Wang, Sokol on CA's future trends

A serious push into the services business, providing more 3D interfaces to applications and evangelising the benefits of neural networks form part of the way ahead for Computer Associates (CA), according to the software vendor's head and a senior executive. Speaking with IDG's Clare Haney, CA's co-founder, CEO and chairman Charles Wang, and Marc Sokol, CA senior vice president of advanced technology, discuss these topics along with the future for the vendor's flagship products - its Unicenter systems management software and Jasmine object-oriented database.

IDG: In the light of CA's failure to acquire Computer Sciences (CSC), are you looking to acquire some smaller, regional VARs (value added resellers) and systems integrators?

Wang: We will acquire two or three more organisations by the end of the year. Our run-rate services business will be close to $US1 billion by the end of our fiscal year. Traditionally, our services business was almost zero.

With the acquisition of ReaLogic earlier this year, our run-rate services business will be close to $US500 million by the end of the calendar year. When you're looking at acquisitions in the service area, you need to look at skill levels and geographic location.

When do you hope to get to an even split between your direct and indirect sales?

Wang: We can get to 50/50 in four to five years. We are looking very, very aggressively at building up the channel side of our business.

What kind of applications do you see employing 3D?

Wang: You could see a whole assembly line represented in 3D technology and you could see indications as each process goes through. If there's a problem, the software would send an alert back to you. You could also use 3D interfaces to tour buildings.

Sokol: With Unicenter, we could show physical information too, so you not only see, say a Compaq box, but the desk it's on, in terms of the desk's steel case. You could see where rooms fit into a building.

What about 3D sceptics like Tivoli Systems who say that users don't want 3D?

Wang: We win 80 per cent of the time with Tivoli, so they should keep on saying it. OpenVision calls TNG "The Nintendo Game", but we don't see OpenVision (in the market). Customers want to work with reality more and see it like it is. I'll make you a bet that by next year Microsoft will go for 3D. Oracle, I don't know about. Even Tivoli, they'll say: "Maybe we better go 3D." Then they'll try and say they invented it. If you don't have something, you pooh pooh it.

What about avatars (electronic representations of human beings)? Might they appear in Unicenter?

Sokol: Avatars are interesting. Part of 3Name3D (a recent CA acquisition) is a team that works on humanoid animation so that they show a human face speaking text.

Wang: Avatars wouldn't be in Unicenter, they would be in Jasmine.

Are you likely to acquire more 3D technology?

Sokol: We're always looking at more content. Viewpoint DataLabs International (another recent CA acquisition) has the largest repository of 3D content.

What's happening in CA with neural networks following your acquisition of AI Ware a year ago?

Wang: Right now, we're beta testing a neural networks agent - we call such agents "neugents" - which can predict the behaviour of NT servers. We have eight beta sites for the technology right now. We're just beginning to use the technology, then it will be used with routers, Unix, etc and to predict the performance of databases and applications.

Sokol: Neural networks are super hot for us. Prediction and learning will change the way that management will work. We'll start out (with neural networks) being in performance and then look at other spaces.

What's the next step for Unicenter and Jasmine?

Sokol: There will be common integration between Unicenter and Jasmine. Chief technology officers (CTOs) are already pushing us towards bringing together enterprise and system management software below the business application and above the operating system. For a new database model like Jasmine to take off requires applications which have to be built from scratch. We're looking for ways to leverage Jasmine.

The integration between Unicenter and Jasmine is probably 12 months away - it's called TND (The Next Dimension). We've already trademarked a bunch of TN names, including TNF (The Next Frontier).

Do you ever worry that the average man or woman on the street doesn't know who CA is?

Sokol: CA is like the advertisement which says "We didn't make the car, we made it better." Architects know who makes the plumbing in a house, end users don't know that. CA's like that.

Wang: It's not a compulsion with us to be the most well-known software company. It's not really our market.