CA World 2015: Plucky, Focused, Confident

By Joe Clabby

Three years ago at CA World 2012, CA Technologies introduced its then new CEO, Mike Gregoire, who had only been with the company for a few weeks. In his opening address, Gregoire spoke about several challenges that CA Technologies faced such as stagnant overseas revenues, the need to reorganize the company to improve efficiency, the need to change the company’s licensing model to encourage customers to up rev rather than maintaining old releases, the need to increase R&D spending – and more. At CA World 2013, the company showed progress on all fronts – especially in realigning its sales force and rationalizing its product offerings. At CA World 2014, the company introduced the concept of the “application economy” – the idea that human interaction with applications is driving business change and transformation. And to support the application economy, CA Technologies revamped its go-to-market strategy to focus on several key initiatives that help drive application development and related infrastructure support.

The good news at CA World 2015 is that CA Technologies has stayed focused. Messages about the application economy were consistent with last year – and even better formulated. And this year CA Technologies brought to stage numerous customers to share their business transformation to the application economy stories.

To net it out, CA Technologies is strategically focused on:

  • DevOps (now includes increased usage of application program interfaces, the development of more and more services, and increasing the speed at which applications are developed using agile development methods);
  • Agile Management (CA Technologies now makes heavy use of agile development methods within the company);
  • Security (a longtime stronghold that remains a top priority for CA Technologies and its customers); and on
  • Mainframes (especially mainframe management).

Each of these focal areas has dozens of supporting product offerings designed to help customers build and deploy applications, as well as to manage underlying infrastructure.

Immediately Noticeable: An Air of Confidence

When delivering its strategic messaging, one could detect an air of confidence that was not present in the pre-Gregoire days. Gregoire exudes confidence. And this confidence must be catchy because Gregoire’s staff and employees – all the way down to the exhibition booth level – are confident that they have a solid strategy and a good mix of products that will help them achieve their strategic goals. In the old “Computer Associates” days, the company used to start by apologizing for past problems. Now CA Technologies, the company has a very positive self-image.

This air of confidence is now being reflected in the financial markets, with one financial analyst telling Clabby Analytics that “CA Technologies’ leadership, its focus, and the growth potential that the company is seeing in its chosen markets is why we’ve chosen to issue a ‘buy’ advisory to our customers.” It is readily apparent to us, and to others that CA Technologies now knows who they are, what they want to do, and how they’re going to get there.

My Agenda

One of the many things that CA Technologies is particularly good at is infrastructure management. The company has dozens of tools and utilities that monitor various elements within an information infrastructure – and enable IT managers and administrators to troubleshoot problems, better manage capacity and usage, and improve application performance. Using various CA Technologies products, vast amounts of data on system, storage, network, application and database activities can be captured, essentially creating Big Data databases just waiting to be analyzed by the humans that operate these environments. And therein lies both a problem – and a huge opportunity.

What if it were possible to make systems capable of managing themselves? What if CA Technologies products could both capture and analyze systems/applications-related data in real time, performing root cause analysis, finding problems and automatically fixing those problems? And what if were possible to analyze systems/applications data and predict failures before they become a reality? When I traveled to CA World 2015, what I wanted to learn most is how CA Technologies is progressing on blending infrastructure monitoring with Big Data analytics. Here’s what I saw:

  1. CA Technologies capacity management tools are making use of analytics today to help optimize resource utilization;
  2. The company’s Performance Analytics for DB2 also makes use of analytics for database troubleshooting. (I found this particular offering to be quite interesting. It essentially takes a snapshot of all of the parameters of a known-good DB2 deployment – and, should performance decrease, it can take a snapshot of the ill-performing environment and compare it to the known-good environment. By so doing, performance problems and anomalies can be more quickly identified – enabling database administrators to more easily achieve their service-level goals; and,
  3. A new tool, the company’s Unified Infrastructure Manager (discussed later) is also making use of analytics to simplify systems and infrastructure management for managers and administrators.

At CA World 2015, I found that CA Technologies is starting to make progress when it comes to using analytics to analyze infrastructure logs and streams. Instead of presenting managers and administrators with raw data – CA Technologies is now making it possible for systems to actually assist in troubleshooting and tuning activities by performing analytics using software as opposed to having to have humans do all of the analytics work. Using analytics software to augment infrastructure troubleshooting and tuning is a big step in the right direction for CA Technologies – I see the combination of infrastructure data gathering tools with analytics as the wave of the future in systems/application management. With smarter systems, fewer IT managers and administrators will be required to manage large, complex systems/infrastructure environments. And, with smarter systems, skill levels to manage systems/application environments can be lower (resulting in less salary expenditure for businesses).

Still, although I did see solid progress along the analytics front, I wanted to see even more. I attended a press conference headed by company CEO Mike Gregoire – and amongst the many questions that he fielded was a question about CA Technologies’ infrastructure management strategy. Gregoire responded perfectly to that question, indicating that he knows exactly what the market will require from CA Technologies in the future – and indicating that work is already underway to address his vision. What Gregoire indicated was that systems/infrastructure management of the future will involve analytics, cognitive computing and machine learning.   As described above, the company is already starting to overlay analytics into its infrastructure data gathering tools and utilities. But Gregoire also pointed out that cognitive computing will also be important in the future – using cognitive (smart) programs to figure out what actions to take, leading to self-repairing/self-tuning systems. And beyond this, Gregoire also pointed out that machine learning is also important such that systems can find new ways to isolate problems or improve performance without human assistance. Gregoire, in a nutshell, stated that CA Technologies is evaluating all three approaches to increase the management of systems and applications by systems. And by so doing, he demonstrated that CA Technologies has a good handle on where the systems/application management of the future is headed.

Other Notables

I spent a lot of time in the mainframe section on the exhibition floor looking for new products, listening to customers and business partners, and watching product demonstrations. One product in particular, CA Technologies’ Unified Infrastructure Manager for zSystem (UIM) caught my attention.

Imagine a tool that provides a single-pane-of-glass overview of an entire systems/storage/network infrastructure. In other words, a tool that can discover all the component speeds-and-feeds within an infrastructure, and that can provide a graphical overview and display how all components are interrelated.   With this single-pane-of-glass, IT managers and administrators would be able to visualize problems, understand interrelationships, and then bring the right tools to bear to fix those problems. CA Technologies’ UIM (which works within mainframe as well as distributed environments) is one such tool.

With UIM, system status is displayed graphically, with red, orange, yellow and green lights indicating the status of various system activities. Red equals a problem; orange represents a potential problem; yellow is cautionary; and green means all is well. Managers and administrators can launch “probes” at problems – and these probes bring all pertinent information about a given component directly to the attention of the operator. If the problem is a failed component, it is easily recognizable – and corrective actions such as restarting a down process or failing-over a down component can be easily launched using the appropriate CA Technologies tools to do so.

As I watched this product in action, I couldn’t help thinking how much easier it makes the management of infrastructure – and how enterprises could use lower-skilled individuals to manage this complex task. I could visualize an underlying infrastructure, I could probe problem areas, and I could easily bring the appropriate “fix-it” tools to bear to address a given problem. And my observation was supported by a customer who uses UIM to manage his IT environment.

An IT executive from The University of California – The Office of the President presented his findings as a user of CA Technologies’ UIM offering. And what he told the audience is that UIM is far superior to existing freeware offering such as Nagios and Groundworks when it comes to graphical display, ease-of-use, and comprehensiveness. He described how his administrators, some of whom do not have deep IT skills, are able to use UIM to streamline incident management. He stated that the product offers end-to-end monitoring facilities based-on analytics, that it can perform application deep dive analysis and transactional analysis, and that it can map infrastructure as well as application relationships dynamically.  He further stated that without UIM, his administrators often did not understand how various components were interrelated – and without this knowledge, troubleshooting and repair took longer. UIM has proven to be an excellent learning tool for his administrators – serving to help raise their skill levels through a better understanding of system/application interrelationships. Further, users are happier with better service response times.

Summary Observations

CA Technologies has a clear mission: helping to drive the application economy. The company’s strategy is solid; it has numerous products in place to support is mission; and it has a good vision of what the market will require to help enterprises become application driven.

The company still faces the same challenges that many other IT vendors are also facing, especially soft revenue in overseas markets. But financial analysts, and technology research analysts (such as ourselves) see CA Technologies’ strategy as sound – and its vision as clear. With a good mix of product solutions, as well as with revamped/reorganized sales and marketing, and with solid leadership – CA Technologies is well positioned for growth in the future.