Homegrown OS helps servers heal themselves

Computing with the power of self-healing could be just what the doctor ordered for many businesses. It comes with a “Made in Canada” label attached, and is courtesy of Net Integration Technologies Inc. of Markham, Ont. The company has developed Nitix, described as an autonomic server operating system.

The autonomic part of Nitix features computing functions like self-management, self-configuration, self-optimization and the aforementioned self-healing capabilities — all part of a Linux-based system specifically designed for small businesses.

“When things do fail or have a hiccup, the autonomic engine (in Nitix) is designed to go and deal with these problems,” says Ozzy Papic, the CEO of Net Integration Technologies.

Papic describes the autonomic function of Nitix as something similar to how a central nervous system might control and regulate functions that cause a body to repair itself.

Nitix likewise has a set of sub-systems that work independently but all are managed through a centralized intelligence. Nitix’s autonomic engine monitors a variety of computer operating conditions while continually adjusting and compensating for any changing situations or faults that occur within the operating system environment, he says.

At the heart of it all is a unified configuration management system, or UniConf, that acts as a sort of brain. Like most operating systems, Nitix is pre-configured to function in certain ways. UniConf, the central manager, spreads these instructions out to every process within the OS.

You can’t corrupt or try to alter what’s been configured because UniConf recognizes these differences as it continually surveys itself and automatically returns things back to the way they were predefined. That’s a particularly useful function in the case of malicious system intrusions and attacks designed to change or take over a computing environment.

But even the good guys need to be aware of this autonomic brain. Papic recalls the frustration of an IT systems integrator that had attempted to make changes to the operating system.

“We had a situation where (one of) our resellers wanted to add certain functionality into the core operating system,” he says. “They spent hours making changes and discovered that these were all purged by the autonomic system (when it was rebooted) because these weren’t supposed to be there.” None of these attempted changes took hold.

Linux as Nitix was less complex than alternative server operating systems, easier to install, and does a great deal more than comparable variants of Microsoft Windows and Linux, Papic says. In terms of lines of code Nitix is vastly smaller than other Linux and Windows operating systems, weighing in at approximately 25 megabytes of software code versus about four gigabytes of coding in Microsoft’s Small Business Server, he explains.

Quick install is achieved through the Nitix systems manager that relays configuration instructions throughout the entire operating system fabric. It’s a sort of “read once, write many” approach that vastly simplifies installation by reducing the need to repeatedly code instructions into every subsystem.

The same management principle also provides the means to automate things like system maintenance and diagnosis through the creation of automated responses to pre-determined conditions — like when alterations are made to the configuration — and woven through an entire Nitix server environment.

Nitix might be the cure to what ails many businesses looking for a simpler alternative to traditional business servers and a more secure computing environment. Papic claims there’s never been a Nitix system “that was compromised or affected by a worm virus or malicious code.”

Nitix isn’t the perfect operating system, Papic admits. But it might be pretty close.

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— McLean is editor-in-chief of IT World Canada and can be reached at [email protected].

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