Computer Associates takes on the Net
Unicenter and Ingres products optimized for internet-savvy applications
In December 1995, Computer Associates (Islandia, NY) entered the Internet fray with a splash, announcing ICE versions -- Internet Commerce Enabled -- of its popular Unicenter distributed management software, and also its OpenIngres database.
CA certainly has jumped ahead of the competition with the Unicenter/ICE announcement, said Chet Geschickter, vice president and director of research for Hurwitz Consulting (Newton, MA).
"This is the first credible, broad-based solution for Internet-savvy systems and network management -- especially for Web servers," Geschickter said. "There are a lot of point products out there that address things like security, but there has not yet been any attempt to roll solutions into a comprehensive package."
The fact that Unicenter is already established as a successful distributed systems monitoring and management platform gives this announcement particular credibility. Marketing partnerships announced with Netscape Communications and Microsoft also set CA's announcement apart from the flurry of Internet-related product strategy announcements. But the most significant distinguishing factors are Unicenter/ICE's functionality and a Q1 1996 ship date. None of the competing systems and network manager players -- Hewlett Packard, IBM, Tivoli, among others -- have even announced a strategy, let alone come close to delivering product, Geschickter said.
Unicenter/ICE security capabilities
Unicenter/ICE tackles two functional areas -- Internet security and management issues. Security was the starting point and number one concern in developing the Unicenter/ICE product, said Yogesh Gupta, CA's senior vice president of product strategy. As work evolved on security features, however, the explosive Internet growth quickly revealed a myriad of management challenges that Unicenter seem well-positioned to handle, so the vision for Unicenter/ICE was expanded.
Unicenter's implementation of policy-based access permissions will make it easier to administer large Web infrastructures. In addition to the domain blocking and multi-level passwords that most Web servers provide, Unicenter/ICE enables administrators to define business profiles for various classes of users -- customer, distributor, business partner, employee, and others. Web access can then be granted based upon that profile.
According to CA's Gupta, the access authorization server can be deployed in several ways, but from an administrative perspective, everything can be done once at a central site, greatly simplifying the task of assigning Web security levels.
Unicenter/ICE also provides a facility to secure specific TCP/IP ports, and HTTP proxy processes. These features make it far more difficult for experienced hackers to install trojan horse programs on a Web server. Such programs look like CGI scripts to the Web server, but can execute programs that open up larger security holes.
Unicenter has also integrated its ability to port and proxy process security with the capability to track the identity of server requests. Together, these capabilities give a company a good shot at identifying intruder attempts before they succeed.
These security features augment, rather than replace the authentication, encryption, and secure communication capabilities of existing Web server software, such as their use of the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol.
Unicenter/ICE also provides security and configuration support on the client side of the equation. The business profile process used to customize Web access, can also be used to generate customized Web browsers that display only those applications a given user is authorized to invoke. CA's Gupta notes this requires the client browser be fitted with a CA-Unicenter module, and will therefore appeal to firms for Internal application access or for business partner applications.
Unicenter/ICE management capabilities
Unicenter delivers a variety of Internet monitoring and management capabilities. A central console can to keep track of Web servers throughout the enterprise. 3-D graphics provide for easy navigation of the network, and for quick recognition of events that require human intervention, Gupta said.
Unicenter/ICE agents can monitor server error logs, exception files, system and network events, memory and disk utilization, and selected APIs. Unicenter can be configured to automatically execute responses to error conditions and to notify designated administrators.
Administrators can monitor usage and resource consumption on Web servers by components and user classification. They can track elements such as Web site availability, data access counts, transactions least utilized, and usage patterns by geography, user-class, or department.
All this enables a central administrator to make sure all the Web servers are up and running, that performance is acceptable, and that something is not getting a lot of errors, according to Gupta.
But more importantly, Geschickter said, is the fact that multiple sites and servers can be monitored from a single location. That significantly decreases the amount of experienced Webmasters required for the care and feeding of a firm's Internet infrastructure, including its Web servers.
CA also tailored its help desk and hierarchical storage management (HSM) functions to the Web in Unicenter/ICE. The help desk function has been tweaked to keep track of client software configurations, including browser and helper application versions, as well as system software.
As more corporate data is browser accessible, users may find that older pages have found their way off-line, because they have not been used in a long while. Unicenter permits the integration of Web servers with HSM software so that the server can intelligently respond to the user request. The status of the files can be explained to the user making the request, or, if the HSM system permits auto- mounting of archived volumes, a proper request can be passed along to the HSM system.
CA has also added capabilities to its database to make it Internet-enabled. Most fundamentally it added a CGI gateway interface to allow Ingres databases to be more readily integrated with Web servers. The OpenIngres/ICE report writer also generates HTML output, so that canned reports can be formatted for browser access.
Two additional capabilities make OpenIngres better suited for Web-based applications than its more popular competitors, says CA's Gupta. Those are a Web-savvy query optimizer, and the ability to trigger external events.
CA has enabled the OpenIngres query optimizer to take into account the Web server load factor and respond according to user-defined business rules. The database can reject resource-intensive queries under heavy loads, or process such queries only from preferred classes of users. Rather than having to hard-code this functionality into every application, Gupta said, it can be defined once as a server rule, and then applied to many applications.
While most all major database have triggers, Gupta said, few permit them to easily trigger external database events. OpenIngres, however, provides such external triggers, enabling the database to do things such as send email in response to an order status change. This means Web-savvy database applications can actively communicate with users when important events occur, and overcomes one of the inherent disadvantages of the connectionless nature of HTTP.
CA's Internet initiatives are too new to be fully dissected by prospective users, but many like what they are hearing. If everything works as advertised, corporate webmeisters say, CA-Unicenter/ICE, and to a lesser degree OpenIngres/ICE, can make the task of controlling a Web infrastructure much more manageable.
Dave Dubnick, manager of technology operations for CCH (Commerce Clearing House), based in River Woods, IL., says Unicenter/ICE makes the Web a far more appealing applications infrastructure. The reason -- much more flexible security and access control. Unicenter is already CCH's management tool of choice, says Dubnick, so there is also the obvious appeal of gaining important new functionality without having to learn a new tool.
The ability to monitor resource utilization, or to diagnose the status of a Web server that may be in another state, are the capabilities a distributed enterprise requires, he said.
These are the kind of capabilities we needed yesterday, says
National Semiconductor's (Sunnyvale, CA) Rick Brennan, the
manager of Web services.
--Barry D. Bowen
About the author
Barry D. Bowen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business computing analyst and writer with the Bowen Group Inc. (http://www.nas.com/~xeno). Reach Barry at email@example.com.
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