IBM Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. want to make it easier to diagnose and solve problems in an enterprise's IT infrastructure, even to the point where it can do that by itself.
Pinpointing the causes of failures and solving the root problems takes up a lot of IT staff time, a resource that has become more scarce as budgets tighten, according to the companies, which announced a drive toward self-diagnostic and self-healing networks on Friday. The combination of networks and systems is also becoming more complex, so simplifying and automating that process is increasingly important, they said.
Self-diagnosis and self-healing are key parts of IBM's broader autonomic computing initiative, aimed at creating systems and networks that in many respects run themselves, said Ric Telford, director of architecture and technology in the autonomic computing business of Armonk, New York-based IBM. Companies can never remove the human administrator from the picture completely, but Cisco and IBM's steps should make life easier even when people have to get involved, he said.
For example, if a transaction goes wrong, the cause might lie in any one of many applications or devices that come into play across the infrastructure, Telford said. Narrowing it down can be hard.
"The growing complexity of infrastructure is causing more and more of these hard-to-diagnose problems," he said.
Initial aims of IBM's and Cisco's program include coming up with a common way for parts of the system to log events and providing software for an administrator to see and analyze problems. The two companies plan to offer these and other technologies over time, but they also are making all the technology available openly to other players and will seek to have it adopted by industry standards bodies, Telford said.
Between technical and political disagreements, it's unlikely all vendors will sign on with the two vendors' approach, but even having coordination among some systems should save IS departments time and money, said Amy Wohl, an industry analyst at Wohl Associates, in Narberth, Pennsylvania.
"It's unrealistic to think that anything new is going to cover every single thing," Wohl said.
The IBM-developed Common Base Event (CBE) specification defines a standard format for event logs, which devices and software use to keep track of transactions and other activity.
All the components of systems typically have different formats for the information they collect about events, Telford said. For example, if an IS team needs to figure out where something went wrong with an e-business application, they may need to understand 40 different event log formats, he said. Root cause analysis of the problem could require several different administrators -- database, network and so on -- getting involved.
As a common format, CBE can simplify that process, Telford said. Future products should use CBE as their native log format, but "log adapters" can define mappings between current proprietary log formats and CBE, he said. IBM now has a team of about 24 engineers developing log adapters for core IBM products, including hardware, software and storage products, according to the company.
In August, IBM proposed CBE as a standard to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), Telford said.