Visualization, e-thinking key themes at CA World 99

What Computer Associates International Inc.’s CA World 99 conference lacked in substance the company tried to make up for with style.

It was apparent from the start of CA CEO Charles Wang’s opening-day keynote that high-impact visuals were the name of the game at CA World 99, held in New Orleans last month. In an elaborately executed charade, a helmeted, jump-suited individual — alleged to be Wang — tore up the show floor on a motorcycle, popping wheelies as he went along, with the action broadcast to the audience waiting in the auditorium for Wang’s keynote to begin.

With Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild playing in the background, the motorcyclist entered the auditorium, popping one last wheelie before roaring up a ramp in front of the stage, jumping over CA president and COO Sanjay Kumar lying on the floor, and crashing through a CA sign at the back of the stage. When the smoke from an accompanying explosion cleared, Wang emerged in a slightly burned jump-suit, helmet in hand and hair dishevelled.

The main thrust of Wang’s keynote was “thinking outside of the box” — a catchphrase he repeated again and again. He urged CA World attendees to think about IT in totally new and different ways, otherwise the “new business e-world will quickly pass you by,” Wang warned.

“In the new millennium, there are going to be two types of companies: the quick and the dead.”

IT has an opportunity to play a dominant and starring role in businesses of the future, Wang said, adding two new ways of thinking will help differentiate companies and make them successful. The first mindset involves visualization. According to Wang, the power of visuals helps people to recall better, and therefore 3D models improve end users’ interaction with data. Demonstrating the 3D modelling technologies CA acquired from its October 1998 acquisition of Viewpoint DataLabs International Inc., Wang showed a 60-second animation created from a 3D model of a Dodge minivan.

The minivan animation was followed by a two-minute composite video, underscored by Bad Religion’s 21st Century Digital Boy, of 3D digital content Viewpoint created in recent years for commercials, animations and movies, including ANTZ, Armageddon and the 1998 Godzilla.

The second new mindset Wang calls e-thinking. To survive and prosper in the Internet age, businesses need new solutions and new ways of making decisions, Wang said. The ability to sift through the multitude of data that now exists and find significant relationships between data is of key importance, he said.

This is where CA’s neugent technology comes in, Wang said. Announced some eight months ago, neugents help automate IT problem-solving by learning through experience and anticipating problems before they occur, he explained.

As with many of the CA products discussed by Wang, neugents are not out in full force yet. Originally released for Windows NT Server only, neugents are now available for OS/390 and various Unix server platforms. The sum total of the neugents’ current capability is to be able to predict when these specific server platforms are about to fail and to alert administrators.

Wang outlined some potential future applications that could take advantage of visualization or CA’s neugent technology. One example was an on-line furniture store. As a result of a joint venture between CA and MetaCreations, a Web-based 3D visualization company, furniture shoppers could visit an on-line retailer, see 3D representations of chairs, and pick fabrics and colours to suit their tastes.

Wang also detailed a new fleet management option for CA Unicenter that enables vehicular telemetry data and geographic position information to be captured and managed by Unicenter.

One Unicenter TNG user attending CA World 99 was particularly interested in this announcement. Mike Stevenson is systems administrator in the computer services group of Peel Regional Police in Brampton, Ont., which currently has a fleet of 400 police cruisers.

“My dream is to integrate these cars into Unicenter TNG,” Stevenson said. He plans to continue use of his third-party fleet management software but he wants to integrate it wirelessly with Unicenter TNG.

He could use Unicenter TNG to not only manage the laptops in each police cruiser, but also a new dispatch system about to be purchased by Peel Police. In addition, the police force wants to put sensors into each police car so that positions can be traced from headquarters, and Stevenson said he believes this functionality could be integrated with Unicenter TNG as well.

Apart from discussing visualization and neugent technologies during his keynote speech, Wang also spoke about the need for a distributed infrastructure to tie everything together. In CA’s world, that infrastructure is Jasmine TND, which was announced in May and is currently in beta testing.

As explained by Kumar, CA Unicenter TND has been pre-empted in its role as unifying infrastructure by Jasmine TND.

“Unicenter is simply an application,” Kumar said, adding that Jasmine TND will serve as the base infrastructure for all future CA product development. Details regarding Unicenter TND and Jasmine TND, both of which are in beta testing and not expected to be released for at least six months, were not forthcoming.

That shortage of details was the main complaint of at least one industry analyst attending CA World 99. Martha Bennett, vice-president of Giga Information Group in Windsor, England, said she obtained little new information about CA’s future product strategies.

“It was disappointing,” Bennett said. “It struck me as being a lot of advertising.”

In addition, she said Wang’s on-line furniture store example is short-sighted. While the concept of on-line 3D models is great, she pointed out the customer experience will be sorely lacking due to Internet bandwidth problems that continue to plague most users. In addition, inconsistent colour-mapping among various vendors’ computer monitors will mean customers will be unable to judge the true colour of the furniture — a significant risk to any home-furnishing exercise, Bennett said.