Insider Technologies is a leading software development company developing mission-critical applications for the world’s most demanding customers. The firm’s DNA is in NonStop, with products like MultiBatch and Reflex firmly cemented in its client infrastructure. Now celebrating its 30th year of operations, Richard Buckle stopped by to chat with new and veteran members of the team to hear their reflections on the past and what they anticipate for the future of NonStop. Karl Gilbank (MD), Karl Todd (Product Owner), Dave Shields (Principle Consultant) joined in the discussion.
Richard Buckle: Your acceptance of an executive position – in practice, its leadership – with Insider Technologies was something that you had planned? Can you tell us how you came to know about Insider Technologies?
Karl Gilbank: I’ve always been in technology, but the move to Insider Technologies was not something immediately on my career roadmap! I started by selling pagers for British Telecom and then mobile phones (remember the Motorola StarTAC?) for BT Mobile. BT Mobile went through a few facelifts – Cellnet, Lumina, BTCellnet – but it was only in 2002 when I was able to really find my feet at O2. BT’s Chairman at the time decided that “there is no future in mobile” and went ahead and demerged the entire organisation. On 02.02.02, O2 was launched and it felt like something was changing in the communications space. It was a blast. I’m hugely proud of those days.
When I was approached about the role at Insider Technologies, I did all my due diligence and immediately bought into a company with outstanding clients and a dedicated and superb team around me. Insider Technologies provides mission critical services to the world’s most demanding clients. We’re celebrating our 30th year in business and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team.
At every TBC or ETUG or BITUG that I’ve attended, people haven’t necessarily recognised me, but tell them that I’m an “Insider” – they get it!
Our reputation precedes us…and that is down to the people who have grown this company up from the early roots. Insider Technologies will continue long after I move on. I’m merely the custodian.
RB: With your acceptance of the leadership role, what attracted you to a vendor who specialized in monitoring and management of systems, networks and applications? Can you give us a little insight as to your initial observations about the company and its products upon taking up your current role?
KG: Firstly, the applications that we provide are world-class, and depended on by all organisations that provide critical services that us, as consumers, expect to work, on a daily basis. If you hear that your ATM machine is down or you can’t get on to online banking, it’s 99% that Reflex has created that alert and that the bank in question is in DR mode. If you are paying at a POS or TAP machine, it’s likely that this is being monitored by RTLX, ensuring that your payment is monitored from the moment you tap your card on the machine to the moment the funds leave your account. These are really complex applications, but are designed to be used by anyone – Operations Managers, IT Support Teams, Infrastructure Engineers. We’re all about simplifying big data.
If you’re an IT Director, and you’re trying to balance your budget against performance, Black Friday is the prime example. The company invests loads of cash into super expensive workflow processes, you go to bed thinking that there is nothing to worry about. You wake up and BANG! You walk into a shitstorm because you didn’t get the text from the Helpdesk that the servers were cooked.
And you’ve just lost your job.
Our monitoring tools give you the heads-up way before that happens.
RB: Joining the team at Insider Technologies brought you into immediate contact with the HPE NonStop product line as well as with the NonStop community. What was your immediate impression and has this changed in time?
KG: My first contact with the NonStop community was TBC 2017. I will never forget this, as it proved to me to be the worst travel experience I have ever had. So, I’m not great when it comes to flying.
When I was asked to attend the TBC 2017 event in San Francisco, I was okay with that – big plane, lots of engines, lots of ballast, etc – the response from HQ was “No! We have got a private plane that you can go on.”
Now that sounds lovely to lots of people – no queue, no check-in – but for me, it was awful. I felt every single bump and breeze, and not a beer in sight. When we took off, I felt like I was an anchovy in a tin. After 6 absolutely horrific (the worst of my life, bar none, it can’t ever get worse than that…it will never leave me) hours, we landed at San Francisco for TBC.
RB: Contact with the NonStop community meant you also came into contact with potential competitors. How did they respond to your presence at Insider Technologies and was the HPE ecosystem surrounding NonStop impressive? Helpful? Encouraging?
KG: Competition is healthy. It makes everyone up their game and carry on improving. But it can be daunting and threatening. I feel none of these emotions when meeting with our peers. We constantly communicate and collaborate and share experiences of how the general feel of the market is affecting our respective organisations. It is very difficult to get away from all the drama surrounding the current UK political landscape and Brexit. The lack of complete clarity and certainty is most definitely having an impact on how businesses are forecasting their budgets; it’s more important than ever that we continue to put aside competitive issues and work together for the bigger picture.
RB: HPE has a wealth of experience in monitoring and managing customers’ platforms – they were initially very successful with HP OpenView (competing with CA Universe as well as IBM Netview and more) – but today it’s OneView, OneSphere, HPE Synergy and more. Do you see these new product initiatives having any impact on you, your products and your customers?
Karl Todd: Initiatives such as HPE Greenlake are of real interest to Insider Technologies. Greenlake is all about delivering hybrid clouds, private clouds and workloads as a service to help optimise cost, control and business agility. This is totally in line with Insider Tech’s vision and we are following this with growing excitement. HPE Synergy is interesting from a technology point of view and whilst it’s unlikely to impact our core portfolio, we continue to look for ways in which we can leverage the power of HPE within our solutions portfolio.
Our core customer base is large financial institutions using traditional HPE NonStop servers. These customers are traditionally very conservative and highly risk averse. Security, and adhering to ever changing regulations, means that availability is paramount. As such I don’t see them moving to use cloud-based services for their core processing since it will take the security / manageability out of their hands and would be a large undertaking in migrating their current applications. I don’t think the financial institutions would want to risk storing customer data in the cloud. I could see customers looking at initiatives such as HPE Synergy to make better utilisation of processing that is customer facing for example allocating more resources to handle incoming ATM / online browser requests during peak times of the day and then allocating more resources to more traditional batch type processing during the night.
RB: System, network and application monitoring and management has evolved over the past couple of years as Hybrid IT becomes the norm – do you see the need for NonStop to integrate with other platform solutions and if so, which platform solutions stand out as becoming the dominant monitoring and management solutions going forward?
KT: That’s the big question, isn’t it? What do people use to monitor VMware? Enterprise management tools seem to come and go. We’ve been asked to send alerts from Reflex to Tivoli, BMC Patrol and HPE OpenView, but given the security involved with our client base, we’re really not exposed as to what is still being used. Having said that, we have a team of developers that are incredibly gifted and as long as we have access to a log file or API, we’re confident that we can monitor it!
RB: Enterprise users today want to know a lot more than seeing / hearing alarms due to server and or network components fail; there is increasing interest in knowing more about something that is likely to fail and yes, to have steps taken to correct and or mitigate subsequent outages becoming visible to customers and other end users. Are you pursuing (or have you pursued) taking measures to help prevent failures as they begin to develop?
KT: We already have automation in Reflex so that if there is a failure we can automatically recover. e.g. if a line goes down due to an error, automation can automatically restart it.
KG: We also have Service Monitoring where we can monitor aspects of a service e.g. critical processes, files, CPUs, disks etc. If any parts of the service have a problem, an alert can be raised to allow corrective action to be performed before the service fails; note that this corrective action could be an automated task to resolve the problem.
We continually update our product base adding new features / functionality. This is an area that we are pursuing more to provide additional pro-active alerting long before a problem can occur. The roadmap for MultiBatch includes looking at how long jobs normally take to run and alerting if a job is taking longer than normal to run, while Reflex is integrating historic metrics for analysis and checking on metrics (e.g. how quickly a disk is getting full so that we can alert well before it hits capacity).
Regarding AI / Deep Learning, for many years it seemed to be just a pipe dream that you only really heard about in conversations about the classic IBM systems from Deep Blue through to Watson. With such systems though the cost was always prohibitive unless you were working with a customer that had deep pockets. It’s only really in recent years that the costs have become more manageable. As computing resources become cheaper and faster the impact of AI & Deep Learning will exponentially increase. It is not an area that we are actively pursuing at the moment, but it is an area that is of interest and one we are keeping a close eye on.
RB: Finally, NonStop is now part of the virtual world. NonStop is just a collection of virtual machines and it’s no longer just the NonStop stack atop metal but there are hypervisors involved. It is looking as though HPE is aligning with VMware – do you see steps being taken by your developers to integrate your products with the virtual machine environment? Will Insider Technology be able to react to hypervisor alarms and alerts, for instance…
KT: Regarding Virtualized NonStop our ‘traditional’ NonStop products, Reflex & MultiBatch, will continue to reside within the Virtualized NonStop. If HPE provides a method to access hypervisor alarms from within the Virtualized NonStop, then we would be happy to investigate how we could integrate that within our products; similarly, to how the Linux on a CLIM can be accessed via climcmd from the NonStop.
The virtualized NonStop is something that we are looking towards as it ideally needs two sets of monitoring. 1. monitoring of the standard NonStop components, and 2. monitoring of the actual physical hardware (Linux servers). We can provide this level of reporting via a combination of our NonStop products.
RB: For a final word on the 30th anniversary of Insider Technologies, I asked Dave Shields, Principle Consultant, for a few words on what it means to be an Insider, working in the NonStop space.
Dave Shields: MultiBatch, Reflex and Sentra has and will continue to evolve, with our long-standing customers benefitting from the continual enhancements we have provided, notwithstanding the assistance of enormous feedback from our very important customers.
We take immense pride in knowing and understanding our customers, their requirements, and individually, as witnessed in many months of working on-site, customer visits and at the various bootcamps.
We always try to go over and above the ‘call of duty’ with our clients and have tremendous product support via the likes of Scott Davies, Barbara Riordan as well as our excellent Helpdesk Manager, Gill Allport. So, although I may eventually retire to ‘shady pines’ (supporting their Tandem life support systems), Insider Technologies and all our customers are in safe hands and will continue to benefit from continual product enhancements, excellent customer support and empathy.
We look forward to being reunited with friends and colleagues at TBC 2019.