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The Case for Open Source, NonStop

Pyalla Technologies


Having fallen out of love with open source and the like that turned every enterprise into a software product company, NonStop became a popular virtualized distribution that moved to the very center of HPT’s product portfolio. No, back at the time NonStop celebrated its 75th Anniversary, the presence of NonStop was almost everywhere you turned.

From the white paper, Fifty years on … HPE NonStop in 2074

Perhaps not the opening when discussing the merits of open source. but then again, this was from an article considering what form NonStop might take in the year 2074. Then again, thinking of what the software industry might look like in fifty years’ time can only be speculated about – after all, for most of us the past fifty years have heralded unexpected turns of events. Who would have ever thought that fault tolerance, introduced at a time when hardware was anything but reliable, would still represent a viable pursuit for technologists.

However, in the highly networked world we live in the glitches, outages, failures and much more continue to generate headlines among media outlets. Take an airline reservation system down for “just a couple of hours” and expect chaos and lasting damage to reputations. Holt the trading of stocks and much the same uproar is created. Complexity is the bane of reliability or so we are told. Throw that one more must-have component into the mix or rush that last-minute feature into the release and sit back. The unexpected is bound to happen.

In fifty years’ time, systems will still be failing. There will be more of them and their tentacles will reach deep into society. More systems, more pathways and links, more intelligence at the edge. The further the distance from the center where the primary systems reside, the more intricate the fabric supporting the edge becomes and the less stable the environment becomes. Oversight has to be built in as will be redundancy at an unprecedented level and yes, fault tolerance will be offered as a premium. Especially when it is us, dependent on augmented intelligence, that become the end point. Not so much a case of living on the edge as it would be living as the edge.

Humanity as the edge needing to network as a society proved to be best served by NonStop being deployed everywhere. Humanity becoming AI needed to be maintained, updated, supported and more, and failure in part or in full during any interaction ultimately proved deadly without NonStop. Most of all, humanity needed security.

From the white paper, Fifty years on … HPE NonStop in 2074

For NonStop to proliferate to where it finds a home far from the center, the core and the cloud (however you want to describe the presence of primary systems), then it has to be made easy to access, easy to learn and yes, easy to license. For some time, and following numerous debates on one topic of the other, there can be strong arguments for taking NonStop away from being the domain of a private club where special keys and secret handshakes are required in order to work with NonStop. Is it time to free NonStop? Should we provide NonStop and with it, key components of the software stack to the open-source community?

Open-source software powers nearly all the world’s major companies. This software is freely available, and is developed collaboratively, maintained by a broad network that includes everyone from unpaid volunteers to employees at competing tech companies.

The Rise of Open-Source Software
Dec 11, 2019

Usually, I avoid the inclusion of quotes dating back five years or more but I recall this particular quote made on the business television network, CNBC. It still resonates with me as it points to an anticipated future where open source leads the way to innovation. In the time that has passed since this conversation on CNBC, captured in a video, chronicled much of the history of open source, warts and all, and yet for the NonStop community, lift the covers on almost every software offering and there will be some open-source stubs and utilities present.

So, what would change if HPE made NonStop open source? Would it stimulate the kind of interest in NonStop we would all like to see occurring among the graduates entering computer science programs year in, year out? There are pitfalls when it comes to open source. Among the many documented, three of them strike chords that clash un-harmonically. All of them are quite obvious and have been the topic of numerous discussions across the NonStop community but are worth a second look:

Pitfall: Although open-source software is technically free, the total cost of ownership (TCO) can be hard to measure and quantify. Companies may need to invest time and effort in training employees to use the software, hire additional staff members with specific expertise, or perform support and maintenance on the software.

Pitfall: Many open-source software projects are built on top of other projects, creating a complicated web of dependencies. This may introduce unexpected behavior, such as bugs or security vulnerabilities.

Pitfall: While some open-source software projects offer paid access to in-depth IT support, others do not. If you encounter bugs or technical issues, you could potentially depend on a community of volunteers to solve these problems.

Seven pitfalls of using open source software (and how to avoid them)
Team packagecloud
Jan18, 2023

The indication here is that open source is not a panacea “it could also have drawbacks and challenges” according to the bloggers quoted above. It turns out (and with experience) it’s not inexpensive, may have hidden dependencies and problematic support. Which leads us back to the opening quote from my white paper that noted how open source turned every enterprise into a software product company. Hence the focus on supported distributions that may often hope, even for the open sourcing of NonStop. Imagine for a moment the current NonStop vendor community coming together to provide a number of supported distributions tailored for different use cases. Consider too that the HPE NonStop team would have their own distribution.

By simply taking open source NonStop from HPE and then building and supporting their distributions we would see competition and as we all know, competition drives innovation and so brings down the overall TCO. All of which would be required for an open source NonStop to succeed in the marketplace. Leveraging the accumulated skills of the NonStop vendor community would also ensure their own future and take away much of the sheen from continuing to buy a proprietary stack from a commissioned NonStop sales team.

The future will be fragile for the next fifty years. By 2074 little will have changed in terms of systems failing – complexity will simply compound the issue. Redundancy will only take you so far as it is the overall integrated software stack working in harmony with the hardware that will deliver the fault tolerance needed of future applications. If we want NonStop to truly succeed beyond supporting just a few centralized applications and to be a viable option all the way to the edge, and to us, then a fresh look on how NonStop is provided, supported and enhanced will be a necessity.

The future of NonStop has yet to play out. But wouldn’t it be a shame if all options were not considered. Maintaining an atmosphere that is more private club than a universal conversation just won’t cut it. True, virtualization will open one door and I am keen to see where that leads but in the medium term, NonStop depends on applications and with the way NonStop is delivered today, it’s risky business for these solutions vendors. Who can say what HPE might charge for NonStop in the future? Who can tell what features are developed and what get ignored? And yes, who can know for sure whether the skillsets needed in support of NonStop can be readily found?

So; let’s keep this conversation but for now, embracing open source NonStop certainly needs to be on the agenda of future NonStop community gatherings. Looking forward to upcoming NonStop events and conferences and hope to see you there. Concluding then with thoughts from the Mandalorian, “this (just) is the way!” Or perhaps, reimagining the famous line from Star Trek’s Captain Picard, “make it so!”