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Ten major IT vendors including IBM, Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard on July 31 launched a standards initiative to create a common method using XML for describing network elements, servers, applications and other IT resources.

The group, which also includes BEA Systems, BMC Software, Cisco Systems, Dell, EMC and Sun Microsystems, published a draft specification for the XML modeling on each of their respective Web sites.

The aim of the effort is to help “insure greater interoperability between heterogeneous IT service offerings from different vendors,” said Ed Anderson, marketing director for Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative in Redmond, Wash.

The group, which hopes to gather additional feedback from other IT vendors and user organizations, intends to create a “common foundation for establishing more automated and self-managing IT services,” added Anderson.

If the standards effort succeeds, the benefit to end-user organizations will be more effective implementation of managed services across multivendor systems.

“All our customers are struggling with the complexity of managing a heterogeneous data center,” said Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“It’s becoming the biggest cost of running an IT system. The more we can help reduce complexity by simplifying definitions of resources for services in the data center, the more we can enable automated systems in the future,” he added.

Although the group has not yet chosen a standards body to move the draft specification forward, it is evaluating the DMTF, OASIS and the W3C.

It plans to make that selection and forward the specification to a standards body by year’s end.

The specification, dubbed the Service Modeling Language or SML, allows a hierarchy of IT resource models to be developed based on reusable building blocks.

Today, custom descriptions of every service to be managed are required, which increases costs and complexity.

SML, not unlike Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative, is intended to bring manageability into the development cycle of new applications or services, rather than trying to retrofit management in production.

SML allows developers to build modeling data into applications, devices or services so that once they are deployed in production, tasks such as configuration, change, problem and release management are simplified.

“SML will be a tool that’s very relevant to IT service designers and architects. You will see this presented in a variety of developer tools, such as [Microsoft’s] Visual Studio and the Rational toolset from IBM,” Anderson said.

“Corporate developers will use SML to embed management capabilities at the point of design, when applications are being built.”

To read more about other OASIS Web services management standards, click here.

Noticeably missing from the group is enterprise management provider CA. “Every company works at their own pace,” Telford said. “I fully expect that at some point prior to standards or in the standards body itself that CA will participate in one form or another.”

Between now and the submission of the specification into a standards body, the group intends to develop a library of core models to describe generic resources such as network and storage devices, operating systems, desktops, Web and file servers and a directory service.

It also intends to create a new draft of the specification before submission to a standards body. That is expected to be completed in September or October.

Standards efforts in the management arena in the past have had a mixed record of success. IBM’s Telford acknowledged that some efforts have failed, but the group is confident that SML will succeed.

Telford said that there have been some attempts to define some of this information in standards formats that haven’t really worked, but what’s different about SML is there’s a broad coalition of vendors that want to see it happen.

“This brings the best thinking of the industry in a common specification in a way that can benefit vendors and users, and it gives us an opportunity to innovate and differentiate in the upper stack of our own offerings,” Telford said.

“There is already a good indication that SML will be adopted and implemented by the vendors in this list. We’re optimistic about chances for success for SML.”

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