Tech Industry

Opsware, EDS spearhead data center standard

The two companies make a pitch for the Data Center Markup Language, a proposed standard that's intended to help reduce the cost of sharing corporate information.

BOSTON--Electronic Data Systems and Opsware on Tuesday proposed an industrywide standard for reducing the cost of operating corporate data centers, the latest initiative to make the notion of utility computing a reality.

The proposed standard, called Data Center Markup Language (DCML), is designed to enable computing gear from multiple providers to share important operational information. Systems compliant with DCML are expected to be less costly to run, because many manual tasks systems operators do, such as provisioning servers or applying software patches, can be automated.

About 25 providers have thrown their weight behind the proposed standard, which will be developed under the auspices of a new organization called Besides EDS and Opsware, companies that have pledged support include BEA Systems, Computer Associates International, Tibco, Mercury Interactive and Akamai Technologies.

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The DCML standardization plan addresses a key stumbling block in the adoption of utility computing, under which computing resources would be purchased as they're needed, as are electricity or gas. Businesses need an agreed-upon mechanism for automating data center jobs across a mix of incompatible hardware and software systems, analysts said.

Executives at a press conference here Tueday said DCML will give corporations more control of the operations--and their costs--over their computing systems. By reducing the time and money that's dedicated to day-to-day operations, businesses can use information technology for more strategic business applications, said Marc Andreessen, chairman of Opsware.

"People spend an enormous amount of money trying to make things work in their data centers," Andreessen said. "The existence of a common language unleashes innovation and creativity (and) leads us down a path where data centers are more open than they have been in the past."

DCML provides a "blueprint" of the state of the different components within a company data center. Based on the Extensible Markup Language, it is analogous to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which provides a common language for displaying Web pages, Andreessen said. DCML can be used as a common format for sharing status information of both hardware and software components.

The DCML information is designed to be read by systems management applications, which can automatically take actions such as provisioning a server or bringing up a standby server in the case of a failure.

An initial draft of DCML is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The description will be available to companies free of charge and without royalty fees. Opsware expects to have DCML-compliant software in early 2004.

Notably absent from Tuesday's press conference were IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, larger companies that have each launched their own initiatives to automate data center operations.

EDS and Opsware executives said they expect that these larger companies will eventually be motivated to support DCML because of customer demand.

Information technology services provider EDS is expected to use the DCML specification within its own data centers as part of its hosted computing services.

The EDS and Opsware initiative extends a partnership between the two companies, said Jeff Heller, EDS' chief operating officer. EDS purchased the outsourcing business of Opsware, which used to be called Loudcloud, and Opsware now focuses exclusively on selling software rather than hosted services.

One analyst at the press conference said DCML represents a good initial effort but that the long-term success of the initiative hinges on the backing of the industry as a whole.

"It's not a bad start. It's something that needed to be done, but (the authors) needed a couple more heavyweights on stage. Where is Veritas? Where is Dell?" Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett asked.

Gillett also noted that the proposed standard focuses on administering hardware rather than software. Embedding management information during the development process would improve the utilization and management also of software in company data centers, he said.

"This is starting at the practical end. You can (automate) things without having to rewrite applications, but (EDS and Opsware) are not providing a road map on how they will get to development time," Gillett said.

One smaller company that's backing the initiative said standardization was essential to bridge existing systems that monitor applications and a new category of tools that are focused on tasks such as provisioning and managing server configurations.

"All these new-generation vendors need to talk to the existing management products, whether it's monitoring or metering or dependency mapping," said Vijay Manwani, chief technical officer at BladeLogic, which provides software for the automatic configuration and provisioning of servers.

"All the initiatives from the big companies--Sun, Microsoft and others--are closed. And from a customer perspective, these different systems need to interoperate," Manwani said.