Promoting Software That Heals Networks

IBM, CA, HP tout automated management while VARs ponder the technology’s promise

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Several network management vendors are laying out strategies to add automated, self-healing capabilities to their management software.

Among the latest is IBM's Tivoli software division, which earlier this month introduced a slew of new products that add automated management capabilities to its lineup.

The product blitz is the next step in IBM's plan to provide utility-based computing, a vision laid out by IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano last November, the company said.

As part of that vision, IBM plans to add to the Tivoli software autonomic, self-healing management capabilities that can integrate the management of users, IT resources and businesses processes, said Steve Wojtowecz, director of strategy at IBM Tivoli, Austin, Texas.

Several of IBM's competitors are also promising to deliver self-healing products.

Computer Associates International said it plans to shed light on its strategy for creating self-managing, proactive infrastructure tools this week at Networld Interop in Las Vegas, where President and CEO Sanjay Kumar is scheduled to deliver a keynote address.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard also has pumped up the automated capabilities of its product lines within recent months, rolling out new products, such as OpenView Network Node Manager 6.4 last November, in support of its Adaptive Management Platform initiative.

With all this jockeying for a leadership position in automated management tools, solution providers are wondering how effectively technology can replace the human touch.

"If Tivoli can effectively reduce the need for the human factor at a price point the market will accept, I think it would be a winner, but that's the key: Does it really do it, or do we have to get in there and fix the problem anyway?" said Mont Phelps, president of Netivity Solutions, a solution provider in Waltham, Mass.

Steve Lenhardt, client services director at St. Louis-based integrator Maryville Technologies, called automated management "more of a prophecy than a reality."

"It's a good place to strive toward, but I don't think it's achievable to have absolutely no human intervention," Lenhardt said. Even if systems and software have self-healing capabilities, customers will still require customization in setting up the rules to be followed, he said.

It's the level of prep work that goes into an automated solution that keeps many customers from adopting the technology, said Steve Pazol, president of Professional Consulting Services, a Chicago-based solution provider.

"Customers want to allow an automated response [to network problems], but before they do, they have to figure out and configure the response they want to take. It's a process a lot of companies don't want to go through," Pazol said.

To help cut down on the level of preparation needed to implement a self-healing solution, IBM's new Tivoli Autonomic Monitoring Engine software uses preconfigured or customized rules to detect and cure server problems without human intervention, Wojtowecz said. For example, the software could stop low-priority applications from accessing a troubled database or divert memory or CPU utilization to preserve performance levels of mission-critical systems, he said.

The software engine includes 300 "best practice" scenarios for fixing common problems, Wojtowecz said. IBM also plans to offer a software developer kit that solution providers can use to customize the engine's rules, he said. "They can take their knowledge and use it as a differentiator between themselves and their competition," he said.

IBM expects the Tivoli Autonomic Monitoring Engine to be generally available this fall. Pricing has not yet been established.

The vendor also introduced IBM Tivoli Enterprise Console 3.9, which adds a Web console for remote access and also includes auto-discovery and problem diagnosis through preconfigured rules.

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