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Time has proved good for HPE and NonStop;

Banks everywhere can run networks, 24×7!

Richard Buckle for Banking Technology


banking technology

Having spent many years in the technology wilderness, has HPE finally determined the future of NonStop? Thinking about the more than 40 years that have passed since we were first introduced to fault tolerant Tandem Computers, particularly considering what transpired following the acquisition of Tandem Computers by Compaq and then Compaq by HPE, did we anticipate that there would be an expansion of the NonStop product portfolio? And to see not just one, but two distinct families of NonStop systems and with the possibility of further options featuring NonStop just around the corner? It is surprising to many that all this time hasn’t taken the sheen away from any of the magic that is NonStop!


Any discussion with the banking community that looks at where we have come from needs to include the impact that both the general purpose IBM Mainframe and the fault tolerant HPE NonStop system have had on the ways banks have interacted with their customers. The immediate impact NonStop systems had as intelligent 24×7 network front-end processors was a rapid increase in the number of ATMs that banks deployed worldwide. The company growth experienced by the former Tandem Computers in the early 1980s saw it climb to over $1billion in what was back then achieved in record time for a publicly listed systems and technology company.

Banks fell deeply in love with their fault tolerant Tandem systems. However, as one generation of IT professionals moved on and the next assumed greater responsibilities, the recognition that availability was important seems to have taken a back seat to other priorities within IT. In general, when it comes to availability, banks are viewed very much like airlines. If I want to fly somewhere, my plane better be ready when it is scheduled to be departing and there just has to be a seat for me once I completed the reservation. If I want my money, similarly my cash had not only better be there – but accessible from wherever I happen to be.

Both airlines and banking networks are today core infrastructure components supporting our everyday activities – break either one and yes, it’s immediately the fodder for newspaper headlines as well as the evening news on television. We may have a generation of IT professionals who grew up on the understanding that everything can simply be rebooted but in the complex world of interconnected financial networks, there just isn’t the equivalent of the Ctrl+Alt+Del!

HPE made headlines of a more positive nature when they announced that NonStop would be ported to its blade systems – the first big step to embracing industry-standard hardware. When this was made public in 2008 it led to some interesting commentaries, none more so perhaps than the story in the June 16, 2008, issue of The Register. With the subheading, “NonStop takes on modern touch”, it proclaimed, “When HP talks about ‘blade everything’, it means freaking everything. The hardware maker has pumped out a blade server running its NonStop operating system and software of all things.”

According to The Register, in that article all those years ago, “The company is pretty proud of itself for bringing the NonStop software loved by financial, telecommunications and government customers over to the c-Class chassis. It’s a sign that HP is moving away from very specialised cases and innards in favor of a shared hardware base. ‘Everything we did was custom designed – custom cabinets, power supplies, memory and disk drives,’ said Randy Meyer, director of NonStop systems at HP. ‘What we have been doing over the last period of years is moving toward industry standard hardware as it gets more and more reliable. Now we can drive down costs while maintaining the NonStop capabilities of fault tolerance and massive scale.’”

Fast forward to today and we now have two distinct families of NonStop systems – the more traditional NonStop i family of systems based on the Intel Itanium architecture that are the stalwarts of processing within the banking community and added to this family the much newer NonStop X family of systems, based on the Intel x86 architecture with InfiniBand replacing ServerNet for the fabric interconnect. You can still hear the words of Randy Meyer, who is now VP & GM of the Mission Critical Systems (MCS) group within HPE, “moving toward industry standard hardware as it gets more and more reliable. Now we can drive down costs while maintaining the NonStop capabilities of fault tolerance and massive scale.”

But wait, there’s even more good news. HPE has a vision to transform IT with hybrid infrastructure as it bridges the traditional IT world with private clouds – a segment of our IT industry that, as of right now, is growing at a very fast rate. Those much beloved Tandem Computers of the 1980s, reworked to better embrace industry standards even as HPE continues to drive down costs, are playing an important role in HPE’s hybrid infrastructure. The first impact on banks choice of payments solutions is just beginning to be felt as solutions vendors begin exploiting the value that comes with hybrid infrastructure.

Following a very simple, baby-step, approach that is the mantra or banking CIOs everywhere, HPE’s own IT organisation has chosen NonStop X systems for deployment at the very heart of its data center, implementing the NonStop SQL/MX database that now has Oracle compatibility. Perhaps you didn’t think there would be any fallout from the challenges Oracle mounted against HPE in the past few years? Well, think again! No more Oracle at the heart of HPE. But again, this is just the first step. With a simple reconfiguration of the connections, HPE IT is among the very first IT organisations testing a release of virtual NonStop (vNonStop) that requires no unique hardware components whatsoever.

Fill any data center with a truckload of x86 servers, connect them all with industry standard InfiniBand NICs, and then bring up the OpenStack with Linux and KVM (as the hypervisor) deploy vNonStop and you have a very modern NonStop system. Again, as Randy Meyer reiterated all those years ago, “industry standard hardware … gets more and more reliable” and now NonStop will run on appropriately networked commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware including, of course, x86 ProLiant servers. Cool.

HPE made headlines a short time ago following its announcement of the “spin-merge” of its non-core software assets to Micro Focus for cash and, if all goes well, a controlling 50.1% ownership of Micro Focus. NonStop is being retained by HPE and with NonStop available as a complete system supporting Itanium and x86 architectures, banks can buy a system in support of their traditional IT. Whether installed as a payments switch or deployed in support of ATM and POS networks, there’s incredible safety in knowing NonStop functionality is available to meet any banking needs. If as yet you haven’t been made aware of what one payments solutions vendor has achieved leveraging NonStop today – consider taking a look at the OmniPayments, Inc. OmniCLoudX that today is running in multiple interconnected OmniPayments data centers as a private cloud comprised of NonStop X systems.

Shortly vNonStop will be available giving banks the option to buy just the “best software platform on the planet” running within private clouds. Time has apparently proved to be good for NonStop; a deserved even-bigger “thumbs up to HPE” for its renewed focus on NonStop. The NonStop product returns to being a core software asset for HPE and one that banks everywhere can, once again, call upon for their most pressing networking considerations where fault tolerance simply hasn’t lost any of its former sheen. 24×7 is definitely back in vogue and at price points every bank can afford!

Written by Richard Buckle, Pyalla Technologies, LLC for Banking Tech