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IBM draws self-management blueprint

The company on Friday will attempt to establish industry guidelines for the emerging field of highly automated computing systems.

IBM on Friday will attempt to establish industry guidelines for the emerging field of highly automated computing systems.

Big Blue will publish a that describes how information technology companies can make hardware and software more self-managing. IBM also will provide software that addresses the most important components of autonomic computing, the company?s term for systems that need little human intervention to run or to be maintained.

With the blueprint and early software tools, IBM is trying to increase interest in autonomic computing and to encourage standards that the IT industry can adopt, according to company executives.

"Our approach is an architectural approach with how to deal with these things," said Alan Ganek, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM. "We're trying to solve the whole problem of complexity."

Several IT companies, including Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard as well as IBM, have touted the idea of highly automated computing systems. By creating hardware and software that can diagnose and solve network problems, businesses can lower operational and IT labor costs. But IT providers use different labels for this automation and are addressing various aspects of the overall goal.

Sun's N1 initiative, for example, is aimed primarily at automating data center operations, as is HP's Utility Data Center products. HP also has an adaptive infrastructure initiative focused on improved systems management. Microsoft last month indicated it is developing tools that will help companies better allocate servers and software to meet changes in demand.

For its part, IBM executives said its research-led autonomic computing plan is very broad in scope, addressing individual components as well as networked systems. IBM is embedding automation features across its existing products, including servers, databases, middleware and systems management software.

The blueprint that IBM will release Friday describes a general approach to building self-managing systems that include gear from multiple providers, Ganek said. Its initial autonomic software toolkits use existing standards, including the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA), which is a set of standards to build applications that can distribute processing over a geographically dispersed set of computers.

The problem of standards
The industry hasn't yet tackled the problem of standards for building self-managing systems, but companies such as IBM, Sun, HP and Microsoft can rely on existing management protocols to manage products from many providers, said Amy Wohl, president of consulting firm Wohl Associates.

"Each one of these vendors, apart from Microsoft, is going to offer a scheme that at a high level ties all their own stuff together


IBM is off to a good start
toward an emerging, low-cost
data center architecture.

and, at a somewhat (lower) level, integrate with all the main vendors? stuff," Wohl said. For customers, support for standards would allow a business to automate management of hardware and software from multiple providers, she said.

The software toolkits IBM is releasing to the developer community cover what the company considers the key components of self-managing systems. Ganek said the toolkits IBM has developed overlap with the capabilities of existing products but also take a more generalized approach, rather than being specific to one provider's products.

By using the tools, corporate application developers and software companies can write applications that fit into IBM's autonomic computing blueprint. IBM also intends to include these tools, which are available as prototypes on its alphaworks Web site, within their own products.

Tom Rhinelander, an analyst at the New Rowley Group, said IBM's toolkits and standards support are small steps meant to show that IBM's autonomic computing initiative is moving beyond "slideware."

"IBM is trying to promote its vision and describe the look of standards that are emerging that will help them on the way," Rhinelander said. "There?s a bunch out there that will help, and when you pull them together you probably have a more autonomic system than you do today."

The four toolkits IBM is releasing include:

• Log and Trace, which collates data from Web server software and hardware to help system administrators spot and troubleshoot problems.

• Agent Building and Learning Environment (ABLE) Rules Engine for Complex Analysis, which is a tool for embedding simple decision-making capabilities within an application. For example, a developer could program an application to flag online purchases that exceed a certain level for a specific employee.

• Autonomic Monitoring Engine, which is designed to detect glitches in operations and fix them before a network outage occurs. The software is now available in IBM's Tivoli systems monitoring product, and IBM will be adding it to other software.

• Business Workload Management software, which uses a standard from the Open Group called application response measurement (ARM) to react to bottlenecks. IBM will add this capability to Tivoli in the second half of this year to help companies allocate server resources more effectively.