The increasing scale and complexity of virtualized data centers pose significant challenges to system management software stacks, which still rely on special-purpose controllers to optimize the operation of cloud infrastructures. Autonomic computing allows complex systems to assume much of their own management, achieving self-configuration, self-optimization, self-healing, and self-protection without external intervention. This paper proposes an agent-based architecture for autonomic cloud management, where resources and virtual machines are associated with worker agents that monitor changes in their local environments, interact with each other, make their own decisions, and take adaptive actions supervised by a network of management processes. To fulfill global objectives, the management processes conduct what-if simulations and update the worker agents' local rules when necessary. Such a guided decentralized decision making method can mitigate the pressure on the system management stack, improve the effectiveness of resource management, and accelerate the response to failures and attacks. © 2012 IEEE.