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Autonomic features for Tivoli focus on app management

Big Blue rolled out new features around self-healing computing for the Tivoli systems management suite. The programs are focused on monitoring problems and interdependencies between complex applications.

Last week IBM updated self-healing technologies for its Tivoli systems management system. The new features are cropping up around monitoring interdependencies between online applications and mixed IT environments.

The new autonomic applications include IBM Tivoli Monitoring 6.1, Tivoli Composite Application Manager and Tivoli System Automation for Multiplatforms.

IBM Tivoli Monitoring 6.1 has been tested over the past seven months by nearly 100 organizations, making it the largest beta program in Tivoli history. One of the testers was Robert Green, senior systems programmer at Fidelity Information Services, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based division of Fidelity National Financial.

Green was impressed with the Tivoli updates and said they're addressing management issues in a complicated area -- where applications and multi-tiered, heterogeneous infrastructure meet.

Green said applications are much harder to manage than servers, and how they work together is often where things get difficult.

The software is designed to correct problems in online applications and fix the problem across a company's servers, operating systems and databases before it affects customers. The software detects the need for specific procedures -- such as bringing on additional servers when capacity overload approaches -- enabling users to automate the way common problems are corrected.

Tivoli Composite Application Manager is another program designed to find problems at the application layer. IBM said it predicts and fixes bottlenecks that crop up as dozens of different systems connect under a service-oriented architecture.

According to Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM, Web applications often consist of several disparate parts, but IT managers want to be able to look at them through a single view. Telford said the new Composite Application Manager will allow them to do that and help pinpoint problems at that layer.

The software does this by monitoring Simple Object Access Protocol messages between Web services, looking for problems. It also uses the Application Response Measurement standard, which measures standard response times between transactions and responds to delays.

Tivoli System Automation for Multiplatforms is designed to pinpoint the status of applications running on multiple platforms and operating systems -- and use pre-set policies to automatically bring them back online if the system fails because of a power outage or other cause. For example, a bank using a complex application to transfer funds between accounts may run on a Linux system and be connected to a database on a mainframe system. IBM said its self-healing software automatically brings the application and database environment back online if an outage occurs.

According to Telford, a lot of programs may be interdependent on multiple pieces of hardware and varied environments.

"Say your database is running Windows, your server is running Apache and you've got Unix on your back end. If you have a problem, you would need to find where it occurred and manually restart the application or database," Telford said. "A lot of this information is stored in the brain of the system administrator. With autonomics, you're giving the admin the ability to code that knowledge into the system."

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But are IT pros ready to hand over the reins to a machine or will they see it as coding themselves out of a job?

Telford is confident that most IT pros won't be threatened.

"Clearly, if your life's ambition is to stare at a screen and boot machines all day, this isn't for you." Telford said. "But most IT people have jobs they can't get to because they keep getting interrupted. IBM recently conducted an ethnographic study that found IT administrators work in a state of constant interruption. How they get any work done at all is a miracle."

But for those still wary of autonomics, Tivoli now offers new various levels of automated responses. Users can set the programs to notify them of an event, with a suggestion or with an automated response. "Everybody will evolve at their own pace," Telford said. "You have to allow a gradual shift. You don't want to just turn it on and assume it's going to take over these tasks."

In addition to the functional updates, the new Tivoli applications come with an updated user interface. "It's a lot more usable out of the box," Green said. "You don't need 50 years of Tivoli experience to use it.

"And the graphical interface is beautiful," Green said. "Tivoli hasn't been known for that. When you bring a bunch of execs into your data center and your GUI looks like an afterthought, that's how they view the operation."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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