CHICAGO — IBM started it, Microsoft has honed in on it and now Information Builders Inc. (IBI) has joined the autonomic computing fray.

The New York-based firm, known for its enterprise business intelligence and real-time Web reporting software, announced its WebFocus Autonomic Server at its

annual Summit users

conference last month. The server is designed for organizations that are building business intelligence infrastructures.

Gerald Cohen, IBI president and CEO, credited IBM for beginning the autonomic movement, which he said could encompass software, hardware and networks. “”All of these things are being worked on by different organizations.””

In April, IBM released what it called the industry’s first blueprint of autonomic computing systems, a set of technical guidelines to ensure the various components of self-managing systems work together. Last month, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. launched its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) to help make servers easier to deploy and manage. While the specifics of that initiative won’t benefit customers for several years, its first DSI-based software, a server deployment and provisioning tool called Automated Deployment Services, will be out by the end of the year.

Cohen said IT is a basic 24×7 necessity for conducting business and that means the cost of administering and managing it will grow unless tools become more intelligent.

With the Autonomic Server, a cluster load monitor watches all of the vital signs for the WebFocus severs, including average query response time, the number of simultaneous tasks running, computer capacity and the amount of memory available. It then balances the workload among servers and watches for problems.

“”We want to reduce the complexity of managing this,”” said Cohen, adding most organizations don’t have the expertise to deal with the ever-growing complexity of IT infrastructures.

While he could not give many firm examples of the hard benefits of the autonomic server, Cohen said it would translate into less hardware, increased reliability and cut management time in half.

“”We believe we have the most scalable server on the market,”” he said.

Overall, the theme of this year’s summit was return on investment (ROI), something that has become more fashionable because of the current economic slowdown, said Bob Moran, vice-president of enterprise business applications and analytics with Boston-based Aberdeen Group, at a panel addressing ROI.

However, WebFocus customers on the panel said the process for getting a business intelligence project approved hasn’t really changed in the last few years.

“”All of our BI projects are business-driven,”” said Andy Hanna, manager of financial reporting for the Royal Bank of Canada in Montréal. While IT helps with the development of the business plan, by the time the actual work has to be done, budgets and resources have already been approved at the executive level.

Because of the nature of the WebFocus application, said Hanna, it was a no-brainer that there would be a high ROI. “”It was low-hanging fruit.””

John Conte, director of information systems for WESCO Distribution, said it was clear a simple tool was needed to deliver business information to its senior management instead of having 100 staff to pull data and generate reports.

“”We had a burgeoning analyst community,”” he said.

Hanna recommends a phased approach to adding BI functionality. “”You have to get the hard benefits first,”” he said. “”Then it’s easy to add the soft benefits — the icing on the cake.””

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