CA lays foundation for greater systems automation

CA this week revealed details about its multiyear plans to better connect its disparate product suites so that customers can automate more complex activities, reduce costs and keep IT humming in tune with business objectives.

Dubbed "intelligent automation," CA's technology goals call for shifting its network and systems management, security and other products from using (in some cases) a server and distributed agent-based model to a service-oriented architecture (SOA) environment. XML would be a communications method among CA and third-party software and systems, said Al Nugent , CA CTO and executive vice president, during a keynote presentation at the company's annual CA World user conference.

The technology, Nugent said, would decentralize management software and provide policy-based exception management in an on-demand manner -- capabilities that are better suited to evolving customer environments.

"You can no longer bring everything into one place and manage from it. A centralized approach will not work, and by no means will customer environments only require one tool," Nugent said. "In customer environments of on-demand everything, the management system has to be more reliable and available than everything else."

CA's intelligent automation technology is still in development within CA's office of the CTO, and the company expects to share more details and begin delivering related products in the next 12 months. But CA said it has delivered on foundational elements that represent the beginnings of its move toward greater automation.

CA's work in the past two years related to  integrating its products and providing a configuration management database are among several efforts to enable this bigger automation strategy, industry watchers say.

"CA has been forcing all its product groups to be Web services compliant, restructuring how the products store and share data. A lot of incremental progress has been made," says Jasmine Noel, a principal analyst with Ptak, Noel and Associates. "Ultimately, CA is trying to get away from the idea that you manage technology individually. It has to be managed based on business services and processes across a company, whatever the end user is seeing and cares most about."

To that end, the company announced its Unified Service Model at the show and explained that it would enable multiple products to use common data formats, event languages and communications methods so that it's easier for software to correlate disparate events and trigger automated remediation. The service model proposes to build a library, or database, of IT services based on IT assets, their interrelationships, associated business processes, user connections and roles, and the financial value and costs associated with an IT asset. The model would serve as a blueprint for CA and other software products to ensure IT is being managed in line with preset business priorities.

"CA realizes it has to start pulling the pieces of its product portfolio more closely together and there are a lot of ways to drive incremental value from these platforms, such as integrating workflows, encapsulating processes and, certainly as virtualization and SOA take hold, providing automation," says Stephen Elliot, a senior analyst with IDC.

Intelligent automation incorporates SOA , policy and identity in ways that Nugent said CA has not explored in the past. CA is leveraging SOA for its internal development and recognizes that most customer environments will remain "hybrid" in that they will support SOA, packaged, monolithic, distributed and Web-based applications. For CA, that means the technology it delivers to govern, manage and secure IT -- the company's newly announced mantra -- will require an SOA reference architecture, or backplane, behind the scenes. CA is not going so far as to build an enterprise service bus, but the premise is similar, analysts says

"Businesses look to SOA to make them more flexible, and CA is also looking to SOA for that reason, but to make IT more flexible. CA is making the case that an IT organization should be a flexible entity that operates based on processes that stretch across servers, networks, applications, storage and end users," says Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink.

The company also intends to adopt XML as the standard language of this new approach, saying proprietary data and event formats limit today's tools from efficiently interacting.

"Solving these communications problems among products is not going to be easy, so I am glad to see CA has latched on to using Web services and XML. It shows the company realizes that CA is not going to run the entire IT organization for its customers," Noel adds.

In practice, the next generation of CA products would be able to capture raw event data from multiple vendors' products, translate the data into a common format and apply consistent analytics -- the results of which would be compared against predefined policies that could trigger automated actions. IT or business managers could update these policies, which would utilize a "federated policy mechanism" that Nugent said CA is in the process of inventing.

"The policy content would reside with stakeholders, and policies could be personalized for specific assets and associated resources," Nugent said.

In addition, CA's intelligent automation plans call for associating identity with policies. For instance, a CFO may have access to certain systems that others do not. However a user's role isn't the only determinant. Access to a certain server within the firewall might be allowable, but the same access outside of the firewall would be limited on even the CFO's laptop, Nugent explained.

"Composite identities would include a lot of data that cannot be managed as individual elements. Identity has to be managed at a high level, incorporating assets, users, location, configuration and more," he said.

CA is not alone among management vendors looking to update how customers tap their technology. Competitors such as BMC also have adopted a service model in their management approach. HP owns similar enterprise service bus and SOA technology as the result of its Mercury Interactive buy, and IBM Tivoli has potential management access to customers already using IBM software to build SOA applications.

"The vendors seem to know that customers cannot continue with the management tools they have. It's just not possible," Noel says.

CA's intelligent automation strategy resonates with existing CA customers who say the vendor is working to take on a broader technology role within their organizations.

Laura Leitzinger, senior vice president of change and risk management at OppenheimerFunds, said CA software products -- Unicenter for IT management and Clarity for IT governance -- align well with her company's IT Infrastructure Library best practice adoption. Using CA software, Leitzinger said her organization is expected to be able to move 15 percent of its budget from IT support and maintenance activities to projects that could contribute to business innovation.

"Our efforts around IT governance allowed us to enable a better dialogue with the business about where we were spending our time and budget that ultimately enabled us to make better tool and technology selections," Leitzinger said.

Charles Carroll, senior vice president of AXA Tech, an IT provider for financial services firm AXA Group, said his organization has gone from 17 data centers to seven using technologies such as virtualization. He believes CA, being his organization's second-largest software vendor, will help him eliminate manual labor by enabling his group to automate 30 percent of low-level IT tasks to start, and then 70 percent of those actions as automation technologies and efforts progress.

"On the infrastructure side, we have been working to consolidate our footprint, and our next big push will be toward automation," Carroll said. "Automation frees up money on the infrastructure side, which can be put toward applications and innovation."

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