CRN Interview: Alan Ganek, Tivoli CTO

For the past few years, Alan Ganek has led IBM's efforts in autonomic computing, which is designed to automate many system- and network-management tasks. More recently, Ganek became CTO for IBM's Tivoli division. In an interview with Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Ganek discusses IBM's progress in autonomic computing—a cornerstone of its on-demand computing strategy—and the role he expects Tivoli to play in making that happen.

CRN: IBM has talked about autonomic computing for a couple of years. How much progress have you made?

>> 'If you are a solution provider, you provide some application value based on middleware. ... Having a mechanism that strings the products together allows for problem determination and support and a much easier way for remote debugging.'

GANEK: We announced last summer an ability that essentially allows for self-modifying chips. This is in the Power5 chips coming out. You could actually change the circuit design based on environmental attributes that could relate to temperature, voltage and performance aspects. It could sense a different environment that the chip has been placed into and change the circuitry to adapt to that environment. This would allow performance problems to be encapsulated and handled in the hardware and not require any intervention.

CRN: What else have you been working on?

GANEK: In today's world, applications are isolated to any one server stack or hardware that the applications are implemented on. But those applications touch a whole set of islands of computational capability. When you go to debug a problem, it is hard sometimes to figure out which island has the problem. The tools tend to be different across all those platforms.

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So we studied what logs looked like. If all the logs are different and have different formats and representations, it is almost impossible to correlate them and do that kind of triage. We studied thousands of logs, and almost all of them were doing the same kinds of things. We could define a common set of semantics for what the logs represented and then a common format for representing them, which we defined and called a 'common base event.' As soon as we had the idea, we went to the [OASIS] open standards body to try to get this implemented. It has been developed as the Web Services Distributed Management standard.

CRN: Where will this come into play at Tivoli?

GANEK: Some examples would be where Tivoli has introduced a component that does what we call orchestration and provisioning. Looking at the overall environment, it defines workflows that will define what actions to take in what situations, adjusting the overall environment as appropriate. Another example might be identity management. You have an access control so you can have a secure environment across all of those elements. The control management, identification and monitoring of the environment comes from the Tivoli products. Tivoli provides the monitoring so you know what you are doing in the first place.

As I attack this job, I do it from two dimensions. One is from an autonomic perspective, working with each and every business area in IBM to try to bake in more automated capability and leverage the architectural progress we've made around the various common components that we have built and serviced. Then I look at it from the standpoint of, how do we get the management and control of all these components to work well? That is the Tivoli role.

CRN: What's IBM's main goal with autonomic computing?

WHAT IS AUTONOMIC COMPUTING?>> Self-configuring software that makes for smoother system deployment
>> Common approach to administration through one dashboard
>> Ability to flag problems
>> Continuous management loop that monitors and analyzes infrastructure, plans responses to problems and executes resolutions to those problems
>> Automatic provisioning and orchestration of additional capacity when needed

GANEK: On one hand, we want to encapsulate autonomic-type capability in the various elements of the system, hardware and software so that they can manage their issues, be self-contained to the extent possible and, as appropriate, communicate to a higher authority when management across components is [important]. The management issue is where Tivoli comes in. We are upgrading Tivoli to be much better aligned with how people run their IT environments. We're studying how people actually manage these environments and the processes that they use. We're improving Tivoli not only to provide individual products that handle specific tasks, but also to put them together in a way that matches how people manage environments.

CRN: At the end of the day, do you think these capabilities will make it easier for solution providers to deliver managed services?

GANEK: Absolutely, particularly in SMB, where people are trying to roll things together. I think you see that in the integrated runtime for SMBs that we built at IBM. If you are a solution provider, you provide some application value based on middleware. But if you have to do a lot of on-site service calls, you go from in the black to in the red. Having a mechanism that strings the products together allows for problem determination and support and a much easier way for remote debugging. That has been a huge winner for folks in that space.

CRN: Are there any plans to reduce Tivoli's large number of product SKUs?

GANEK: We are certainly focused on the overall product set and how they are consumed and which ones fit together. Simplifying the portfolio is something that we are focusing on.