All IT vendors like to make a song and dance about their products,ong and dance routine. but in New Orleans last month Computer Associates (CA) really pulled out all the stops. Before Charles Wang, CA's CEO, even started his keynote speech at CA World, the stage was filled with singers, dancers and musicians.
After introducing "the largest technology jam session ever", Wang then unapologetically allowed an encore. While US delegates applauded, bemused European users, analysts and PC Week left the auditorium wondering what substance there was behind this zealous self-promotion.
"I didn't need to see South Pacific to be told about CA's new technology," commented James Eibisch, analyst with Input.
The theme behind CA's extravagant stage show was that, in IT, we should all be able to sing the same song - and CA's latest strategy is called Harmony, to reinforce that message. Claiming to offer an end to information chaos, the Harmony strategy promises to pull together CA disparate product lines and allow users to access information held on legacy systems using modern front-end applications and unified interfaces.
The Harmony strategy is a branding exercise, bringing the Jasmine object database, Opal, software providing Web GUIs for legacy applications, the Ingres II relational database and some additional applications under a single product line.
CA promised that in the next 18 months, the Harmony products will be adapted to provide greater interoperability and integration.
New products in the Harmony line will include software offering neural-net technology information analysis, pattern recognition for fraud detection and information mining. Also expected is the ability to wrap mainframe applications into objects for use within the Harmony environment.
Wang claimed that Harmony would make integrating new systems with existing systems easier. "Unlike restrictive strategies or hybrid architecture that limit opportunities, Harmony opens the gates for innovation and participation by other vendors and delivers an infrastructure for realising maximum business value from IT investment old and new," he said.
Yet there was nothing new in the Harmony announcement, according to Input's Eibisch. "It is nothing more than rebranding," he said. "Harmony is little more than an umbrella term for a few of CA's existing products - nothing earth-shattering."
But glitz aside, CA did have something important to say, Eibisch claimed.
"The inclusion of Unicenter TNG Realworld in the NT 5.0 interface was the most interesting announcement made at the show," he said.
CA's Real World Interface, based on the Unicenter TNG Framework, will use the management services and instrumentation of Windows NT, enhancing their integration into the enterprise management environment, according to CA. Real World Interface is a browser-based application that produces management views of Web-based enterprise management (WBEM) data, events and alerts.
Microsoft's deal with CA marks the speed with which NT is now able to move into the enterprise market, Eibisch said. "The benefit for Microsoft is that it is addressing issues such as user manageability within this operating system," he explained. "For CA it is significant given NT's strong position and future."
Inclusion of the interface in NT 5.0 would comfort users considering rolling out NT 5.0, according to James Moir, principal systems engineer with Pilkington Optronics and chairman of the UK Unicenter user group.
"With Microsoft putting a lot of technology into something new there are many areas that have the potential for problems," he said. "The Real World interface will help users manage NT and see where their problems are arising - whether because of (a shortage of) resources or because of bugs."
The Real World Interface offers benefits to IT management with limited resources, according to Rob Hailstone, chief analyst with Bloor Research.
"As business pushes people to manage bigger networks with a greater range of devices, the Real World Interface becomes more interesting," he said.
However, it is not ideally suited to providing detailed system information to IT professionals, Hailstone warned. "The Real World Interface has some great looking features, but in practical terms people with experience in enterprise technology use a more traditional interface," he said. "You can get the technical detail you need using this application but it is not the quickest way of doing it."
J.P. Corriveau, senior vice president of CA's technology integration group, admitted that IT professionals like to use the 2D interfaces for system management, but the shortage in IT skills makes the Real World Interface a powerful tool since it allows management to assess the state of enterprise systems without specialist IT experience, he claimed.
As well as thrusting NT into the enterprise, CA was also reaching down to target the SME market with a new range of products based on the Unicenter TNG framework. The company, which previously competed mainly in the enterprise market, will roll out a range of products dubbed Workgroup Editions, which will be available only through value added resellers.
Running under Windows NT with a 250-seat ceiling, Workgroup Editions range from a single install version of the Jasmine object database to AimIT for asset and inventory management. Also included is security system GuardIT, relational database Ingres II and anti-virus software Inoculan.
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