ORLANDO, Fla. — Tivoli Software is racing towards the perfection of autonomic computing.
You just have to look around the interview room at Gartner Group’s ITXPO, the event that Tivoli general manager Robert LeBlanc chose
to make some key software announcements.
Posters on the walls depict cars ranging from the Ford Model T to the latest in Formula 1 racers to describe a five-step evolution in software development. LeBlanc says his marketing department made those up to satisfy his car fixation. Naturally, LeBlanc sees his company performing at step five.
Autonomic software is Tivoli’s term to describe self-healing, self-correcting software to manage corporate networks.
“”I like to use a car analogy,”” offers LeBlanc, who began as a programmer with IBM Canada. “”In the 1960s when you had cars and you drove in the winter, you hit of patch of ice and the wheels would spin. You’d slow down and try to get control of the cars. Today’s cars have traction control.””
But who’s driving today’s corporate network, the software or the IT manager? LeBlanc provided some answers in an interview with Computing Canada.
Computing Canada: What does Tivoli mean by autonomic computing?
Robert LeBlanc: The next generation of systems management will be a lot more proactive, a lot more reactive and adaptive. What I mean by that is, it is going to understand the environment and be able to take action before it becomes a problem, before it impacts the actual business.
The same thing is essentially happening now to systems management and the management of IT. We’re starting to store a lot of information so we can apply business analytics and business intelligence to the data coming from the various resources that make up an IT system. What we’re trying to do is help customers automate their operations.
CC: What’s changed in enterprise computing to make this level of awareness necessary?
RL: We’ve gone from a world where it was mainframe computing — which was very easy to manage resources because they were all controlled by one system — to a world where we have federated computing, which is essentially islands and islands of distributed computing. That has added to the complexity of managing resources. We’ve got to start turning systems management from a technical view of IT to being more of a business view.
To give you an example, there are customers out there that manage their IT by the availability: “”My server is up 99.99 per cent of the time, therefore that’s good.”” Well, that’s not necessarily true. If I’m running a CRM (customer relationship management) application, there’s the application itself, there’s the server the application runs on, there’s the database, there’s the server the database runs on, there’s the network. . . . There’s a lot of resources that go into making a holistic solution.
As people expand out, not only are they managing the environment and identities of my own employees, but customers and suppliers all part of the business flow. To be able to do that takes a very different kind of systems management — a focus on autonomics and integration.
CC: What if a customer wants to use a business intelligence tool from another vendor but the autonomic capability of Tivoli products? How do you integrate those two things?
RL: We provide a data warehouse to store the data. We publish a schema and you can use whatever business intelligence tool you want. Today we’ve got support for Brio, Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal and Actuate. Because we use an open standards data warehouse based on DB2, you can use any standard business intelligence tool that runs against DB2.
CC: I haven’t heard the term autonomics used outside Tivoli. It is something you see other vendors working on?
RL: They may call it something else. Autonomic computing is something that IBM coined.
CC: With the Deep Blue chess computer?
RL: Deep Blue started some of that capability, but it’s really around eLiza. The problem when you talk about eLiza, is people thought there were going to be a set of eLiza products. Autonomics is going to be delivered as an evolutionary set of products. The hardware is going to have a lot more autonomics, so hardware can recover from failures of storage or in a processor or failure in memory.
Management software is very natural for autonomic computing and really it’s the next generation of systems management — systems that can manage themselves. Bar none, customers will tell you they want to do more with less, so they can add servers or applications without having to add to their operation staff.
CC: What do you say to the IT manager that likes to tinker with his systems and set his own parameters?
RL: You still have the ability to do that if you want to override the autonomics. We’ll provide you with the best practices, and a typical installation and cure. But if you decide you want to write your own cure, you can do that. If you want to manage it all yourself, you can. But who wants to do that anymore? It’s a lot cheaper for the machine to do it.
CC: It seems like it’s largely geared towards enterprise-size companies.
RL: Obviously not all the products we have are targeted at every single market. A lot of what we have is targeted towards the enterprise that is managing larger installations. But there are products that are applicable to smaller companies, like our identity management. If I’m a small distributor and I’m running four servers, I still may have to provide IDs for suppliers or customers. Just because I’m a small guy, it doesn’t mean I can have any less security. In fact, you probably need it more if you’re a small guy. If you have something go wrong with your systems, you could be totally out of business. An IBM can recover, a Royal Bank of Canada can recover. A small guy can’t recover. There are some of our point products that would apply to the mid market and we are trying to take those products to mid-market. We tend to do mid market with a lot of our channel partners. We focus our direct sales force on our larger customers.
CC: Are you trying to engage your channel in more reseller programs?
RL: Absolutely. We’ve tripled the amount of investment we’re making in our channel partners through programs, through training, through various activities. In fact, if you look at our storage area, over half of my revenue comes from my partners rather than my direct sales force. We see that increasing over time.
CC: What about the deal with VeriSign to deliver a managed version of Access Manager? Will you make any more deals like this with service partners?
RL: In the case of VeriSign, it’s a different model to deliver the service to the customer. We’re good at delivering it to the enterprise, to the IT shop, for customers that want to run their own installations. VeriSign, being a service provider, is more geared towards running it for the customer. We have the technical capability to provide the infrastructure that enables a partner like VeriSign to provide that service to customers. So, yeah, I could see ourselves having more partnerships of that type. I’m not going to go into the service provider market per se, because Tivoli is focused on developing and delivering technology and products. That’s what we’re going to stay focused on.
CC: What about leveraging IBM Global Services or other parts of IBM? Do you plan on selling integrated products using WebSphere, for example?
RL: If you look at the software group portfolio, we have an Access Manager product integrated into the next release of WebSphere. I ship DB2 today as part of Tivoli for the data warehouse. We are rebuilding most of Tivoli products on a WebSphere base. The security products, Identity Manager and Access Manager, are actually J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) applications that run on top of WebSphere. We share technology all the time. I look at it as a parts bin and I pull parts from various places to put together a solution. One of the products we announced (Wednesday) was a monitoring capability for Lotus Domino 6.
CC: What are the limits of autonomic computing? Where will you be five years from now?
RL: We’re part of the IBM grid initiative, which is part of the open grid standard bodies. Grid computing changes the dynamics of systems management, which will force us to change the way we think about systems management.
Today, we know where the resources are. In the future, you won’t know that resources are being applied to the business processes you’re trying to run. We think Web services changes some of the dynamics because I can get a service from anywhere out in the network. We’re working with OASIS with a managment standard such that a Web service can be a provider of information so that I can manage that service
Much like we have a security standard around services, over time we need a systems management standard around Web services.
CC: Have you spoken to other market players like Microsoft about how you fit into Web services?
RL: Web services are all standards-based. We work very closely with Microsoft. The security standard they developed on Web services that OASIS just accepted was a joint submission from IBM and Microsoft. That was my Tivoli team. We’ll continue to work with the rest of the industry on specifications, and we’ll compete on implementation. You agree on standards and compete on implementation. That is the best scenario for a customer, because it gives them choice and forces all of the vendors to play on an even keel.