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Big Blue Big on Self-Managing Computers

Big Blue is big on self-help -- for computers that is.

Armonk, N.Y.'s IBM Monday said it has embarked on the next leg of its Autonomic Computing initiative.

IBM said its new self-managing hardware, software and services will help businesses cut through the complexity of computer networks, freeing up IT staffers to focus on other matters important to their companies. The strategy could also conceivably allow enterprises to hire less staff in tough economic times.

The fast progress in this bid has led IBM to form an Autonomic Computing unit, led by Alan Ganek, former Vice President of Strategy, IBM Research. The group will integrate related activities across the company.

Ganek said the work, building on progress from more than a year ago and growing out of the self-healing server eLiza initiative, includes product enhancements and architectural roadmaps.

Giga Information Group Research Fellow Mike Gilpin explained the move to internetnews.com.

"I believe that IBM is likely to be a leading player in this trend, which I would characterize as being about more than just autonomic," Gilpin said. "eLiza is a research project that has developed some of the technology that is now being swept up under the autonomic umbrella, but other related research initiatives that are equally interesting as part of the broader picture include IBM's participation in research and standards development around the OGSA (Open Grid Services Architecture), and other work aiming to bring OGSA and Web Services technology together. Put these various initiatives together and you see that the broader picture is about making server resources, or "services" (including application services) available "on demand" (this is a phrase that IBM has been using in describing this broader initiative)."

Gilpin said the play is connected with recent trends in the architecture of server resources, such as modular computing platforms like blades or bricks, but is generalizable to all kinds of server architectures that can be managed as an "on demand" array of resources. The goal of the broader initiative, Gilpin said, is to enable these modular services to be more easily brought to bear on running a variety of different kinds of workloads, at the same time, despite the problem of "peaky" workloads or unanticipated changes in workload profiles.

IBM is developing a new autonomic computing deployment model designed to help customers evolve to the autonomic IT environment. To this end, IBM Global Services will form a Resilient Business and Infrastructure Solutions Practice, which will assist customers in assessing and improving their infrastructures.

As is the case with many new technologies it backs, Big Blue will build Autonomic Computing design centers to help customers and business partners develop and test the technologies.

One can expect autonomic computing characteristics -- including self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing, and self-protecting -- to be pervasive in IBM products going forward. The concern said its pending WebSphere Application Server Version 5.0 will hold autonomic features to enable WebSphere to monitor, analyze and fix performance problems.

Moreover, the company's successful Tivoli, DB2 database, IBM Storage Systems Group lines, as well as IBM's PCs will be fitted with the self-managing technologies.

While a first mover in bringing autonomic technologies to the mainstream, IBM is, as usual, not without competition in this space. Sun Microsystems unveiled its N1 distributed computing strategy in September.

Giga's Richard Fichera talked about the competitive possibilities with internetnews.com.

"Sun's N1, while behind IBM in vision and scope, will probably yield valuable technology and products, especially for Sun's installed base, which is (or should be) their major concern over the next few years," Fichera said. "My justification for making this statement is that while they have not yet announced product, their vision and articulation of the problems they want to solve is compelling, and very clearly the result of listening very carefully to their customer base. The problem set they have identified is also one that is absolutely consistent with my discussions with clients over several years."