Just nine months after the Distributed Management Task Force formed the Server Management Working Group, IT managers are getting a glimpse of what heterogeneous server management could look like by years end.
The DMTF has produced widely accepted cross-vendor standards for management information, and eWEEK Labs thinks IT managers should pay close attention to announcements coming from the server management group regarding the fruits of its labor, SMASH (Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware).
We saw a demonstration of an early implementation of SMASH at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco earlier this month. The demonstration, which involved command-line access to Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Intel Corp. servers, also used firmware from OSA Technologies Inc., an Avocent Corp. subsidiary. Although there were a couple of hiccups in the demonstration, the technology looks promising.
During the demonstration, some commands worked even though they didnt show up on the overhead display when Arvind Kumar, a principal engineer at Intel, listed the available commands. It was clear that the command-line interface was close to completion. Winston Bumpus, DMTF president and director of standards at Dell, told eWEEK Labs that Version 1.0 of parts of the SMASH specification could be published late next month.
We recommend that IT managers keep an eye on SMASH developments because the systems management tools we saw showed that the architecture has every chance of becoming a reality that could significantly cut operational costs in data centers.
SMASH is a group of specifications aimed at providing simple, reliable access to systems that are out-of-band or even out-of-service. The CLP (command-line protocol) demo that we saw was focused on giving high-end IT staff command-line access to systems without the overhead and perceived constraints of a graphical-based management system.
The demonstration also showed that the SMASH CLP is meant for hands-on-the-keyboard interaction, although the interface is expected to let senior IT staff use scripts to drive system interaction as well.
SMASH uses information arranged on the DMTFs widely adopted CIM (Common Information Model), which likely accounts for the rapid development of the CLP. Its CIM-style arrangement should also make the concepts in SMASH readily accessible to IT managers, who have been using CIM-based information in other systems management tools for some time now.
The CLP uses front-line telecommunications hardware management concepts, including very short (sometimes only two-character) commands. The short commands can be modified using command-line options and are meant to be easy to remember. (A minimal help system lists available commands.)
The DMTF server management group has done two things that eWEEK Labs thinks will help ensure SMASHs success. First, SMASH commands can request structured responses to queries. For example, information about processors, fans or power supplies can come back in comma-delimited format, XML or keyword form. The specifications also allow free-form, vendor-specific responses.
However, our early look suggests that custom responses will be counterproductive to the standards-based approach that SMASH takes to systems management.
Second, SMASH uses standard communication protocols, including SSH (Secure Shell) and Telnet. Thus, security and authentication methods that already exist in out-of-band management networks can be used to communicate with SMASH systems.
Speaking of SMASH-enabled systems, IT managers should look over the specifications and consider adding SMASH to the buying requirements for new server hardware. SMASH is supported by 44 companies, including a long list of prominent vendors in addition to those mentioned earlier. Even current systems equipped with management cards will likely be flash-upgradable to support at least a portion of the SMASH system.
Secure access to the SMASH interface will likely have to be significantly reworked, and this is an area of concern. Engineers assured us that most systems to be managed initially with SMASH will be accessible by separate, management-only networks. However, SMASH is expected to be used in a wide range of embedded systems and in devices that will not be protected from physical access.
As on-board management resources (primarily the amount of flash memory available for management applications) increase, the likelihood is that SMASH will add role-based security measures, the DMTFs Bumpus said.
Keep an eye on www.dmtf.org in the coming weeks for new information about SMASH.
Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.