When does the line that separate vendor from user get crossed? When does the casual time spent supporting your own server evolve to where you need a full time IT staff, complete with IT Director? There was an old saying that you could always tell the children of the cobbler as they had no shoes but does this still apply to vendors of some of the most important software available today for NonStop systems? According to the IT head at comForte, Patrick Eyrich, the recent sustained organic growth based on the partnership with HP, together with the latest inorganic growth following a flurry of M&A activity, has made it very important for comForte to treat their systems as a whole, rather than as just a collection of isolated servers.
How many NonStop systems does comForte now have connected to their worldwide server network? With a pair of NonStop systems in Neuruppin, Germany, and a further pair in Berwyn, U.S, together with yet another pair of NonStop systems in Sydney, Australia, this represents a considerable investment made by comForte in NonStop products even as it represents a sizable operations challenge. This challenge comes from having two K-Series, three S-Series, and an Integrity Blade System but that’s not the end of the story. According to Eyrich, “we have a new entry-level NonStop X system on order for delivery this year and in total, this will allow us to support NonStop OS versions from G, H, J and now L.” A news announcement on this latest system purchase can be found on the comForte web site: comForte 21 orders new NonStop X system
Eyrich is not new to comForte having a shared history with comForte CEO, Dr. Michael Rossbach, dating back to the late 1990s and he has witnessed both the sale of the company (to ACI), it’s re-formation under Rossbach a short time later as two separate companies focused on services and products only to reform a few years ago with services and products all under the one roof, comForte 21 GmbH. “My early days with comForte included time as a developer as well as working on projects as a project manager,” said Eyrich. “But when I was asked if I was interested in running all of IT and to build out its capabilities, I was only too happy to switch from development and project management to IT where I now am responsible for all the servers, including the NonStop systems.”
More importantly, “in one sense, the transition led me to face the same problems and issues faced by any user of NonStop systems and this included building a support relationship with HP as well as shoring up our own defenses to better secure all the sites we now had,” Eyrich told me. “Security is every bit an internal comForte issue as it is for any large user of NonStop systems and I am responsible for us being diligent in making sure we are every bit as secure as the customers and prospects we engage with on a daily basis.” And then of course, with the reach of the NonStop server network, it opened up new options as well.
“It didn’t start out as the original objective as some of the NonStop systems came to comForte following our M&A activity a few years back,” explained Eyrich, “but it opened the door for us to support a ‘follow-the-sun’ model when it comes to supporting our customers. In the past we truly worked here in Germany 24 X 7 to provide a good support for our customers but now our call center knows they can reach technical support anywhere on the planet. The arrangement we have with our call center, across the river in Mainz, Germany, is that they take all first level calls and then connect with whoever is up and awake and working in daylight, no matter where that may be, and this not only ensures more timely turnaround of problems but allows our German developers some time to sleep!”
Obviously, running this mix of NonStop systems isn’t without its challenges. “For some of the older systems, in particular the K-Series and the S-Series, acquiring spares following component failures is getting to be quite hard. We just don’t have the third party vendors here in Germany that operate in other parts of the globe and oftentimes we have to resort to acquiring spare parts wherever we can find them,” Eyrich explained. “This is not to say HP in Germany isn’t responsive, but sometimes we just have to be creative in this respect. Customers continue running our software on K-Series and S-Series and if they are content to rely on systems of this vintage we need to be there right alongside them should something happen to our software.”
When it came time to think about retiring systems, there’s another issue that needs to be addressed. “We were considering retiring one of our NonStop S-Series systems but then again, what would happen should our primary data center in Neuruppin totally fail due to some catastrophe? Disaster – Recovery (DR) is just as important as security,” acknowledged Eyrich. “Knowing that we have replicated NonStop systems running elsewhere at two locations outside of Germany, as we have with our data centers in Sydney and Berwyn, greatly reduces the fears of senior management, so yes, we will keep these three S-Series systems for some time to come.”
While this server network is in support of their own developers as well as a select number of partners, including Infrasoft in Sydney, there are no plans to open it to other vendors in the NonStop community. “That’s not part of our business plan,” said Eyrich “as this resource can be subject to testing by developers which may bring down some portions of this ‘fully connected virtual network’ and this would be challenging to avoid if we had SLAs in place with other vendors.” The transition to a service provider may not be an option, but this doesn’t lessen the importance of the internal business operations comForte IT supports.
The model at comForte of being not just a vendor but a user of HP NonStop systems sends a very clear message. Among the bigger vendors in the NonStop community (even with partner programs in place), they are prepared to invest considerable percentages of their income in NonStop systems and their needs and requirements are every bit as legitimate as any other user. After all, how many HP NonStop customers have seven NonStop systems networked on three continents sustaining a community focused on the all-important aspects of security, as is the case with comForte? Very few, I would hasten to add, and this is a resource that HP NonStop will find valuable as it come to depend on partners to tackle many of the challenges on its own product roadmaps!