It’s time to revise way IT functions

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Just about every one of us who uses a computer is interconnected. In large business enterprises, in government, in schools and colleges, we’re all dependent upon networked systems and those systems must grow.

Alan F. Nugent, chief technical officer of CA Inc., the Islandia, New York-based multibillion-dollar software firm once known as Computer Associates, says CA’s goal now is to let companies run their information technology departments “like a business.”

That sounds easy, of course, but there are many speed bumps. Information technology is often most concerned with fixing problems. Systems break down or they are placed in high-demand situations.

Consider, for example, Victoria’s Secret. Web traffic surged heavily after Victoria TV commercials were broadcast. But without enough capacity and flexibility built into the computer operations, customers hoping to visit the firm’s Web site were disappointed. And, as is taught in Marketing 101, disappointed customers don’t buy a lot.

The problem, Mr. Nugent pointed out in an interview last week, is not just computers tapping into the Internet. It’s your cell phone, Xbox 360, BlackBerry, Apple IPhone and your computer that are all online.

And while computer-to-Internet connections remain at a relatively flat level, he said, the number of other devices trying to phone home is “growing exponentially,” making for a complex landscape to manage.

That complexity comes from the little “pings,” or “incidents,” that connected devices send across the network to the systems to which they are linked. Some of those incidents merely tell the host system, “Hey, I’m here.” Others are commands or requests. All mean more traffic and more messages to be sorted out.

As a result, Mr. Nugent noted, the “increase in information that needs to be captured goes up by two orders of magnitude. It’s getting to a point where you have to handle billions of incidents per second. And a new approach has to be developed.”

According to Mr. Nugent, it’s “silly to think that one could create that single system in the sky that knows how to manage all of this stuff.”

Instead, he says, “you need to create an architecture that is as diffuse as the customer’s technology, and place the little chunks of technology, software, out close to the things which have to be managed.”

Creating IT management architectures is the kind of thing CA has been doing for a while with its “Command Center” software concept, which creates a “portal,” or screen display, containing the various tools needed to manage the tasks at hand.

Result: fewer bodies needed to manage IT emergencies. “Roughly 80 cents of every dollar of IT budget spent on technology is spent treading water, keeping the lights on,” Mr. Nugent added.

“The yin and the yang of this, is 20 percent [of IT spending] is spent on strategic initiatives,” he said. “If we could free up half of the people involved in that [maintenance-spending] 80 percent, they can work on things which are strategic to the business. Why not have those technology resources to be available to pursue things more important to the business than, ‘Is that server running?’ ”

CA’s approach, called “Intelligent Automation,” is discussed in various places on the www.ca.com Web site. I have the sense we’ll hear more about it in the months to come, as Al Nugent evangelizes this view within the industry at home and globally.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech blog at ww.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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