eCube’s interview with Sue Skonetski

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sue skonetski interview

eCube Systems is interviewing Sue Skonetski, Customer Advocate with VMS Software, Inc. Sue was a long time employee of Hewlett Packard/Compaq/Digital Equipment Corporation and held a similar job for 25 years. Sue knows the OpenVMS community quite well and is very attuned to their needs and the future of the OpenVMS operating system.

eCube: Thank you for giving us some of your valuable time for this interview. You are most likely the most famous person in the OpenVMS community; everyone knows you. How does it feel to be part of such a vibrant technical community?

Answer: Thank you Kevin, It is a pleasure to talk with eCube. I am not sure about famous but I am fortunate that the community has included me. And yes it is absolutely a wonderful feeling to be associated with some of the most intelligent people in the World!  The VMS community is a very loyal, diverse, and passionate community I can honestly say that I really love this group.  Every day I am thankful that I have the best job in the world.  I am able to work with the VMS Customers, Partners and Engineers and those who sell and support VMS.  It really is an honor to be part of the VMS Community.

eCube: Since VMS Software Inc. launched in May of 2014, there have been a lot of expectations that this event would signal the renaissance of OpenVMS. You are right in the middle of this effort – how do you see this happening?

Answer:  I am seeing so much in interest in VMS of course from our valuable installed base but also from new customers and partners.  I think one of the major draws is the fact that we have solid long range plans for VMS.  What the team is doing now will affect our future as well not just on Integrity platforms but other hardware platforms in the future.  I see this not only as a solid future for VMS but a game changer in Mission Critical and Secure computing environments.  VSI has a roadmap that goes far into the future. Part of this strategy includes significant enhancements to VMS and a port to x86.  We already have an R&D team working on this port and we see advancement every week. In order for VMS to compete as a platform going forward, we can’t be satisfied with the niche we have; we have to aspire to be a mainstream Mission Critical and Secure operating system on a variety of hardware.  We need to embrace newer kinds of systems that are sometimes foreign to us. This means we as a community need to adopt new ways of computing, newer languages like Java, expand support for important languages like JavaScript and Python, and new development techniques like NOSQL. The combination of these capabilities and the platform’s existing strengths will attract new users and use cases, enabling future growth. . We have to enrich the platform to make way for the VMS generation that follows us.

2 examples of new customers

  1. VSI has partnered with a brand new company (Stark Gaming). This is an amazing story since this is an entire new concept around online gaming and they chose VMS. Here is the URL; I promise it is worth your time.

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vms-software-partners-with-stark-gaming-to-create-revolutionary-online-gaming-and-esport-server-infrastructure-300122431.html?tc=eml_cleartime

  1. I received a phone call from a gentleman that was a customer in local government. He said that he would like to talk to VSI about VMS. So I asked him what kind of VMS environment he was currently using.  His response was “none”. They needed to upgrade their environment and he researched what operating system was the most secure and reliable and decided that VMS running HP i4 systems was the best solution for their needs

eCube:  Some say that the VSI announcement came too late and companies already started plans to migrate away from OpenVMS since HP announced their end of life plan for OpenVMS. What do you think the risks are? What do we say to those that say VMS is in inevitable decline?

Answer: Well, only time will tell; however, on the day we announced VSI and the future development of VMS, I heard from many of the VMS Customers who, on that day, put their migration plans on hold. When customers take a serious look at leaving VMS it can be a huge task. Over the years, customers have become dependent on the performance, reliability, availability and security and of course the clustering that VMS offers. They have built their infrastructure around the knowledge that VMS gives them this.  Customers depend on their VMS environment to always be up, to automatically fail over and not be hacked. And while there are very few labs with only one vendor I am really pleased to see so many customers have realized migrating to another operating system is so risky and you may not get the same benefit you enjoy with VMS.  As an example when VMS was originally developed, 38 years ago, continuing until today security was written into the multiple layers of VMS.  This means that security is not a layered product or an application you add to VMS, it is part of the design of VMS; secure, stable and highly resistant to malicious attacks.  Our customers can depend on this and in fact many customers have up time in the double digit years, and they are proud of this and so are we.

So let’s talk about the challenges in VMS, because that is our next opportunity. In the last 24 years VMS only had three major issues

  1. Lack of strategic support from the parent corporation – As time went on VMS was no longer considered strategic with each merger reducing that commitment to strategic direction. With VSI, VMS is not only strategic to us, it is our raision d’etre and is essential for our continued growth as a company; so needless to say, this problem has been resolved.
  2. New blood in the VMS space in both the systems and applications areas. In the systems area, one of the things that I have noticed is that there are two mind sets here.  The first being that companies want to pay for junior engineers and train them on VMS vs. recruiting experienced VMS people. The first option is attractive to those who have senior staff today and are willing to train for an extended time. Other options include developing your own training program either internally or with the help of companies like CDL in the UK that has developed a process to bring in junior people and have the senior folks mentor and train. For those willing to learn the OS, VSI  offers a complete training program with a large portfolio of training classes, and I have been surprised at how many VMS novices are taking VMS training (local to Bolton MA or remote).

On the application side, eCube Systems has an excellent approach to solving this problem with their product suite designed to help non-VMS developers remotely develop on VMS with Eclipse (an Open Source  tool college students are familiar with) on their workstation aided by NXTware Remote.

  1. This is a tie between more applications and a new file system. First, let’s focus on the issue of a lack of new applications on VMS. This is the area where we need the most help: we need new applications to replace those which over the course of time have become obsolete or are retired. When VMS was a part of HP, there were about 5,000 applications from approximately. 2,000 vendors running on VMS which is a significant amount. That amount is likely to change in the coming years as customers migrate away or the applications age or are no longer needed. Our existing applications need to be made more agile and we need to adopt Continuous Delivery like the mainstream computing world does. We need partners to fill in those gaps in functionality and support where possible and make VMS more modern. VSI is talking to partners every day to make sure they are still committed to their VMS products. We have been able to talk to some and get them re-engaged.  Going forward, support of older applications will be no problem for new versions of VMS because binary compatibility will still be supported.

Regarding the file system, I am not an engineer, but I do know that customers have requested a larger file systems for some time now.  If you want to know more about what we are doing in this area, I’ll refer your request to engineering. I do know that at VSI this is on our priority to-do list for engineering.

eCube:  What do you see as the future of OpenVMS going forward?

Answer:  Whew this is a tough one.  Let me think about this. If you look at our existing customer base – based on what we have seen so far I think that these customers are still committed to VMS and they want to see VMS and VSI succeed.  I do see a great potential for an expanded customer base on Integrity systems and especially as VMS becomes available on x86.  Prior to x86 we need to prove that VSI can deliver a VMS product that customers and ISV’s have come to respect.

If you want more information on our technical prowess, you should talk with Eddie Orcutt. He is the largely the reason VSI is here now. Eddie knows the talent we have and has the technical knowledge of where we are and what our vision is for the future. That would make an interesting follow up interview, don’t you think?

In my opinion, I think the key to our future is how we can leverage the existing customer base’s needs and grow VMS into areas of new technology. If VMS can adopt new software development techniques, integrate Open Source products and the latest technology, I think we could compete with anybody. Imagine if we could support mainframe, mid-range, desktop, laptop and mobile platforms – then companies could turn to us for their new technology products. We need that for us to flourish; we need to start thinking that way.  It is important to the VMS community’s future for all of use to work to grow the platform base.

eCube: What can the community do to enhance and extend the life of OpenVMS?

Answer: Come to the 2016 Connect VMS Boot Camp the last week in September at the Radisson in Nashua, NH and commit to having the most up to date OpenVMS environment.

Talk to everyone about the value of VMS.  Share success stories with VSI.

Become involved with the VSI Social Media sites.

Sign up for the VMS SIG

Let your company be aware of your VMS uptime and how much value that is to them.  Sometimes I think that because VMS works so well management forgets about the value VMS provides.  If you are working with VMS it is on a mission critical system you need to be proud of that.

If there is a problem it’s better to address it sooner than later, let us know quickly.

Based on the experiences over the last few years, it’s important to not give up. Ever!

eCube: There have been some concerns from the user community and vendors that VSI hasn’t done enough to market OpenVMS since the announcement. What can VMS Software do better to promote OpenVMS?

Answer:  Yes, I have heard that too. We do understand that folks may feel this way and we are going to address it. Our CEO, Duane Harris has outlined a plan of continuous press releases to raise the awareness of OpenVMS and share with the world our progress as it happens. We are working with eCube and other vendors to increase awareness and provide content. If you have contacts with media outlets that could promote our message, please contact VSI and let us know.

Let me also re-iterate the work we have done to get us to this point: .

The first and foremost is that we have been focused on developing a product that meets the VMS customer’s expectations and achieve the goals of sustainability and feature growth.

The second is the team members that are not working in engineering are focused on developing a relationships with the customers and partners focusing on their needs to the exclusion of everything else. If you are reading this and think you can help, have input for press releases, publishing success stories, or just haven’t heard from us lately, contact me and we will bring you up to speed on what we want to do and where we are going.

eCube: What is the biggest problem in the OpenVMS community?

I see two main problems:

  1. Negative Apathy – What I mean by Negative Apathy is that many in the community do not want to get involved unless it’s a negative situation. In this day and age of constant change, we need to be pro-active in our actions with building enterprise systems on VMS.
  2. Fear of the Unknown – it is easy to get comfortable with the knowledge you have acquired using VMS and its powerful, leading edge computing environment. Learning how to reach the newer generation is critical to our survival; we have to bridge the gap between the new engineers out of school who don’t know anything about this platform and the highly skilled analysts I know we have in this community. It is up to us to bridge that gap because the newbies just out of college won’t.

eCube: How can we solve it?

Well, there are many problems we can solve, but VMS Software can’t address every problem that has occurred in the history of VMS (3 major ports, 3 mergers, countless databases and reorganizations) in a year or two. First, we need time and help from the community to determine what problems are a priority to address first. Part of that is realizing the magnitude of the work ahead of us and the limited time we have. Next, we need your help to promote VMS; we need folks to talk about VMS on social media, share their success stories on the web or do press releases articles and post articles like this that eCube is doing.  And if you have a lead please forward it to us, we will follow up.  If you are part of a Connect LUG please go to their meetings.  If you need to meet with the people at VSI just let us know.

eCube: What about modernization tools? Can modernizing the development environment put OpenVMS back up with mainstream OSes?

Answer:  Absolutely, modernization tools are critical to the successful evolution of VMS and the success of the VMS community.  VMS has to be an equal player on the enterprise stage with unfettered integration points to other systems. As technology advances we need to focus on leading edge tools that enable folks to work on VMS without having to know the OS. We have to realize that our future lies with those that may not have such a rich VMS heritage.  This is especially true of college new hires that have no VMS knowledge and need an effective way to develop software with VMS.

eCube: What do you say to Senior OpenVMS programmers and analysts who are concerned for their job security when upper management wants a modernization plan?

Answer: Once again a two part answer.

Modernization tools for VMS developers are one of the best things that can happen for your career.  While there is a learning curve, this will ultimately make your job easier: this will allow you to collaborate with developers in other areas of the company, to expand the breadth of your knowledge in two critical areas, while providing valuable knowledge to junior engineers who can now perform the entry level tasks of maintaining the code, recompiling and testing and ensuring the long term survival of VMS and what it represents.  Embracing and learning this hybrid system will allow your company to bring in new people who can immediately start work on VMS vs. moving off of VMS because they cannot find new VMS developers or it takes too long to train new ones. This will allow for the development of new products on VMS which I see as being pivotal to moving ahead into the future.

Secondly, don’t fear for your job; you are a precious commodity in VMS and we need you to learn the modern ways to develop, integrate and operate these new applications using newer technology on VMS. We need your experience with VMS to make these interfaces even better. Your knowledge of the OS can help the newbies understand the rich computing environment VMS brings to the table (clustering, automation, failover, security, etc.). You will be needed more than ever and your job importance will more than double your worth to your company.

Lastly, think about this: what kind of legacy do you want your career to embody when you retire? Is it after 30 years, you retire with no one to take your place and your boss can’t find anyone else who knows VMS, so he hires a bunch of consultants to migrate your system to SAP or Windows?

Or, do you want to leave an active, growing VMS system in good health with a staff of highly trained engineers knowing not only VMS, but the understanding the latest development techniques and new technology that will take your systems well into the future?

 

Next Up: an interview with Eddie Orcutt