IBM ups net intelligence ante

ORLANDO – IBM may have chosen Disney World as the setting to announce a spate of new intelligent networking features for its systems management products, but analysts and users believe there’s nothing Mickey Mouse about their capabilities.

Designed to minimize the manual workload now shouldered by IT departments in maintaining such systems as enterprise security and storage, the new technologies are designed to automate some of the more mundane and time-consuming tasks involved in running a network. Additions to the IBM Tivoli Identity Manager suite, for instance, will eliminate the need to manually change employees’ identities such as passwords when someone leaves or joins an organization. The new software, announced here during Gartner Group’s Symposium and ITXpo conference, will do it all on its own, saving IS time and lots of money, IBM contends.

Dubbing its overall push into this “hands-off” type of management “autonomic computing,” IBM believes these announcements represent merely the start of something big. And Rick Sturm, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., agrees.

“This is the wave of the future,” said Sturm. “It’s still a little early to tell, because the return on investment data (on IBM’s autonomic products) is not available yet, but this really is a first step.”

Sturm added that the technologies’ ability to recognize potential problems across a network before they happen will enable IT departments to do things “better, faster and cheaper.”

IBM announced a total of 26 solutions with autonomic capabilities, each falling into one of a few broad categories.

The IBM Tivoli Privacy Manager software helps companies automate the enforcement of privacy policies, both internal and those which involve interaction with partners and customers.

The Identity Manger suite incorporates technology developed by Access360, a company purchased earlier this year by IBM. Along with the VeriSign Access Management Service, corporations can gain more control over which employees get access to what resources, according to IBM. By automating the process of setting up and deleting user accounts, Big Blue says companies can not only save time and money, but can also increase security by not letting any identity switches slip through the cracks.

“Companies with thousands of users often spend millions of dollars a year in changing identities,” said Arvind Krishna, vice-president of security products for Tivoli during an interview with IT World Canada. “By automating the process they can save that much money right away.”

One user who likes the sound of such identity management strides is Mark Szelenyi. He’s the director of marketing at Kontiki Inc., a provider of digital media delivery software. Automatic deletion of identities belonging to outside partners will help Kontiki avoid access problems, he said.

“If I have a partner, and a sales person from that organization has access to my server, who gets them out of my [systems] if they leave the company?”

When asked if this scenario has caused the firm problems in the past, Szelenyi hedged, but described a personal experience of his own that illustrates what can potentially go wrong.

“When I worked for another company, I had access to all of its reseller information sitting on servers. Eight months later, I still have access.”

At ITXpo, IBM also threw a considerable amount of autonomic weight into its storage products. Billed as an easy-to-install and easy-to-configure offering, the company’s Storage Resource Manager offers more than 300 predefined reports and the ability to track storage use across departments or larger storage volume users within an enterprise. Users can also set storage threshold levels. When these levels are reached, the software automatically does a file sweep and archives or deletes data that could cause trouble if not dealt with.

According to Bob Madey, vice-president of performance and availability products for Tivoli, the firm is not stopping with the announcements this week. Users can expect to see intelligent capabilities cropping up in the transaction layer by next year. Such software would be able to dig into the ones and zeroes that form a single movement of data across the network and provide a report on it.

“We’ve already started to deploy that to some extent in our current products and I’m moving massive amounts of money into that area,” said Madey. “The first toolkit ships next month and we’ll have a deployed product next June that actually can discover the topology of a transaction.”

While acknowledging that such capabilities are possible, Sturm questioned whether transaction-level intelligence will work in the short term.

“The question I have is around the amount of computing resources needed to operate at that level of granularity,” Sturm said, referring to other pieces of the infrastructure puzzle that might not be ready for such analysis, such as chip speeds and memory.

When IT automation the likes of what IBM announced this week is discussed, IT managers usually wonder how such technology will affect the nature of their jobs. Should IS employees whose skills might soon be performed by intelligent software such as IBM’s be worried about potential job losses? Sturm says no.

“The content of the jobs will change, but the number of jobs will stay the same as the overall IT environment grows,” he said.