IBM pushes data center provisioning

Looking to trump offerings from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, IBM this month plans to begin rolling out a set of intelligent system-provisioning tools that can track the use of mainframes, servers and storage devices and automatically redirect data flows as needed

Looking to trump offerings from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, IBM this month plans to begin rolling out a set of intelligent system-provisioning tools that can track the use of mainframes, servers and storage devices and automatically redirect data flows as needed.

IBM this week will announce an initial product that's primarily focused on redirecting internet traffic among different web servers. Company officials said that tool, called Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator and due for release late this month, will be joined later this year and in 2004 by software that can support CRM systems and other complex applications.

Symphony is being designed to help IT managers take advantage of underutilised computing resources and move processing workloads off of systems that are nearing their capacity thresholds.

Frank Webb, a technology manager at insurer American International Group in Jersey City, NJ, said many IT administrators would likely be interested in such tools. But he noted that IT spending "is pretty tight right now" and also questioned whether provisioning technologies that automatically reroute data traffic might affect the system configurations that IT architects have set up to run applications on specific servers.

The provisioning tools being developed by IBM are based on technology that it picked up through a May acquisition of Toronto-based software vendor Think Dynamics. IBM's planned rollout follows announcements of data centre provisioning technologies and services by HP and Sun as part of their respective Utility Data Centre and N1 initiatives.

But IBM would be the first major vendor to actually come to market with software that gives users the ability to provision server resources on the fly, said Richard Fichera, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"This is a really important capability for anybody attempting to do virtualised data centers," he said. "If IBM can truly do what they're claiming, this raises the bar for other players."

But it likely will take years for IBM and its rivals to fully flesh out the provisioning functionality, Fichera added. IBM needs to prove that its tools work, "and then start working through the list of applications that people have trouble managing," he said.

Pricing could also be an obstacle for some users. IBM said Intelligent Orchestrator will start at less than $US20,000, but total costs for wider rollouts of Symphony products and services could reach several million dollars for companies with large, distributed computing installations.

The Symphony software will support multivendor computing installations and standards such as XML, the Open Grid Services Architecture, Java, the Simple Network Management Protocol and SOAP, said Jocelyn Attal, a vice president at IBM. The tools will be able to gather information about the applications that a company is running "and develop a workload model based on resource requirements," she added.

In an initial project, IBM itself is using Intelligent Orchestrator to help manage traffic spikes on the servers that are supporting the Web site for the US Open tennis tournament, which is being held in Flushing Meadow, New York, through September 7. IBM is managing IT operations at the tournament for the United States Tennis Association.

Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pennsylvania, said that IBM, HP and Sun are all well positioned in the emerging market for data centre provisioning tools.

"Customers want to go to an IBM, HP or Sun to help them deal with their messy heterogeneous environments," Wohl said. "They don't want to buy this from 12 different niche vendors."

Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Sun Adds Remote Monitoring Service, With a Pricing Twist

Sun has started offering its top customers a remote network monitoring service under which the vendor captures data about a company's use of computing resources and recommends ways to optimise processing.

Over the next two years, Sun hopes to sign up 70% of the corporate users it does business with directly to use the remote-monitoring capabilities, said Vivek Joshi, vice president of strategies at the company's Sun Services unit.

NetConnect will be handled on a customer-by-customer basis, Joshi said. Companies with "well-managed" systems will get price discounts that won't be made available to users that don't do such a good job of managing their IT infrastructures, he added.

"It's the same notion as health insurance," Joshi said. "If you take care of yourself well, you'll benefit financially and operationally." As part of the plan, he said, Sun will use a risk profile it has developed to evaluate IT operations at customer sites and then create a "wellness index" for determining how to price the remote-monitoring service.

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