Pipeline Publishing, Volume 4, Issue 4
This Month's Issue:
Maintaining Network Health
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Self-* Networks: Helping Networks
Help Themselves

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By Wedge Greene

Self-* (self-star) Systems

Continuing our discussion on Autonomic Networks and Autonomic Communications, we dive into designing and building what we call self-* (pronounced self-star) systems. Self-* is a shortcut term for systems which are designed specifically to be self-organizing and self-managing, including properties such as: self-defining, self-configuring, self-awareness, self-optimizing, self-protecting, self-healing (self-monitoring, self-diagnostics, self-restoration). That is a big-bite! Further, these systems exhibit the structural characteristic of self similarity. Unfortunately, they are not spontaneously generating.

Asked about self-healing in systems and networks, Dan Druta of AT&T returned a lengthy and emphatic plea:

“The issue of self-healing distributed computing systems is like finding [a] cure for cancer. We have a vague idea why it might hit and can take some precautions but when it hits the body there's no real cure. Money, energy and endless efforts are being put in palliative treatments to basically patch the "system." Our body is a system and, while not that distributed and not perfect, is fairly resilient and quite autonomic. I had to draw this parallel because some times the desired architecture is in front of us. We just need to wear the right glasses to see it. What's the key? I guess it boils down to three fundamental functions: monitoring, redundancy, and central control.”

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD)

H. L. Mencken: "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple--and wrong".

Rudy Puryear, who heads IT for Bain in the Americas, complains that important change in our IT systems and networks is not happening because “a significant amount of IT spending [is] for keeping the lights on, managing the complexity. That squeezes out dollars for spending on innovation. We have observed that in most organizations, 70 to 90 percent or more of the IT spend is locked up in depreciation, business as usual, "keeping the lights on," and managing the complexity, often leaving a very small portion of the spend that can truly make a difference in business performance.” [CIO] Unfortunately, corporations cannot break out of this trap unless we significantly alter the characteristics of IT systems to directly attack and vanquish this burden of support costs, but we have a catch-22: Significant money needs to be directed toward innovation in order to remove this burden of support costs, but the pressures on that leftover 10-30% of the IT budget are legion – every sub-group in the organization is fighting for that capital.

"For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple--and wrong".


Past profligate spending in IT and networks has resulted in companies placing strict budgets on IT groups and in turn has passed significant control over spending to external purchasing departments. This was designed to control spending in the technology sector and direct what spending occurred to clear business needs and initiatives. This is a good goal. Unfortunately, these organizational controls often get warped by the dynamics of bureaucratic corporations. Spending decisions get captured by managers who have no understanding of the rationale for selection, little direct contact with the groups, and no experience with the problems for which the money is allocated. Too often, reasons for choosing the vendor have little to do with the services and products acquired. For one example, we all know the nightmare stories of purchasing blocking the proposed partner organization because it is not on the list; and will never be allowed to get on the list. Smaller groups and start-up organizations, like the majority of those supporting self-*, have a particularly hard time with this. Big corporations can better target the specific drivers of procurement which only indirectly reflect on the problem the purchase is directed at.

Ironically, this trend has resulted in significant, and perhaps proportionally too much, IT capital being spent on procurement software and systems. When a purchasing department buys enforcement software and deploys this to all departments, capturing a significant part of the free IT capital, something is wrong with the priorities of management. After all, no company is about purchasing things – the point of a business is to deliver products and services to a customer.

For this constricted, uncommitted capital budget, competitive pressure is extreme; every group is fighting for its new facility and every approved vendor company is fighting to supply it. Big established vendors have significant structural advantage with better

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