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Autonomic Computing is an initiative started by IBM in 2001. Its ultimate aim is to create self-managing computer systems to overcome their rapidly growing complexity and to enable their further growth.
The problem of growing complexity
A general problem of modern distributed computing systems is that their complexity is increasingly becoming the limiting factor in their further development. Large companies and institutions are employing large-scale computer networks for communication and computation. The distributed applications running on these computer networks are diverse and deal with many different tasks, ranging from internal control processes to presenting web content and to customer support.
Additionally, Mobile computing is pervading these networks at an increasing speed: Employees need to communicate with their companies while they are not in their office. The do so by using laptops, PDAs, or mobile phones with diverse forms of wireless technologies to access their companies' data.
This creates an enormous complexity in the overall computer network which is hard to control manually by one or more human operators. Manual control is time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone. The manual effort needed to control a growing networked computer system tends to increase very quickly.
A possible solution could be to enable modern, networked computing systems to manage themselves without direct human intervention. The Autonomic Computing Initiative (ACI) aims at providing the foundation for autonomic systems. It is inspired by the autonomic nervous system of the human body. This nervous system controls important bodily functions (e.g. respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure) without any conscious intervention.
In a self-managing system Autonomic System, the human operator takes on a new role: He does not control the system directly. Instead, he defines general policies and rules that serve as an input for the self-management process. For this process, IBM has defined the following four functional areas:
- Self-Configuration: Automatic configuration of components;
- Self-Healing: Automatic discovery, and correction of faults;
- Self-Optimization: Automatic monitoring and control of resources to ensure the optimal functioning with respect to the defined requirements;
- Self-Protection: Proactive identification and protection from arbitrary attacks.
Since the far-reaching goals of the ACI are not achievable in one step, IBM also defined five evolutionary levels for its development: Level 1 is the basic level that presents the current situation where systems are essentially managed manually. Levels 2-4 introduce increasingly automated management functions, while level 5 represents the utlimate goal of autonomic, self-managing systems.
A basic concept that shall be applied in Autonomic Systems are closed control loops. This well-known concept stems from Process Control Theory. Essentially, a closed control loop in a self-managing system monitors some resource (software or hardware component) and autonomously tries to keep its parameters within a desired range.
According to the visionaries from IBM, hundreds or even thousands of these control loops are expected to work in a large-scale self-managing computer system.
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