ATMs connect to a payment platform; the network may differ by geography and local mandates, but eventually every transaction makes it to an application running on a server somewhere. Processing transactions online, and in real time, calls for very specialized platforms, usually a combination of servers and even nodes implemented to minimize any potential ATM downtime.
Likewise, those who build the switches connecting the networks of ATMs to agencies charged with authorizing transactions look for platforms made up of servers with little tolerance for outages of any kind — downtime simply costs money, usually a lot more than any one ATM may contain. For this very reason, many financial institutions run payment platforms on HP NonStop servers, and the configuration of ATM networks connected to NonStop servers is considered the premium, or Rolls Royce, platform by nearly all financial institutions.
It's all very well for a select number of global financial institutions to capitalize on the benefits of NonStop, but at what cost? Can it even be considered by institutions apart from the Global 1000? Well, possibly, as this month we have seen some game-changing moves on the part of HP to bring the price of NonStop down to more agreeable levels for even the smallest of financial institutions.
Was the timing of the announcement of the HP NonStop NS2100 influenced by HP's win in a legal squabble with Oracle, or was it purely coincidental? We may never know, as HP executives are proving quite mute on this point. Nevertheless, the NS2100 is dropping the cost of a complete NonStop server system to below $100K for the first time in recent memory.
In the post "Behind the scenes," I suggested that we will shortly see the price of ATMs drop considerably. In that post I noted how I wouldn't be surprised, should we remove the skin of a future ATM, to see a variation of today's more popular tablet PCs coupled to a Square-like device that protrudes ever so slightly through the metalwork. And the point I raised (total product cost) — well, how about $99 or thereabouts (plus cash cartridge metalwork and the hardened chassis)?
A bit far-fetched perhaps? I don't think so, given enough time. But this post did lead me to another, where I switched gears and talked about the cost of servers, referencing NonStop. At the time I wrote that, it had been for many years the extensive communications connectivity support that came with NonStop that led to its success supporting POS and ATM networks. Credit and debit card issuers still rely heavily on NonStop, as do many of the major financial institutions. Perhaps the $99 ATM is still a long way off and the $10,000 NonStop is just the stuff of dreams, but the potential for price erosion is very real.
Articles on the merits of the NS2100, surfaced everywhere the week of the announcement. But it was the heading and subsequent message in the Mission Critical Computing blog on the HP web site that initially caught my eye. "Thought you were too small to run NonStop? Think again." was how blogger Joe NonStop opened his post. "Why NonStop? Because our customers need to deliver continuous business. HP NonStop is uniquely designed for enterprises that never stop."
This followed an earlier remark that the NS2100, "is an ideal choice for small and medium sized businesses experiencing or expecting high-transaction volumes … While it is not a general purpose replacement for all workloads or industries, the NS2100 allows customers to invest in a fully fault-tolerant solution that is 100 percent NonStop, to accommodate their workloads at a lower price point.
Certainly, there are financial institutions that today can easily assemble a cluster of Windows or Linux servers and basically build something that works well. Initially. And before the designer and lead programmer head for greener pastures. Then try to maintain it!
Randy Meyer, HP director of product management for strategy and technology within the NonStop enterprise division, summed it all up for writer Michael Vizard in IT Business Edge: "The core appeal of HP NonStop servers … is that they provide database redundancy and parallelism in a way that is transparent to the application. Developers don't have to master any unique programming models to build highly scalable, fault-tolerant applications."
There may be no connection to the ruling in HP's favor against Oracle, but for sure the curtain at HP did open pretty quickly. And what we are seeing is not bigger, more powerful models within the NonStop server family but rather, sub-$100K complete systems — hardware, OS, and even database, all working to create a fully integrated system architecture suitable for all markets, all GEOs. "This is a serious low end system and one I am taking a good long hard look at to meet my own development requirements," was how Yash Kapadia, CEO of payment platform vendor OmniPayments, summed up the announcement.
While readers of these posts are more interested in the ATMs themselves, it is a certainty that ATMs will have a connection back to a payment platform. Having a payment platform running on a sub $100K server that is a true NonStop has to be viewed as a very positive development in today's marketplace, and one, I am sure, that will result in more institutions taking a good long and hard peek behind HP's curtain! At last, a truly affordable Rolls Royce …