Mainframe Users Eye Distributed Mgmt. with Caution

LAS VEGAS (05/24/2000) - Despite record-high desert temperatures outside, users at the BMC Assurance 2000 conference here remained cool and cautious to the promise of mainframe-level management services in distributed networks.

"Everything is so well organized on the mainframe. And our networked systems are still pretty new, so our expectations about performance and capacity management are still uncertain," said Gale Warren, data services assistant manager at The Washington Post Co. in Washington.

Warren, who has 20 years of experience on the mainframe side, said part of the problem is that the tools offered by companies like BMC Software Inc. are mostly new to mainframe users and seem difficult to use.

Doug Case, senior capacity planner at American Family Insurance in Madison, Wisconsin, agreed. "It's not real intuitive out of the box. There's a steep learning curve," he said.

Nevertheless, Case said the payoff will be there. He cited an instance where capacity planning analysis revealed an in-house application would fail if deployed. The project was canned, saving $1.5 million in hardware and support costs at the Fortune 500 home and automobile insurer.

Vendors such as BMC say their management software can help companies get a handle on distributed applications and ensure high levels of service.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee took more than two months to make BMC's Patrol software available on its 8.5-terabyte Sybase database running on RS/6000 AIX systems, according to Rob Jennings, system administrator at the Chattanooga-based health insurance company. However, "once it was up and running, it was annoying people at night; paging them on their day off. It was great," he said. While auditors questioned using the management software, he said, the software's ability to predict capacity problems and prevent downtime for 2,000 users of the database established its value for the company.

Health care insurer Wellpoint Health Network Inc. in Thousand Oaks, California, is evaluating a server consolidation program for its business-critical applications around IBM's S/390 system in part because of its superior management tools.

Donald Cleveland, senior systems engineer at Wellpoint, said it's "extremely difficult to measure, monitor and manage" distributed systems at the level that you can a mainframe, which, along with cost issues, is helping the company reconsider its server strategy.

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