The importance of technology decisions to determining overall business strategy has escalated to unprecedented levels in corporations across the world. As a consequence, managing diverse investments in various IT systems demands increasingly advanced software tools. Computer Associates International, which provides mission-critical business software to Fortune 500 companies, has responded with a new kind of intelligent agent, called Neugent, that works with its automated data center management product, Unicenter TNG (The Next Generation). Neugent is built with artificial (as opposed to biological) neural-networking technology, which CA acquired through its 1997 purchase of AI Ware, a developer of intelligent decision-support software based on neural networks. Neural networks essentially mimic the functions of the human brain by implementing mathematical models in hardware or software. They can learn to detect patterns in data flow, and once "trained" over a period of weeks or months they can recognize a situation, make an evaluation, reach a conclusion, and ultimately take an action. To date, neural networks have been applied to business forecasting, manufacturing process monitoring and control, retail inventory forecasting, and financial risk analysis. CA, however, plans to be first to market with an application of neural nets to enterprise-wide, predictive-performance monitoring of IT systems. Unlike conventional IT trend-analysis technologies, which provide a linear analysis of a few system statistics, Neugent collects thousands of metrics from the system it is monitoring and learns to tell whether the system is operating in a "good" or "bad" state. As a result, Neugent can help reduce network traffic, minimize CPU overhead, and even predict when a system is about to transition out of a desirable state. "It can tell you that your Microsoft Exchange server has a 60% chance of crashing in 15 minutes," says Steve Mann, vice president of product strategy for CA. As a follow-up, the software then will tell you the most likely causes. Moreover, rather than sending on-screen warnings about a multitude of individual computer events, Neugent monitors the state of the entire system and sends just one notification to the management interface. "We've improved enterprise-management capabilities from fault tolerance to fault prevention," Mann asserts. An additional feature Neugent offers is ease of use. CA holds a patent on a unique neural-network architecture called the Functional Link Net (FLN), an algorithm that enables neural nets to learn large data sets up to 50 times faster than other architectures. As a result, while most neural-networking technology is difficult to set up and train, CA claims Neugent can be set up in 20 to 30 minutes and deployed overnight to thousands of PCs using Unicenter TNG's Software Delivery Option. (The agent then would need about a month of training time to learn the network's use patterns.) Steve Foote, senior vice president of Hurwitz Group Inc., a market-research firm based in Framingham, Mass., concurs that Neugent is a breakthrough. "Using Neugent, it becomes possible for IT organizations to efficiently manage multiple-component-based enterprise applications," he wrote in an April 1998 report titled, "Unicenter TNG: It's About Time, Computer Associates." And in the next version of Unicenter, called The Next Dimension (TND), he suggests Neugent and a time-oriented interface will make it "possible for administrators to simulate 'what-if' scenarios in order to determine the potential effects of configuration changes and technology introductions without committing to suffering their consequences." CA announced Neugent in April and Mann reports that beta customers using the technology are resolving problems successfully without end-user knowledge. CA plans to announce commercial availability of Neugent in December to a target market of thousands of Unicenter TNG customers. Today the total market for enterprise-management software is estimated at $8 billion and projected to grow to between $18 and $20 billion by 2002, according to analysts at IDC and Cahners In-Stat. "The inclusion of the Neugent technology in Unicenter TNG defines the leading edge of enterprise management," Foote concludes. "This development allows IT to have a direct impact on a company's ability to respond to competitive changes in the market."