Computer Associates International (CA) is working on re-energising its mainframe software business, with one of its ultimate aims to put the management of big iron on a par with what's already offered in the distributed systems world, according to a company executive.
The software company is in the process of reinventing itself after being rocked by a series of financial scandals that led to the departure last year of its former head, Sanjay Kumar, and his indictment on charges of securities fraud.
IDG sat down with CA senior vice-president and senior technical advisor, Sam Greenblatt, at the recent Share user group conference. Greenblatt joined CA in 1994 and works with the company's executive management team to help set CA's strategic technology direction. He was previously chief architect for the company's Linux Technology Group and continues to be strongly involved in the Linux community.
Greenblatt talked about CA's renewed focus on its mainframe business and the changes under way at the company. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
How's work going with integrating the technology you acquired through the April purchase of Concord Communications?
Sam Greenblatt (SG): We had looked at both Concord and Aprisma, so it was really fortuitous for us that Concord bought Aprisma [in January]. Concord brings us the eHealth correlation engine, while Aprisma brings us network management. We have a white paper on our website on the [integration] roadmap and will announce more at CA World [due to take place in Las Vegas in November].
What do you see happening with mainframe systems management?
SG: We don't like to say a mainframe is a mainframe. It is part of the enterprise and systems management has to cross all platforms. CA believes the only way systems management will work is through service-oriented architectures (SOAs), with an abstract layer underneath where you have mainframes and Windows and Unix [systems].
Where the mainframe has been in the last few years, it has really become holistic computing. We are trying to bring managing the mainframe to a higher level, to bring it to an equal level with other platforms. Managing mainframes is growing up from the commodity or platform level much more into the middleware [layer]. It will take a couple of years [for mainframe management to be on a par with distributed systems management]. We need open standards. We are very encouraged by things IBM's doing now.
We really want a network administrator not to worry about mainframes. When a system breaks, it breaks fast and hard. By the time someone realises there's a system problem, it's [already] been diagnosed and fixed or the software has provided a suggested remedy to fix it.
What's CA got planned for the mainframe management space?
SG: Over the next 6-8 months, you'll see us make some modifications to where we've been, for instance, in security. Encryption is absolutely critical. Privacy is no longer a joke when people are losing tapes. We'll be very active in archiving and in virtualisation. We have been helping IBM with work on pieces of Virtualization Engine 2.0. You'll see a lot of that showing up in public. Storage is critical, we'll be there. We will grow organically and by acquisition and by going out and working with partners.
We have been doing a hell of a lot in mainframes and no one seems to know. For instance, we've gone from five nines [99.999 per cent reliability] to 100 per cent. Nobody is saying that's news, but customers are really excited about it.
Do you wish CA had acquired mainframe management and analysis tools vendor, Candle? [IBM bought Candle last year].
SG: No. You know I was CTO there for 10 years? Candle in the past five years has seen its base shrink as its relevance to the market is starting to become less and less. I absolutely wouldn't want to own Omegamon. There's not enough there for us. IBM bought Candle for its human capital. Omegamon was a cult. It was a nightmare because the people were literally cultists. There was a fire at the New York Hilton when I was staying there. I had to climb down 30 or so flights of stairs in my underwear and at the bottom a guy leans over to me and says, 'Let me talk to you about Omegamon'. I said, 'This is not an appropriate conversation!'
How has CA changed over the years?
SG: [CA CEO] John Swainson is very quiet and very understated. Being his personal technician is a tough job because he's as good on the technical side as me. Customers love him from his IBM days, he's respected by them. John transformed CA to be more customer focused from a technology perspective.
CA's totally different. Charles [Wang, CA's cofounder, former chairman and CEO] was more into there's only one way, the CA way, or the customer can go and find themselves another product. Swainson is 'Let's create a partnership for life.' I'm tickled pink John's the CEO. The average tenure of a [customer] contract is three years now. I am now held to account on my bonus, it's tied to customer satisfaction. That's a big change.
John's changed the corporation. It's now an all-star management team. The company has gone through an ethical cleansing and has come out of it extremely well. If I'd written a script about CA, I'd have said the company would've been driven into the ocean, but we came back stronger than ever.
How have CA staff further down the organisation reacted to all the changes at the top?
SG: As a management team we have looked very seriously down to the ground troops. We do surveys. They have been a bit shocked by the changes, but they've come out of it stronger and more resilient.
Have you regularly attended Share?
SG: Yes. I've been coming for the past 30 years. I come to hear what IBM's doing and its reception with the users. It's interesting, on-demand [computing] is only just catching on now and IBM announced it five years ago. People here are so hardcore mainframe, it's a feeding frenzy here as people are talking peer to peer. I like to hide my [CA] shirt and really hear what users' problems are.