San Francisco Here we go again. Five leading software and hardware vendors last week proposed a new standards-based approach for network management - this time through a Web browser. The vendors - Cisco Systems, Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and BMC Software, Inc. - say this latest net management standards effort will result in a new breed of Web-based tools that will reduce the complexity that will reduce the complexity and cost of enterprise management. The Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) group has the backing of about 70 other companies. WBEM 'solves the integration problem and unleashes the creative ability to do management applications,' said Ronnie Ward, vice president of enterprise computing at Compaq. It takes the integration impetus off management platforms, he said. But history is not on the side of such ambitious management standards initiatives, as anyone familiar with the Open Software Foundation, Inc.'s (OSF) Distributed Management Environment or the Management Integration Consortium knows. And this effort is wrought with some formidable challenges, as well, including the following: It lacks the blessing of Sun Microsystems, Inc., creator of the Java programming language, which is increasingly being used for Internet and Web-based management applets. Some of the effort's backers do not appear to have their hearts entirely in it. As with other 'Net-related efforts, political and competitive undercurrents are swirling. It is big on concept and small on content; specifications still have to be defined and activities have to be coordinated among more than 70 vendors and at least two standards groups. 'Who is going to do the work?' asked Joe Clabby, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, Inc. in Boston. 'It's a nice architectural layout. But as you put together an architecture, you want to figure out who is going to take the action items to make it happen, and I couldn't find that.' The WBEM concept The WBEM concept defines three areas for standardization. One is a HyperMedia Management Schema (HMMS), which is an extensible data model for representing managed objects. Another is the HyperMedia Management Protocol (HMMP), an HTTP-based protocol for communicating between management services, applications and agents. The third piece is the HyperMedia Object Manager (HMOM), a C++ object broker that will pull together management data on behalf of management applications. HMOM is based on Microsoft's OLE technology. HMMS will be defined, maintained and updated by the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF). HMMP is being debated within the Internet Engineering Task Force, and a reference implementation of HMOM will be placed in the public domain. Vendors expect WBEM-compliant products to hit the market next year. Though the WBEM vendors said their plan embraces existing standards such as Simple Network Management Protocol and the Desktop Management Interface, interoperability with de-vices supporting these standards is not guaranteed. 'We have to get the details right,' said Jeffrey Case, president of SNMP Research, Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., one of the 70 companies supporting WBEM, and coauthor of the SNMP protocol. 'It's difficult for any five companies this big to get anything done.' This may be why users are cautious and even skeptical about WBEM. 'I give the marketing boys an 'A' for this,' said Frank Belland, senior systems architect at Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla. 'How real is the support? Why don't we go off and do another OSF DME?' 'I'm certainly not going to run and buy their first product,' said Sean Blake, systems analyst for Eli Lilly Co. in Indianapolis. 'There always seems to be two different standards, and none ever gets flushed out, so the market decides what to buy.' No one can blame Sun if WBEM doesnt fly or credit the company if it does. Sun is keeping a safe distance from the effort while it determines WBEM's effect on Java. Differences between Java and WBEM exist in the user interface and in implementation, said Brian Biles, director of Solstice product marketing for SunSoft, Inc. The WBEM browser interface is based on HTML; the Java user interface is not. Also, WBEM im-plementations could hit interoperability snags if deployed across different object models, Biles said. This is not the case with Java, he claimed. 'We think [Java's] actually a better choice for doing something as broadly heterogeneous as management,' Biles said. Microsoft, however, believes Sun will change its tune. 'Sun has its own agenda, and eventually they'll come around because this is very good,' said Bob Krueger, general manager for systems management products at Microsoft. But even some vendors that back WBEM are doing so cautiously. IBM's Tivoli Systems, Inc. subsidiary, for example, will back HMMS insofar as it progresses through the DMTF or becomes a de facto standard. HMMP, though, is another matter. 'We're going to be in a more wait-and-see attitude on that one,' said Chris Grafft, senior vice president of business development at Tivoli. 'We don't exactly understand the path that will take to becoming something that would add value to existing protocols.' Though the technical and installed-base challenges facing WBEM are many, the political and competitive challenges that accompany any standards effort may be the most daunting. Some of these companies just flat out do not like each other.