BMC technology chief talks about Tivoli, database plans

BMC Software has named Tom Bishop as its chief technology officer, putting him in charge of product vision and direction. The 20-year industry veteran served as CTO at Tivoli Software before it became a part of IBM and for three years after the acquisition. Most recently, he was CTO at Vieo Inc. Here he talks to US Computerworld's Matt Hamblen

Why BMC?

I had looked at a number of opportunities, and what BMC offered was the most interesting. There were many factors, not the least of which was the quality of the team and the drive and vision of the management team. Also, there is the opportunity of BMC going ahead with the Business Service Management initiative. I'm interested in driving that vision forward.

You have insight into Tivoli, a major BMC competitor, with your experience as CTO there, right?

I joined Tivoli when it was quite small in early 1994, and in 18 months, it had become a public company. One year after it became public, we were acquired by IBM. So I was the IBM Tivoli CTO from 1996 to 99.

Why did you leave Tivoli?

I really wanted some things that were more cutting-edge. ... I have long believed that one of the biggest problems with systems management is that it's very complex and just too damn hard. That's been one theme running through my head the last few years. ... At Tivoli, nothing would compare with what BMC has had for several years.

Then you went to Vieo, which does systems management?

At Vieo, I was trying to build a data centre automation application, and we got into systems and network management. I was able to prove out concepts at Vieo and gain appreciation for how this market was going to evolve. But I found that large customer organizations are very reluctant to entrust major software management to a start-up company, which was part of my decision to come to BMC.

The challenge is to find a company big enough to have staying power and the trust of customers to evolve IT infrastructure to take advantage of virtualization and automation, yet still be nimble. Some companies are plain too big, and one of the companies I talked with -- Computer Associates -- just seemed too big.

Everybody says the concept behind what BMC calls Business Service Management is important, but why?

The answer's rather straightforward. For the longest time, what happened in IT organizations was insulated from business structures. I might have a large grocery chain, and what do they do? They sell groceries. While point-of-sale was getting interesting in the mid-90s, for most of that industry what IT did wasn't related to the business other than point-of-sale. Yet today, with eBay and Amazon, when their IT infrastructures suffer, their business suffers tangibly. More and more businesses find that IT infrastructure is critical. As the Internet has evolved, the business criticality of whatever IT infrastructure is appropriate has taken on business importance.

IT needs to be managed as a business system, and we've known that for 10 years. Very few businesses wouldn't be in real trouble if IT went down for a few days.

I'm sure you'd like to talk this over with Nicholas Carr, who's famous for his articles raising questions about IT's place in the world.

What Nicholas Carr has said is provocative, and it's fun to make extreme statements and watch people react to those extreme statements. IT is going through fundamental shifts, and people do need to react. You may well find, as IT becomes critical, it will become a core competence.

EBay is a poster child for that idea, whereas there are many businesses that say IT should be outsourced because it's so important. When Carr says IT doesn't matter, he means there's a fundamental shift under way about how to think about IT. We don't have to own it ourselves and still make sure it's meeting the needs of the business.

IBM has announced a federated Configuration Management Database (CMDB), saying that it is the only truly federated one.

BMC's CMDB was announced in January and is also federated. Ours has to be federated, and the requirement to federate has to come from the ability to deploy independent products. The only answer is to federate. The easiest example of what it means to federate is to look at the Domain Name System, which is also a federated database. To make addressing work, they had to recognize there would be all these authoritative systems and be able to manage it. Systems management is no different. All that a CMDB does is give you some way to view information and see it in some uniform way.

BMC has been on this theme for a very long time. Remember the early days of Windows, with every document with its separate [initialization] file? They finally figured out the need for a common registry.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library recognized this database was a core requirement, and it has taken various groups a while to catch up. You can't do Business Service Management without a systems view. CMDB is like a data warehouse insofar as it can be viewed as a way to get disparate data from disparate management tools.

When IBM says it has the truly federated CMDB, it doesn't understand what BMC has. It is trying to point to differences when none exist.

A big organization might have databases from both IBM and BMC or others, right?

The big organization would have both, sure.

But if you only wanted one database, why pick BMC's?

What makes BMC better is that we've been at it longer and have learnt lessons and our product is more mature. We have 65 customers already in production. IBM's is still slideware. The hard part is getting all the products to work together, and we have a head start.

You aren't charging for the CMDB?

That's correct; it's bundled with other products, and we're not specifically charging for it; who knows if we will charge in the future. But I'd be very surprised if we did so for the CMDB.

You've announced a Performance Manager product that merges Patrol and Patrol Express; how does that relate to the CMDB?

Next year, we're adding support of CMDB to Patrol products. That's been our intent all along.

BMC has a service-desk product, and IBM relies on third parties for that function. Is that important to customers?

Yes, it was a huge mistake when Tivoli sold its service-desk capability.

Regarding Business Service Management (BSM), are customers cottoning to the idea or not?

People have wanted it a very long time. People don't buy products in isolation, and when they adopt tools to do systems management, it has to be part of a strategy.

How many people are working on BSM at BMC?

About 200 people across lines of business.

What will be your role as CTO?

The CTO's job can be viewed as weighing up and out versus down and in, and you can't do one without the other. CTOs are in demand by big customers, so I'll be talking to BMC customers. But it's also a job of making sure that there's technology innovation internally.

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