• United States
by Tim Wilson

Mgmt. standard puts wrinkle in utility computing fight

Oct 22, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* EDS and Opsware propose Data Center Markup Language standard for utility computing

It’s official: the battle for utility computing supremacy is now a dogfight. And now, a major outsourcing vendor is one of the dogs.

Last week, outsourcing giant EDS and Opsware announced a new effort to develop standards for interconnecting management and provisioning systems across the data center. The proposed standard, called Data Center Markup Language (DCML), is designed to enable disparate computer systems to share operational information, making it easier to automate manual tasks such as provisioning servers or applying software patches. 

About 25 providers announced support for the proposed standard, which will be developed under the auspices of a new organization called Among the supporters are BEA Systems, Computer Associates, Tibco, Mercury Interactive and Akamai Technologies.

Conspicuous in their absence from the DCML unveiling were five companies that already have announced proprietary efforts to build utility computing environments: HP, IBM, Microsoft, Sun and Veritas. The absence of these companies from the initiative suggests that utility computing is in store for a long dogfight between the various vendor-championed visions and the new standards-oriented DCML effort.

The fact that EDS is sponsoring DCML is no surprise. Outsourcing vendors are drooling over the opportunity to provide utility computing services, which could make them as crucial to businesses as electricity or water. However, outsourcing vendors hate to see large vendors battle over proprietary standards, because such technologies seldom help the outsourcing provider deliver a multivendor solution. Outsourcing providers generally don’t care which vendor “wins” – they want a common technology that works across all vendors, and DCML begins to address that need for standardization.

But DCML has a long road to travel. First, it must gain support from a broader range of vendors, including some of the big names, or it will not have enough clout to carry the data center. When it comes to IT operations in large enterprises, the big names dictate the standards.

Second, there is a great deal of technical work to be done. DCML, which is based on XML, initially is designed only to allow the sharing of hardware management data. So while it may be useful in automating the provisioning of a new server in the event of a failure, DCML does not yet address some of the other key elements of management and provisioning, such as applications management, network management or storage management. Those areas will have to be addressed before DCML can become a full utility computing solution.

It is worth noting that DCML is being championed by Marc Andreesen, CEO of Opsware and inventor of the Web browser. Andreesen likened the creation of DCML in the data center to the creation of HTML on the Web, because both are designed to provide a common language that can be shared across disparate computing environments. Whether DCML can become the de facto standard that HTML is remains to be seen, but it seems likely that if anybody can figure out a way to do it, Andreesen can.

Regardless of whether DCML takes hold or not, the introduction of a standards effort clearly will slow the development of utility computing environments for some time to come. Many vendors, and many of their enterprise customers, will want to wait and see what the standards look like, how well they will be supported, and whether they work in real environments.

It could take years to answer these questions, and even longer for enterprises to adopt the technologies. So while a standards effort is noble, and perhaps necessary, it likely will create a long delay in the implementation of utility computing technology. If you’re waiting for a winner in this dogfight, don’t hold your breath – this is going to be a long one.