Column: A Round of Applause for the DMTF

My friends at the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) briefed me a few weeks ago on their latest initiatives. The DMTF -- the unsung heroes of the network industry -- are working toward making your life as a network manager easier. In an age and time when lawsuits fly at the drop of a hat and competition is killed in the name of innovation, it's refreshing to see a consortium of hardware and software vendors working together for the betterment of all.

Formed in 1992 by a handful of PC industry leaders, DMTF's goals are to develop, support and maintain management standards for PC systems and products. More than 200 key technology providers are now part of the DMTF, which creates the tools and infrastructure for enabling a more cost-effective, less crisis-driven approach to PC management. In recent months, the organization has begun to spread beyond its PC roots into enterprise management.

The group's earliest successes were built upon the development of the Desktop Management Interface (DMI), a standard for managing desktop computers, servers, hardware and software products, operating systems and peripherals. DMI 2.0 is an operating system and protocol-independent common management framework adopted by hundreds of independent software and hardware vendors and implemented in more than 80,000 PC products. DMI is the most widely used management standard in the world today.

The DMTF is also credited with developing and delivering the Common Information Model (CIM) specification and schema. CIM, now in Version 2.0, provides a common way to describe and share management data across different management systems. Using CIM, applications from different developers on different platforms describe management data in a standard format so it can be shared among a variety of management applications.

The DMI and CIM specifications are significant developments for the computing industry. Because of these standards, hundreds of vendors have agreed that, despite their differences, their products will yield fundamental data that allows disparate systems, applications and devices to be managed in a common way. Customers who purchase these products are assured that even a heterogeneous environment can be managed without having to develop custom tools.

With the successes of DMI and CIM to its credit, the DMTF is turning its attention toward enterprise management solutions. The group has two unifying management initiatives underway today -- Directory Enabled Networks (DEN) and Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM).

Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. launched the original DEN initiative just over a year ago. Developed by a 70-member ad hoc working group, the DEN specification represents an effort to build intelligent networks and networked applications that can associate users and applications, regardless of their locations, to services available from the network according to a consistent and rational set of policies.

The DMTF took over the DEN specification in September, incorporating it into CIM in order to model the functionality and management of network elements and services. As a result, DEN is more likely to garner adoption as an industry standard.

WBEM, which was handed over to the DMTF in October, represents another wide-reaching initiative. The WBEM effort was originated by BMC Software Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Cisco, Intel Corp. and Microsoft, all of which see the DMTF as the ideal organization to drive WBEM as an industrywide standard.

The original WBEM initiative proposed a standardized schema for management information, a protocol for querying that information and an interface for displaying it. WBEM was designed to complement existing technologies such as SNMP and DMI.

Before the task force took over WBEM, it looked as if some independent software and hardware vendors would use WBEM as a foundation to create proprietary management solutions; that would have been a disaster for users. Now the hope is that the DMTF will develop the standards, tool kits and compliance criteria for WBEM, making it a broadly accepted standard for exchanging management information among various vendors' products.

In a spirit of "coopetition" rarely seen among vendors today, the DMTF uses a collaborative working-committee approach that speeds the delivery of specifications and, ultimately, products. One of the most successful industry standards organizations, the task force is taking a leadership role in working to unify different initiatives under its umbrella of systems and net management work.

The DMTF is quietly, yet effectively, working in the interest of every network manager. As benefactors of its work, we should give this group a round of applause. To find out more about what the DMTF is doing on your behalf, visit the group's Web site at www.dmtf.org. Better yet, get involved in helping to set the standards. The DMTF encourages input from customer organizations that will ultimately deploy the products and systems using the group's management specifications. You'll find membership information on the DMTF Web site.

(Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Co., a technology assessment firm in Houston. She can be reached at linda@currid.com.)

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