CA recently announced "a series of initiatives to help customers derive maximum long-term business value from their significant investments in mainframe computing technology." Vince Re, CA's chief architect, talks about the importance of the mainframe to CA, and why it's decided to re-package its software and drop its prices.
Q: Why are we talking about the CA and the mainframe now? A: We want to reconnect with our customers - we never went away. We're the dominant player in security management of mainframes - it constitutes 60 percent of CA's revenues. And all large mainframe sites run our products. In the eight to nine markets we compete in around the mainframe, we are number one in almost all of them. Customers like to have a non-IBM vendor there.
Q: Why are mainframes proving so popular? A: Large customers are re-committing to the mainframe - they understand that their business depends on it. The driver is cost. The cost of entry looks expensive but in terms of cost per transaction it's cheap. Compare it to Unix, Linux or Windows, the mainframe wins hands down. Sure, you need a certain volume, you need to be a large organisation with lots of work to do to keep utilisation at 80 percent, running 24 hours a day, but once over that hurdle it's the obvious place to host commercial data.
And the platform is growing by 20 percent a year. That means there are opportunities for us and for IBM.
IBM says this as does IDC - mainframe market share is growing in terms of large server sales by which I mean $250,000 and up. HP and Sun also compete there, as do Fujitsu, Siemens and others.
Q: How do you account for this level of growth? A: IDC data shows the IBM trend line is up. It reflects the decline in Sun's business - we see IBM growing, with Fujitsu etc, flat. Sun's hardware business is flat but it's hard to relate that to the rest of Sun's business - ie software and storage. It'll take them time to recover - if they can recover, it's an open question. Also there's a question about their longer term viability but I'd like to think they'll sort it out. Sun's a large company with plenty of resources.
Q: How much of that is down to trends in distributed servers which seem to be all about making smaller servers look like mainframes. I'm talking about technology such as virtualisation, issues such as power, cooling and consolidation. A: Mainframe systems have been virtualised since 1967 and customers are very comfortable doing that and get the benefit of high utilisation. So an Oracle database is just as expensive running off small servers as a mainframe once you add fault tolerance and high availability to the equation, especially if you consider migration from a mainframe.
There are also green issues where the mainframe really excels in terms of transactions per kilowatt. You can get amazing amounts of capacity in a small space. In urban settings, customers go down the blade route and then find they can't grow their datacentre because there's no more power to be had.
A mainframe can solve the problem overnight. It delivers 10 to 20 times the energy efficiency compared to distributed servers. IBM trialled it in-house and saved $250 million over three to five years because of savings in software and power.
Q: Why has CA decided to re-package its mainframe software offerings? A: Our new strategy is multi-dimensional. It's about the relationship with the customer, understanding what he's running and helping him get as much as possible out of what he's got. We need to demonstrate value and help him get value out of his existing infrastructure.
Pricing is a big part of it, helps him get good RoI. The perception is that software is too expensive which we want to attack head on. We'll help customers understand how to use the products so we need to understand their business. We help them optimise their products which then leads us onto new solutions and innovations.
Q: So we're talking a price reduction? A: It's not price reduction but there has to be a fairness there - we have to simplify what we've done. We've cut complex deals with customers include hundreds of products so we want to untangle this and help customer understand value their getting from the software.
We're talking about simpler deals - there are so many products it's difficult to understand them all individually. We're trending towards suites which means we give you one thing to think about rather than 20. You don't want to think about 10 products but a collection with a fair price. Security is a good example. We have industry-leading products but now we've started delivering a security suite.
Q: But what's in it for CA? A: It is going to mean it'll cost customers substantially less money because of grouping of products. This makes our packaging simpler, cuts customer support and helpdesk costs. We need to get more aggressive as a response to what customers are saying, when they're comparing our products from IBM and others.