IBM and Cisco Systems want to make it easier to diagnose and solve problems in an enterprise's IT infrastructure, even to the point where it can do that by itself.

Pinpointing the causes of failures and solving the root problems takes up a lot of IT staff time, a resource that has become more scarce as budgets tighten, according to the companies. As a result they have announced a drive toward self-diagnostic and self-healing networks. The combination of networks and systems is also becoming more complex, so simplifying and automating that process is increasingly important, they said.

Self-diagnosis and self-healing are key parts of IBM's broader autonomic computing initiative, aimed at creating systems and networks that in many respects run themselves, said Ric Telford, director of architecture and technology in the autonomic computing business of IBM. Companies can never remove the human administrator from the picture completely, but Cisco and IBM's steps should make life easier even when people have to get involved, he said.

For example, if a transaction goes wrong, the cause might lie in any one of many applications or devices that come into play across the infrastructure, Telford said. Narrowing it down can be hard.

"The growing complexity of infrastructure is causing more and more of these hard-to-diagnose problems," he said.

Initial aims of IBM's and Cisco's program include coming up with a common way for parts of the system to log events and providing software for an administrator to see and analyse problems. The two companies plan to offer these and other technologies over time, but they also are making all the technology available openly to other players and will seek to have it adopted by industry standards bodies, Telford said.