Net mania abounds at CA World

If it runs on electricity, somebody’s itching to network it.

That premise became startlingly clear to the 25,000 attendees of the recent CA World 2000 user conference in New Orleans. Apparently every conceivable sort of device can be networked (and then managed by Computer Associates International Inc. technology, of course) — from vending machines to refrigerators to vehicle fleets.

In fact, CA hosted a press conference aboard a massive Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ocean-going vessel that actually uses CA Unicenter TNG software to manage the Windows NT and Unix servers aboard the ship.

That’s where CA announced integration of its Unicenter TNG management platform with Salt Lake City, Utah-based emWare Inc.’s EMIT product. The EMIT software networks devices with embedded chips in building-automation equipment, manufacturing tools, energy management and security systems. Meanwhile, CA has joined about 25 vendors in the emWare-founded Extend The Internet (ETI) Alliance, which is reportedly committed to “extending the Internet to any device.”

emWare demonstrated networking and management of household appliances, such as microwaves and refrigerators, particularly to monitor the health of the equipment. That would make it possible to arrange for replacement of appliance parts before they even fail, according to Todd Rytting, emWare’s vice-president of technical services. Currently, a typical fridge repairperson needs an average of 1.5 visits to diagnose and correctly repair a problem with the correct parts, he said.

“We’re connecting any non-IT devices to the IT world,” noted Solbyung (Stella) Yoon, president of Toronto’s cStar Technologies Inc. cStar installs wireless communication devices in vending machines, although the wireless connection can be shared between machines in one vicinity, relaying information about machine temperatures, coinage or inventory levels over the electrical system. And CA has introduced what it calls the Unicenter TNG Optimal Vending Solution, to let vending machines act as nodes in a managed network for remote diagnostics, monitoring of inventory and real-time sales tracking.

Laurie Wood, Palm Inc.’s director of strategic alliances and business development, said Palm is working with CA in the “control and access area. How can we effectively control the deployment of these devices in an enterprise?” Indeed, last year CA extended its Unicenter TNG management environment to include Palm devices.

Wood said businesses must think about the security surrounding those devices and the information they represent. She noted there’s a concern that unauthorized people could pick up Palm devices and have access to corporate customer databases, for example. “The one thing that keeps business managers and executives up at night is the challenges around information.”

But while some companies are eyeing the management of portable and mobile devices, Dan McLean, network analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, suggested the most basic computer network management is still lacking at many corporations. In fact, he said more than 90 per cent of Canadian businesses don’t have any sort of proactive management system in place. At most companies, “management is really the idea of waiting for something to break, then going out and fixing it,” McLean said.

Meanwhile, many industry players are advocating standardized wireless solutions such as the Wireless Application Protocol. But in an exclusive interview, CA’s outspoken CEO, Charles Wang, scoffed at the notion that the industry would cohesively work with just one wireless standard. “Just like we have one electrical system, right?” he asked, pointing out that he has to carry a caseful of adapters as he travels around the world.