Enterprise IT System, Heal Thyself

IBM has announced a flurry of new components that reinvigorate the company’s efforts to create enterprise computing systems smart enough to manage and heal themselves.

The whole concept, called “autonomic computing,” is all about reducing data center complexity and creating a computing infrastructure that regulates itself much in the same way the autonomic nervous system regulates and protects human bodies.

IBM first identified this lofty goal six years ago when it published its IBM Autonomic Computing Manifesto. In an online prelude to the manifesto, IBM notes “The information technology boom can only explode for so long before it collapses on itself in a jumble of wires, buttons and knobs. IBM knows that increasing processor might, storage capacity and network connectivity must report to some kind of systemic authority if we expect to take advantage of its potential. The human body’s self-regulating nervous system presents an excellent model for creating the next generation of computing, autonomic computing.”

The Challenge

“This was and remains a grand industry challenge that IBM issued to both itself as well as other IT companies,” said Alan Ganek, vice president of Autonomic Computing and CTO of IBM Tivoli software.

“The difficulty is not the machines themselves — the industry has brilliantly exceeded goals for computer performance and speed. The challenge is to create the open standards and new technologies needed for systems to interact effectively, to enact predetermined business policies more effectively, and to be able to protect, heal and manage themselves with minimal dependence on human intervention,” he explained.

The new offerings give customers the ability to make better use of the intelligence that lies within their computing systems to benefit strategy and planning, analysis, deployment of resources, operations and maintenance while improving delivery of technology as a service, IBM said. In IBM’s latest phase, the company’s autonomic solutions are aimed at improving the management of energy consumption, assets and facilities, governance and risk, and finance and accounting.

It sounds complicated — and it is. IBM’s new technologies support the goals of autonomic computing, but IBM doesn’t actually proclaim that it has achieved the full vision.

“IT professionals say they find some aspects of autonomic computing very valuable, but it seems to me to be a work in progress,” Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

“You can talk about autonomic computing as an overarching strategy, but I also think it can deployed successfully in a piecemeal fashion,” he added. “I don’t know anyone who’s trying to deploy a fully autonomic data center. What I’ve seen is the implementation of pieces to get a specific benefit.”

The Benefits

IBM has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development to simplify computing systems, it said, and has integrated autonomic capabilities into more than 500 product features in more than 100 distinct products and services. From technology driving Blue GeneL, the world’s fastest supercomputer, to “self-healing” features now standard in its systems management software, IBM boasts that it has focused on simplifying data center operations with virtualization, provisioning, databases, maintenance, energy management, security and other areas.

For example, in using IBM OPTIMIZETest — a new services offering that automates testing and assurance for IT operations — IBM reported that Marist College in New York has been able to speed its IT testing and autonomously provision and manage computer systems on demand, lowering the cost of provisioning storage and server systems. The college now does more testing in 50 percent less time while identifying potential problems earlier.

IBM is also touting Network Solutions as an example. Network Solutions provides Internet services to small and medium-sized businesses, and the company just migrated 450 servers that managed 17 terabytes of data from one data center to another — while integrating two newly acquired companies. IBM notes that Network Solutions relied on key processes and tools from the autonomic features of IBM Tivoli software and saved more than US$1 million in IT management costs.

“With our growing hosting and e-commerce infrastructures, we’re adding over 150 servers and 20 terabytes of storage per year,” said Jim Polkowske, vice president of operations for Network Solutions. “Leveraging autonomic capabilities, we can deploy software updates in 80 percent less time and without the risk of human error. This equates to less strain on our IT staff and significantly greater reliability and system availability for our customers.”

As the Network Solutions example illustrates, the sheer number of new servers that are being deployed around the world, in addition to radical increases in storage capacity, not to mention the complications that arise when an organization tries to manage it all, lead to a difficult set of circumstances. It’s a type of situation where, King said, automating parts of the process can be potentially valuable simply through cost savings. Autonomic computing solutions, however, are fast becoming must-have features “because companies just can’t keep adding data center staff,” he added.

Long Menu

Here’s a breakdown of the new offerings:

  • IBM Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager: Automated software for resource accounting, cost allocation and chargeback billing based on usage of resources, links to operation management to help improve overall IT cost management.
  • IBM Tivoli Security Operations Manager: Provides consolidated real-time dashboard to help customers keep their computer networks and systems up and running despite security threats from malicious outsiders, employees or contractors. The software autonomously analyzes data from throughout the data center to detect security threats, optimizing and automating the process of incident recognition, investigation and response.
  • IBM OPTIMIZETest: Services offering that automates testing and assurance for IT operations. Speeds the IT testing process and autonomously provisions and manages computer systems on demand. Helps lower the cost of provisioning storage and server systems.
  • IBM Tivoli Monitoring: Availability and performance monitoring for IT resources, with key diagnostic data and automated corrective actions, to help improve the performance of IT applications performance and minimize and avoid availability interruptions.
  • IBM service management services: Provides strategy, planning, design and implementation services to help clients adapt accepted standards and practices to their unique computing environments. Supports best practices for service management, such as ITIL (information technology infrastructure library), to help improve IT service quality, efficiency and speed, improve resource management, asset management, change management and service management and produce a more resilient IT enterprise.
  • IBM Tivoli Change and Configuration Management Database: Provides a platform for implementing service management initiatives. It automatically tracks IT information spread across many computer systems within a company — including details about servers, storage devices, networks, middleware, applications and data — and helps IT staff understand the relationships and dependencies among these various components.

In addition, earlier this week, IBM announced a new version of IBM Systems Director Active Energy Manager, which is energy management software that uses autonomic capabilities to track power consumption in data centers. It helps customers monitor their power usage as well as making adjustments to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Only IBM?

“It’s funny … autonomic computing was one of those subjects that everybody seemed to buy into five years or so ago,” King explained. “HP had its own concept, and Sun (Microsystems) was playing around with it for a while, but IBM seems to be sticking with it — they are manufacturing and selling all the pieces that go into this.

“I wonder at times, maybe the reason that IBM continues to pursue autonomic computing is they may be the only vendor capable of pursuing it — at least in the form that IBM originally envisioned,” he added.

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