Database Consolidation Provides Testbed for New Technology
Industry thinks fewer data centers will fuel client/server computing
P> The White House directive to close and consolidate small and mid-sized computer data centers by mid-1996 might reduce overhead and improve efficiency. But industry executives hope it will have a far more dramatic effect on the client/server industry.
In fact, they predict that client/server computing will evolve more quickly and rely more on tools to manage applications remotely. But for government employees, that means a tougher time accessing data.
The Office of Management and Budget directive requires that data centers have a base processing capability of 325 MIPS, or be folded into operations of another center. Obviously, most data centers -- which literally contain the data that keeps government running -- don't have that kind of processing power, and will lose their autonomy. What's more, most centers have been constructed around the DB2 and IMS, and use Sybase, Oracle, Informix, Lotus Notes and Ingres as interfaces to their databases.
That makes accessing data in a distributed environment a major problem. "The main point of the system is to store data. Applications are your way to the data," said Jon Coss, business development manager for Air Force and Navy Projects at BMC Software, McLean, Va., the nation's 12th largest software maker. "So if your system is up, but you have no way to the data, then the system is kind of worthless."
BMC, PLATINUM Technologies and others provide access to data with new data application management tools for federal clients.
"I honestly believe that with all of the customers I talk to we are definitely in the right place, at the right time, with the right product," said Coss. "Everyone jumped on client/server and thought it would be simple. It allows you to be heterogeneous and distributed. But people still need centralized management capability."
The $474 million contract to Loral Federal Systems Co. for the U.S. Army's Sustaining Base Information Services program proves the point. Loral uses BMC's PATROL software, a commercial, off-the-shelf software suite that enables systems administrators to automate management of databases and applications across many open systems environments.
The PATROL software features intelligent, autonomous agents, a management console and knowledge modules. These knowledge modules contain expertise about managing specific objects in the environment. Once a user provides the agent with product-specific information, the knowledge modules allow a single agent to manage all the components and objects connected to a specific server. This enables the system manager to monitor and manage common components.
It also can be customized to manage in-house applications. Information can be accessed anywhere, regardless of location, operating system, host processor, database management platform, network infrastructure or application software.
SBIS, which is subject to the OMB's new rule, provides information to an array of operating units in the Army, such as logistics, finance, personnel and training. Many hardware and software components will continually be added to the program, and the PATROL software, according to Loral, is a key to tying it all together.
The software's scalability also means it can be used on many platforms, from PCs to mainframes. But BMC is not alone in this offering, though it has snagged a major contract.
Federal software supplier PLATINUM Technology, which experienced 78 percent growth in its systems management business last year, also is forging a name for itself. The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based company's newest software product, introduced Feb. 20, is called PLATINUM AutoAction.
It is an operations automation solution that allows users to manage heterogeneous systems across a distributed network. The University of Pennsylvania uses it to process across multiple operating environments, executing tasks that keep the enterprise running smoothly.
"AutoAction allows us to centrally manage our distributed MVS and UNIX platforms," said Frank Heilig, technical project leader. "We have dramatically improved our operational efficiency with a 90 percent reduction in errors and a 30 percent improvement in schedule completion."
The university also uses AutoAction to manage distributed operations and automate the process of responding to crises on the system. "We have reduced system down time, eliminated staff intervention and increased productivity," said Heilig. "We're confident the software is a safe investment."
Available for UNIX, Windows NT, OS/2, OS/400, MVS and VSE platforms, PLATINUM AutoAction reportedly handles 99 percent of system and application messages and events without human intervention. The software recognizes, prioritizes and acts based on preset criteria. Systems can talk directly to one another but still operate independently.
Pricing for the package begins at $4,000, quite similar to BMC's product. PLATINUM, during the last 18 months, installed the software and related products in more than 250 customer sites. Close to 80 percent of the company's revenue growth in systems management comes from software such as this.
"We've exceeded our expectations," said Andrew Filipowski, president and CEO of PLATINUM. The company, which is pursuing the government market aggressively, also announced several other new products that support distributed computing.
Enterprise Performance Management monitors and manages relational databases and servers. Enterprise Automation automates operations in a distributed heterogeneous network, and Enterprise Chargeback is an integrated charge back and accounting system.
"We've replaced our existing job scheduling and tape management solutions with PLATINUM's systems management products," said Jerry Moore, support service manager, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which works extensively with federal agencies.
PLATINUM also recently formed alliances with Cabletron, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, PeopleSoft, Siemens Nixdorf, Pyramid Technologies and others to support these management solutions.
A spokesman for PLATINUM said the deals should bolster its position in the federal marketplace. As part of the OMB directive, managers in federal data centers must re-examine existing systems and processing models. This will increase productivity, and administer and integrate new resources that might be consolidated into their bailiwick.
Data and application management is, as part of the new program, supposed to achieve greater performance from systems that have been installed. Commercial, off-the-shelf technologies, such as those provided by BMC and PLATINUM, drastically expand the reach of federal database administrators.
This is crucial when organizations must accomplish more with fewer resources. "By making application expertise available off the shelf, application management tools allow organizations to truly manage the full heterogeneity of all installed resources, resulting in significant cost savings," said Coss of BMC.
Interestingly, although the federal data consolidation effort focuses on linking components, it invariably will foster geographic dispersion of managed data and application resources. What's more, organizations must configure these resources to deliver optimal performance to preserve communications bandwidth. Bandwidth issues will take on importance as the centers become more dispersed, and users will be far removed from the data and the data administrator.
To handle this, the White House OMB suggests that federal agencies explore the outsourcing of data centers to the private sector. This might lead to a fee-for-service model for the remaining data centers under the federal purview. Whatever the case, there will be a more competitive operating model for federal data centers.
The time line for these changes -- from consolidation to outsourcing -- is rather compressed. Federal agencies were to have completed their inventory of agency data centers by earlier this year. By June 3, they must have a consolidation strategy. By Sept. 2, federal agencies must submit a summary of the implementation plan to the OMB. By Jan. 30, 1997, the first semi-annual status report is due to the White House. And by June 1998, the consolidation of data centers is supposed to be complete.