Ever since IBM senior vice president Paul Horn coined the phrase "autonomic computing" during a keynote speech at an Agenda conference in October 2001, Big Blue has made no secret of its desire to lead the IT industry in the development of self-managing IT systems. Recently, IBM launched a pair of autonomic tools it hopes will help pave the way for increased mainstream adoption of autonomic computing.
Autonomic computing is a self-managing computing model named after, and patterned on, the human body's autonomic nervous system. An autonomic computing system would control the functioning of computer applications and systems without input from the user, in the same way that the autonomic nervous system regulates body systems without conscious input from the individual. The goal of autonomic computing is to create systems that run themselves, capable of high-level functioning while keeping the system's complexity invisible to the user.
The release includes Policy Management for Autonomic Computing (PMAC), an autonomic management tool that makes decisions based on policies or business rules created by the developer when embedded within software applications. Big Blue is also unveiling Touchpoint Simulator, touted as the first program that will allow developers to build and test their own autonomic components.
According to Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., starting with the eLiza initiative in April 2001, IBM has been the leader in the autonomic computing space because it was able to deploy self-managing technology from its mainframes onto the rest of its product line. He sees the release of these new tools as yet another way for Big Blue to fertilize the autonomic field.
"I think these follow with what [IBM has been] doing in development space. In the past year or so, IBM has been increasingly proactive in bringing developers on board to support different kinds of software functionality," King said. "If you [build tools that] make it easier for people to work with your products, you allow for the continuing evolution of those products."
According to Ric Telford, IBM's director of autonomic computing, this aggressive push into autonomic computing is based on the theory that companies can move forward in an IT environment where tight by investing in advancements designed to make existing technology more cost-effective and less labor intensive.
"Depending on whom you ask … they all say that anywhere from 70% to 90% of all IT spending today is on maintaining and managing existing systems. Companies are restricted in how much they can spend on IT, and that leaves a very small percent for innovation," Telford said. "Autonomic computing addresses how to manage existing systems and make them more affordable by making systems management occur within the system itself."
The PMAC tool is the culmination of an 18-month project by IBM's development labs. Using policy-based decisions set by developers, PMAC can tell a database when to backup based on preset policies such as time of day, activity level or even vacation schedules. When a managed resource, such as an application or database, requests guidance, the autonomic manager can return an action based on relevant policies without human intervention.
"The [PMAC] is based on premise that, to make autonomic computing really work, you have to make the rules and policies that humans who operate and manage the IT center and encode them in a way that can be consumed and acted upon by the system itself," Telford said.
The Touchpoint Simulator software connects computing resources, like servers or databases, with autonomic management applications during the development stage. According to IBM, this simplifies the development of autonomic systems by giving developers a realistic view of the IT architecture to test their system on while building autonomic technologies.
Since late 2001, IBM has introduced more than 415 autonomic features into more than 50 products. According to IBM, more than 60 business partners around the world have adopted core IBM self-managing autonomic technology over the past 12 months.
Both tools are now available for download on IBM's alphaWorks developer site, its online resource for emerging technologies.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer
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