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CIM-plifying net management

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etwork managers have never had an easy job, but management tools aren't helping as much as they could.

Management packages have no standard method of storing management data, critics point out. The packages don't fully take advantage of Web technology, and existing tools don't make it easy to translate business policies directly into network device configurations.

To address these complaints, vendors are putting together the Common Information Model (CIM). The CIM specification will define a standard way to represent management information. But if vendors follow through with their implementation of CIM, the model also has the potential to change the way network management is done.

Management tools could use CIM to describe all kinds of management data, including data from networks and systems. For example, a CIM database could hold information about network devices that has been gathered by using SNMP, as well as information about systems collected from the Desktop Management Interface (DMI). DMI defines PC hardware and software components in a standard fashion. This way, management tools could go to one place for all information.

Coupled with Extensible Markup Language (XML), CIM could become a way to share management data using Web technology. Add policies to it, and CIM could become a tool to set quality-of-service (QoS) levels in routers and switches throughout an enterprise.

"There are no silver bullets, but this is a step in the right direction," says Stephen Elliot, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group in Newton, Mass. As companies start to merge voice onto their data networks, CIM will become more important, he says, because companies will need tools that can look at both system and network performance, as well as guarantee that voice gets the QoS level it needs.

Stealth technology

Although users will benefit from CIM, most won't see it firsthand. Because it is primarily a way for management tools to talk to each other behind the scenes, users don't know much about it.

"Our exposure to CIM is limited to the papers we've seen presented at conferences about what it looks like and how wonderful it's going to be," says Scott Parker, chief technical officer at Southernview Technologies, a Marietta, Ga., consulting firm and user of management software. "I hope it's all true, but we'll withhold judgment on it until we see what it can do."

Ironically, it will take pressure from users to get vendors to fully embrace CIM, industry watchers say. Users need to demand that their vendors share information, says Steve Joyce, vice president of marketing at Ganymede Software in Research Triangle Park, N.C., a developer of performance management software.

Without users' goading, there's not much incentive for vendors to share information, he points out. Vendors today could share data through a platform such as OpenView, but "it just turns out that not many vendors look at others' data," Joyce says.

Vendors would rather have management tools discover network information of their own products, to be on the safe side, he says. Unfortunately, this means that each tool polls the network and maintains its own database, resulting in a lot of redundant work.

Things are looking up

However, other industry watchers point to recent endorsements of CIM by Microsoft and Cisco as proof that CIM will be used heavily. In September, Cisco announced that its CiscoWorks2000 suite of management applications will exchange data with more than 20 vendors using CIM. Microsoft plans to ship a CIM object manager in Windows 2000 to act as a go-between for management applications and the operating system's management kernel.

Widespread use of CIM probably will take root about a year after Windows 2000 is released, says J.P. Corriveau, senior vice president of advanced technology at Computer Associates in Islandia, N.Y. Meanwhile, vendors likely will start to use CIM in isolated cases in conjunction with XML, he says.

Last August, the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) specified how to represent CIM data in an XML document. XML is a way of representing structured data, much like HTML is a way of describing a text document.

The next step for the DMTF is to specify how to get information from and put information into a CIM database using XML. The group plans to finish that specification by March.

The DMTF is also working to make policy-based management a part of CIM. The Internet Engineering Task Force and the DMTF are considering identical proposals for a standard way of describing policies, says Jim Turner, chair of the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) working group in the DMTF. No schedule has been set for standardizing the proposals, he says.

Once the standards are set, any kind of software that is responsible for enforcing policies can go to the CIM database to get information about those policies.

New order

Most established management vendors see CIM as simply a way to share data with other systems. The vendors maintain their proprietary databases but use CIM to extract data from other sources and put that data into their own databases.

But start-up Manage.Com in Santa Clara, Calif., has gone beyond that model, using a native CIM database as the foundation for its management software. As a start-up, any openness in the management area is beneficial, says Bob Quillan, the firm's vice president of marketing.

Each part of Manage.Com's product will be based on standards, Quillan says. By April the company will be making its CIM data avail-able through XML and will be using Java to create agents for any platform. "Java is mobile code, while XML is mobile data," Quillan says. "There's so much power and flexibility in that model."

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