Management standards inch toward usefulness

Managing an enterprise's systems, networks, applications and desktops is a lot like herding cats in that, theoretically, both can be done.

But most systems managers, like Dean Hancock at Pacific Coast Building Products Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., are frank about needing help. Hancock, who was in the middle of a rollout of SAP AG software to 60 locations in nine states, had to monitor separate consoles to track the health of his network, Oracle Corp. database and applications.

The Common Information Model (CIM) standard and the Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM, pronounced Web-um) architecture, of which CIM is an element, offer a common structure on which products from multiple vendors can be managed and can manage each other, says Winston Bumpus, president of the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF), an industry group that developed the standard.

Certainly, systems managers would cheer the toppling of the Tower of Network Management Babel. And "monolingual" applications, which could be managed by any management system on any platform, would cut costs for application development.

So what's the holdup?

It only works if all information technology vendors implement it, says Barb Goldworm, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. "Everyone wants to manage, but no one wants to be managed," she says.

Get over it, and get on with it is the message Jerry Foy says he'd like to send vendors. Foy is director of automation services at Computer Sciences Corp.'s Newark, Del.-based technical center, which supports CSC's securities industry clients.

The center handles "storage-area network management, systems management, open systems, mainframes and e-business support, and we have to ensure their interoperability," says Foy.

"A widely adopted CIM standard would crumble barriers to interoperability issues throughout systems," he says.

Foy says he's eager, even impatient, to see more storage vendors embrace CIM. "It's not just big technical centers," he says. "If you look at dot-coms and application service providers, their biggest headache is managing storage on top of their networks."

Although most managers haven't paid much attention to CIM, the grumbles of those like Foy are reaching vendors' ears.

Hancock, in search of a single point for managing his systems, hit on one of the few products built on CIM, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s VantagePoint. Available April 1, it will be the first major software suite to manage information internally, using the CIM format.

"This is the first indication that CIM could really become the de facto management standard," says Jasmine Noel, an analyst at D. H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y. "It's a big win for CIM."

"A lot of (software vendors) are just publishing information to the CIM object manager or pulling information from the CIM database," says Corey Ferengul, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. But with VantagePoint, HP "has said, 'we're really going to adopt standards' " like CIM, Ferengul says.

Jim Turner, marketing director of the enterprise management unit at Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose and chairman of DMTF, was a member of the original working group for WBEM.

CIM support is part of network management software CiscoWorks 2000, Turner says. An early implementation of CiscoWorks did simple tasks such as "a CIM data exchange with the MOF," he says. A MOF (Managed Object Format) is an ASCII file that contains a CIM schema definition. If CIM were a library, the MOF would be the card catalog.

A new CiscoWorks version this year will support the CIM 2.3 standard recently ratified by the DMTF, Turner says. "But the bigger picture," he says, is the work on Directory-Enabled Networking (DEN), another DMTF standard.

Generally, Directory-Enabled Networking refers to an expanded use of a repository of data about users, applications, network resources and the relationships among them.

A central database of such data, accessible to any application, service or management software, lets managers more easily institute policy-based management. They can use the data to give users or applications different priority in accessing network resources.

DEN is DMTF's description of how the data in the repository is described and linked.

Vendor Support

Nearly 200 software vendors support DMTF standards. Computer Associates International Inc. in Islandia, N.Y., offers support in its management framework, Unicenter TNG.

Since 1998, Tivoli Systems Inc. has included some CIM support in its NetView management software. IT Director, the next version of NetView and Manager for Windows 2000, will support the full DMTF, WBEM and CIM standards, says Raymond Williams, director of standards at Tivoli and DMTF's vice president of technology.

XML for representing tabular data and CIM "are the most interesting standards to come down the pike in years," says Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

But how good a standard is and how much it could benefit users aren't necessarily indicators of success, he warns. Some standards, including HTTP and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), "are crappy technology," says Eunice. "They're inefficient, they have poor security and low functionality -- they're losers." Yet they're ubiquitous.

Most analysts give CIM a good chance of acceptance, but estimates vary as to when CIM is likely to achieve "critical mass." Goldworm puts it at 18 months, but Windows 2000 and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) may give it a jump start.

Microsoft Corp. has included its CIM object manager, WMI, in Windows 98, in a service pack for NT 4.0 and, most notably, in Windows 2000.

"CIM is to the object-oriented world of management what SQL is to the relational world of databases," says Michael Emanuel, a product manager at Microsoft. It means managers can run scripts to handle various management tasks "in Windows and apply them to Solaris systems," he says.

CIM object managers (CIMOM) may be CIM-compliant, while also having a proprietary twist, much as SQL databases from different vendors have proprietary features, Eunice says.

Large vendors "exert disproportionate control because they have the resources," he says. So even with industrywide support for CIM, he says, "the HPs, the Suns, the IBMs and the Microsofts of the world will put in their little tweaks."

Getting a Jump

WMI in Windows 2000 may be many managers' first experience with CIM.

At Nabisco Inc. in Parsipanny, N.J., MIS Manager Rich Burton says he's getting the jump on that day. Nabisco last year deployed Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), which supports CIM.

In fact, Burton says, most of the management tools he uses, including AppManager Suite from NetIQ Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., and Tivoli Enterprise, support CIM.

"We are adding our own registry extensions to the NT registry. CIM allows us to make those registry extensions part of our SMS Inventory," says Burton, pointing out that extending the CIM schemas lets him add descriptions of Nabisco's network resources.

The company also is "working on some of our own extensions to the SMS MOF," Burton says. The extensions will let him add Nabisco-specific information to his software inventory and "allow us to manage our hardware and software assets better," he says.

"There is no reason the vendors cannot provide all the management instrumentation via CIM," Burton says. "If they do, it would make their customers' lives easier."

But until CIM is as ubiquitous as SNMP, software vendor Managed Objects Inc. in McLean, Va., offers a way to get some of CIM's management benefits.

The company's Formula suite uses a CIM Object Manager console, which receives data from each object in the network. It creates the objects by putting a Common Object Request Broker Architecture wrapper around servers, platforms and enterprise management software such as Patrol from BMC Software Inc. in Houston, CA's Unicenter TNG and NetView from IBM subsidiary Tivoli in Austin, Texas.

Individual adapters in Formula access the databases of these management systems and translate the management data on the fly into CIM-compliant format. Formula can also send commands to the management systems.

CIM could benefit software developers and users by simplifying and therefore speeding application development.

Theoretically, one could build an application that integrated management data, represented in CIM format, from various management systems for different platforms. The management data, including that of the application, would be collected and stored in a common directory in CIM format. Any management system running on any platform could then access and analyze that data, with no need to write code for each management system the application might be used with.

That might happen in a perfect world, says Subhash Agrawal, vice president of distributed systems at BMC Software. WBEM and CIM could speed software development, but that won't happen for years, he says.

Until all or at least most non-WBEM devices and applications have been retired, management software developers will have to continue writing and testing for them, as well as CIM-enabled devices, he says.

BMC's Patrol system management software has had some CIM support since 1998, and more is on the way, Agrawal says.

Bumpus, who's director of open technologies and standards at Novell Inc. in San Jose, downplays the difficulty of adding WBEM and CIM support. "If you can read HTTP and understand XML, you can do this," he says.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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