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CA's NT claims under fire

Competitors say the management software powerhouse distorted the nature of its third-party relationship with Microsoft.

    NEW ORLEANS--Competitors of management software powerhouse Computer Associates (CA) believe the company has purposefully distorted the nature of its third-party relationship with Microsoft to sway customers in a hotly contested market.

    IBM subsidiary Tivoli Systems and CA are locked in an often-heated battle to sell their own flavors of enterprise management software to large corporations.

    Tivoli contends that CA has blown the partnership deal with Microsoft out of proportion at its annual CA World user conference this week, muddling fact with fiction and offering "serious spin" to customers, according to one executive.

    Stretching the truth about the capabilities of products and the closeness of ties with large firms is certainly nothing new in the computer industry, but Tivoli contends that CA's statements this week concerning its partnerships with Microsoft are inaccurate.

    "I think they've gone a little too far," said Martin Neath, senior vice president of Tivoli's products group.

    CA announced that an interface from its Unicenter TNG management software product optimized for Web-based data viewing will ship with the next version of Microsoft's Windows NT server. In making the announcement, CA chairman and chief executive Charles Wang said the deal essentially offered customers a version of the TNG Framework with every copy of NT.

    In comments at the same press conference in which Wang spoke, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates highlighted the fact that CA's Real World Interface for Windows NT software was the only third-party management application currently bundled into the fast-growing operating system.

    But Tivoli executives point out a big difference between bundling a copy of CA's TNG Framework software--essentially a free set of basic management services that customers can build on--and adding an interface specifically to view Web-based data.

    "The Real World Interface is not going to help a customer manage NT better," Neath observed. "It's marketing hype, but it really doesn't offer a tremendous amount of value."

    At stake is the perception of customers who are increasingly turning to management software to alleviate the headaches of running networks of PCs, systems, devices, and applications. If one company is perceived to be closer to Microsoft--the dominant player in software--more sales could swing toward that firm.

    Tivoli, as well as a slew of third parties, announced software support for Windows NT 5.0 earlier this week. A management "agent" from the company will be bundled into the operating system, the difference being that Tivoli's technology will allow its users to gain a view of what is going on within an NT-based system while CA's interface will allow for management of Web-based data from NT machines.

    Caught in the middle is Microsoft, which has long been in the business of partnering with anyone who has a stake in adding tools and services to the company's various software applications.

    "I think Microsoft is very careful when we work with partners," said Victor Raisys, product manager for systems management infrastructure and products at the company. "I think there are a number of different elements involved in a partnership and I think Microsoft is sensitive to those."

    Microsoft and Tivoli have also partnered to make sure Tivoli's TME 10 software package can manage Microsoft's products effectively.

    Microsoft executives said the dueling management software firms are providing users of NT with different functions.

    "They provide customers with two different things," Raisys said. "As far as I am aware, the Real World Interface is the only third-party management application that is on NT server. It's not the only third-party code that's included."

    Analysts believe CA's success at deploying versions of the TNG Framework on a variety of third-party machines and its newfound focus on providing function-specific management software for small and medium-sized businesses could leave Tivoli in a tough position.

    "This has got to be putting them on the defensive," said R. Paul Mason, vice president of infrastructure software research for International Data Corporation. "It's a fair comment to say CA is beating them at their own game."

    "It's a bandwagon sort of thing," Mason continued. "They see the train leaving the station and they realize they'd better get on it."

    According to Mason's estimates, revenue from CA's Unicenter business approaches $1 billion, about twice as much revenue as IBM derives from Tivoli's TME 10 set of competitive management tools.

    "It's a very large market and growing rapidly and there's no dominant vendor," Tivoli's Neath said. "In those kinds of markets, you're going to get some competition. I think CA has been very focused on Tivoli even when we were a small private company."

    CA believes it has no peer in the market and has remained confident of its strategy, even when Tivoli gained the muscle of IBM when it was acquired in 1996. "I may be able to see them in my rearview mirror," chuckled Marc Sokol, CA's senior vice president of advanced technology.