IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard shared the stage at the first International Conference on Autonomic Computing in New York earlier this week, mapping out fairly similar and harmonious strategies for working toward self-managing IT systems.
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IBM claims credit for coining the name "autonomic computing" three years ago, to describe its new focus on automation as the key to addressing the growing problem of computing infrastructure complexity. That initiative became a core element in the on-demand vision IBM unveiled in 2002, a campaign that prompted many other IT suppliers to craft similar strategies. HP calls its spin the "adaptive enterprise" strategy, while Microsoft spoke Tuesday of its Dynamic Systems Initiative.
Steve White, IBM Research's senior manager of autonomic computing, spoke of an IBM venture exploring the construction of systems from self-responsible components. A storage-system component, for example, would recognise that it requires a database and would find and configure its own database component. The project, called Unity, has a working prototype.
The gains from such studies will be slow. All three companies said they were introducing autonomic features gradually into their products and did not expect to deliver any all-in-one miracle technologies.
However, some gains have already crept into products. IBM's forthcoming DB2 update, codenamed Stinger, includes tools to tune the database to accommodate fluctuating workloads, while HP has workload and availability controllers available for use in virtual server environments.
Representatives from the three companies agreed about the need for more automatic computing technologies, and about the incremental nature of their expected progress toward that goal.
The only topic to spark notably divergent views was the issue of standards. An audience member called for greater industry standardisation in areas such as error-log generation formats, a position backed by IBM's representative but rebuffed by Microsoft senior architect Anders Vinberg.
"I think it's a hopeless request," Vinberg said. Instead of pushing for deeper standardisation, customers should turn to data transformation and integration tools to get heterogeneous applications and data sources to interoperate, he added.
IBM architect Jeffrey Frey retorted that tools are essential, but so is co-operation between suppliers.
IBM had a leading role in co-ordinating this year's inaugural conference, which ran in parallel with the World Wide Web Conference, but Microsoft will take the lead in arranging next year's gathering in Seattle.
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service