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IBM looks to develop self-healing systems


(IDG) -- In IBM's vision of the not-too-distant future, server farms will protect themselves from malicious hackers, heal themselves when something breaks, upgrade themselves as needed and do whatever else is needed to continue operating without any human intervention.

That may sound like a science-fiction scenario, but IBM Friday unveiled a multibillion-dollar technology initiative dubbed Project eLiza that's intended to speed the development of self-managing systems. The company said it plans to commit several hundred scientists at its five research laboratories to the project, which pulls together several existing research efforts. INFOCENTER
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In addition, IBM said that about 25 percent of its server group's research-and-development budget will be spent on the eLiza initiative for the next few years. In an interview Thursday, Dan Powers, IBM's director of early stage Internet technology, described the project as "one of the largest undertakings we've ever done."

For now, though, IBM is being vague about many of the specifics of Project eLiza. The company wouldn't go into detail about exactly how much it's investing in the effort -- IBM spent $5.15 billion on R&D last year, but company officials declined to break out how much of that money went to the server unit.

IBM is also keeping mum on the project's scheduled time line and the identity of unspecified "key partners" that have agreed to work with it on the initiative.

Research work already under way that will be put under the eLiza umbrella includes Project Blue Gene, a $100 million supercomputer that IBM is designing for genetic research uses, and Project Oceano, which is aimed at creating a network of Linux servers that dynamically adjust to handle fluctuating workloads.

IBM said some existing technologies will also be incorporated, such as an error-correcting memory device called Chipkill that was originally developed for the company's mainframes. Within the next year, IBM said, it will also release technology supporting workload management and easier updating of software across massive server clusters, as well as software that can handle dynamic allocation of system resources.

The motivating factor behind the eLiza project is the expanding complexity of corporate computing networks, according to IBM. "In five years, we expect that hundreds of millions of people will be connected via wireless and other devices to the Web, driving trillions of transactions and tremendous amounts of rich media like voice and video," said William Zeitler, an IBM senior vice president, in a memo distributed to the company's employees.

The project will be led by Greg Burke, who will report to Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's vice president of technology and strategy. IBM said the name eLiza is short for "e-lizard" and comes from a comment that Wladawsky-Berger once heard describing IBM's chess-playing Deep Blue supercomputer as having a "brain" comparable to that of a lizard. The name is also suggestive of Eliza, a pioneering psychotherapist robot created in the mid-1960s.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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