Dell Backs Effort to Streamline Server Management

Dell's Neil Hand says standards in management software are important to Dell because they're important to its customers.

Dell Inc. this week joined with other vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Intel Corp., to create a working group within the Distributed Management Task Force that will help create standard server management software interfaces. The group will evolve the DMTFs Common Information Model—or CIM—specification that will enable customers to manage their heterogeneous environments using software from any vendor. The group also will address various architectures, including blade servers and virtual environments. Neil Hand, director of worldwide product marketing for Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Jeffrey Burt about the need for more standardization of management software.

Dell has said that standards in management software are very important to the company going forward. Can you talk about this?

Theyre important to us because in the end weve heard very succinctly from our customers and many of our prospective customers that its one of the fundamentals that they need to manage their business, and the fundamental is being able to use servers and storage. But in the end, we think that we as an industry have done a pretty poor job of delivering against that customer fundamental.

The reason we keep hearing that its a fundamental from customers is, they want choice and they want competition to exist in the marketplace. The challenge to them is that they want to be able to have competition inside of their IT space. They have to choose to invest in multiple proprietary vertically integrated management stacks from each of the vendors for their hardware in parallel to the management theyre using to manage their operating system and application deployment. That increases their costs of managing the environment. If they dont do that, then ultimately they are locked into one or, if theyre lucky, two vendors, and have to live with the decisions that vendor makes, which wont always be optimized to the business problem that theyre trying to solve inside their industry.

We [in the high-tech industry] have tried to out-innovate each other, but ultimately that has driven up the cost of ownership for customers.

When I talk with HP and IBM about issues around Tivoli and OpenView, they say that their management software can manage other peoples hardware. Where exactly is the lack of standards becoming a problem?

Thats where we think that things should end up, which is either somewhere between the operating system and the ISV-enabled management stack—be they IBM with Tivoli, HP with OpenView, [Computer Associates International Inc.] with Unicenter or anybody else—that the management tools that were essentially put in place to manage the framework, the enterprise, the general capability, are actually used to manage all the way down to the hardware deployment.

The reality is today very, very few customers get to go off and do that. Plus, [while] you may have heard that OpenView or Tivoli can do that, its not well-deployed like that, and there isnt a common set of interfaces to be able to go off and do that. So customers actually dont use that. Generally theyre using the Dell OpenManage, HP Insight Manager, IBM Director to do the hardware management. Whats happening is that 75 percent of their resources are spent using Tivoli, OpenView and Unicenter to manage the apps and operating systems and the rest of the infrastructure management, and 20 or 25 percent of their resources and time are spent managing the hardware. Those today, for almost all customers, are two separate processes, with two separate views of the systems that theyre running, theyre generally different people, and certainly different tools to go off and do that.

We actually see that integration of the hardware management inside of the standard enterprise management tools would actually benefit the customer by allowing them to be able to get a single, unified view of their environment [and] a single set of processes to be able to go off and do that.

Next page: Industry goes along a fragmented path.