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In his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines Ray Kurzweil estimates that when IBM's Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, the computer had the brain equivalent of an adult lizard.

The great thing about lizards is not so much their mental capacity but their autonomic nervous system. If they get too hot they go and lie in the shade, if they need some warming up they move back into the sun. In other words they are able to keep their bodies in optimal condition without having to think about it.

This ability provides the metaphor for IBM's eLiza project (short for eLizard), which the company announced six months ago. The idea is that computer systems should be able to work the same way that lizards do. They ought to be able to self-monitor, self-regulate, self-adjust, self-heal and self-optimise. Moreover, such capabilities should span the hardware, storage, operating system, network, messaging and application software environment.

This week IBM has announced the first fruits of its eLiza programme, of which the most significant is what IBM calls its e-business Management Services. This has four phases:

  • In the first phase, you use auto-discovery tools to identify all the elements of a particular environment, including the hardware, software, middleware and network components that are used by any particular application.
  • Next, you use IBM consultants to help determine business objectives and priorities with respect to the applications that under consideration.
  • Then you use what IBM calls its Active Middleware Information Technology to translate these business objectives into machine language rules that can be used by the software's inference engine.
  • Finally, a dashboard is set up with real-time alerts to give administrators and business process managers a centralised view of application progress.

The e-business Management Services and the eLiza initiative as a whole are laudable concepts but we have reservations: how are the business objectives set with respect to the e-business Management Services? In a changing business world, what happens when priorities change? Isn't this a good way to earn a lot of consulting revenue for IBM Global Services?

But these are quibbles. eLiza's real problem is that it needs buy-in from the rest of the vendor community. IBM has announced more than 20 partners for eLiza, but many of these are users rather than suppliers. The vendors involved are not the ones that are most wanted.

If eLiza is to succeed as anything more than a narrow, insular approach it must attract the likes of Sun, Hewlett-Packard (Compaq), EMC, Cisco, BEA, Oracle, SAP and so on, none of which has signed up yet.

IBM says that parts of the eLiza software will be made available to other vendors but this raises the question of versions of standards à la Unix, SQL and XML, which could undermine the progress of eLiza.

We'd like to be more optimistic about its chances of success but in the short term at least it will be of most use in IBM-centric environments, rather than the wider community.

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