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Modes of Computing

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where is computing going? modes more
During 2002, there were several attempts by the major vendors to mark out their position on what happens next. Popular themes have included Services On-Demand, Trustworthy Computing, Utility Computing, Pervasive Computing, Grid Computing, Autonomic Computing. But while there may be some tension between the marketing messages associated with different vendors, we can detect an underlying unity in vision and direction.  Autonomic Computing

Grid Computing

OnDemand Computing

Pervasive Computing

Trustworthy Computing

Utility Computing

Full article by Richard Veryard and David Sprott  (CBDi December 2002)

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Autonomic Computing

veryard projects > service orientation > computing > autonomic

The goals of responsiveness and resilience are both addressed by the idea of autonomic computing – which means self-managed systems.

IBM’s work on autonomic computing has come out of the eLiza research project, and is starting to be trickled into the IBM product range via Tivoli. Other vendors with products in this space include Sychron Software and Opalis. Microsoft's more recent Dynamic Systems Initiative is also addressing some similar requirements.

Complex adaptive systems

Autonomic systems are examples of complex adaptive systems (CAS). They are self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing and self-protecting. Includes ideas taken from immune systems.

Most of the autonomic functions of the human body are outside conscious control. Your body protects itself against minor infections without consulting the brain. However, there are various levels of system management at which conscious intervention is possible – for example, allowing you to respond to the early signs of a cold by taking vitamin pills or visiting the doctor. An autonomic computer network may generate signals (sometimes known as algedonic signals) which indicate the need for human intervention.

Autonomic computing addresses security

Among other things, autonomic computing provides an approach to handing a range of security requirements. Beware of confusing Autonomic Computing with Autonomous Computing.

Of course, there are already lots of products with fault-tolerant and fail-safe features – and not just in computing hardware. Safety features based on these ideas can also be found in motor cars – from anti-lock brakes to run-flat tyres.

In simple systems management, things either work or they don’t. Security checks are binary – things either pass or fail. In contrast to this, autonomic systems allow for partial working, provisional checks, with ongoing monitoring and adjustment. This means they can respond positively to a much greater range of environmental conditions.

Management of complexity

One approach to the management of complexity is to provide control tools that aim to simplify the task. Meanwhile, another approach is to expand the scope of "normal" system operations – by extending the range of tasks that the system can manage for itself, and extending the range of situations that can be handled without human intervention.

The notion of self-managing systems is both an ambitious one, and one that can be seen as a natural progression from notions of resilience and fault-tolerance that have been common in both computer hardware and telecommunications networks for many years.

Autonomic computing involves making the individual components and services more manageable – which has implications for their design and implementation – as well as providing a separate management layer. For example, IBM envisages a self-managing wrapper around each component – and these wrappers may communicate peer-to-peer, as well as with a central or decentralized management function. The manageability interfaces will (of course) be rendered as web services.

Configuration and optimization

In some complex areas, machines are already better at configuration than humans. One example of this is in large databases – and IBM has already built self-configuration into DB2 (version 8.1), its flagship database product. This is presented in the form of a wizard, which asks seven key questions and uses expert heuristics to generate a configuration. Data storage hardware has also been taking on a lot of self-management functions, as this is an area where the ratio of labour costs to hardware costs has been shifting most dramatically.

Other IBM products have self-optimization and self-healing functionality. For example, the latest version of Websphere includes distributed workload, with failover and hot deployment.

HP offers some automatic resource allocation functionality in its UDC (Utility Data Centre) product range – so that resources can be allocated dynamically as required, with appropriate billing function. A hardware vendor such as HP can ship boxes with dormant processing power, which can be activated (and automatically billed) only when the extra processing power is actually used.

More advanced functionality is currently in development. For example, HP is working on a framework for the development of configuration-driven systems called "SmartFrog" (Smart Framework for Object Groups), which will include a configuration description language to describe the precise, desired configuration of applications composed of sets of components running across a distributed system, and a distributed deployment system to realize application descriptions, and to monitor and manage the resulting applications through their lifecycles.
IBM webpage on autonomic computing
Sychron Software
CBDi material, January 2003
Veryard Projects material: IBM, Model-Based Management
Complex Adaptive Systems

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Page updated November 22nd, 2003
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