IBM pushes data centre provisioning

Looking to trump offerings from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. this month plans to begin rolling out a set of intelligent system-provisioning tools that can track the use of mainframes, servers and storage devices and automatically redirect data flows as needed.

IBM this week will announce an initial product that's primarily focused on redirecting Internet traffic among different Web servers. Company officials said that tool, called Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator and due for release late this month, will be joined later this year and in 2004 by software that can support CRM systems and other complex applications.

The overall product offering, code-named Symphony, is being designed to help IT managers take advantage of underutilized computing resources and move processing workloads off of systems that are nearing their capacity thresholds.

Frank Webb, a technology manager at insurer American International Group Inc. in Jersey City, N.J., said many IT administrators would likely be interested in such tools. But he noted that IT spending "is pretty tight right now" and also questioned whether provisioning technologies that automatically reroute data traffic might affect the system configurations that IT architects have set up to run applications on specific servers.

The provisioning tools being developed by IBM are based on technology that it picked up through a May acquisition of Toronto-based software vendor Think Dynamics. IBM's planned rollout follows announcements of data centre provisioning technologies and services by HP and Sun as part of their respective Utility Data Center and N1 initiatives.

But IBM would be the first major vendor to actually come to market with software that gives users the ability to provision server resources on the fly, said Richard Fichera, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"This is a really important capability for anybody attempting to do virtualized data centres," he said. "If IBM can truly do what they're claiming, this raises the bar for other players."

But it likely will take years for IBM and its rivals to fully flesh out the provisioning functionality, Fichera added. IBM needs to prove that its tools work, "and then start working through the list of applications that people have trouble managing," he said.

Pricing could also be an obstacle for some users. IBM said Intelligent Orchestrator will start at less than US$20,000, but total costs for wider rollouts of Symphony products and services could reach several million dollars for companies with large, distributed computing installations.

The Symphony software will support multivendor computing installations and standards such as XML, the Open Grid Services Architecture, Java, the Simple Network Management Protocol and SOAP, said Jocelyn Attal, a vice president at IBM. The tools will be able to gather information about the applications that a company is running "and develop a workload model based on resource requirements," she added.

In an initial project, IBM itself is using Intelligent Orchestrator to help manage traffic spikes on the servers that are supporting the Web site for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which is being held in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., through Sept. 7. IBM is managing IT operations at the tournament for the United States Tennis Association.

Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pa., said that IBM, HP and Sun are all well positioned in the emerging market for data centre provisioning tools.

"Customers want to go to an IBM, HP or Sun to help them deal with their messy heterogeneous environments," Wohl said. "They don't want to buy this from 12 different niche vendors."

(Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.)

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