Computers that can think for themselves? It’s an old question, albeit not a fair one. Computers are programmed. They do what they are programmed to do. But IBM is looking to change some of that thinking with a philosophy that enables machines to manage and improve their own operations with little or no tinkering from humans. IBM competitors, such as Sun Microsystems, are following suit.
The Armonk, N.Y. firm calls this technology autonomic computing and the systems vendor’s goal with it is to help companies to turn their resources onto pressing projects to trim costs and boost productivity. Big Blue’s thinking is that more intuitive computers will provide a buffer for more complex IT systems. The idea has drawn heaps of praise from IT analysts and the practice goes straight to the heart of IBM’s company-wide push to sway enterprise customers to its e-business on-demand products.
IBM Friday introduced a suite of autonomic computing software technologies that allow IT systems to react in real-time to unpredictable surges in demand and deploy computing resources to handle them.
Meant to be employed together, the three technologies — “Adaptive Forecasting,” “Rapid Reconfiguration” and “On-line Capacity Planning” — can tell systems administrators just how serious sudden increases in workload are, and add necessary server capacity to handle the volume. The tools later free up capacity as the demand dissipates.
So, how do these three software pieces work together? Ric Telford, director of IBM Autonomic Computing, said the adaptive forecasting system can anticipate the progression of an unexpected surge in demand. The online capacity planning technology offers estimates of the resources needed to defend the customer service levels for the projected demand. It then allows a hot swap of resources from one workload to another with no noticeable interruption to the end user.
Telford said the rapid reconfiguration facility quickly add new nodes to WebSphere Application Server Version 5.0 when more resources are needed and removes them when demands subside. This takes minutes and there is no downtime to set up new resources. When the surge is over, the system will shift resources back to the original workload.
Telford said the challenge was pulling the three technologies together, gauging historic traffic patterns and getting them to operate in real-time.
Simply, enterprises who use this technology might that discover that some of the more mundane and tedious tasks are take care of by the system employing such software.
The trio of technologies make up a part of the “self-optimizing” component of IBM’s autonomic computing strategy. The other components under this arm include “self-healing,” “self-configuring” and “self-protecting.” Telford said the IT community can expect autonomic technologies from these groups in the spring.
Analysts love the autonomic stuff
Analysts are very bullish on autonomic computing.
Giga Information Group analyst Richard Fichera called the autonomic computing part of a major and long-term battle for the management of the enterprise resources. “…as OS and hardware platforms become increasingly commoditized, this level of management will become a major competitive battleground. However, at this point in time it is still relatively embryonic, and in some senses is as much about a battle for the perception of leadership as it is about actual delivered products.
Fichera said Sun’s N1, while behind IBM in vision and scope, will “probably yield valuable technology and products, especially for Sun’s installed base, which is (or should be) their major concern over the next few years.”
Right now it seems IBM has the inside track, but Fichera said not to count out Sun, who last month uncovered part of its N1 vision at a product launch.
“Long term, IBM has immense depths of intellectual property and cross-platform and industry coverage that Sun does not. Short to medium term, its still a rapidly changing area of technology, with plenty of room for both vendors to bring immense value to enterprise customers, and each vendor will have an advantage with its installed base. Sun, because of the homogeneity of its installed base, which is both a blessing and a curse, will probably have an easier time delivering an enterprise suite of immediately usable products short term.”
IBM’s latest autonomic technologies, built to work with WebSphere Application Server Version 5 and DB2 8.1 software products, were created as a collaboration between the IBM Research Division and Software Group. They also have the potential to be used with third-party applications and platforms.
IBM Global Services e-business Management Services offering is in the process of adapting these technologies to be included as part of its offerings, which will also be demonstrated at IBM’s “Autonomic Computing: Dynamic Surge Protection” exhibit at CeBit, in Hanover, Germany next week.