Catching Up With CA

Computer Associates' BrightStor team presents an impressive display of management applications

I have been remiss in keeping tabs on Computer Associates and its BrightStor campaign in storage management. I was previously a big fan of Unicenter in the mid 1990s, and I can only blame this oversight on the winds of chance.

CA is a powerhouse in management technology, but its message for the past few years has been squelched by noise around shareholder lawsuits and other financial matters that always seemed to dominate whatever technology work the company was doing. I took the opportunity while in New York a couple of weeks ago to spend time at CA getting to know more about what they were up to and reacquainting myself with old friends such as Yogesh Gupta, Senior VP and CTO.

Gupta is, without a doubt, one of the brightest minds in the business. He has his finger on the pulse of the Fortune 500 and has been spending considerable effort at modularizing Unicenter so that its elements can be deployed more flexibly and efficiently. He has, for some time, also focused an unswerving stare at the problems of enterprise storage management and enterprise security and, to be perfectly honest, his BrightStor folks wowed me while I was there with an impressive display of management applications, collectively termed BrightStor.

BrightStor is often confused with Alexandria and Arcserve, long-standing product offerings from the company in the realm of data backup. But the real secret sauce is a common services code layer that enables a suite of many products, including the aforementioned, to be mixed and matched to meet consumer needs through a common interface and (mostly) common database.

The company clearly gets the business process/IT nexus and displays an understanding that is ahead of its peers regarding the need to establish an application-centric view of infrastructure in order to facilitate its management along business lines. That is saying something important, so I will break it down into smaller chunks.

For storage, or any other IT resource, to be managed efficiently, it must reference the performance of the application it serves. CA has long been a believer in this mantra and has offered business-centric views of infrastructure from its command console (now Web-based) since the early 1990s. You can segregate just those IT elements that support a given business process and confine your troubleshooting for chokepoints and hotspots to a narrower range of alternatives. That is a tremendous timesaver. The way I know it works is that CA uses its own stuff to manage its resources around the world from a three-person network operations center in Islandia, NY.

CA is different from other SRM vendors in its lack of focus on virtualization as the solution to all storage ills. The company has no intention of building its own virtualization engine and has remained aloof to the current infighting over the proper location for virtualization technology within the storage infrastructure. Despite a partnership with StorAge, CA’s products leverage whatever virtualization technologies the customer wants to deploy. They tend to think a little higher up the software stack than low-level virtualization technology.

Their other big competitive differentiator is a preference for focusing on data, rather than hardware, management. Considerable thought is being given to developing excellent tools for designing and documenting topology, then instrumenting it for routine monitoring (the traditional focus of SRM), as well as to mapping business process requirements and cost data back to storage and other IT infrastructure components. Everyone is talking about information lifecycle management as though it is just hierarchical storage management on steroids. CA is actually laying the groundwork to enable real ILM by developing information repositories on platform cost and business-process storage requirements that are absolutely necessary for moving data intelligently through the infrastructure over time. If anyone can do it, they probably can.

Beneath the surface, CA still confronts the problems that beset all management products in this space. They must work deals for the APIs and other hooks of over 17,000 storage device vendors and keep these relationships going in order to provide universal management support. They are a big player, which helps cajole a lot of hardware vendors into sharing their stuff with CA. However, they are just as vulnerable as every other SRM company to the possibility that a vendor will decide to curtail API sharing – thereby limiting CA’s ability to manage their gear.

This is probably why everyone at the company is so darned polite. They wouldn’t say anything bad about any hardware vendor, even if they had the inside scoop on the hardware guy’s platform deficits. That way, they stay off the radar and in good stead with everyone.

A pity, that. CA should be leading the industry with its own forum. They should pull all of the storage software ISVs out of SNIA and form another entity: the Data Management Software Industry Association. Heck, I would volunteer to run the thing. The objective would be to get all of the single-purpose software out in the trenches integrated into something like an expanded common services layer so that their products could be implemented in various combinations to meet the needs of consumers. This can’t happen under SNIA because the hardware vendors (some of whom also sell software) would never permit it. Only CA has the hardware agnosticism, financial resources, and installed base to pull it off.

My good friend, Ken Barth, CEO of Tek-Tools in Dallas, TX, noted once that SRM was less an application than an application development toolkit that needed to be created differently for different customer requirement sets. Maybe the Data Management Software Industry Association could embody such a concept and start vetting different approaches to storage management, reference examples if you will, that could make a real dent in the provisioning pain that confronts everyone today.

What do you say, CA? Want to give it a go?

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.