform and just as often, framework used to describe new functionality. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see this as each IT vendor jostles to better differentiate their product offerings. But seriously? Can’t we all agree on where the differences lie?

When discussing this topic among members of the NonStop community, clarity was not there to begin with: does a term NonStop platform include the actual hardware?

  • Yes, it is the “whole” thing!
  • I tend to agree, but does it not depend on the context? If you are running a virtualized system, what does really change to the story if you exclude the hardware?  From a user perspective the hardware is not relevant, as it can be sourced from any vendor as long as it has the right (Xeon) processor.
  • Now that the software and hardware are effectively decoupled due to the possibility of virtualization, the platform “experience” is more important to NonStop customers and ISVs than the details of the hardware that is making it tick over in the background – i.e. the OS and surrounding systems “are” the platform. The really nice thing about HPE’s NonStop offerings is that, for the most part, their software remains almost entirely backward compatible, and hence has very little impact on any platform-specific code.

On the other hand, one prominent software vendor that many members of the NonStop community are familiar with, Hubspot, has come up with this explanation:

Enter the platform. A platform is a set of software and a surrounding ecosystem of resources that helps you to grow your business. A platform enables growth through connection: its value comes not only from its own features, but from its ability to connect external tools, teams, data, and processes.

With a platform as the foundation of your business ecosystem, you don’t have to limit yourself to one suite of products – you can add and subtract new applications and tools as your business grows and changes, without having to start from scratch again or deal with messy migrations.

The conclusion I happen to have reached is that there has been a decoupling of the platform from the underlying hardware. The computer, the I/O and associated subsystems on which we rely for storage and networking (a NonStop System as we know it), comes in only one or two flavors. When it comes to what we find running the core of enterprise systems, IBM may continue with its Power-chip based systems but for much of the rest of the industry, they tend to favor the Intel x86 architecture.

Then again, as noted above, the hardware, as we like to call the computer, I/O and associated subsystems have indeed become less relevant with what’s happening above that line proving to be of more interest to the line of business managers as well as the developers tasked with implementing their grand designs. Yes, the platform is something we can now associate with the software, and having written this, I suspect the conversation hasn’t ended with plenty of opinions still to be expressed.

When it comes to NonStop then the hardware indeed is going through a serious upgrade in 2021 as we welcome the arrival of the NonStop NS8 X4 and the NonStop NS4 X4. As much as HPE NonStop Senior WW Product Manager Mark Pollans would encourage us all to express our “Ooohs and Aaahs” each time he changed PowerPoint slides, what is really happening is that the NonStop hardware undertakings are simply following the Intel roadmaps.

The improvements achieved in term of 100s of transactions per second processed is recognizable (even as with this upgrade, more security processing is performed in silicon), even as NonStop continues to support InfiniBand as the crucial underpinnings of its traditional X and Y fabrics, but that is what comes from embracing industry-standard technology.

HPE is to be congratulated for investing in NonStop with this modernization of the hardware – a decision it did not take for both the former HP-UX and OpenVMS offerings (to the surprise of many) – and yet, it continues to bear fruit as transaction volumes increase almost exponentially. There continues to be little else out there in the marketplace that brings an out-of-the box fault-tolerant solution that continues to scale out to handle the biggest workloads.

Whenever HPE describes their product portfolio there are questions arising over the difference between Compute and HPC & MCS product offerings. If you missed it, HPE explains how “The Compute portfolio offers both general-purpose servers for multi-workload computing and workload-optimized servers. HPC & MCS portfolio offers workload-optimized servers designed to support specific use cases.” We all agree: MCS takes general-purpose ProLiant servers, packages them in a way such that there is more than one physical ProLiant server, adds the dual fabric, and then provides workload-optimized NonStop software designed to support specific use cases.

If HPE is to be congratulated then for embracing industry-standard technology they should be just as readily congratulated for enhancing the lowest levels of the OS to further decouple the NonStop platform from the underlying hardware to better support virtualization. While very much in its infancy finding an audience among early adopters within the NonStop user community, it is very much a big part of the future for NonStop.

What is called virtualized NonStop (vNS) allows us to better understand the significance of the platform that is truly NonStop and in so doing, lets us focus on the important components of the platform. For 2021 nothing stands out as being more important than what we see happening with NonStop SQL/MX.

When it comes to lines in the sand, blurry or otherwise, the NonStop team has drawn the equivalent of a multilane freeway laid out in concrete separating SQL/MX from other enterprise-grade database management systems. Not only does it continue to provide true 24 x 7 operation that never needs to go offline, no matter the maintenance or anything else that might be planned for the software, but now it has been productized as DBS.

“The DBS acronym in the name stands for ‘Database Services,’” wrote HPE Master Technologist Frans Jongma, in a recent article published earlier this year. “This is a reference to what is described in the industry as Database-as-a-Service or DBaaS. With SQL/MX DBS, the aim is to bring the NonStop SQL database to users without the requirement for them to first learn the details of a NonStop system. The use of standards such as ANSI SQL and common industry standards such as ODBC and JDBC, but also database compatibility features such as PL/MX and Oracle data types and functions have already made working with NonStop so much easier to use.”

There is no hiding the enthusiasm of some members of the NonStop team as they explain how a new arrow has been added to the NonStop sales team’s quiver. NonStop has always been about solutions where those solutions capitalized on the workload-optimized servers designed to support specific use cases. Consider then how DBS as a new platform embracing NonStop will open the door to even more uptake of NonStop in 2021.

We have all seen the presentations of NonStop as a traditional converged system and then as a virtual machine but now we can add a database server to the mix. And that’s big news for all those interested in diversification of the NonStop platform.

“Imagine this: a user can request a database from a portal by selecting it from a menu that may include products like MySQL, Oracle, or PostgreSQL. Each database may have some platform-specific configuration options apart from the database name and database storage size. Then the necessary Ansible scripts execute in the background and voila, your fault-tolerant database is ready to go. All you then need are the required JDBC and ODBC drivers for your database,” said Jongma. “Having OSS on the NonStop side makes it easy to provide download links for driver software and additional libraries that provide specific dialects for Hibernate and Liquibase. These links can easily be included in a few web pages that are hosted in an iTP Webserver or Apache webserver environment.”

Ultimately, discussing the merits of what constitutes a platform versus a system may be a moot point worth little more than a casual conversation during networking opportunities at an event or symposium. What really matters most of all is that NonStop continues to evolve and in so doing, clearly demonstrates that it is more than just a hardware company. There is a lot more to it than a clever integrated stack or framework provider – with SQL DBS it can claim legitimacy as a solutions provider capable of enhancing any application looking for an answer to its data requirements and for that, yet again, HPE has to be thanked. Forty years on and NonStop continues to deliver and perhaps that’s the best platform update that we will read about all year.



  • Richard Buckle

    Richard Buckle is the founder and CEO of Pyalla Technologies, LLC. He has enjoyed a long association with the Information Technology (IT) industry as a user, vendor and more recently as a thought leader, industry commentator, influencer, columnist and blogger. Well-known to the user communities of HP and IBM, Richard served on the board of the HP user group, ITUG (2000-2006), as its Chairman (2004-2005), and as the Director of Marketing on the board of the IBM user group, SHARE, (2007-2008).

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