CHICAGO — IBM started it, Microsoft is getting in on the action and now Information Builders is joining the autonomic computing melee.

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 here Monday. The server is designed for organizations that are building business intelligence infrastructures.

Gerald Cohen, president of Information Builders, 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. recently 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 the fact that IT is a basic 24×7 necessity for conducting business means the cost of administering and managing it will grow unless tools become more intelligent.

With the Autonomic Server, a cluster load monitor (CLM) watches all of the vital signs for the WebFocus severs, including those which are up and running, average query response time, number of simultaneous tasks running, computer capacity and amount of memory available. Using this information, the CLM balances the workload among servers and watches for problems.

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

While Cohen could not give many firm examples of the hard benefits of the autonomic server, he 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 is return on investment (ROI), something that has certainly 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 Tuesday morning.

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 Montreal. While IT does help 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.

But 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 too was need to deliver information to senior management of various aspects of the business instead of 100 people on staff to pull data and generate reports. “”We had a burgeoning analyst community,”” he said.

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

In other Summit news, Information Builders announced enhanced GIS capabilities for WebFocus through a partnership with ESRI to enable organization to integrate both products to geographically represent data from any source.

The company also launched a Web site dedicated to WebFocus developers dubbed Focal Point — an interactive network for WebFocus experts, architects and engineers.

The user conference wraps up on Thursday.


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