IBM draws new map

IBM Corp. last month took another step forward in its efforts to automate some of networking’s nastier management tasks when it released its “autonomic computing” blueprint free of charge to its customers. The roadmap, IBM executives said, will provide a method of assembling technologies for automating the detection of outages and administering passwords, among other things.

According to Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd., the new blueprint provides a mechanism that enterprises and vendors can use to facilitate delivery of self-managing capabilities across a computing environment.

Outlining control loops to monitor, analyze and react to changes within the environment, the blueprint offers users common approaches and terminology, including explanations of how hardware, software and standards work together to create self-managing and self-healing systems.

The loops collect information on the system, make decisions and adjust the system as necessary, enabling the system to configure, heal, optimize and protect itself, the company said.

The blueprint is based on new and emerging standards, including the Open Grid Systems Architecture and Application Resource Measurement (ARM). The company is in the process of working with third-party partners, customers and open standards committees to propel the evolution of the architecture.

“This blueprint is about how you build autonomic functions into your products and how you build autonomic managers that can manage the whole environment,” explained Miles Barel, program director for autonomic computing marketing with IBM in Hawthorne, N.Y. “It is about building products with a cohesive autonomic behaviour for customers to gain the maximum benefit from autonomic computing.”

Big Blue also announced four product offerings, each addressing core capabilities needed to forge an autonomic computing environment. The company’s new Log & Trace tool for problem determination helps customers alleviate the manual task of discovering the cause of system problems. Log data from different system components is transformed into a common format for easier identification and more structured analysis of distributed application problems, the company said.

The new ABLE (Agent Building and Learning Environment) Rules Engine for complex analysis offers a set of fast, reusable learning and reasoning components that work with intelligent monitoring software to capture and share individual and organizational information.

IBM’s new Monitoring Engine and Autonomic Monitoring capabilities are designed to detect resource outages and potential errors before they affect systems and end-user experiences. Developed by IBM’s management arm, Tivoli, the engine comes with embedded self-healing technology that enables systems to recover automatically from critical situations, and uses advanced resource model technology to capture, analyze and correlate key metrics that support the autonomic capabilities. The tool will be available in beta this summer and will ship with Tivoli Monitoring software later this year.

The fourth and final offering, Business Workload Management for heterogeneous environments, uses the ARM standard to identify bottleneck causes through response time measurement, transaction processing segments reports, as well as dynamic learning of transaction workflow topology through servers and middleware. The tool modifies resources as needed to ensure high performance. It will be available in the Tivoli Monitoring for Transaction Performance product.

According to Richard Ptak, founder and research director of Amherst, N.H.-based Ptak & Associates Inc., the major thrust behind the announcements is to support IBM’s Grid on Demand autonomic messages. Ptak explained that what was initially seen as a hardware initiative has taken a different turn and IBM has realized how significant the strategy was from a software perspective.

“The real interesting thing about this is, traditionally, when you introduce new technology like this, the management is the last thing to come on board,” Ptak told Network World Canada. “With [autonomic computing], the management is critical to its realization.”

In terms of the free blueprint, Ptak added that the move gives IBM an upper hand in how enterprises view the technology.

“It lets IBM capture mindshare and builds the understanding of what needs to be done and what will be done, all in the terms that IBM has now defined,” he said. “What releasing the blueprint does is give IBM and Tivoli the chance to influence the people who take the time to look at (the technology) and bring it in-house. They get first move or first advantage because they are going to frame the terms of the debate.”

And customers are already eating it up. Val King, manager of IS security and recovery at the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary, recently deployed Tivoli Identity Manager software to manage user ID and password changes. He says the pilot deployment to 120 users delivered a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in help desk calls. King says he will roll out the automated password self-service application to between 6,000 and 9,000 users next month.

“We took a process that involved several people and could take up to a week, and made it a simple, self-service process that can take minutes,” King says. To get the software to take automatic action, King input the manual process to change passwords into Identity Manager. The software follows the same process as a manual operator would, King says. Incorporating automation into management processes does not put security at risk, he adds.

But King says automated password management is a simple, redundant task that takes time and skills away from other more challenging security projects. King also will automate archiving of security event logs generated by firewalls, another time-consuming, repetitive task.

IBM’s products will be available later this year.

– With files from IDG News Service