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Thin clients not the answer

Tivoli exec Frank Moss used his N+I keynote to scoff at claims that "thin clients" and Java-based computing will make network management easier.

    ATLANTA--For all of Frank Moss's pessimism, you would think he was at the helm of a sinking ship, not the big cheese of fast-growing Tivoli Systems, the enterprise management software subsidiary of IBM (IBM).

    During the course of his Networld+Interop keynote here this morning, Moss said the network management software industry has not done a good job so far in addressing the concerns of enterprise corporate network administrators.

    Furthermore, Moss scoffed at claims that "thin clients" and computing based on Java will make management of far-reaching networks and systems easier.

    "Don't believe it for a minute," said Moss to a mostly-filled hall.

    He said this despite the fact that his parent company, IBM, has made huge investments in Java and a variety of network-based computing schemes that minimize the complexity of client machines.

    But then, Tivoli has made it clear since its acquisition by Big Blue 18 months ago for about $750 million that it would remain a fiercely independent entity within IBM's sometimes stiff and bureaucratic structure.

    Why was Moss criticizing the same industry that has made his company millions and left it in a position to battle Computer Associates and Hewlett-Packard for dominance in the enterprise management software market?

    The lanky CEO sketched a history of the management software in which infighting and complexity have dominated, at the expense of standards for communication between tools and simplicity for customers.

    "It is time to lay down our weapons, in terms of basic infrastructures and basic protocols," he said.

    But Moss sees a light at the end of the tunnel beginning next year, when he believes the management industry will finally turn the corner and ease of installation, fast return on investment, and open platforms will become prevalent.

    It just so happens that Tivoli has a road map for the next 18 months that Moss noted will take customers to this management "nirvana." In keeping with a similar road map introduced when the company was acquired by IBM, the feisty Austin, Texas-based firm will publish another such "manifesto" in the next three to four months to make it clear to customers where Tivoli is taking them.

    Among the highlights: A Java-based management framework of applications and agents for Tivoli's core TME 10 line of management products and mainframe and push technology integration via Marimba by the first half of next year. By the second half, users can expect a pure implementation of this Java framework, combining workflow capabilities through the recent acquisition of Unison Software and network management services.

    By the first half of 1999, Moss said Tivoli will no longer offer complex management applications, relying on applets to manage specific network elements. He also said the company's Global Enterprise Manager (GEM) tool will have an "auto-pilot" mode, minimizing the need for hands-on administration.

    By 2005, Moss predicted, network management functions will become part of the overall system, negating the very need for companies such as Tivoli to exist.

    For now, users will have to make do--a fact that is not lost on Tivoli, since it used the occasion of this fall's trade show to introduce the latest version of TME NetView, a suite of network and mainframe management tools it has integrated from IBM's network management division. The new version offers users a browser-based interface for NetView's applications.

    In an interview following his remarks, Moss said that in his discussions with IBM customers who are implementing the company's network computers, he has found that they are simply being added to a heterogeneous network environment, therefore nullifying any simplicity gains.

    The straight-talking CEO also said he hoped that Tivoli's European business would be 50 percent of revenue by next year, up from about 10 percent at the time of the IBM merger.

    He said the company would increasingly focus on small and medium-sized businesses next year with a new set of tools that bridge the gap between typical suites for local networks and enterprise-wide management platforms.