New DCML Standard to Enable Utility Computing

EDS and Opsware on Tuesday here unveiled a proposed standard that officials said will help fuel the growth toward utility computing in the data center.

EDS and Opsware on Tuesday here unveiled a proposed standard that officials said will help fuel the growth toward utility computing in the data center.

The two companies are leading the development of the Data Center Markup Language, or DCML, which is designed to provide a common language to describe the resources within a data center and how the data center is built. The benefits will be an easier way to provision servers, roll out applications and run data centers, said Marc Andreessen, chairman and co-founder of Opsware.

"Data centers are dealing with an onslaught of new technologies," Andreessen told more than four dozen people gathered here for the launch event. Where data centers were once the domain of mainframes and large Unix servers, they now also house Intel Corp.-based servers running Linux and Java.

"That represents a new problem—just an enormous amount of stuff." Whats needed, he said, is a common standard that can tie together these disparate technologies and enable them to talk with each other and that can describe whats in a data center. If the technologies can easily talk to each other, then IT administrators will have a more flexible and agile infrastructure, he said.

If there is a common way to describe data center resources, then servers will be easier to provision and deploy, and new technology will be less difficult to introduce into the environment. "This will lead us down the path where data centers are going to be much more open to innovation, much more open to new technology," Andreessen said.

Jeff Heller, president and chief operating officer of EDS, said his company has been working with Opsware for about a year, with DCML being an initial result. EDS and Opsware are joining Computer Associates International Inc. as governing members of the DCML Organization. Another two dozen vendors are either founding or general members.

Andreessen said he expects the XML-based standard to be completed by early 2004, with commercial products featuring DCML support being rolled out throughout the year. Opsware, he said, will unveil DCML-compliant software early next year.

Tim Howes, chief technology officer for Opsware, said he expects DCML to be submitted to a major standards body in 2004. In addition, DCML will be an open source standard, with the standards reference implementation and reference description all being openly available.

One of the key things such a standard will provide IT administrators is an easier path to "best of breed" computing. Currently, most of the major players—including IBM, Sun Micro-systems Inc. and, to a lesser extent, Hewlett-Packard Co., all of whom have their own utility computing initiatives underway—are telling customers that the best way to ensure integration among data center resources is by buying everything from a single vendor, Andreessen said. However, if there is a common standard that can bridge multiple vendor offerings, it opens up the opportunity to more easily integrate disparate products, he said.

"We think that kind of pitch [to buy everything from a single vendor] only makes sense when theres no standards," he said. "We think that with DCML, there is the opportunity to say no to lock-in." Andreessen and Heller also predicted that as customer demand grows, the larger vendors will begin to adopt the standard.

"Its our belief that many of these major vendors, though slow to adopt standards, will be [pushed] by the customer," Heller said.

And Vivek Ranadive, chairman and CEO of TIBCO, said those customers will push. Of the 2,000 TIBCO users, "the number one priority facing all of these people is integration. This is particularly true in the data center."

Another key trend that DCML will address will be a scale-out environment. Many enterprises are beginning to migrate away from larger Unix-based systems to smaller Intel-based servers running Linux, Andreessen said. While that means cost savings, it also will mean a larger number of servers that need to be provisioned and monitored. Having a standard like DCML will make handling all those servers easier, he said.

Donna Scott, an analyst with Gartner Inc., said utility computing, or what Gartner calls real-time infrastructures, is going to grow because the cost savings are so great, and because of the crucial role technology plays in the overall operation of a business. "Business is not just dependent IT; IT is a must-have," Scott said.

"Many times IT is the business policy." Savings to enterprises as they migrate to a more automated utility computing infrastructure can range from 7 percent to 16 percent in hardware costs and 41 percent to 65 percent in technical expenses, she said. "Standards are difficult to achieve," Scott said. "They tend to take a very long time to come to fruition." However, the benefits to end users are substantial, she added.