Project eLiza Greeted with Wariness

IBM vows to spend billions on developing self-healing servers that require little human intervention.

IBM is pledging to spend billions of dollars over the next few years to develop self-managing servers that it said will help IT staffs oversee ever-expanding data centers.

But the aims of IBMs Project eLiza, announced two weeks ago, arent entirely new, and at least some system managers are wary of the so-called self-healing hardware.

The forthcoming intelligent systems will be able to automatically resolve problems, enhance security and reconfigure themselves to address changing demands.

The systems will be the latest in a series of evolutionary steps taken by an industry that has been striving for years to develop more stable and reliable systems. For example, Windows operating systems can be set to periodically check for and install updates as needed.

"Weve seen things like this before, but I havent been too impressed by them," said Chuck Kramer, vice president of IT services at Social & Scientific Systems Inc., in Bethesda, Md.

Self-regulating systems are best suited for hardware designed to do one specific task, Kramer said, so if a problem is detected, a device can reset itself to a preset configuration.

"But in terms of systems that are used for a number of different applications, I dont see that happening," Kramer said. "Auto-healing programs that make repairs and changes by themselves can cause as many problems as they solve. I prefer some consistency and dont want to have to worry about a machine thats no longer running the same way it was before."

Even before announcing eLiza, IBM was implementing self-regulating technology, including software developed by Inc., in Redwood City, Calif.

Currently, IBM licenses the companys technology for its PC and Global Services divisions, officials said.

One of Support.coms five patented technologies is the DNA Probe. The company maps the DNA, or the systems specific components, by looking at binary executables such as registry settings, according to executives.

If a business installs a new piece of software that overwrote a key registry setting, IT managers can then probe the system to see what went wrong and restore the setting.

While Gartner Inc. analyst Tom Bittman, in Stamford, Conn., called IBMs vision of self-managing servers "outstanding," he said that "IBM has not detailed its road map for this going forward and how it plans to execute on that. Much depends on this."

Starting this year, IBM will spend 25 percent of its research and development budget for servers on eLiza, company officials said. Hundreds of its top scientists will work on the project in five laboratories at several sites around the world.