SAN FRANCISCO – Independent software vendor BEA Systems is hoping to turn its technical support staff into the “Maytag repairman” of the IT industry.
At this week’s BEAWorld, the company announced pre-emptive software support for customers, called Guardian Support Service, which will work in a similar way to anti-virus software. This is a departure from traditional break-fix support models typically used by the software industry, executives said.
Unlike application monitoring, however, it knows what upgrades you’ve done and what patches you’ve applied, said Todd Chipman, BEA’s director of worldwide services marketing, in an interview with ITBusiness.ca. “You used to hear about self-healing networks,” he said, but they’ve faded away because they weren’t able to offer enough intelligence.
This approach uses a framework of signature patterns to analyze and diagnose BEA domains for software defects and automatically find the right updates and maintenance packs for a particular customer. BEA plans to offer Guardian as a support option for WebLogic and AquaLogic products.
“The success or failure will depend on the number of signature patterns we actually create,” said Chipman. BEA will run beta trials later this month and announce general availability at its Beijing conference in December.
“People are excited but not wholly convinced,” said Terry Clearkin, senior vice-president of worldwide customer support with BEA. “They want to know, does it really work?” It’s new ground for BEA, he added, and will change how its technical support staff handles troubleshooting issues – since more of them will be writing signatures instead.
Other changes are taking place: While BEA has traditionally been known for its high-end enterprise software, it is now drawing inspiration from the consumer world – as is one of its customers, Verizon Wireless.
Verizon, for example, is looking at consumer technologies – those that are used outside of the workplace, during off hours – and bringing them into the enterprise, such as vlogging (video blogging), online gaming and machinima. The company uses a monkey hand puppet, called “Space Monkey,” to randomly select technology staff in the company and ask them about their jobs for a video blog, said Shaygan Kheradpir, Verizon’s CIO.
Kheradpir said we’re also seeing a number of other consumer-based experiments, such as e-business through online games. Second Life, for example, is an “online society in a 3D world” where anyone can sign up to help construct a virtual city. Real businesses are playing the game to get feedback from consumers about what works and what doesn’t in this online society, he said.
Some experimentation is being done with videoconferencing using machinima, or machine animation, which uses computer-generated imagery with interactive game engines (as opposed to professional 3D animation software). Using machinima, participants in a videoconference become animated characters in an online game, which is meant to keep them engaged in the conference.
“Unfortunately (most companies) continue to write software as if we’re in the 20th century,” said Kheradpir. And while technology is being commoditized to some extent, the consumer is changing how people want to work, he said, and companies can take advantage of that by bringing consumer technologies into the enterprise.
This is a dramatic shift from the days when an elitist group of technologists pushed new technology out to users, said Christine Wan, director of product marketing with BEA. In the future, we’re more likely to see consumer technologies penetrate the enterprise and influence what technologists develop.
New products that will be rolled out by BEA in the second half of next year include Project Graffiti, Project Builder and Project Runner, which will draw on the consumer world (and are largely a result of BEA’s acquisitions of Plumtree and Fuego).
Influences include sites such as MySpace, Flickr and del.icis.us, said Wan. Graffiti, for example, will allow users to tag information the way they interpret it, making content easier to find. Builder will allow businesspeople to create their own “disposable” Web sites or gap applications as opposed to using spreadsheets. And Runner is a tool for the IT department that will provide security and analytics around these homegrown Internet applications (without necessarily using a portal).
BEA also announced the release of AquaLogic Enterprise Repository 2.5, a metadata repository based on its acquisition of Flashline technology, as well as general availability of SALT (Services Architecture Leveraging Tuxedo) 1.1, which will allow Tuxedo applications to be exposed as Web services.