Interoperability and open standards are not a management panacea

* Vendors vie for interoperability

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Several recent announcements have given me cause to think about open standards and interoperability.

Last month Microsoft and Novell announced they would work together on Web services-based management, virtualization, and document formats. I wrote about that at length in my last newsletter, so I will simply note here that one common theme was interoperability.

Two weeks ago, Dell announced a new Unified Manageability Architecture (UMA), which it described as “a blueprint to standardize systems management.” Future versions of Dell’s OpenManage solutions will be co-developed with systems management solution provider Altiris, built on the Altiris Notification Server. Dell will leverage Altiris’ management platform to offer a single hardware and software management console.

However, even though the console is built around technology from a proprietary management vendor, it will use open standards such as CIM, SMI-S, and WS-Man. OpenManage developer toolkits will also allow any Dell partner to leverage the same interfaces to manage Dell equipment, such as the Dell PowerEdge servers. So in addition to Altiris, OpenManage will interoperate with CA Unicenter, Microsoft System Management Server 2003 R2, Oracle Enterprise Manager, LANDesk management solutions, and Novell ZENworks. Dell needs to become more interoperable to compete in the data center, and this is a very positive step in that direction.

Then last week, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), announced a number of new standards aimed at boosting interoperability. These included a newly ratified WS-CIM specification, a Web services-based version of the DMTF’s Common Information Model (CIM), an open standard for interoperable exchange of management information; a revised version of SMBIOS, an open standard for interoperable exchange of motherboard and system information; and the public release of the complete open standard, Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware (SMASH), V1.0.

The DMTF is an industry body with nearly 200 member organizations, including the who’s who of enterprise management – Altiris, Avocent, BMC, CA, Cisco, Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, LANDesk, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Sun, and Symantec. Yet despite a membership consisting predominantly of proprietary vendors, it is probably the leading proponent of open standards to promote interoperability in enterprise management.

More and more customers are seeing the benefits of open standards and interoperable interfaces, and are demanding these solutions from their hardware, operating systems, applications, management software, and more. Without it, they face excessive complexity, skills issues, spiraling IT management costs, and unacceptable downtime. More and more vendors are going to develop and build to open standards like UMA, SMASH, and WS-Man. Those that do not are likely to be left in the scrap heap, regardless of whether they are open source or proprietary.

Yet there is still a problem – competing “open” standards. When too many standards compete, it really does not matter how open they are, it still creates complexity, and works against interoperability. Therefore, in the end, customers still need to choose a limited number of suppliers. Regardless of how interoperable these so-called “open standard” suppliers are, it is the best way to reduce IT management complexity.

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