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New spec uses Web services to manage remote data center connections

WS-Management, the latest specification from Microsoft, Sun, Intel, Dell and AMD, relies on Web services as a remote management access protocol.

Microsoft, Sun and a trio of other leading hardware vendors today published the WS-Management specification, which explains how data centers can use Web services as a remote management access protocol to manage networked and handheld devices, PCs and small footprint servers like blades.

Sun, Microsoft continue collaboration

Sun and Microsoft are giving customers exactly what they want as the two vendors continue to expand their collaborative relationship around Web services specifications.

WS-Management is the fourth specification in recent months to be co-authored by the two giants. Sun had been critical of Microsoft's specification work, saying it felt Redmond was imposing its standardization on the world. As part of a legal settlement between the two companies, agreed upon in April, Sun and Microsoft shook hands and vowed more collaboration.

"We've been getting good comments from customers," said  John Tollefsrud, director of standards, N1 Grid Systems, at Sun. "Customers want standards and collaboration from their suppliers."

Recently, Sun and Microsoft have had a hand in submitting WS-Addressing, WS-Eventing and WS-MetadataExchange either to standards bodies or for public review.

"This is the next step in the work we've been doing together since April," Tollefsrud said. "We plan to stay on that path."

The specification, co-authored by AMD, Dell Inc. and Intel Corp. leans heavily on the WS-* architecture as a common language for devices to communicate with management data. WS-* is a core set of Web services specifications (WS-Policy, WS-Trust, WS-SecureConversation and WS-Federation) that cover security, reliability and transactions.

The vendors are seeking public comment on the spec before submitting it to a standards body for ratification. Microsoft said in a release today WS-Management will be presented to the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) at its next meeting. Microsoft first demonstrated WS-Management, formerly known as WMX (Web services management extensions), at its WinHEC conference in May.

WS-Management complements the Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM, pronounced wisdom) spec, under consideration from OASIS. David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's enterprise Windows and enterprise management division, said WSDM is geared for data center environments with big budgets to maintain a large system.

John Tollefsrud, director of standards, N1 Grid Systems, at Sun, said the two specs do overlap, but WS-Management was not built to addresses the complexity of a data center's biggest assets.

"This is more for overt, compact-form small footprint devices," Tollefsrud said. "These are efficient, compact protocols."

Tollefsrud added that it would be a natural for WS-Management to be submitted to the DTMF for ratification.

"They have a more overt focus on management," he said. "I can only say that it's my expectation WS-Management will go there. It seems like the right fit. It's up to all the partners to make that evaluation."

Ronald Schmelzer, analyst with ZapThink LLC, said a target market for WS-Management might be in some instances as a replacement for simple network management protocol.

"Ideally, if you're using WS-Management, you don't need SNMP," said Schmelzer, adding that the specification can be used to manage not only PCs, servers and handhelds, but also blade servers and router configurations.

"SNMP is a fairly old protocol; it predates the Internet," Schmelzer said. "If I'm managing a remote data center, which a lot of people are doing today, the problem with SNMP is that it does not manage remote devices. The 'S' in SNMP stands for simple, and things are a lot more complex today, like device driver management, clustering and blade server configurations."

WS-Management also fills in the security gaps SNMP was not built to address, Schmelzer said. The downside, however, is that WS-Management is a robust protocol and will add significantly to the XML traffic already flowing through data centers. ZapThink, for example, has predicted that XML traffic will account for 25% of data center traffic by 2006.

At the outset, Schmelzer said service providers like Electronic Data Systems will gravitate toward WS-Management as a standard way of managing outsourced IT systems, replacing homemade protocols. Eventually, vendors will adopt WS-Management in their products.

Microsoft has already committed to incorporating WS-Management into the next upgrade of Windows Server 2003, due next year. Sun is also expected to include WS-Management in its Windows-certified systems, N1 Grid and Sun Management Center products to ensure interoperability with Microsoft management products. Intel is expected to use it to manage its blade chassis.

The natural question is where are the systems management vendors like IBM, Computer Associates International Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Fear is these vendors would branch off and write their own management specification, adding to the glut of Web services specifications long derided by the industry.

"At some point, if you want good manageability, you need those guys on board," Schmelzer said.

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