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The Business of Infrastructure
A circuitous route has led Scott Kane back to his '80s roots as an original founder of database and software provider Platinum Technology, which was sold to Computer Associates in 1999 for $3.5 billion. Today, Kane serves CA as senior vice president of database management modeling for CA's enterprise systems management business, a role he assumed just last year. "I had gone in a different direction, but with CA's new investment in the database/mainframe business, they asked if I would come back and run that, and I agreed." In a career spanning the technical to the operational and now to the business side, Kane has perspective on CA's overall strategy, which he discussed with DM Review editorial director Jim Ericson.
DMR: Let's start by asking you to define CA's mission today.
Scott Kane: CA is absolutely dedicated to database management, and we continue to increase our investment toward managing all of the major database platforms. We see complexity increasing and that the commitment from the database vendors is increasing. The challenges and the opportunities they face against one another are an opportunity for us, with great breadth and ability, to help manage disparate databases in an agnostic way. We spend a lot of time blocking and tackling, which for us is keeping up with the releases of various database management systems and having support to make sure that we're providing our customers with a lot of value in our products.
DMR: I would guess that the agnostic approach has positives and negatives in that you're not directly affiliated with the big product rollouts.
SK: I would agree that there are advantages and disadvantages, but by partnering with these companies, the fact that we can go across EMC or IBM storage devices is an advantage other companies won't have. What we provide the customer with is a single point of control to manage the core databases in their environment - such as Oracle, SQL Server, DB2 - on any platform. We provide those capabilities in an integrated manner that is open to other third parties, so customers will be complete, integrated and open but retain centralized control.
DMR: Yet CA competes in certain areas with some of the vendors it supports.
SK: We certainly compete in some areas, with IBM, for example, but it's really about putting the customer first. We also complement partners from a database engine standpoint by adding functionality and solution performance, which helps make DB2 that much more strategic and mission critical. On the database tool side of IBM, I would say we're not as complementary; we are as open as we can be in terms of a product set. In our Database Analyzer DB2 automation product, for example, we can support anybody's re-org utility. We take an open philosophy to the way that we support things like that. But we have taken pains to put our tool and competition issues aside to make sure that no matter what happens, we're doing the right thing for the customer. When it comes to solving problems, I can't think of a situation where we haven't worked arm in arm with IBM or others. Plus, we complement partners with their early releases because I think it's critical for an IBM to have vendors like CA run products through extensive testing, and that improves our products as well.
DMR: What specific issues or themes are customers pinging you on these days? Is it consolidation, federation, cost control?
SK: I would say all of the above along with the need to manage the additional applications they have bought that need to be integrated. CA is about managing associated complexity whether you're dealing with an in-house application, a purchased application, data warehousing or moving data across the enterprise. When you're duplicating data, you need to manage that from a performance standpoint, from a modeling standpoint, from an availability, backup and recovery standpoint. All these things are happening as the complexity of the data is growing dramatically.
DMR: There's a contradiction here in that corporations are trying to understand their assets - what they are, where they are - and at the same time they seem to be buying new applications all the time.
SK: I agree, this is a cycle I've seen throughout my career: centralize, decentralize and centralize again. Our customers also want to standardize, but at the same time they're buying additional database types. Whether it's open source or SQL Server pushing on the enterprise, there are new applications and new opportunities that have to be managed in the context of business driving the solution.
DMR: Your EITM [enterprise IT management] strategy seems pointed toward business control of outcomes. As an infrastructure product provider, are you getting the attention of business decision-makers?
SK: We're very engaged with the business at high levels, starting with CIO and COO problems when it comes to service-level objectives for those people and their customers. A good example is IT compliance and Sarbanes-Oxley. Is that more of a business discussion or is it an IT discussion? It depends on whom you are talking to. The CIO's objective is to align IT with business, and so those types of people are going to be at the table.
DMR: How do customers look at CA's infrastructure products as a cost of doing business versus something that delivers ROI?
SK: I'll give you an example of driving competitive advantage using our technology. We serve all vertical markets, but the biggest is probably financial services, where organizations are heavily involved in the Internet and heavily burdened with high-transaction rate systems running behind the scenes. Using our DB2 performance tool, for example, we can allow those companies to gain the performance that drives the best transaction through rates and x amount of revenue through each transaction by using our tools. Keeping the databases humming allows them to generate more revenue. That's just one example.
DMR: How are CA's newer products and upgrades keeping up with the times?
SK: Our biggest opportunities are driven by the database vendors themselves. They are increasing functionality and performance, and with their new database releases and upgrades to database engines come additional opportunities to manage the environment. For instance, there is XML support in the latest DB2 release. With that comes the opportunity to support and exploit the opportunities of XML that IBM surely believes in. The current DB2 release has partitioning independence, where you're able to identify or recover an individual table space partition. The challenge that comes with that is how to manage, back up and restore that; it's almost like an insurance policy. As for newer products, one of the things that we're doing in order to unify and simplify is our DCC, our Database Command Center. That's a Web-based thin client using our portal technology under the covers that is going to be our unification point for all database management, save the modeling product, which is Windows based.
DMR: Hopefully, at the same time you'd be making life easier for DBAs and other understaffed IT resources.
SK: Well, you have to say that the roles of the database designer and business analyst have become more complex and a greater challenge. They have the same responsibilities as in the past, yet new skills are required. That goes back to simplifying and reducing costs, and the only way you do that is by having better tools. But ask any DBA today and I'm sure they'll say they have less staff, have to do more with more data and, by the way, they now have to address Oracle or SQL Server. I saw one statistic that said that by 2010 we'll need 64 percent more DBAs than we have today based on the labor pool retiring and the shortage of people entering IT. When we look at a statistic like that, we kind of worry about it and then get excited about it because that's our market opportunity.
DMR: How do you feel about the new proliferation of software as a service (SaaS), application service hosting, infrastructure hosting and so forth?
SK: We don't provide those kinds of services, but as a product company, we fully support the market. Service providers also need tools to manage their IT infrastructures. Whether it's network performance, systems performance or database performance, we absolutely see that as an opportunity - providing the enabling technology - to support that environment moving forward.
DMR: Do you see the SaaS market taking off as others are predicting?
SK: It is one of those hot buttons in certain areas, but it's also very hard to hand off the function of the DBA. There's a corporate authorization and trust level given to the DBA that makes it very difficult to provide that capability as a service whereas a function like CRM [customer relationship management] is more easily done that way. It's not to say we haven't seen people outsource the DBA function, and infrastructure outsourcers are some of our biggest customers. But I also know of examples where companies will remain nameless but it hasn't worked out real well because of the capability of the outsourcer.
For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Database/Application Performance, Enterprise Achitecture and Software as a Service.
Jim Ericson is editor in chief of Business Intelligence Review (www.bireview.com) and editorial director of DM Review, SourceMedia publications. You can reach him at James.Ericson@sourcemedia.com.