IBM updates Director with eye on automation

IBM Corp. on Monday released an update to its management software for Intel Corp.-based servers, giving users a host of new automation and error-checking tools that could help reduce administration costs.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based company issued version 3.1 of its IBM Director software, which will ship with all xSeries servers. The latest iteration of Director brings some diagnostic and installation features found on higher-priced hardware down to IBM’s lower-cost Intel-based server line, said Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM’s server group.

Users will now be able to run diagnostic checks on their servers while the hardware is still running.

“You had to take the system down or offline to do diagnostics in a Windows environment in the past,” Bradicich said.

Users also will be able to monitor a variety of performance metrics on their servers running the Windows operating system, but won’t be forced to shut the system down and temporarily lose computing resources.

Another new tool on Director is a server “self-protection” feature that monitors parts of the hardware such as power supplies, hard disks, and fans to see if any of these components are showing warning signs of a possible failure. A fan, for example, might begin to slow down, letting the server know it could stop working in the near future. The updated Director software will automatically send out alerts to administrators when a failure appears imminent. In the past, users had to wait for the component to fail before receiving an alert.

Director 3.1 also sends out alerts when resources such as computing power or memory are running low.

In addition, the software should helps users configure new hardware such as PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) cards that help connect servers and storage. New tools help configure the cards and then tune I/O levels for the best overall data delivery, Bradicich said.

Because parts of Director were first developed as a software tool for complex, high-end servers, IBM thinks that the product offers advantages not allowed by software developed for lower-end platforms, such as servers manufactured by Dell Computer Corp. By finding problems early, Director users can fix their hardware before the system fails. In addition, many of the automated installation functions help lower the amount of time an administrator needs to get hardware up and running, Bradicich said.

“The price of server is not in the acquisition costs, but in the down time and human element involved in administration,” Bradicich said. “That’s the hidden gotcha in other servers, particularly Dell.”

IBM claims that their expertise as a technology developer gives it an edge over the likes of Dell, which is often cited for its ability to sell bundled technology from other companies at a low cost.

One analyst agreed that the software takes a lot of the pain, and some of the cost, out of administration tasks.

“They have a lot of software that monitors pretty much everything,” said Jennifer Swanson, associate director of consulting at Gartner Inc. “They are able to prevent things before they go, which means the server stays up, and the company saves money.”

Users of Director 3.0 will be able to upgrade to the new version via a download on IBM’s Web site.

IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., is at