NEW ORLEANS - It looks like a perfectly ordinary soft drink machine,
sitting in the corner of the trade show floor at CA-World, ready to
service thirsty visitors. But to Toronto's cStar Technologies Inc., it
is the way of the future.
Sitting on top of the machine, a small antenna transmits information
about the unit's status to a management console running Computer
Associates' CA-UniCenter TNG.
At this console, which can be in the vending company's headquarters,
many miles from the machine, an administrator can see, in real time, how
many cans of pop are in each slot, how much change is in the hopper, and
even the temperature. If the door opens, or refrigeration fails, alarms
are immediately set off so a repair person can be dispatched.
cStar's contribution to this system is the wireless transmission
equipment, which interfaces with CA-UniCenter TNG via American Mobile's
It's all part of an initiative by Computer Associates to use its
software to manage devices that are outside of the traditional IT realm.
Spearheaded by John Pincomb, vice-president, product marketing, Real
World Management Programs, CA is trying to interface its software to
almost anything with a microprocessor. This includes everything from
automated teller machines and vending machines to race cars and buses.
During CA-World, Computer Associates' annual business software users
conference, attendees could monitor the state of a New Orleans police
"We can provide better control over the assets of a corporation so that
their performance, and their maintenance, and their uptime can be
optimized," says Pincomb. For example, he says a car rental company can
tap into the onboard computers of their rental vehicles with
CA-UniCenter TNG Fleet Management System and monitor their health. CA is
partnering with CellPort Labs Inc. of Boulder; Co., a vendor of
vehicle-based voice and data connectivity systems, which will provide
the onboard application platform and wireless communication gateway in
the cars. It will collect and transmit data on things like fuel
consumption, speed, fluid levels, odometer readings and diagnostic
The system also includes Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, so
the fleet manager can determine exactly where each vehicle is at any
time. If the driver locks the keys in the car, the fleet manager can
remotely unlock the door, and if a car is reported stolen, the manager
can even turn off its engine (once it has stopped). "If a device has a
computer in it, and can be networked, UniCenter TNG can manage it," says Pincomb.
CA has stretched this assertion to the limit in its partnership with the
McLaren Formula One racing team. Engineers monitor the cars' performance
as they zoom around the track, and can display the complex telemetry
data in a 3D UniCenter TNG interface. And, just as in a more traditional
UniCenter TNG installation, they can use CA's Real World Interface to
fly into the car onscreen and click on a component to get more
information about it. On a network, that component is usually a server
or a router; in these cars it can be the transmission.
cStar president Stella Coveley also sees
tremendous potential in monitoring of remote
equipment and infrastructures. For example, she
says, there are more than 4.2 million vending
machines in the U.S. alone. "All software
companies used to focus on IT devices," she
says. "Now they realize there's a huge market
in non-IT devices." Her company's wireless
equipment, she says, provides the bridge that
connects IT and non-IT devices.
Pincomb says that vertical segments are evolving
now, in which companies like CA provide the
software, others supply communications and
specialized onboard computers for the devices,
and service providers pull it all together. And
it all needs management - it must stay up, with
good response time. And if that all works, he
says, the result is a customer with a