In HAL's Footsteps

Real progress is being made in developing IT systems that do a better job of monitoring, analyzing, and fixing problems without human intervention

Darrell Dunn, Contributor

October 7, 2005

3 Min Read

Another challenge was proactive security. Waiting for a security vulnerability or an exposure to be discovered proved costly. Once the damage was done, recovery could be a long and complex process.

LAN Solutions went to work with Singlestep Technologies Corp. and IBM's autonomic-computing group to implement a system with robust event-correlation and network-event-response automation, Kellan says. The companies created a bundled product using Singlestep's Unity software and IBM's autonomic-computing toolkit.

The project team created the necessary correlations within IBM's Autonomic Management Engine framework to give LAN Solutions' staff methods of detecting early symptoms of problems and help them get to the root cause of resulting network issues, he says. The platform utilizes Unity's ability to send and receive IBM's Common Base Event to the Autonomic Management Engine, which then monitors system resources, correlates information from several components con- currently, and determines the root causes of failure.

The Museum of Modern Art is testing autonomic computing to solve problems and complete work faster.Photo by Museum of Modern Art

The new system has been deployed to about a quarter of LAN Solutions' customer base, Kellan says, letting them save between 20% and 40% of their monitoring costs. Although he's pleased with the platform, additional advances are needed. "I look at this as the first generation," he says. It's getting closer to being self-healing and self-aware, he says. "We've got the brain, but now we need the arms and legs to make this truly a self-realizing network."

Singlestep CTO Ophir Ronen says the company already is working on the next step, which it plans to introduce this month. Singlestep's autonomic platform, in conjunction with IBM, will be able to match a series of symptoms with specific resolutions that can be implemented with an automated self-healing policy.

"This is not just pie in the sky. These autonomic capabilities exist now and are helping customers get a handle on the cost and complexity associated with delivering IT services," Ronen says.

This summer, New York's Museum of Modern Art began testing an autonomic platform that combines network-discovery technology from nLayers Ltd. with IBM's autonomic engine. "Like everyone, our big challenge is to do more with less," MoMA CIO Steve Peltzman says. "Anything that can make my four folks act like a staff of 10 or 12 is great."

By combining nLayers' InSight discovery platform with IBM's Autonomic Management Engine, MoMA reduced the time involved in its problem-resolution process by 10% to 20%, Peltzman says. When a failure occurs, the autonomic platform is able to assemble the appropriate logs needed for resolution and provide specific remedies automatically.

It's difficult at this stage to attribute a cost savings to the platform, Peltzman says, but "if you have a product that does the first 15 minutes of your job automatically, you'll save money. It may make an outage last 15 minutes instead of two hours, and that certainly relates to money."

The platform "is a first shot at trying to do this," he says. "It's not a mature product, [but] there are lots of encouraging signs, and we want to stay ahead of the curve rather than behind it."

Most business-technology managers are eager for smarter IT systems that can predict and resolve problems without human intervention. They hope those systems will free up staff time and budget dollars for new and innovative technology, reducing the need for IT departments to spend most of their time keeping the systems running. But they probably won't want technology that's as smart or as independent as HAL, which, after all, didn't heal itself.

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