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.

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