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IBM Serves up Symphony at U.S. Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY -- What does a symphony have to do with cancer research and world-class tennis?

The truth is not much, but for IBM the three unrelated tangents serve to illustrate the three tenants of Armonk, NY, computing giant's umbrella e-Business On-Demand strategy: virtualization, automation and integration.

All throughout the 2003 U.S. Open here at the USTA Tennis Center, Big Blue is taking advantage of its 12-year-old event sponsorship to highlight the upcoming release of a new family of infrastructure software products and service offerings. Internally, executives have code-named it "Project Symphony" but when the new family is formally launched later this month, a new name (which as of presstime has not yet been determined) will be added to IBM's arsenal -- one that already includes the likes of Lotus, Websphere, Tivoli, DB2 and most recently Rational.

Project Symphony is designed with a single goal in mind -- one which many experts consider the most critical issue confronting IT directors and CIOs: server optimization. What makes it so mission-critical? That's because absolutely no company harnesses even close to the 100 percent of the computing power in their servers. In fact, depending on the configuration, processors and operating systems, servers typically operate at only 20 percent of their maximum capacity while 30 percent is considered an "aggressive" target, according to Jonathan Eunice, president and principal analyst at Illuminata Group.

"That's why there's such an opportunity to do server consolidation," Eunice explained. "If you have a limited [IT] budget, it doesn't mean your clients ... the internal clients ... want less computing. It's exactly the opposite. They want bigger warehousing. Everyone has to do more with less."

Whatever you call it (partitioning, provisioning, virtualization, utility computing, etc.), the market (at some estimates valued at over $18 billion) has really become a hotbed of activity. HP has created a project called Utility Data Center (UDC) to help better manage and harness computing power. Sun Microsystems bought into it through an acquisition of a start-up called Terraspring.

In IBM's case, the concept is internally known as "intelligent orchestration" (and hence the self-explanatory codename), according to Jocelyne Attal, VP of on-demand OS at IBM.

"With this technology, we are able to present a better utilization of the assets," Attal told internetnews.com.

Project Symphony -- not to be confused with Platform Computing's grid computing solution for financial services known as Platform Symphony -- was based in part on IBM's previous automation technology -- work known as Project eLiza. But more than simply building upon autonomic computing capabilities developed with eLiza, Symphony relies on virtualization technology that IBM acquired through its acquisition of Think Dynamics back in May. The Toronto-based company's software measures and manages computing demand and can reallocate resources where- and whenever they are needed.

"It's about connecting jobs you want to run with resources you have to run it on," Eunice described, explaining that the complexity of problem is nothing to sneeze at.

Take for example, the case of the U.S. Open. IBM's servers are used to perform every functions imaginable for the USTA's marquee event from scoring tabulation and statistics calculations to powering up the USOpen.org Web site. But this year, those servers actually have an added component that will soon be part of the Symphony family called Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator. As a result, the long-time technology sponsor of the U.S. Open is also simultaneously modeling the complexities of protein folding to find a cure for cancer.

As part of a different supercomputing project called "Blue Gene" (which won't be ready for another couple of years), IBM's Life Sciences Solutions Business Unit has engaged the e-Business On-Demand team at the tennis event to perform some of the algorithm calculations needed in one of Blue Gene's future applications. So whenever there are lulls in computing capacity on those servers, the U.S. Open's computer system is modeling how protein fold into one another while simultaneously modeling what should happen if matches near their completion and scores need to be tabulated and disseminated out to the world.

So, what would happen if, in the midst of a complex algorithmic calculation, a crazed maniac runs out onto the USTA courts, stabs Monica Seles in the back and a flood of traffic overwhelms the USOpen.org Web site? IBM officials reassured that the partitioning rules have been set up to prioritize the USTA's workload over the cancer research.

"It's a very complicated problem because you have to model the resources you have and the jobs you want to run. In a world where the computer makes decisions about what to run where, you have to provide a model of what servers you want it to run on. So it becomes a very complicated process," Eunice said.

Much of the processes developed for Project Symphony really came out of the integration/outsourcing work of a massive $5 billion, 7-year contract with J.P. Morgan announced at the tail end of last year. As a result of the learning curve experienced on that job, IBM was able to develop 41 proprietary methods of securing, partitioning and optimizing the data center lowering costs while at the same time maintaining a consistent quality of service, according to Attal.

But IBM stresses that the new offering won't only be available for high-end customers. Project Symphony will include a continuum of product bundles with prices starting as low as $20,000 in hopes of engaging small to very large customers who want to automate a piece or all of their infrastructure.

"What we came with is the ability to start real small by using a very attractive technology," Attal said.

But IBM has plenty of company in the space.

"This is exactly why VMware is going gangbusters," he said, referring to Palo Alto, Calif.-based specialist that focuses specifically at optimizing Intel-based servers. "The type of servers they target the most have the worst utilization, no more than 20 percent."

In a recent research note, Illuminata cited Altiris and ProvisionSoft as other viable competitors.