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The Once and Future IT

Autonomic computing may already be here, but the real payoff is three to 10 years away.

September 8, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The central promise of autonomics is that IT workers won't need to do as many routine chores such as restore failed servers or provision switches and routers. Autonomics can free up IT workers for higher-level tasks and give them more time to spend with business managers to find ways to make systems work for the needs of their companies.

But is there anything new about autonomics? Is it simply old technology incrementally improved and repackaged with a new buzzword? Perhaps. But IT managers keenly understand the new benefits of autonomics, while acknowledging that the concept has a long history.

"Autonomics is definitely evolutionary, and we don't look at it as a distinct point" when a company suddenly has it, says Ed Toben, CIO at Colgate-Palmolive Co. in New York. His company has widely deployed IBM systems management products, including Tivoli software, to keep its SAP system running on servers and storage gear in 55 countries. "For us, autonomics means that systems can be self-managed, and the more you can do that, the better," says Toben. With steady growth in systems at Colgate-Palmolive, "there's just a constant struggle against expansion and complexity," he explains.

John Freeman, senior process engineer at Bayer HealthCare, a Shawnee, Kan.-based division of Bayer Corp., says the drug maker uses software from Tripwire Inc. in Portland, Ore., to provide control in the manufacturing process. Federal mandates require valid digital records, so automatic monitoring and reporting is critical, he points out.

"We're constantly looking for ways to automate processes, whether it is a machine or an operator process or data collection and generation of reports," says Freeman. "In IT, we're trying to put ourselves out of work."

Eventually, Freeman wants a management system that automatically reports on manufacturing systems and the security of production, so if there's any corruption in an application file, for example, the process can be rolled back to a previous file version automatically while immediately generating a report for inspectors.

Further, Freeman argues that any new autonomic capabilities shouldn't require major changeovers of operating systems or hardware.

Users who are considering autonomics say they want systems that are able to reboot the hardware used by applications that have failed, such as e-mail or database servers. For example, an autonomic process could reboot a server and notify an IT administrator or reroute functions to a backup application on another machine.

"Every time I have to restart my customer database, my customers don't have access," complains Perry Cain, chief technology officer at, an e-procurement medical products supplier in Fairlawn, Ohio. "I'd like fewer restarts. [But] I'd like to see autonomics in a lot of products."

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