Tech Industry

Commentary: IBM's healing touch

Meta sees eLiza as a declaration of intent by IBM to unify its research efforts related to self-healing computing, rather than an indication of any fundamental new research direction.

We view the eLiza initiative as a declaration of intent by IBM to unify and accelerate its numerous research efforts related to self-healing computing, rather than an indication of any fundamental new research direction.

Self-monitoring and self-healing computing capabilities have been a major emphasis of research efforts across the computing industry for many years. Over the last decade, for example, Compaq Computer has been a leader in introducing self-healing capabilities--and all PC and server vendors typically provide capabilities today whereby the system tests its components and sends alert messages when a problem is developing.

Basic research into self-healing computing has deep roots in the defense and space industries, and continues in numerous research projects in diverse venues worldwide. Indeed, IBM acknowledges that it is already investing major resources to develop self-healing innovations aimed at improving the reliability of IT systems. eLiza seems to be primarily an organizational construct aimed at unifying these existing projects.

See news story:
Server, heal thyself
However, we believe the eLiza initiative may prove an astute move for several reasons. First, the need for improved self-monitoring and self-healing computing capabilities is escalating as the Internet era puts a premium on achieving extremely high levels of reliability across all levels of system architecture. We believe the need for increased reliability will continue to rise over the next decade. As more people use computing technology with more frequency and in more settings, these capabilities are becoming increasingly essential to avoid the many variants of the "blue screen of death" caused by system failures.

Furthermore, the pace of innovation in these areas is accelerating as the emphasis shifts from hardware (for example, redundant components and self-diagnosis of component failures) to more difficult software issues (such as self-healing operating systems and management applications).

Increasing investment in self-healing research is therefore a logical move, as is unifying the management of (and investment in) these research efforts so that they more effectively cross-fertilize each other and fuel self-healing innovation in diverse product lines.

Second, as major IT vendors jockey for competitive advantage for the industry's next era of innovation and expansion, IBM is well placed to gain at least an incremental advantage in self-monitoring and self-healing technologies. If the eLiza effort spurs IBM's pace of innovation, this could translate into tangible enhancements to system reliability as well as strong marketing messages to wield against its competitors.

Whether eLiza, which seems to be centered on organizational and investment strategy and future product development efforts, brings about any real or lasting innovation remains entirely to be seen. In addition, as IBM acknowledges, its research into self-healing computing has a multiyear scale, rather than promising any immediate breakthroughs.

For the time being, we expect continuing incremental improvements in self-monitoring and self-healing computing capabilities from IBM and other vendors. We expect these enhancements to be introduced by IBM and others first in their own server environments, and then to trickle down to commodity systems and to desktop computers and embedded systems.

Companies should be alert to self-healing capabilities of hardware and software as an important factor in achieving optimal system reliability. However, we do not expect major near-term improvements in this area.

In the interim, enterprises must focus on driving to operational excellence by improving their operational processes, increasing and enhancing automation, and hiring and retaining staffers and outsourcers with the key skills needed to maximize the reliability of their systems.

Meta Group analysts Jack Gold, Val Sribar and David Cearley contributed to this article.

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