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IBM Places Bets on Self-Healing Servers

As previously reported, IBM Corp. has unveiled new services for "Project eLiza," the company's name for self-managing properties in its servers.

Formally called e-business Management Services, the multi-billion-dollar strategy detailed Wednesday marks the first time eLiza will aim to directly tailor business process objectives to support information resources.

But why cultivate something like eLiza? Surely the time and money saved cannot be that exceptional? Au contraire. According to Mike Nelson, director of Internet Technology and Strategy for IBM, the complexity of tomorrow's IT infrastructure will cause the costs associated with its management to skyrocket.

"In 1999, $1 invested in server hardware required $1 invested in people to manage the environment," Nelson told InternetNews.com. "If we don't find a way to make systems easier to manage, it is estimated that by 2004, each $1 of hardware will require $10 invested in people to manage the environment."

Nelson continued, "This explosion in complexity, coupled with the shortage of qualified systems administrators, will make it difficult for some corporations to manage the systems they wish to deploy. One way to solve this problem is to make systems and the infrastructure self-managing, infusing into our servers a degree of "intelligence." Project eLiza intends to provide businesses with the intelligent infrastructure required to automatically manage systems that are hundreds of times more complex than those in existence today."

As with many of its initiatives, IBM isn't flying solo with eLiza; it has enlisted technology partners such as BMC Software and Nortel Networks, and customers like Merrill Lynch and Terra Lycos, among others, to further the self-managing act.

And while IBM invites others to join in grooming the self-managing technology, so far it seems to be the only firm to offer it in its servers, namely eServers such as the p690, or Regatta.

"This server is the industry's only UNIX server that offers multiple layers of self-healing technologies," IBM's Nelson said. "By contrast, other high-end servers only offer manual hot-swapping of already-failed components or simple failure isolation within a partition that may not prevent failures from crashing applications."

Indeed, Gartner Dataquest analyst Jim Cassell told InternetNews.com Wednesday that the new eLiza news puts IBM a step ahead competitors.

"It is now a business value-based initiative, not just technology. It demonstrates eLiza is a cross-IBM project, not just Server Group," Cassell said. "It does contain new complex, sophisticated software technology within the services offering, as well as key IBM middleware integrated (that's key) into it as well. Compounding the challenges for the competition is that IBM has patented(or pending) many of the underlying technology and concepts."

IBM's eLiza package consists of real-time alerts of risks and detailed identification of issues that will affect a business process via a "dashboard" graphical interface.

What the dashboard does is highlight any event affecting business process objectives, ensuring that performance disruptions are identified in real time so systems administrators can come up with remedies as quickly as possible to save time and money. IBM offers new technology to go with the services program -- an inference engine that translates objectives and policies into machine language rules. Called Active Middleware Information technology, this tool basically correlates events that occur in an IT infrastructure with business processes.