Yesterday, I talked about Sun's N1 future technology. Today, let's look at the competition in autonomic computing. (You can check what I wrote about this on April 12, 2002, at "IBM leads charge on holistic computing.")
In today's corporate datacenters, hundreds or thousands of computers are linked together, sometimes working together on common tasks. Managing performance, reliability, security, consistency and scalability is incredibly difficult today.
The answer, say IBM, Sun, HP and many others, is autonomic computing. As the name suggests, this is an analogy of our own bodies' autonomic nervous systems -- the bits that run the mechanisms of staying alive while our higher consciousness gets on with wondering about really important stuff, like what color to paint the spare room or invading Iraq.
If we had to consciously push food through our gut, synchronize our heart, regulate our temperature and secrete hundreds of varieties of gunk from our glands, we'd die in a quivering heap in about three seconds. Evolution has assigned these tasks to various control loops that do the job fine without us, and the computer companies would like the same for troublesome silicon systems. The dull stuff of keeping the networks going, making sure the right data is available to the right people and the right resources in the right place should be left to the computers themselves. They're good at dull stuff.
This is anything other than simple. Autonomic systems are worthwhile if they save more effort than they require, which means coping with the unexpected events thrown up by the real world. Computer systems are very, very bad at this: biological systems work because of untold millions of years of evolutionary feedback.
IBM isn't daunted -- it already has experimental systems that load-balance Web servers by deleting copies of unread site content and duplicating the in-demand stuff, for example.
It's a different way of working, but it does work. Autonomic computing is going to be the next big thing. It has to be, if there's to be a next big thing at all.
Source: Rupert Goodwins, ZDNet (UK), September 25, 2002
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