Users keen on the new version of CA's Unicenter

Beta-version users are applauding the latest release of Computer Associates International Inc.'s management framework software, saying the more modular design makes it easier to implement and use.

CA last week introduced Unicenter 3.0, formerly called Unicenter TNG/TND, to approximately 10,000 attendees at its CA World users conference in Orlando. CA says it rebuilt the Unicenter architecture so customers could pick and choose from the different network and systems management components, rather than implement the whole package.

"CA is definitely slimming down its offerings," says Jasmine Noel, an analyst with Hurwitz Group. She says CA tried "to do everything at once" with former versions but now has listened to users who report "they need to get certain pieces up and running in a reasonable time frame" and users who don't want all their network software coming from one company.

Sallie Mae's Jeffrey Rhoads says his priority at the financial services company is keeping the customer help desk running efficiently. His tests with Version 3.0 show that it shares trouble-ticket data with just the automated help desk software. In the past, he was not able to share data without "opening up all the data in Unicenter to everyone," says Rhoads, who is manager of technology projects and planning at the company.

Users can now purchase any or all of the six components of Unicenter, pieces that manage networks and systems, administration and operations, IT performance, databases, Web infrastructure or applications. The core is still a framework, but users need fewer pieces to garner the benefits.

Unbundling the software also makes CA's price more appealing to smaller companies, says Dennis Drogseth, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. Whereas CA's framework pricing had users committing millions of dollars to software, pricing for the company's new suite offerings can start as low as US$20,000 to $50,000, he says.

Among new features in Unicenter 3.0 are customizable management portals, root-cause analysis and cluster management.

Don Meynig, director of information management for the U.S. Army Materiel Command, says the new management portals help him show his managers how the software is making "more from less" for the federal government.

"[Unicenter] is helping us reduce our support staff and still maintain our customer needs," he says. Meynig created portals for his superiors to view information about how the network is affecting other aspects of the government agency.

Sorrel Jakins, associate director of infrastructure engineering at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, says his tests of Unicenter 3.0 show the new version makes it simpler for student employees without much expertise to spot problems. He points to the new visualization feature, which performs root-cause analysis, removing duplicate alarms and isolating the source of network problems on a screen for network managers.

But the new features have only just been tested, and Hurwitz analyst Rich Ptak points out that CA competitors Tivoli Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have made similar promises of modularity, while BMC recently promised root-cause analysis in its Patrol products.

"These companies will have to differentiate themselves in the execution, and that'll be at least another six months before we know who does what they say they will do," Ptak says.

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