Autonomic for the People

Autonomic computing was a phrase coined by IBM in 2001; arguably the frame-works which were defined by IBM as part of this initiative could form much of what is considered Cloud Computing today.

And now 3Par have taken the term Autonomic and applied it to storage tiering. This is really a subset of the Autonomic Computing vision but none the less it is one which has recently gained a lot of mind-share in the Infrastructure world, especially if you were to replace the word Autonomic with the word Automatic; leaving you with Automatic Storage Tiering. But I think autonomic has rather more to it than mere automation; autonomic implies some kind of self management.

An autonomic system should be

  • Self Configuring
  • Self Healing & Protecting
  • Self Optimising

IBM themselves defined five levels of evolution on the path to autonomic computing

  1. Basic
  2. Managed
  3. Predictive
  4. Adaptive
  5. Autonomic

Here I shall crib from the IBM press release dated 21st October 2002

“The basic level represents the starting point where a significant number of IT systems are today. Each element of the system is managed independently by systems administrators who set it up, monitor it, and enhance it as needed.

At the managed level, systems management technologies are used to collect information from disparate systems into one, consolidated view, reducing the time it takes for the administrator to collect and synthesize information.

At the predictive level, new technologies are introduced that provide correlation among several elements of the system. The system itself can begin to recognize patterns, predict the optimal configuration and provide advice on what course of action the administrator should take. As these technologies improve, people will become more comfortable with the advice and predictive power of the system.

The adaptive level is reached when systems can not only provide advice on actions, but can automatically take the right actions based on the information that is available to them on what is happening in the system.

Finally, the full autonomic level would be attained when the system operation is governed by business policies and objectives. Users interact with the system to monitor the business processes, and/or alter the objectives.”

As press-releases go; it’s really rather good and has applicablity in much that we are trying to achieve with dynamic infrastructures. It would behoove many vendors to look honestly at their products and examine where they are on this scale. IBM never really managed to deliver on their vision but has any vendor come close yet?

I wonder if 3Par are really at level five of the evolutionary process; in fact they actually talk about Adaptive Optimisation as well as Autonomic Storage Tiering; a sub-conscious admission that they are not quite there yet?

But Autonomic Computing Infrastructures is something that all vendors and customers should be aspiring to though. Of course, there is the long term issue of how we get the whole infrastructure to manage itself as an autonomic entity and how we do this within an heterogeneous environment is surely a challenge. Still, surely it is the hard things which are worth doing?

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Martin Glassborow

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