The transformation of Computer Associates International Inc continues apace. The company, formerly known and feared for its aggression, arrogance and bloodletting acquisitions, is trying to remake itself as a kinder, more caring entity. This was typified by head honcho Charles Wang’s rather downbeat keynote speech at last week’s CA-World 96 in New Orleans where he […]
The transformation of Computer Associates International Inc continues apace. The company, formerly known and feared for its aggression, arrogance and bloodletting acquisitions, is trying to remake itself as a kinder, more caring entity. This was typified by head honcho Charles Wang’s rather downbeat keynote speech at last week’s CA-World 96 in New Orleans where he urged everyone to make this the friendliest conference ever. To this end, he announced that entrance to next year’s show would be free to everyone attending this year’s event – a gesture that could theoretically cost the company a cool $9m, given the 18,000-strong attendees – as well as free copies of the software developer kits for those that attended courses on its object-oriented database Jasmine, jointly developed with Fujitsu Ltd and due out in the fall, and on the latest version of Computer Associates’s systems management software Unicenter TNG. These products represent the two areas where Computer Associates is currently focusing most of its attention. Wang already claims that Unicenter is the de facto standard in the software industry for enterprise management. So he was obviously more than a little riled that rival Tivoli Systems Inc had plastered the town with billboards and advertisements singing the praises of its own products. We did over $650m in Unicenter turnover last year, while our alleged closest competitor did less than $50m and they think their software is everywhere, he said. We have more than 4,000 Unicenter sites on Unix alone. Sometimes software has to run on more than slide projectors, bill-boards and taxis.
He made much of Tivoli’s new parentage, declaring, We have no hardware or operating systems bias. Interestingly, Wang and the rest of Computer Associates now lay claim to the title of the world’s largest independent software company which presumably will come as news to Bill Gates and his company. Apparently, Microsoft Corp doesn’t count because it is tainted by selling operating systems. As Wang puts it, We have never had a technology axe to grind. Elsewhere there was a good deal of self-justification, Computer Associates-style, going on, with Wang talking about marching to the beat of a different drum, while his second-in-command Sanjay Kumar told us the biggest fault the company had was in being dead right. About what, we wondered? He singled out pricing and dealing with clients as examples of this. If a customer has $100 left in their budget and you charge them $95, you’re OK; but if you charge them $105, you’re the worst monster they’ve ever come across. He blamed the perception problems that still cloud the company’s standing with some customers, such as the aforementioned aggression and arrogance, on former employees, whether they leave Computer Associates voluntarily or involuntarily. Actually, he reckons that those that leave voluntarily, with platinum parachutes of upwards of $1m as they walk out the door, are the worst offenders, badmouthing the company as a way of justifying their quitting. However, he did admit that Computer Associates needs to improve communications with its customers during the course of takeovers. Another area where the firm believes it is dead right is in its promotion of a pure object-oriented database, namely Jasmine, instead of the hybrid object-relational offer ings being posited by Oracle Corp, Informix Software Inc, and Sybase Inc. In the simplest terms, a relational database is just a gigantic spreadsheet where you address data in rows and columns, said Kumar. He compared the hybrid approach to running Excel on Windows and having one or two giant cells trying to cope with video and voice data and therefore seriously impeding the application’s performance as a whole. He believes that the interest generated by Jasmine among customers may well give Computer Associates an opportunity to go and promote its OpenIngres relational database which it acquired with ASK Group Inc back in 1994.
Last year it was very hard convincing applications vendors to support Ingres. It’s less difficult this year. He revealed that Sybase’s fall from grace has helped Ingres into a couple of new business deals, but added that Computer Associates had no interest in acquiring another ailing database vendor, because it would be a distraction away from its current twin focuses, Jasmine and Unicenter. Although We have an obligation to look at everything. Sybase does have a great installed base and some nice tools, he added. Returning to Ingres, we spoke with Yogesh Gupta, senior vice-president in charge of product strategy, who believes the market for the product is growing and that Computer Associates is the only company that can offer a multi-environment database for Windows NT. He insists that Ingres doesn’t compete with Microsoft’s SQL Server, because I don’t think they understand what 7 by 24 support means. We’re talking enterprise support with a capital E. The next major release of OpenIngres, version 2.0, should be out in beta later this year and for the first time will include row-level locking. This is the technology that Sybase still singularly fails to supply with its System 11 database and it now means the Emeryville, California company is the only relational database player without row-level locking, since Microsoft claims it has fixed the problem by what it terms dynamic locking. So how difficult is adding row-level locking? It’s like redoing the foundations of a huge mansion, explained Gupta. It’s a lot of work. Other features due in OpenIngres 2.0 include support for native operating system threads, 64-bit capabilities, support for variable page size, server-based replication, parallel load and back-up and closer integration with Unicenter. The company hopes to raise OpenIngres’s profile by plunging into TPC benchmarking, something the ASK Group never engaged in, because it was too expensive. Computer Associates is already carrying out internal OpenIngres benchmarking. On the horizon for future releases of OpenIngres are injections of yet more parallel technology, such as adding support for parallel queries, parallel updates, parallel index creation and parallel Fastload, along with improved self-manageability of the database. Returning to Wang’s keynote and the new caring Computer Associates, he stressed that the most important task going forward would be to heal the critical disconnect between people and computers.
Human and more humane
He has talked at length in the past about the disconnect existing between chief executives and chief information officers most notably in his book ‘Techno Vision,’ now it seems he wants the whole world, not just the business sector. We need to find ways to make computing both more human and more humane, he asserted. As the first plank in this initiative, the company unveiled a new product, Opal, at the conference. Computer Associates terms Opal a social builder-cum-development tool for OpenIngres/Desktop, the rebadged low-end relational database it licenses from Centura Software Inc, formerly Gupta Corp. Marc Sokol, vice-president of advanced technology with Computer Associates, described Opal as a super-duper multimedia screen scraper, set up to integrate with legacy character-based applications. Opal is currently in beta test and should ship within the next month and a half. Computer Associates has built its internal sales system with the tool which is written in a mixture of C and C++ and supports Windows95 and Windows NT desktops. Sokol emphasized the importance of widening one’s view of how to use technology. He related a recent visit he’d made to a human resources vice-president at a large US conglomerate, to discuss the creation of an Intranet application. The vice-president was keen to have the company’s share price accessible to users of the application, and explained that he wanted a button on screen that users could press to access the information. That shows how we’ve been polluted by IS, fumed Sokol. We’ve been conditioned to think that Windows 3.0 or Motif are the only ways to visualize applications. He recommended that the vice-president should have a ticker tape running across the bottom of the applications screen instead.
By Clare Haney