Self-managing server technology could reduce costs

Beginning with its next generation of network file server software, Microsoft Corp. said it will offer new technologies designed to help business and school customers automatically manage the flow of computing power and resources to match their workload.

The new technologies will enable school information technology (IT) staff to spend less time defining requirements and validating that applications work, which will reduce deployment costs and network downtime, Microsoft said.

The Redmond, Wash., company formally announced its “Dynamic Systems Initiative” March 18. The effort is similar to others already under way at competitors, such as IBM’s “autonomic computing” program.

The central idea for all these efforts is that the networks of large enterprises, such as companies and school systems, should be able to monitor themselves, shift processing power, and dedicate storage where and when it’s needed. By instructing the networks to manage themselves, system administrators will be freed up to focus on other matters, rather than baby-sitting the network.

Microsoft’s initiative focuses on new technologies to create and support “smart” programs that know how to anticipate such needs, said Bob O’Brien, Windows Server group product manager. For example, every time someone places an order on a web site, the underlying program can be instructed to make a certain amount of storage available.

“If the application knows … what kind of resources it will need, it starts to see that work load increase, [then] it knows how many resources to put on,” he said.

In addition, Microsoft is working with hardware manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Computer Corp., EDS, and Opsware Inc. to deliver infrastructure that works seamlessly with these applications.

Windows Server 2003, Microsoft’s newest server software release which was in April, will include some of the technology, and Microsoft expects to release more tools in the next three to five years, O’Brien said.

IBM announced its “autonomic computing” initiative about 18 months ago. “The complexity of technology is growing exponentially,” said IBM spokesman Michael Loughran. The goal, he said, is “to have IT people focus on the business and not focus on the actual infrastructure anymore.”

The IBM eServer product line, which incorporates autonomic computing, has the ability to self-configure, self-heal, self-optimize, and self-protect. That means the servers configure and reconfigure autonomously both at boot time and during run time; detect hardware and firmware faults instantly and then contain the effects of the faults within defined boundaries; measure the performance or usage of resources and then tune the configuration of hardware resources to deliver improved performance; and protect against internal and external threats.

Although school technology directors were intrigued by the possible benefits of these new technologies, many said the severe budget shortfalls they now face mean they could be slow to adopt such systems.

“At the moment, we are fighting to keep technology funding. I would like to test and use new products, but find this to be challenging,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for Pennsylvania’s Governor Mifflin School District.

See these related links:

Windows Server 2003

IBM’s “autonomic computing” initiative

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