CA pushes out Sonar technology

Delivering on its automated systems management technology road map, Computer Associates International Inc. has quietly begun shipping a new product that promises to collect network and systems management data through a technology stack and boost system visualization and analysis operations.

Dubbed Network Forensics, this is one of the first products to be rolled out as part of the Sonar technology CA began to demonstrate at its CA World 2003 conference in Las Vegas. Sonar, which is enabled in part by software that CA acquired last summer from defense contractor Raytheon Co., deconstructs any bit of traffic or content on a network, such as an e-mail or a database transaction, and maps it to its physical location in the network.

That, according to Mark Barrenechea, the recently appointed senior vice president of product development at CA, helps IT staffers better understand its function relative to the overall business.

"Sonar sniffs the seven layers of the network," Barrenechea said. Ultimately, CA believes the technology will enable a more sophisticated and highly automated way to dynamically exploit enterprise hardware resources on demand. Those resources will most likely be built around low-cost Linux blade servers, reducing IT head count and costs.

Network Forensics, which officially shipped last week, can collect information about network traffic and content, analyze it and report it back to the Unicenter management console.

According to Barrenechea, Network Forensics could detect whether someone had sent an inappropriate file such as e-mail or source code. The application would run on a network server and IT staff would designate on what parts of a network to collect information.

In the same vein, CA is working on an allied product called Network Diagnostics, due out early next year, which can "look at patterns of network behavior" in real time, map out traffic, compare it to historic data and establish performance benchmarks, Barrenechea said. That, in turn, can be used to create alarms if preset parameters are violated.

By creating a virtual topology of a network, the software can detect where aberrations -- such as an unauthorized Web server -- might be causing problems in performance, he explained.

Also in the wings is Business Process Maps, which will allow IT staff to see enterprise assets that are supporting a given operation over a network "with minimal to no labor," Barrenechea said. That will bolster management operations, boost resource availability and enable modeling and network segmentation by business process.

A Business Process Map could, for instance, follow the path of a purchase order through the IP routers to the database logging the transaction. And if there's a glitch, it could pinpoint what happened and recommend changes to correct the situation.

That application should be available in the first half of 2004, said Barrenechea.

According to Rich Ptak, an analyst at consulting firm Ptak & Associates Inc. in Amherst, N.H., the Network Forensics tool will allow network administrators to analyze traffic or content patterns in a network to pinpoint real or potential glitches, as well as help visualize the network data flows. This is an important move by CA into automated, intelligent analysis of network operations that ties performance to business service delivery, said Ptak in a note.

He said this could prove a key competitive differentiator for CA in infrastructure management.

Matt Hamblen contributed to this story.

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