Q&A: CA—Utility Computing Dark Horse

Utility computing isn’t a rip-and-replace proposition, says CA

HP, IBM, and Sun haven’t cornered the market on utility computing. CA has its own utility computing strategy, and while the big systems vendors tout utility computing visions that dole out generous helpings of their core offerings—systems, software, and services—CA proposes to leverage the near-ubiquity of its management stack.

Utility computing isn’t a rip-and-replace proposition, says Louis Blatt, senior vice-president of strategy and product marketing with CA. Because his company covers the breadth and depth of enterprise systems, Blatt argues it’s uniquely equipped to help customers “journey” to the utility data center.

IBM has On Demand, HP touts Adaptive Enterprise, Sun has its own vision—but where does CA fit into the picture? Do you propose to sit on top of—to complement—these visions, or do you have a different kind of place?

There will always be the platform providers in the industry. We don’t actually produce hardware [and] we don’t own operating systems, so we will always be managing the heterogeneous environments of other providers. That actually puts us in a very unique position for the management of utility computing, because one important aspect of utility computing is the simplicity of how one can access a utility or service.

Most services are comprised of many different assets—operating systems, hardware platforms, etc., all linked together to create a single service. In this way, the provider of management has to be a heterogeneous provider, so we believe we’re actually in a unique position from a marketing perspective here.

Like it or not, there’s a perception utility computing is still a relatively immature technology vision. Open standards like the data center mark-up language, for example, are still incubating. What do you say to customers who aren’t seriously looking at it now because of a perception that it’s just not there yet?

In our flavor, we call it managing on-demand computing, and I would like the customers to think of it as a destination. They’re on this “journey,” but in order to get to the destination, they have to do several things to help get them started.

First, they’ve got to link their business strategy to an IT renewal plan, or the other way around, so they’re constantly talking to the business executives, understanding what their business strategy is, [and] what their core competencies are, so they can differentiate and create value.

Second, they need to have a team and a process that is dedicated to continuous improvement, and that means understanding what the best practices are and leveraging best practices that are out there.

Do you mean best practices for utility computing, best practices for IT management in general, or neither of these?

IT best practices in general. Five years ago that would have been a very difficult thing to do. There was just no agreement. But today, there is. There’s something called the Information Technology Integration Library (ITIL). It was started in 1980, it’s gone rapid fire in Europe and Asia, and the U.S. has rapidly adopted it, too. The META Group has predicted that 60 percent of organizations will have ITIL-like practices implemented by 2008.

There’s one more thing customers have to do, and this is where we come in. They need a unified platform. I’m not saying they have to go buy a single system. Customers don’t want to swap out everything that they have. They’ve bought a lot of stuff over 30 years, and they need to create a unified platform from the stuff that they bought to where they’re headed. And that [unified platform] has to go just beyond hardware, too.

Where IBM is focused on the hardware and server aspects, much of the cost is in personnel, so if you come up with a way to eliminate hardware and server budgets, but it costs a lot in services personnel to do it, that’s not going to work, either.

I’m guessing CA would very much like to provide this [unified platform].

That’s very perceptive of you. We’ve really focused on something we call enterprise infrastructure management (EIM) as the core capability to enable managing on-demand computing, and this is our unified platform. It includes what’s called a management database. It’s a single place where information about all people and policies are stored about your infrastructure, and then you can begin to manage these in an automated way.

For customers that have richly heterogeneous environments, is a vision of utility computing that includes both pay-for-use and dynamic provisioning really even feasible?

I think it’s feasible, but it’s going to take time, and people are not going to invest in this like they did dot.com. So you have to be able to create a journey for a customer, have them understand which processes they’re good at today, which are the best opportunities if they fix them, and then focus on them in a way of freeing up funds to drive down costs, and then invest those funds in the more strategic aspects of IT. Think of it sort of like what they did with e-commerce, where it very slowly grew up in spite of the hype. Even though they invested huge amounts of money up front, it was an evolution over time.

Utility computing has to be more than just a technology vision, of course. You mentioned a unified platform—but what concrete steps has CA taken to help recast its products for the rigors of this kind of infrastructure?

For us, we had to take this extremely seriously. It was all about integrating a unified platform, and that meant completely rethinking the way in which we’d have a single shared database across all of our products, and how we’d open that up to our competitors, and we’ve spent 80 percent of our R&D budget, which is about $650 million a year, simply integrating and thinking about this management database.

For us [utility computing is] a software strategy. It’s an approach to our customers—we now have a complete set of profilers, [which are] tests where we can understand which set of processes a customer is good at. We have ROI tools, [where] we help hem actually orchestrate a journey to On Demand in a way that will free up funds to fund this thing. For our largest customers, we’ve been doing this just as a matter of customer service.

But your Unicenter offerings, for example. They’re your bread-and-butter management tools. Are you delivering new awareness, new features, new capabilities that are designed to support things like provisioning, for example?

Unicenter is the product line for which I’m mostly responsible, and we’ve adopted [On Demand] completely. It’s really not just network and systems management. You’ve got asset management. There’s a lot of different kinds of end users that you would have, and their processes all interact with each other. We have data tables for each of the products …

Data tables?

For the management database. They all interrelate, and when you buy our [Unicenter] Network and Systems Management or asset stuff, or service management stuff, you get all of the tables, you get the management database, and that will enable us to simply plug in more solutions over time.

Including third-party solutions?

A lot of our customers are already using Unicenter as the manager of managers, building maps of business processes with the various assets that comprise those processes. This also means being able to integrate-in workflow, so if you have a particular system that manages your helpdesk, and another that manages your assets, and a different that manages your network, you can link those together and manage the workflow between them in Unicenter.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.