Team of ten battle Babel

For IT managers who have spent many frustrating hours trying to get their disparate systems to work, the new draft specification of SML (service modeling language) by ten leading vendors is great news.

Ten major IT vendors including Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. on Monday released a draft of a new specification, the service modeling language (SML), which they claim will make it easier for customers to manage their heterogenous systems.

SML provides a consistent way to describe system information about computer networks, applications, servers and other IT resources including services in extensible markup language (XML), according to Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Windows enterprise management division.

Joining Microsoft and IBM in work on the draft are BEA Systems Inc., BMC Software Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Missing from that list of supporters are players including CA Inc., Oracle Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD).

“We fully expect other vendors to support SML,” Tatarinov said, adding that having an initial 10 companies work on the specification was more a factor of pushing the work along than of excluding anyone.

All 10 vendors are publishing the draft specification on their Web sites Monday to solicit feedback from the wider IT community including customers. They plan to submit SML to a standards body before the end of this year, Tatarinov said, but have yet to determine which organization to approach.

SML is based on work Microsoft began three and a half years ago on its System Definition Model (SDM), part of the vendor’s Dynamic Systems Initiative aimed at simplifying complexity in users’ IT infrastructure.

As the software giant went through the process of revising and evolving SDM, it solicited input from other vendors, Tatarinov said. At the same time, customers were telling Microsoft and its peers to work together on systems management to ease the burden users had in trying to deal with a variety of different vendors’ tools. There was no standard format for representing IT hardware, software and services.

Come November 2005, at a design review for SDM, Microsoft, IBM and the other companies decided to pool their efforts. Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM, recalled that what Microsoft had been doing with SDM was “eerily similar” to work IBM had been engaged on internally around the same issue of simplifying systems management.

Given its roots, Microsoft already offers some early elements of SML in its Visual Studio 2005 development tools, Tatarinov said. By next year, all of Microsoft’s System Center management tools will incorporate SML. The next major release of the vendor’s Windows Server operating system, code-named Longhorn, likely to appear towards the end of 2007, will include built-in SML functionality, he added.

As for IBM, the first place users will be likely to take advantage of SML will be in the vendor’s Rational development tools, Telford said. IBM’s Tivoli systems management software will support the new language as will its IT resources such as its servers. Some of the internal work IBM did on a common language prior to getting together with Microsoft which Telford terms “pre-SML” will begin appearing in IBM software later this year, he added.

Since November, IBM has worked with Microsoft on ensuring that SML fits in well with other work around the XML schema, Telford said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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