Leading a software evolution

Leading a software evolution

As the CEO of BMC Software, Max Watson is leading a revival of the use of systems and network management tools - a revival that is fuelled by increased demand for more sophisticated tools in the age of the Internet. BMC earlier this year acquired Boole & Babbage and is now recognised as a leading contender in this space. With more than $US1 billion in revenues, BMC now competes with IBM and Computer Associates (CAI). Watson talked with Michael Vizard about the changing nature of the systems and network management arena and the role BMC hopes to play in it.

IDG: Originally, BMC was a provider of systems management tools for mainframes. How has the company evolved since then?

Watson: We're now in the enterprise management business with a focus on managing complex environments all the way from mainframes, Unix, NT, middleware, Web servers to e-commerce. It's really about managing these big, hairy, nasty, complex environments that customers are attempting to use to run their business on.

Basically then, the network and systems management business has moved from being platform specific to being platform independent?

That's exactly right. Our view of the world is we're trying to take all this complexity and raise it to a higher level of abstraction so you can manage disparate systems in a common manner.

But more importantly, you need to understand the interactions of different technologies, so you can figure out why an application is not available, and what's causing it.

In fact, each component can be running fine, but the interaction of the components is inappropriate. It's really about taking a holistic view of this so mortals can make some sense out of it.

How does this differentiate you from IBM and CAI?

If you look at when CAI with UniCenter, and IBM with Tivoli, developed and started to implement their strategy, there was a total cost of ownership mantra. Their objective was to reduce the total cost of ownership, and the storm for that issue primarily swirled around the desktop.

They addressed how to deliver software to the desktop, how to administer it, how to keep track of it, and all that stuff. Their approach was to develop a very broadly based framework that you would then attempt to plug things into. We decided to take a more pragmatic approach by developing particular solutions to solve problems such as how do you keep your stuff available and how do you get return on your investment very quickly.

We took a modular approach to these problems because we saw the Web technology coming out, and it became apparent that a framework was pretty much a dead end. There wouldn't be a need for it.

How does BMC go about tackling this issue?

Our products not only provide the management of the different platforms, but we also understand the interactions of the platforms. You'll see us, for example, in the very near term begin to do actual root-cause analysis to find out what really caused a problem. BMC software provides a lot of that kind of functionality in a product, and then we have a services team that can customise it when necessary for a particular customer environment.

We'll do an implementation in three to four months. Customers today can put out an application, get it managed, be sure it's highly available by using our products in a proactive manner, and then move on to the next job.

Can you describe what you mean by a proactive manner?

We were the first ones to talk about managing applications - ahead of Tivoli and CAI. And a while back, we talked about 'application service assurance'.

Shortly after that, it appears Tivoli took our marketing material and called it 'customer service assurance'. They changed enough words to stay out of the trademark and copyright issues, but we've really set the standard for this. It's not that you don't manage the technologies, it's the perspective and the context in which they are managed. We have been doing that for some period of time, and I think that's why you've seen our business grow so much.

We can manage any technology independently, but what the customer wants to do is manage [technologies] as they relate to each other in an application context. And that's what we do extremely well, and I think we do it better than anybody else, if anybody else even does it.

So that just doesn't mean your Oracle database is running, it doesn't mean that your mainframe is running, [and] it doesn't mean that your Web server's running. It means that all of those interoperate in a very dynamic manner to ensure that you're giving the type of availability and performance to your highly critical users both inside and outside the company.

What's your take on CAI's recent acquisition of Platinum. Will IBM or CA just wind up acquiring BMC?

I doubt that's going to happen. Basically, Platinum took what was a fairly successful company and turned it into an acquisition for acquisition's sake. They didn't integrate things, and then, when they started having problems, they made more acquisitions to cover it up. Somebody needed to put them out of their misery, and CAI's probably the most capable of doing that.

A lot of folks in your space are starting to take an interest in XML [Extensible Markup Language] as a self-describing data format. What's your take on XML?

We believe XML has a lot of potential. We are implementing XML right now. We think it's very beneficial to what we're doing.

Who is driving the standards in the spaces that BMC services?

My opinion is that standards are determined by buyers, not by a committee. Buyers are going to do what's in their best interest, and that's where the standards really develop. If you look at the most pervasive standards in use today, they have not come out of a standards organisation. They come out of the fact that the majority of the large enterprises around the world have adopted them.

So when will people stand up and take notice of BMC?

As soon as an enterprise says it needs to have an enterprise-wide focus on managing things, because within the company we're doing more business electronically. They are now engaging vendors, customers, and the rest of the supply chain, so you have to manage all the technologies to be successful. We think we're uniquely positioned to do that.

What keeps you up at night?

That we may start thinking we know what we're doing. Once we think we know what we're doing, we're dead. We're continuing to change and evolve. We've been very fortunate; we've had people doing a lot of good work, but we've got to keep evolving, changing, and adapting to this marketplace.

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