Q&A: CA's John Swainson talks up software-as-a-service, green-IT strategies

The CEO also weighs in on the need for H-1B visa workers

PHOENIX -- At a CA Inc.-sponsored gathering of CIOs here last week, the company's CEO, John Swainson, spoke with Computerworld about a range of issues, including the company's software-as-a-service, green-IT and H-1B program strategies. Excerpts from the interview follow:

When we last spoke a year ago, it hadn't been determined whether CA was going to take legal action against Charles Wang. Where does that stand? It is still in the court whether or not the [CA Special Litigation Committee] report will be accepted. The report, as you know, said some things that were somewhat critical of Charles. That is not resolved yet. Until that's resolved, we can't do anything.

As time goes on, the more difficult it becomes to think about moving backwards. We're looking forward. It's such a different company now than it was three or four years ago. I can't give you an answer, because I don't know. But I'm not focused on that anymore. I don't think about Charles Wang.

Where do you see the software-as-a-service trend heading, and how might it change the way CA makes its software available to companies? There's no question about the fact that software as a service is going to be an important delivery model for software in the future. I don't think it's going to be the only delivery model, and I don't think it's going to be a good delivery model for every kind of software. There are some attributes that make a product successful in a software-as-a-service model, and there are other things that would make it less successful.

So we're looking at our portfolio right now, and we're trying to assess what things fit well into that model. We have a lot of partners who offer our service desk product as a software-as-a-service product today. We think our Clarity [IT governance] product has a lot of potential in a software-as-a-service model. We offer it in a hosted model today -- not as software as a service. The customer buys the license, but we host it. We're going to offer it in a software-as-a-service model, either directly or through partners, very soon -- within months.

So yes, we think this has potential for us. The one thing I don't know yet is whether we will be the wholesaler or the retailer in a software-as-a-service model. There's no question about the fact that we'll be one or the other. We may in many cases be developing the product and packaging it up and having others deliver it; in some cases, we might be a retailer, too.

The other thing you have to consider is that with most of the successful software-as-a-service products, there's a very small amount of data transfer that needs to go on. If you take our traditional systems management business, that's not the model at all -- there's a huge amount of data transfer that goes on. We will track thousands, or even millions of events a day coming out of the environment. And you have this fairly intrusive thing called an agent that actually lives on someone's desktop, or lives in their server environment, and it's not obvious to me that that model works that way.

We're still finding our way -- it's early days. Some things, like Clarity, look like they have great potential in that world. Some other things, like traditional systems management, not so much.

How involved are you in getting CA to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint, and in helping your customers to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint? Very much. This is something I became quite aware of maybe a year or two ago when customers started asking us what we were doing in this area, and I was embarrassed to admit that we weren't doing anything. I was able to point out to them that software was not a really high carbon-consuming industry, but they didn't think that was a terribly good answer. So I came back, I formed a team that's been operating now for about a year. We've done a whole bunch of things internally to improve our efficiency in lighting and other things.

But more interestingly, we've identified a bunch of potential product things that we could potentially do to help customers be more efficient in terms of their use of energy -- the best of which is around virtualization. The carbon footprint of a fully loaded server and the carbon footprint of a fully unloaded server are about the same. If you want to do something to improve the efficiency of a data center, what you want to do is load that sucker up -- get as much utilization of the existing infrastructure as you possibly can. And you need technology to do that, because human beings can't run around and switch workloads.

So you need products that would do workload management for you -- workload automation-type technologies -- and also provisioning. And we're very big into both of those things, coming out with some new offerings, particularly in the provisioning space. We've developed a data center automation manager product that's out of beta, we've got four or five customers running it in production. We're going through with them the early-life pains of working our way through Version 1, and Version 2 is due in the September time frame.

How about helping companies with power management? We are talking now to a couple of customers who are big power users in the grocery business, and what they want us to do is take traditional remote systems management disciplines and apply that to the management of large compressors and refrigeration units in their stores, but do it centrally. So we've started a project with one of them, a U.K.-based retailer, and we're talking to a number of utilities and big retailers about how they use management-security technology to do this more efficiently.

We're very much into that stuff right now. In fact, I think ultimately, some of the biggest [opportunities] for CA is managing networks of nontraditional IT devices -- power kinds of things, medical and automotive equipment. As people start connecting all these things into a networked environment, they need to do all the same things that people do with computers. They need to ensure their integrity, they need to understand their location, they'd like to make them secure, they'd like to know what's running on them and perhaps put something else on them. We've had discussions with some of the cable companies -- why couldn't we do it for the set-top box, which happens to be a Linux computer? Why couldn't we help them manage that, the same way you manage a network of ATMs or IT devices? So that could be, in the next 20 years, a bigger piece of our business than traditional systems management.

How important is the H-1B visa program to you in terms of giving you the skills you need, and where do you see that issue heading? It isn't very important to us. We don't hire very many people on it. [The H-1B visa cap] is a terrible problem, and it's a really stupid issue, and it's resulted in jobs going out of the country, which is crazy. So I am completely in support of expanding the H-1B visa program; I would just tell you it's not a big issue for CA. We just don't hire that many foreign nationals with engineering degrees. We have roughly 5,500 engineers, of which about 3,000 are in the U.S. Our attrition rates are pretty low, and we're able to find the skills we need in the country.

Microsoft is several orders of magnitude larger [so they need the program]. I think for American business and the country as a whole, it's better to have those people working here than to send the jobs overseas.

Who would you like to see win the presidential election, and why? I'm a registered independent, so that means I can sit on the fence. What I'm interested in is somebody who's going to put forward policies that would be good for the economy; clearly help us extract ourselves from the war in Iraq. So I would probably be more on the liberal side of things socially, and more on the conservative side of things economically.

Who are you leaning towards? I guess McCain. I like his independence.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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