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Interview With Paul Lipton, by David Johnson

JDJ: Paul, tell us about some of the things going on at Computer Associates.
In the past, most people knew CA (www.ca.com) as a big mainframe company, and they may also know us as the company that acquired Sterling Software in the last year and Platinum Technologies the year before that. Certainly we do have a lot in the areas of enterprise management and e-business for many platforms. But not enough people in the Java community realize how powerful our Java solutions are. For example, we have Jasmine ii, which is something incredibly interesting for the Java community to look at.

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JDJ: What does the ii stand for?
It stands for intelligent infrastructure, and that's what Jasmine ii is all about. Once you get past the "What app server am I going to buy?" stage, you start to look deeper at the real-world problems that companies, their suppliers, and their customers are really facing, especially large, modern corporations. They have a vast amount of legacy applications. Many Java developers tend to say, "Oh, yes, those are the legacy applications. I'll integrate with them later. Let me write some JSPs and servlets, get into my presentation logic, do the fun stuff. I'll worry about that old nasty stuff later on."

What we ignore when we do this is that these legacy applications are at the core of the enterprise. You have to remember that these systems were developed first, because they addressed the most important and fundamental problems these companies had. For example, "Who are my customers, and how do I send them a bill?" or "What products do I have, and which ones are in my warehouse right now?" Often, these systems have been used, literally, for generations. I don't mean generations of technology, I mean generations of human beings. Now, in a sense, they're no longer IT business systems. They've actually become part of the company's business processes. The company couldn't exist without them. They've become part of the heart and lungs of that corporation.

These essential business systems are incredibly diverse - not just UNIX-based relational databases sitting on a UNIX box - but everything: giant mainframe network databases, VSAM files, terminals hooked up to CICS or AS/400 machines, you name it! Right now, there are VT100 terminals hooked up to machines that may never see a Java Virtual Machine, because there's simply no money for that to happen. There's just an incredible range of technologies: messaging, accounting systems, ERP, and decades of custom development, not just in C++ and VB, but also in COBOL, Fortran, and MODULA-2. Think about the importance of these systems. What did IT pay for Y2K remediation; wasn't it something around $2 trillion? Think what the cost of construction for those systems must have been.

So, on one hand you have these essential legacy systems, which will never go away. On the other hand there's a very compelling demand for these new e-business initiatives that companies want to have: B2B, B2C, exchanges, portals, and so on. It's essential for them to build to stay competitive in this new era, and the problem is, of course, connecting those two very different worlds.

That's just part of the value of Jasmine ii. It's an infrastructure for connecting the modern world and the modern technologies that are hitting us at a mile a minute - Java, XML, and everything else coming down the road - with this vast world of legacy systems. And it does so in a compelling and natural way for Java developers and people who are XML-centric.

Our goal was to make Jasmine ii something easy for Java developers, but it's also open to people using other technologies. As Java developers we tend to want to ignore the rest of the universe, such as Microsoft. I think that we don't really serve our function as developers very well by pretending that companies like Microsoft don't exist. They happen to be, I believe, the most heavily capitalized corporation in the world, and there are some vast technical resources there.

We have to be realistic, and we have to be open. We have to stop playing in our own little sandbox and hoping the bad guys go away. Part of what Jasmine ii brings is this openness, openness to Microsoft technologies, to Java, to CORBA, to XML, to applications such as SAP and PeopleSoft, and to the vast world of legacy systems. It's all very important if we're going to address the challenge of bringing all these technologies and systems together.

JDJ: What about the Neugents product? What can you tell us about the neural network-based technology and some possible applications?
Neugents technology is a remarkable, patented, neural network technology that we've developed at Computer Associates. It started a few years ago, when we acquired AIWARE, which was a leader in this technology. We'd already been doing a considerable amount of R&D on fuzzy logic and related topics, so we had an acute interest. Since then Neugents have been used with great success in CA products, such as Unicenter TNG, in the areas of prediction and optimization. For example, wouldn't it be useful to be able to predict that there's a 95% chance the server will go down in 45 minutes? You might be able to do something about it ahead of time, be proactive as opposed to tearing your hair out and being reactive.

Neugents aren't just an expert system or a bunch of rules. They're a technology patterned after the biological neural network in the human brain: adaptive, intelligent, and self-learning. They're integrated into Jasmine ii, as many of our products are. You can think of Jasmine ii almost as a motherboard, and a great number of complementary CA technologies - like our repository technology, UML modeling tools, and so on - are daughterboards that can plug into it. This infrastructure adds tremendous value as a solution to people who are trying to build and deploy modern e-business solutions. Our Neugents technology is yet another important daughterboard that plugs into the Jasmine ii infrastructure.

We've spent a lot of time and money making this technology accessible to business programmers instead of PhDs, because it can be tremendously useful for all sorts of e-business scenarios. For example, Neugents can be used to uncover a wide range of e-business opportunities with suppliers and customers, providing a sort of dynamic, self-learning personalization to many e-business problems and tasks.

And, Neugents are useful to tasks in manufacturing, finance, and many others. We have clients doing things such as manufacturing paint. When you manufacture paint it's difficult to get that right formula, the right characteristics of paint, such as the sun resistance, luminescence, and abrasion resistance. In the past, it's been almost an art form, and often it was an expensive and laborious process to come up with a formula that had the required characteristics to paint a certain kind of building or bridge, for example. Neugents have made that process far less expensive and more reliable. And, clients are using it for more than manufacturing - all sorts of optimization and prediction.

Going back to e-business, Neugents technology uses its pattern recognition capability to effectively identify all sorts of business opportunities that may be otherwise missed. For example, you could use Neugents for a kind of rich, dynamic personalization. I'm not talking about the static personalization you see out there so much today. Say you order a book on deep sea diving. A Neugent-powered site could offer you two more books on diving, as well as related equipment, such as tanks or fins, and stand a good chance to score a hit there. I'm talking about the kind of adaptive learning that in real time examines all the demographic data, behavioral characteristics, and clickstream data, and can come up with a level of personalization that can be far more useful. We have clients doing that as well.

Again, the applicability of the Neugents technology is profound. The key was to make it accessible. Because Neugents intelligence services are part of the Jasmine ii infrastructure, it's open to everybody.

JDJ: What does a director of object technology do? What's your typical workday like, and where do you take your job on a daily basis?
That's actually an impossible question to answer, but it's one of the great things about working for Computer Associates. We have so many solutions that touch so many different areas of the IT universe. Because of that, I've had fun learning about technology in many different areas and learning about business in a lot of different areas, as well.

My day is a curious mix. I do occasionally get to be really technical. If I'm careful I can write a little bit of Java code before they chase me away from it. I have the opportunity to talk to many of our clients and business partners about CA technologies. I've also participated in some of our architectural efforts. I was one of the people who worked with Jasmine ii in the early days.

Designing Jasmine was interesting for us. Of course, XML wasn't a big thing then; now it's the flavor of the month. It was a good test of our architecture and design to see how hard it would be for Jasmine ii to support XML. It turned out to be almost effortless, proof that we'd done the job right. Jasmine ii has XML support on both the front and back ends. And it has unique XML capabilities.

People, especially in the Java community, see an XML document and want to run SAX or DOM against it and pull in this document. That's a document-oriented approach. We think XML documents are also information resources. A real solution would support things like concurrency and transactions, and that's what we do. We support XML as a richer information source and integrate that XML information into the rest of the enterprise, including legacy applications. Our ability to do that is proof to us that we can handle the newest technologies as well as the old ones in this transparent manner.

JDJ: I've been seeing some interesting presentations at your booth.
We're here showing off our Jasmine ii infrastructure as well as COOL:Joe, which is our EJB development and deployment tool. COOL:Joe has far too many features for both experienced and inexperienced J2EE developers for me to discuss here. But, for a technologist and architect like me, who doesn't always get the chance to write much code, COOL:Joe has a tremendous amount of built-in knowledge about EJBs. All kinds of task advisors and wizards make the job of getting up to speed, using and testing EJBs a lot easier. Experienced EJB developers are scarce, so having something that can help get you up to speed is wonderful, and even experienced developers appreciate its modeling and other advanced capabilities.

For this show, we wanted to zero in on two particular CA solutions that were Java-centric, get closer to the Java community, and share knowledge. CA understands the importance of industry standards like Java, but we also understand that Java has to play in the real world of legacy and other important, sometimes competing, technologies. Some people have said that CA is the Switzerland of software companies because we tend to be neutral and focus on solutions for our clients. We aren't here to bang the drum for any particular narrow view of the IT universe. We're here to help solve problems, particularly for the Java community.

Author Bio
David Johnson is CEO of Verge Technologies Group, Inc., a Boulder, Colorado-based Enterprise Java consulting and hosting firm. He can be reached at [email protected]


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