IBM plans to develop failproof e-business servers

Friday, April 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Computer, heal thyself!

Long a dream of science fiction writers and anyone who has encountered a sick machine, the idea of self-maintaining, auto-administering and failproof hardware may not be too far off.

International Business Machines Corp. on Thursday unveiled plans to focus research and considerable funding toward developing an e-business server that monitors itself for problems and can fix itself.

The company will devote 25 percent of its research and development budget for servers toward the project named eLiza _ an amount that will run in the billions of dollars over several years.

``We think this is a really important problem,'' said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's vice president of technology and strategy. The company says the project is one of the most ambitious in the company's history.

IBM isn't alone in trying to make servers both more trustworthy and affordable. Earlier this year, NASA and high-tech companies formed a consortium to study the reliability of high-performance computers. That's in addition to the work of the military and individual businesses, including IBM.

Big Blue's latest efforts are concentrated on machines that serve up massive amounts of data for companies _ computers that are hundreds of times more powerful than those in existence today.

The machines will configure themselves by installing new operating system software and data automatically. And unlike machines that slow down as usage surges, they will be better equipped to balance loads.

Ultra-vigilant security also will be a hallmark of eLiza, as will redundant systems that become operational whenever the server senses a problem with a component, IBM said.

Most importantly, Wladawsky-Berger said, the machines will be so simple that they will be no more difficult to operate than a kitchen appliance. That should reduce the need for highly skilled workers who are in increasingly short supply.

``Our customers are telling us they need help in reducing the cost of managing the overall e-business structure and the required skills because they're not available,'' he said.

The eLiza project also will incorporate findings from the company's other major research and reliability projects.

IBM's Software Rejuvenation, for instance, attempts to predict when software is about to crash and automatically takes corrective action to fix the situation.

Blue Gene, which builds powerful supercomputers to study protein folding, features redundant and self-healing features that will be incorporated into eLiza.

``This is not starting from zero,'' Wladawsky-Berger said. ``We expect, as a result of this project, to start improving (e-business) offerings in the next 6 to 12 months.''

But the biggest challenges for e-business will remain even if IBM is completely successful, said Dale Way, a consultant who led Y2K research for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

IBM's project targets the machines themselves and won't solve the problem of how complicated e-business software interact with each other, he said.

``Anything that helps reliability is good, but that's not where the problems are,'' he said. ''(Businesses) are not talking about their servers breaking, but are talking about getting systems to work together at the application level.''