All I have ever really known with complete certainty in my near thirty-year relationship with NonStop has been that HPE NonStop computers are mission critical servers that are truly fault tolerant and have full redundancy capabilities for a single reason: they need to be available all the time. Availability is the primary directive. Or at least it was.
Very recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with some friends at a longtime customer. This customer is one of the top five US Banks and takes very seriously the need for NonStop and its reliability and availability. I was told that the senior executives at this bank have indicated there is a single circumstance under which they would accept, and actually prefer, downtime. That circumstance is a security breach. After all, a downtime event is recoverable. A security breach is not.
The words “downtime” in the NonStop world are sheer blasphemy. How can this be? Uptime is critical to a successful business model in the industries that rely on NonStop. Uptime ensures customers’ service expectations are met, delivers financial benefits and avoids penalties for downtime. Uptime also comes with bragging rights and prestigious awards.
Like so many of us in this great community, my introduction to Tandem was far too many years ago and in a very different world than we are a part of today. I was in high school.
My first introduction was not through employment, but from my father who had been working on a project to bring an ATM and Online-Teller network to the bank where he was employed. He explained to me about this very special computer system that could process transactions very quickly and had two of everything so it was really reliable. The year was 1983, I remember all of this and that my father was immensely impressed. Like a typical teenager, I didn’t really care much about this. I only really began to understand a few years later when I had the opportunity to learn and work with the Tandem myself.
Working part-time in the evenings while in college, I gained some exposure to the inner workings of a bank’s data center. It was a hub of activity with lots of people and with machines of all sizes. Reader-Sorters, Line printers, 9-track tape drives, massive disk packs, etc. There was also a prized area on the data center floor where the Tandems were kept. The Tandem operation also had a separate command control room where these systems were monitored. Everyone knew they were there, everyone knew they were special, not everyone knew why.
The Tandems would run all the time, literally. This was their value. In the data center, the Tandem NonStop II sat beside the gleaming new TXP. I still knew very little but I began to understand why these Tandems were special.
Later on, as we came to depend more and more on these machines, the systems in place to support their uninterrupted operation were big, important and becoming more sophisticated. As an operator, testing the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) system, test-firing the diesel generator at least weekly and ensuring there was enough fuel to run for several days was a mandatory procedure. These were mission-critical computers. They had to run all the time and the Tandem systems did.
The only thing that is constant in technology is change and striving to improve and speed up the way things work. There is always something driving the need for even greater reliability and uptime. A simple fire suppression system malfunction or even worse, a fire itself, could render the system unusable. The growth of DR (Disaster Recovery) centers began in an upward direction. In the unlikely event of a disaster, the remote DR center could, and had to, be up and running in a matter of minutes. Availability was of paramount importance.
Business Continuity Planning was now the new buzzword in the Tandem community (along with remembering to call these computers NonStops following the acquisition of Compaq by HP). With natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes and now very unnatural terrorist threats, the NonStop server had real-time data replication in active-active environments, spanning very large distances to ensure that these computers were operating on individual power grids and fully separate communications infrastructure that could not be affected by the loss of availability at any single site. The great Myth Busters TV show even blew up a NonStop server to prove just how quickly a failover and recovery could happen. These computers are truly mission critical and the customers who purchase and use them do so because their businesses rely on the ability to run without interruption.
For my thirty years on NonStop, the only direction I knew was that more uptime, and in most cases, continuous uptime, was the way to go. Never did I suspect that there would be something that was so critically important to a business they would sacrifice this near perfection. Sadly, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even nuclear warfare are no longer the ultimate threat to uptime. It is the cyber-criminal.
As a vendor of HPE NonStop server security solutions, it’s a positive thing to hear a customer say their focus on security is right up there and even ahead of availability and performance. The revelation that unscheduled downtime is more acceptable than a security breach is not only a sign of these modern times but a continental shift in priorities for the majority of companies that rely on fault tolerant, mission critical servers.
And just as the needs for more uptime drove the development of more and more sophisticated solutions to avoid possible availability catastrophes, so too the need to thwart the ongoing threats of cyber criminals and hackers drives the development and implementation of advanced security solutions, these days at lightning-speed..
Many of these solutions already exist in the form of strong encryption and tokenization of data, enhanced access controls, audit and analysis, continuous real-time monitoring and threat detection, security incident and event management, and more. It is a matter of time, education, commitment, investment and effort that this very present threat to downtime can be tackled. We’re investing our best efforts and resources to staying ahead of the cyber criminals and hackers. It’s not too difficult to imagine what will we be the next phase in the evolution of the NonStop uptime story, but there is no doubt that security will always be a big part of the solution.
Please visit the XYGATE Overview to see our full range of security solutions.
XYPRO Technology Corporation
VP of Sales and Marketing