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Heavies float data center standard

Microsoft leads proposal for XML-based model to share performance information between disparate resources.

Computing industry heavyweights on Monday announced a plan to create a standardized way for computing resources to "talk" to each other, a move they say will lower the cost of running corporate data centers.

The initiative calls for the creation of an XML-based standard, called Service Modeling Language (SML), and its adoption in commercial products, including systems management software, hardware, and application development tools.

The companies involved--BEA Systems, BMC Software, Cisco Systems, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems--published a draft SML specification on Monday and pledged to support it in the future.

The goal of SML is to establish a lingua franca for computing resources--servers, networking gear, applications and the like--to exchange operating information, such as security requirements or performance problems.

The language will allow vendors to create a model that encapsulates and communicates performance information to network monitoring programs, according to its backers. In addition, software developers can use modeling tools to specify the computing resources, such as the number of servers and databases, required to put a newly developed application into use.

"This is a significant event for the industry," said Kirill Tatarinov, a vice president in Microsoft's Windows and Enterprise Management Division. "When I look back at the 15 to 20 years of the systems management industry, this is the first (initiative) I've seen with such a broad participation from the get-go."

The basis for SML is Microsoft's own XML specification, called Systems Definition Model. The company has already built support for SDM in Visual Studio 2005; all future management software and future operating systems will use SML starting in 2007, Tatarinov said.

He said that SDM was originally conceived as a Microsoft-only specification, but customers told Microsoft that they needed an open standard to make disparate computing gear work better together.

The cost of operating corporate data centers has long been a sore point with corporate customers, who spend a large portion of their IT budgets on operations rather than investing in new IT-related projects.

The industry's largest companies are themselves bulking up in systems management software.

A more efficient approach to standards
IBM Software has made several management software-related acquisitions, such as Micromuse last December, while HP last week acquired Mercury Interactive to complement its OpenView management software. Microsoft, too, is investing in this area.

Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at Microsoft rival IBM, said that many systems management companies, including IBM, already have projects similar to SML going on. Rather than create overlapping and competing standards proposals, the backers of SML decided to work from Microsoft's submission, he said.

"I think this is one of the better ways to do (standards)," Telford said. "Working in a smaller group to make a proposed standard and then submit it is a lot more efficient than coming to standards body with a concept."

He said IBM's servers, development tools and Tivoli management software will support SML once it becomes standardized next year. The company already uses its own XML-based modeling language in Tivoli products, such as its automated provisioning server.

Tatarinov said the vendors involved will submit SML to a standards body by the end of the year. He said that SML will be complementary to the Common Information Model (CIM) standard from the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) standards body.