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Putting Systems Management To Music

Researchers have created software that translates network and server activity into music. With it, IT departments can interpret the music to detect problems in the system.
Nothing gets attention like the sound of a baby crying.

Building on the idea that people are naturally attuned to sound, the Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning has created software that translates network and server activity into music. And, their IT department operators can interpret the music to detect problems in the system.

"Like with the babysitter monitor, you know when the baby's not happy," project leader and Telecommunications Technology Program Coordinator William Farkas said during an interview Wednesday. "The very appearance of violins tells you we're getting locked by spam now."

Research Fellow Hong Tae Jeon sent an e-mail this week saying that the Institute, in the suburbs of Toronto, just completed a two year research project on Information Music, or iSIC, in which "art imitates the network." Now, the concept is in action at the Institute.

Last Friday, IT department operators began listening to what sounds like classical music but is actually a precise audio model of system metrics. They are trained to recognize instruments, chords, tempo and other musical elements of music as a translation of e-mail activity from 15 servers over three subnets. Every aspect of the music correlates to information.

Probes detect server activity and send about 20 summaries a second to the iSIC sound engine. The data is aggregated and transformed into an audio format. The information moves through a rack-mounted Yamaha synthesizer, which streams it out as music.

Farkas said faculty and students at the Telecommunications Technology Program wrote their own software in Java and can convert any kind of data into an audio format for monitoring just about anything, including bandwidth use and intrusion activity. The system also represents the data graphically at the same time.

"It might have promise in Web services, like e-commerce facilities," he said, adding that marketers and executives could listen to their company's data while studying it in more traditional ways.

Most monitoring systems are engineered for the left side of the brain, requiring attention to detail and analysis, but the right side of the brain processes music, recognizing its patterns with little effort for input that is complimentary, Farkas said.

"Statistics are all about seeking patterns in data," he said. "All of us are capable of working at just about anything with music in the background."

Farkas said the music is soothing, "beautiful," and accessible. The tough part is often convincing people that the music is really data that can be interpreted.

"When I describe this to anybody under 30, they are really enthusiastic and interested," he said. "They think it's a cool idea, and you can sort of see them look with the thousand-mile stare. With other people, you can see in their look that they think it's a really flaky idea, like they're thinking 'music has got nothing to do with work, dude, and I work.' It's kind of like saying I have a bunch of ballet dancers, and I'm going to bring them into your workplace."

Still, Farkas said he hopes produce a commercial application after completing the pilot program within six weeks.