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Web Orchestration is Music to IBM's Symphony

Determined to propel its company-wide e-business on-demand strategy to the highest level, IBM Wednesday unveiled a new computing system consisting of "smart" software that makes blade servers automate IT infrastructure and operate more efficiently.

The compact system combines book-sized BladeCenter blade servers with software from a cross-section of IBM's product lines, including its Websphere Application Server, DB2 database, Tivoli Storage Manager and TotalStorage hardware, all of which are stitched together by the Tivoli Intelligent ThinkDynamic Orchestrator. IBM Web and Application Server Orchestration also provides connectors, or Web services interfaces that allow the Tivoli Orchestrator to introduce new Web servers into the environment.

Labeled Web Infrastructure Orchestration, the Armonk, N.Y. company said the approach decreases the time it takes to deploy new applications or add capacity from weeks to hours, while doubling the use of computer resources. Moreover, the on-demand aspects also enable the system to harness more of the computing power in a network. As it is now, most servers only use about 20 percent of the machine's maximum power.

Tim Dougherty, vice president of strategy, IBM systems, said many computer systems require a handful of systems administrators to intervene in case a server goes down, or something affects the infrastructure's availability. Another benefit to automating the systems, is that it obviates the need for workers to perform such tasks as loading operating systems, applications and databases, or setting security and network settings, he told internetnews.com. This also reduces the probability of human error.

IBM has been offering automated systems under the aegis of its on-demand strategy for months and faces tough competition from systems vendors offering utility computing products, including HP , Sun Microsystems and smaller, but potent concerns such as Computer Associates and Veritas .

But rather than rest on its laurels, the company has been making the systems even more capable, or intelligent, through such products as the Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator, announced last month under the Project Symphony initiative.

With its origins in the autonomic computing tract Project Eliza, Project Symphony is the code-name for IBM products, bundles and services designed to help customers automate some or all of their IT infrastructure. Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator servers as the foundation of the strategy.

"The distinguishing characteristic between automated and intelligent systems lies in what has already been done for you on a network," Dougherty explained. "Fundamental business decisions based on rules have already been done for you. You tell the system which application you want to give priority to and what sequence you want them in and set the rules once."

Summit Strategies analyst Mary Johnston Turner told internetnews.com pre-integrated offerings such as these demonstrate that IBM is looking to create a new category of intelligent management in the infrastructure space -- one that is largely associated with helping customers mind workflow, or concentrating on what the best practices are for deploying systems.

IBM, she said, is looking to step away from the perception that its global services division is needed to manage the company's products for a customer. The new solutions can be set up and managed by the customers themselves. This services-oriented approach to IT has long been endorsed by CA, she said.

"The hard thing is not plugging it in -- it's tuning it and making sure that all the moving parts work properly," Turner said. "They've [IBM] tried to put more services and more workflow and automation into the customer's hands. How many people are going to buy the pre-bundled solution as it is I'm not sure, but the fact that they are letting the customer become more involved than they have in the past is important."

Turner anticipates IBM will compete strongly with HP's Utility Data Center and Sun's N1 platform with this offering.

The news is the second time in two days IBM's BladeCenter has been at the heart of new computing bundles from Big Blue, who Tuesday announced an on-demand computing promotion in which customers who purchase a z990 mainframe may be eligible for a significant rebate on the BladeCenter, under the Infrastructure Simplification plan. Dougherty said IBM is focusing on bundling its components to form one do-it-all computing system because "everyone is running under tight budgets."

Dougherty called the BladeCenter a "natural carrier" for on-demand tasks because of its ability to scale up or down simply and cost-effectively by adding or removing blades from the chassis. And if something needs to be repaired, a user can just slide out the affected hardware.

Customers can choose only the pieces of the offerings they need, as well, Dougherty said. For example, if a customer wants to buy just IBM Blade servers and the Intelligent Orchestrator product -- without all of the other software and hardware -- they can do that.

Dougherty said prices start at $20,000 for just the base Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator software and ranges to $300,000, depending on the configuration and the number of applications the customer chooses.