Vendors Revive 'Autonomic' Debate

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SAN MATEO, Calif. -- Self-regulating or "autonomic" computer networks: wave of the future or hype of the past?

Depends on who you are polling these days. IBM and its friends say enough of the technology exists now that they are ready to take the practice to the mainstream.

And so it is. The Armonk, N.Y.-based company introduced two new software programs today that let networks monitor their own system performance in quite the same way that a body controls temperature or fatigue.

"Autonomic computing is not necessarily an IBM initiative but it is something that IBM would like to help drive," Ric Telford, director for Autonomic Computing at IBM, said during a briefing with press at its Innovation Center here. In addition to press, several Information Systems and Engineering students from San Jose State University were also on hand.

As part of its Autonomic Computing initiative, IBM released its Policy Management for Autonomic Computing and IBM Touchpoint Simulator to its alphaWorks developer site for download.

Autonomic, or "self-healing" features are instrumental in furthering IBM's on-demand strategy and are increasingly being added across Big Blue's software divisions for uniformity. IBM said it has woven more than 475 autonomic features into more than 75 distinct products including DB2, Tivoli and WebSphere.

The Touchpoint Simulator, for example, is the first offering in the autonomic tool space that lets developers build and test their own autonomic components. IBM has several autonomic tool kits and is currently building the next generation of the software platform that requires the Eclipse 3.0 Software Development Kit.

IBM's Policy Management for Autonomic Computing (PMAC) took 18-months to complete. The software sits inside an application and sets its decisions based on policies, or business rules, created by the developer. For example, policy-based decisions can tell a database when to back up, based on preset policies such as time of day, activity level or even vacation schedules.

"The old way was cumbersome when complying with the information for rebinding. There was such discrepancies because the database sometimes couldn't decide which header to follow," said Guy Lohman, IBM's research manager for Autonomic Computing at the company's Almaden Research Center.

IBM said since last year autonomic technology has been pulled in more than 21,500 downloads from its alphaWorks site. IBM said it has more than 60 business partners adopting IBM's core self-managing autonomic technology. Software providers, including NetFuel and Network Physics were also on hand to show support for IBM's efforts.

Forum Systems, LeoStream Corporation, Singlestep Technologies and Solid Information Technology are also behind IBM's efforts.

Much of the architecture for IBM's plans is centered on Common Base Events (CBE). In the event of a server error or the need to reboot, the software tracks every process and looks for trends. IBM said it also relies on its Orchestration and Provisioning Library (OPAL) so that customers and partners following along have a series of tools, best practices, and education resources.

IBM is also using its autonomic initiative to help companies simplify their data centers. Gartner estimates that 60 to 80 percent of the average company's IT budget is spent on simply maintaining existing applications. The company says self-managing technologies help bypass much of the maintenance duties.

Still, this is all a story that IBM's customers have heard before.

"My greatest fear when I approach a customer is that when I do my presentation, they come back with, 'But you were talking about this four years ago. Where is your solution?'" Lohman said.

"One day we are going to look back on all of this and say, 'Why did we ever do it this way in the beginning?' We knew that rebooting the server helped some things but we weren't sure why."

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