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CA's new strategy: build on Unicenter

Computer Associates is as hot as a bevy of cajun spices. CA's chief strategist tells why.

New Orleans--Computer Associates (CA) is as hot as a bevy of cajun spices.

The company's stock is booming, its CA World 97 user conference has attracted 25,000 devotees, and a new strategy for its flagship management software offering has garnered the support of heavy-hitters such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Digital Equipment.

CNET's NEWS.COM talked with CA's Marc Sokol, senior vice president of advanced technology, to discuss the debut of a new stripped-down framework for the Unicenter enterprise management platform at the show, the slow death of long-held perceptions about the company, and the state of the booming enterprise network and systems management software market.

NEWS.COM: How does CA, a $4 billion player, continue to expand its role in the industry?
SOKOL: On the growth side, I think our goal is to turn Unicenter into the kind of platform that Microsoft Windows is on the desktop. I'm not talking about technically doing that, I'm talking about building an industry around Unicenter. I think the framework is the second step toward that. I think the fact that we are now going to be able to make Unicenter ubiquitous by driving the cost of Unicenter down and raising its value and then selling management applications that sit on top of it is a strategy that worked very well for Microsoft with Office, for example. To show how open the framework is, we have to have competitive products on there, we have to have another single sign-on product, we have to have another scheduling product--that's fine, we'll build on the framework and compete head-to-head when we go to the customer.

NEWS.COM: What other things can users expect from CA in carrying out this Windows-style strategy?
SOKOL: What people are going to recognize is the delivery of the non-Windows NT user interface--this browser-based interface. It'll be due soon. The use of Unicenter for non-computing devices more and more will show its ubiquity to a certain extent in managing telephone switches and meters and things like that. I think that as Jasmine multimedia database rolls out, the intertwining of Jasmine technology and Unicenter technology will spread it even further.

NEWS.COM: CA is not the best-known $4 billion company. How would you explain what CA provides?
SOKOL: The goal is for us to basically provide the software infrastructure to allow you to develop, deploy, and manage software and your computing environment. To a certain extent, we're kind of like an insurance policy for our clients. One thing you can't depend on is what platforms, what operating systems, what devices you're going to be using in the next five years. And we provide a guarantee, if you will, that no matter what they are, if they are in use, if they're something that our clients want, we will support them. If you build on top of our infrastructure, we will support the platforms you have.

NEWS.COM: CA officials are quick to note that Unicenter is the "de facto" standard enterprise management platform in the industry. What evidence is there to support that?
SOKOL: There's a lot of indicators. The first indicator is that, although we don't announce revenue by product, Wall Street has basically estimated that we did a billion dollars with Unicenter alone in our fiscal year which ended at the end of March. The other indicator is research companies like International Data Corporation show us with something like 70-odd percent market share. In any case, we are dramatically ahead of everyone else. Just the framework release alone is going to ship over a million copies in the next year. I think we are breaking new ground. It's not a question of us competing deal for deal with other companies.

NEWS.COM: Several analysts have noted that there seems to be a pitched battle between you and IBM subsidiary Tivoli Systems. Is that how you see things shaking out in this space?
SOKOL: IBM is a very large hardware company with a lot of sales people. They have a growing services business. Where we see Tivoli is on deals where IBM basically throws the software in and throws the services in to get the deal. If IBM is outsourcing a large company to its Global Services organization, lo and behold, they pick Tivoli. But in the cases where IBM hardware is not involved, we hardly ever see them. What I like to say is that if Tivoli brought in no revenue next year it would have almost no effect on IBM's bottom line and have no effect on their top line. It's just an afterthought really to the IBM hardware guys.

NEWS.COM: CA executives have said 60 percent of revenue still comes from the company's mainframe-based products. What is an optimal percentage for client-server-based software?
SOKOL: We hope that with client-server growing so fast that within five years it will be 75 percent of our revenue. And it's not that our mainframe revenue is not growing--it's growing high single digits. In most industries, people would say "that's pretty awesome," but client-server is growing at an unbelievable rate. Mainframe revenue will be there for a very, very long time. The total number of mainframes shipped is not growing, but the total size of those mainframes is growing. That really affects us.

NEWS.COM: How do you fight the perception that CA remains a mainframe-centric company?
SOKOL: If Unicenter itself was a separate company, the revenue from it would make us one of the top-ten software companies in the world. I think it takes a very long time to lose an image that is so ingrained in the public, but I think we'll just plod along and show people what we can deliver.