CA Revamps CICS Testing Tools

In the face of mounting pressure from IBM, CA officials say their revamped tools still provide plenty of value-added bang for the buck.

At this week’s summer SHARE conference, software giant CA announced new versions of its CICS testing tools—InterTest and SymDump—along with a revamped version of its batch testing tool, InterTest for Batch.

CA’s tools update comes as the company faces increasing pressure from IBM on prices. Big Blue’s File Manager for CICS (FM/CICS), CICS Interdependency Analyzer for z/OS, and Fault Analyzer for z/OS provide some of the same features as CA’s products at a lower price.

What’s more, some mainframe technologists are starting to turn to homegrown tools from IBM to help offset the cost of managing and maintaining their mainframe environments. (http://esj.com/Case_Study/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2692) That’s put additional pressure on CA and other competitors such as Compuware Corp. and BMC Software Corp.

CA acknowledges that IBM has upped the competitive ante. Marie Godfrey, a senior product manager with CA, argues that tools such as InterTest and SymDump are specifically designed for CICS, take advantage of all of the latest CICS enhancements, deliver value over and beyond IBM’s own offerings, and are affordably priced.

"Customers have a lot of choices. CA, IBM, Compuware—we all have tools, and there are other niche vendors, too. We find that customers are … looking for tools that are easy to use, easy to adopt, [that have a] short learning curve, and [the] TCO has to be very strong. So IBM’s entry into this space—yes, it is competition, but we feel that with our solutions, we have a very strong story with these products.

"The quality and the customer loyalty is something we’re very proud of. We believe the pricing is competitive in terms of what we actually deliver. I know it’s on my radar to be looking at various pricing structures and scenarios to make sure that what we offer is fairly priced for the value. Having seen how we’ve been able to work opportunities with customers, I believe we are very flexible in that area between our pricing and our licensing."

On the delivering-value-over-and-above-that-of-IBM tip, she argues that the new InterTest and SymDump R8 boast improved support for DB2 stored procedures and nested stored procedures. More significantly, she notes, InterTest and SymDump R8 also take advantage of the new channels and containers capabilities that IBM introduced with CICS version 3.2.

"What [IBM has] done … with channels and containers [is] they’ve built basically a way to pass storage back and forth between CICS transactions," Godfrey indicates. "Previously, CICS transactions utilized con areas … which have a 32 KB limitation, and for legacy applications, the 32K limitation wasn’t really an issue. But with the advent of trying to Web-enable these applications and the passing of XML [data], customers were hitting a wall in terms of performance with the 32K limitation." As a result, InterTest and SymDump users can drill down into channels and containers to try to isolate problems, Godfrey explains.

"We’ve heard from a lot of developers who know that to Web-enable their applications they have to start utilizing things like channels and containers, but they haven’t been eager to do that. Part of what we were hearing [from developers] was ‘I’m not sure I have the tools in place to be able to support this.’ They wanted to make sure that they had the right tools [for testing] to be able to debug and support this. So with what we’re delivering in R8. Yes, application developers will now be able to do this."

IBM Ups the Competitive Ante

Historically, IBM left the value-added tools segment to CA and other ISVs. That’s no longer the case, however. As a result, some mainframe technologists suggest, it is possible to transition away from expensive third-party tools to inexpensive (or free) IBM offerings. In any event, they urge, it’s a cost-saving measure most mainframe shops should at least consider.

"IBM products such as File Analyzer are now offered as alternatives. These are very attractive not only for out-of-pocket costs but maintenance and enhancements are rolled out with normal IBM maintenance," said Phil Knight, an independent mainframe contractor who currently works with an institution of higher education based in the Northeast, in an interview last month. "This saves on manpower as well. In addition, it is just one more contract with an ISV that can be torn up, saving on administration costs and authorization code headaches."

Joe Poole, a mainframe veteran who retired from his job with a prominent retailer late last year, echoes Knight’s suggestion. "We had a product that we thought was a bit expensive to use. We checked around and found a new IBM product did the same job, plus provided us with more functionality for less."

CA’s Godfrey concedes that mainframe shops now have more choices than ever. "IBM does offer what they call ‘problem determination tools,’ yes—things like File Manager, Fault Analyzer, and the like. So they do offer tools in this space. As far as what they do or don’t do with respect to us—even when they say they support something, they may not support it the same way we do. But I think you’ll find that mainframe pricing in general has actually gotten cheaper. It’s certainly an area that we at CA have tried to pay attention to. Obviously, we can’t afford to just give these [tools] away for free, but we do try to be as fair and flexible as we can be." She alludes to CA’s rebirth and rededication under new chief John Swainson. (http://esj.com/Case_Study/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2651): "Our priority is to do the best we can to meet our customers’ needs."

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