Is Autonomic Computing in Your Future?

Throughout 2006, the high cost of IT support and administration was a focal point for considerable comment and speculation. However, the reasons for this aren’t really a mystery. As technology systems become increasingly diverse, distributed and interconnected, they become more complex. Management costs rise with complexity.

IT has become increasingly fundamental to business growth, and as complexity continues to escalate, we, as an industry, have to find better ways to address this roadblock. “Autonomic computing” offers one such solution. It is a concept that builds self-awareness and self-healing capabilities into technology systems, endowing them with the wherewithal to manage themselves and one another.

The evolution of autonomic computing depends on two factors: the willingness of the industry to refocus from human-intensive to technology-intensive support processes, and the ability of vendors to support this shift with innovation. In late 2006, EMA surveyed over 150 IT practitioners at all levels to determine their attitudes towards the first. This article provides some highlights from that research, which was summarized in an EMA paper titled Is the Industry Ready for Autonomic Computing? During late 2007, we will survey vendors to answer the vendor portion of this equation.

Different Names, Same Idea

In 2001, Paul Horn, a senior vice president at IBM, anticipated the technology complexity that has now become a reality. To help mitigate this problem, he proposed autonomic computing. The name comes from the human body’s autonomic nervous system, which optimizes such functions as body temperature, heart rate, and digestion based on both internal and external conditions.

Since that time, multiple vendors have launched autonomic computing initiatives. Called “Adaptive Enterprise” by Hewlett Packard and “Dynamic Systems Initiative” (DSI) by Microsoft, autonomic computing is often perceived as an “IBM term” by many vendors. Regardless, the idea remains the same. Vendors are beginning to bring products to market that promote this vision, and these products will likely be the foundation for the “next generation” of enterprise management products.

To evolve into an enterprise management model that addresses evolving business systems, such as SOA’s virtualized applications and virtual “devices” that can be provisioned and de-provisioned automatically, increasingly intelligent products are required. We see autonomic computing as filling this gap and as being the hope of the future for cost-effective management of increasingly complex technology ecosystems.

It is fitting that the idea of autonomic computing came out of IBM, a bastion of mainframe and midrange computing, because autonomic- or self-managing- capabilities have been built into hardware for many years. However, just as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is leading the way for IT support organizations to become less siloed; that is, less divided into specific technology verticals, autonomic capabilities are expanding beyond the hardware realm to encompass not simply devices, but entire technology ecosystems. The long-term vision is of interconnected, interacting IT systems that, via standards and cross-communication, are able to self-regulate and adapt to their environments.

Executive Attitudes

In late 2006, EMA surveyed personnel at all levels of IT organizations, from CIOs to technology administrators. The research was designed to gather user attitudes and comfort levels towards various autonomic capabilities.