Cajun hospitality spices up subdued CA World

The alluring nightlife of New Orleans makes one forget about the cares of the day.

It really is a stroke of brilliance on the part of software giant Computer Associates to stage its annual CA World user conference in a city that celebrates every single night. Coupled with an all-day (week-long, actually) festival such as CA World, the party never stops.

The Cajun capital is really two cities: the after-hours one that dances till dawn to the jazz strains and blues rhythms of Bourbon Street; and the rather docile day-lit city that sees residents and tourists alike scurrying to find cool shelter amid indoor air conditioned locations during the sweltering summer heat.

The duality of New Orleans has been the perfect combination for CA Worlds past. Conference days were typically filled with terrific keynotes, a multitude of strategic and directional seminars, plus the unveiling of exciting new technological developments. In the past, CA carefully positioned its greatest product innovation announcements and demonstrations for the Big Easy gala. It made CA World one of the most exciting, if not most important, IT events of the year. The unmatched nightlife of the city has kept the excitement unending.

But this year’s CA World user conference featured more sizzle than steak. Days were dominated by pragmatic and instructional affairs that, on the enterprise management side, focused on the how-tos of Unicenter implementation and operation. Not to suggest that there was nothing of significance to be seen and heard, but rather, there simply wasn’t the haughty fanfare of new products and technologies, witnessed in years past, trotted out for all to witness. The carnival that was CA World 1999 just didn’t seem to get off the ground.

This was a rather subdued affair by previous CA World standards. No unveiling of new milestone next-generation or next-dimension enterprise management solutions this year. Instead, product announcements were incremental upgrades to existing solutions, coupled with grandiose promises for future technical achievement. There was a sense that something big was to be unveiled, but nothing materialized.

So the exodus of CA World attendees from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to the excitement of the French Quarter’s nightly carnival was certainly more hurried than in years past.

One had to pay close attention and avoid the distractions of New Orleans to discover what was new. For those who looked hard, they would have learned about Unicenter TNG (The Next Generation) 2.2. Nothing to knock your socks off, mind you, but nifty nonetheless. TNG 2.2, described as having a user-friendly “visualization” interface and based on Java technology, promises to let users manage TNG from a Web browser or Java client. CA says it will deliver even simpler simplified installation in this rendition — certainly a welcome enhancement to a complex-to-deploy product.

Also announced was Windows 2000 support that, when Microsoft’s new operating system becomes available, will provide migration and upgrade capability for various server and application components. There’s also an enhanced event management capability, including higher throughput optimizing and faster correlation techniques, plus performance management that incorporates SNMP metrics.

Finally, Neugents – CA’s smart agent technology — comes to Unicenter TNG in the form of proactive and predictive agents that, through pattern recognition capabilities, can identify “behavioural” IT operations that are out of scope. Initially providing predictive performance monitoring of NT servers, CA’s lofty aim is to see Neugents agents deployed throughout the enterprise, in all distributed computing components, forming the basis of truly intuitive and responsive enterprise management that corrects problems before they happen.

The word from CA is that the future of its enterprise management solution will continue, in the near term, along two paths of TNG and next-next-generation Unicenter TND (The Next Dimension). TNG development continues in parallel with TND and when TND does appear — CA insists a limited function version will be generally available by the end of the year — TNG users will gradually be migrated to it.

The future of network management from CA’s perspective will include functions such as simplified alarm policies, enhanced fault isolation and root cause analysis, network Neugents that provide the ability to correlate events to isolate and predict failing components, plus business policy-based QoS management that will surely lift enterprise administration to a much higher level. Also expect to see network service-level reporting that automates business process views, plus the ability to manage storage area networks, voice over IP, wireless and IP multicast protocols.

As for Internet management, CA is looking to build new Java interfaces and add a host of new management tools, including load balancing, visual site map and Web response functions. In addition, there will be tools for monitoring and managing e-commerce server health and response times, plus the ability to intelligently balance traffic loads.

Service-level reporting (SLR) will be introduced as a new TNG component, providing the ability to deal in business process view and apply service levels to these. It will allow the setting of service-level requirements against business process views, according to CA.

Application response management is also on the way and will introduce the ability to measure end-to-end the performance of Windows 95/98/NT-based applications through pre-defined thresholds that set up alerts when application performance degrades below pre-defined response levels.

A key direction in enterprise management from CA’s perspective is to continue driving towards simplification. As evidenced by the highly graphical user interface of Unicenter TNG, CA reasons that management tools should require much less skilled operators to implement systems and functions. Given that CA reasons new versions of enterprise management tools will continue to roll out every six months, it’s hard to imagine how technical staff will be able to keep up, so uncomplicated operation is essential.

Charles Wang, CA’s CEO, opened the end-of-the-century CA World gala with a rousing speech that focused on the shape of things to come, rather than on what’s in use today. Like many of his IT peers have already done, Wang, too, pointed to the Internet and the reshaping that e-commerce will impose on modern business. He warned that future business will segregate into “the quick and the dead” — those who move expeditiously to embrace and adopt information technology in order to conduct global business and provide corporate intelligence, and those who do not.

In an even bolder statement, Wang also predicted that bandwidth will soon “cease to be a problem,” computing power would continue to increase exponentially, and that both are on their way to becoming commodities. All in all, however, Wang’s speech if nothing else proved that lofty ambition still outpaces reality by several orders of magnitude.

And clearly, future promise was the biggest buzz of CA World 1999. So, if attendees seem preoccupied with getting to the evening’s New Orleans festivities this year, then maybe it is appropriate that the last CA World of the century, for some, might be remembered as the best party ever.

It is, after all, the dawn of a new millennium, and what better place for an end-of-the-century celebration than New Orleans. Besides, with the spectre of Y2K and associated IT catastrophes about to be unleashed, there will be plenty to talk about at next year’s CA World.