Autonomic Amigos


Although Alan Ganek, CTO of Tivoli and vice president of autonomic computing at IBM, and Ozzie Papic, CEO of Net Integration Technologies, have never met, they are on the same road to next-generation computing. That's because both of them are diehard proponents of autonomic computing, which essentially means they strongly believe that systems should be able to heal themselves.

Prior to taking on the CTO role at Tivoli, Ganek led IBM's research efforts into the nascent area of autonomic computing. To date, IBM's efforts have led to things like self-modifying chips in IBM's Power5 architecture that respond to environmental changes and a proposal for a new industry event logging standard, called Web Services Distributed Management, which promises to create a comment set of semantics and formats for describing logs that keep track of system events. That may seem trivial enough, but with everybody describing system events in different ways, it makes communicating information about those events roughly equal to trying to manage work orders for the construction of the Tower of Babel.

Papic, meanwhile, has focused his efforts on building a Linux distribution that includes self-healing properties. He argues that not only does Linux need to be much lighter than Windows, but it also needs to be a lot smarter when it comes to systems management. Otherwise, people will continue to see Windows as being the better-integrated platform when it comes to easing the daily systems management tasks that bedevil IT people every day.

The reason that the work being overseen by these two executives is worth everyone's attention comes down to simple economics. As IT budgets remain tight, the majority of the money being spent within IT is on maintaining existing systems and paying the people needed to run them. The only way to free up money that would allow most organizations to consider buying new applications and related systems is to focus on reducing the amount of money they have to spend on supporting their existing systems.

Without doing that, we will continue to live in a world where most business executives continue to see IT as a necessary cost center as opposed to an underdeveloped skill set that can save the company money and drive additional sources of revenue.

What the industry needs most right now is more people like Ganek and Papic to come together to focus on all aspects of systems and network management. IBM has committed a fair amount of money to researching autonomic computing at the university level, but it's only a drop in the bucket. What's also really needed is for the industry to make a concerted effort to fund an independent body of researchers and engineers that would be 100 percent focused on lowering the cost of computing by advancing our collective autonomic-computing capabilities.

The thing to remember is that the number of applications that computing can be applied to are huge. What's holding back our progress--and the overall industry--is the amount of money required to support an application. As those costs drop, the number of applications will increase. So instead of seeing a world where 80 percent to 90 percent of an IT budget is dedicated to ongoing support and maintenance, we could live in a world where 50 percent or more of IT budgets are actually dedicated to new applications.

If and when that happens, it would fundamentally change the economics of the entire industry--an event that is nothing if not long overdue.