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Management standards: Keeping an open mind

By , Network World
June 30, 2003 12:07 AM ET

Network World - Customer demand for open software is driving countless vendors, such as HPIBM and Microsoft, to work more closely with industry organizations to develop common protocols, languages and industry standards for network and systems management.

Management standards, such as SNMP and Common Information Model (CIM) - now in Version 3 and 2.7, respectively - came into being years ago. Yet widespread excitement over standards work has remained lackluster - until recently.

In the past two years, the poor high-tech economy and demand for new Web-based technologies caused the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) and its peer standards groups to stir the pot a bit and start working on multipurpose standards that could help network executives get control of today's distributed applications. Several industry organizations work with corporate end users as well as their member vendor companies and developers to create a means to an end - the end being open, interoperable and manageable information systems.

"Many technologies can make up a standard, and there are a lot of variables we need to consider," says Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). "But ever since the dot-com bust, end users have been more particular about where they spend their money, and using standards-based products can increase the value of their current and future IT investments."

As far as Tim Hagn is concerned, a vendor selling proprietary products can keep on walking.

"The proprietary beast is dying, and we will not buy proprietary stuff if there is a viable alternative," Hagn says. The vice president of IT operations and engineering at Zurich Life in Schaumburg, Ill., makes integration capabilities, or as he says, "the ability to play well with others," a primary factor when choosing vendor wares. "We prefer vendors who are not afraid to integrate their products into our multi-vendor environment," he says.

Standard practices
Industry groups composed of many leading vendors work toward a common means to manage hot technologies such as security, storage and Web services. Here’s a sampling of the latest specifications currently in development:

Security
Standards group: OASIS and OWASP
Specification: Web Application Security (WAS)
Announced: May 2003
Mission: To produce a classification scheme for Web security vulnerabilities, a model to provide guidance for initial threat, impact and risk ratings, and an XML schema to describe Web security conditions for use with assessment and protection tools.
Still to come: First committee meeting to be held July 3, 2003
Web services
Standards group: OASIS, DMTF, GGF and W3C
Specification: Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM)
Announced: February 2003
Mission:To define Web services management; to use Web services architecture and technology to manage distributed resources, and to develop the model of a Web service as a manageable resource.
Still to come: First draft of WSDM Version 1.0 expected January 2004

Acronym key:
DMTF = Distributed Management Task Force
GGF = Global Grid Forum
OASIS = Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards
OWASP = Open Web Application Security Project
SNIA = Storage Network Industry Association
W3C = World Wide Web Consortium
Click to see:

These concerns led Hagn to use HP OpenView software to manage services and application performance across the insurance provider's network. Hagn's attitude, and that of other customers, spurred HP to get on the standards wagon. HP recently proclaimed its commitment to Web services and plans to submit its Web services management framework to an OASIS working group.

"Everybody realizes now if we get synergy in terms of standards, then everyone - users and vendors - benefits," says Al Smith, CTO of HP's Web services management operation.

Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign last year published a proprietary specification for Web services specifically, while OASIS continues to work on an open standard for Web services security. The Global XML Web Services Architecture is a framework that Microsoft and IBM are developing (along with BEA Systems, RSA Security, SAP and VeriSign), to give Web services higher-level abilities for security and reliability.

Last summer some 17 vendors submitted the code-named Bluefin specification to the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA), which is expected to announce Version 1.0 of the newly named Storage Manage Initiative Specification (SMI-S) next month. SMI-S proposed to give storage customers a way to manage multiple storage appliances from different vendors. Before the proposed specification, enterprise storage managers would have had to manage each storage appliance with vendor-specific tools and work to integrate the disparate information manually.

"Customers want interoperability, and vendors on their own can't deliver that," says Ray Dunn, marketing manager for SNIA's Storage Management Forum. "Today, vendors are willing to work together to create a baseline for interoperability and then add their differentiation on top for a competitive advantage."

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