The film "2001" gained cinematic notoriety with the introduction of a self-aware, independent-thinking, murderous computer named HAL that became a sci-fi icon. In the movie's namesake year, IBM engineers launched an effort to develop technology to help computers monitor, diagnose, and heal their own problems.
IBM isn't trying to create a real-life HAL, but it does want to make computers smart enough to heal themselves. The promise of autonomic computing--systems that function automatically, much like reflexive bodily functions such as breathing, without external intervention--still remains formative. Developing these sorts of capabilities often requires multiple vendors to work together toward a long-term vision to build networkwide capabilities, sometimes piece by piece.
"We realize that autonomic computing isn't about building any one specific product," says Alan Ganek, chief technical officer and VP of the autonomic computing software group in IBM's Tivoli software unit. "It's about making all products exhibit these behaviors to the extent they can, and then integrating them to work more cohesively with others."
Several server, software, and services vendors are making the creation of intelligent systems and the equipment and software to go with them the underpinning of their enterprise-management development programs. So far, most have stopped short of creating full-fledged autonomic platforms. Companies like Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, EDS, and most recently Cisco Systems have created platform-level programs intended to simplify management across the enterprise.
Many companies are avoiding the term autonomic computing, which IBM has promoted. But they aim to improve system management with emerging technologies such as virtualization.