With release last week by the Distributed Management Task Force Inc. (DMTF) of the final version of Common Information Model (CIM) 2.5, IT managers see interoperability of systems inching closer to reality.
By providing standard definitions and channels of systemwide communication, the CIM schema lets disparate hardware, software and services exchange management information.
"In a couple of years, if companies don't follow CIM standards, they won't be able to manage what are increasingly complex systems," said Arun Kant, a former vice president of IT at Prudential Insurance Co. who is now director of marketing and product development at security switch maker Transtech Networks Inc. in Iselin, N.J.
Standards "become even more critical when [service-level agreements] come into play," said Kant, an early proponent of the need for standards in enterprise management. "Quality of service won't work without CIM."
A significant part of CIM 2.5 is the Event Model, which lets system management software subscribe to application-level information. For example, if a mission-critical application goes down, the management system can get the status and condition of the problem, according to a statement from the DMTF, a nonprofit industry organization in Portland, Ore.
The Event Model is good as far as it goes, said Corey Ferengul, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "But CIM's biggest weakness is it doesn't have something that's analogous to an SNMP trap," he said. "They've defined the data structure, but they haven't defined the listener." Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) software actively "listens" for network infrastructure alarms and automatically notifies management systems.
With CIM, the alarms don't come automatically and must be requested," Ferengul said. "That's not to say CIM doesn't have a bright future. But it's moving slowly."
Not in evidence in this week's announcement, although much ballyhooed in DMTF's preliminary release of CIM 2.5 in January, was inclusion of the Internet Engineering Task Force's IPSec protocol.
That's not surprising, Kant said. IPSec is a model on its way out, especially "as the penetration of Windows 2000 on corporate and consumer desktops increases," he claimed. Microsoft's .Net and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Sun One and their proposed use of Web protocol HTTP and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) tunneling will render IPSec moot, said Kant.
"Why use virtual private networks -- expensive and difficult to support -- to the desktop when users [with Windows 2000] will be able to click on an icon to do HTTP tunneling with SSL 128-bit encryption?" he asked.
While some cutting-edge companies make use of CIM, general acceptance is moving at glacial speed, said Kant, who laid some of the responsibility at the feet of vendors.
"Today in systems management, there are a lot of renegade vendors who would like to make their own proprietary software so companies will have to buy only their software," he said.
But vendor support is increasing, albeit slowly. Cisco Systems Inc. and Novell Inc. were early supporters, as was Managed Objects in McLean, Va. Its Formula CIM Object Manager, released a year ago, put CIM "wrappers" around servers, platforms and enterprise management software.
At the time, it was "a little ahead of the curve," said Paul Mason, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.
But the company has since been winning customers such as Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. in New York and Fidelity Investments in Boston. Enterprise management giant BMC Software Inc. in Houston is also basing the namespace structure of its revamped flagship Patrol 7 product, scheduled for release this fall, on the CIM structure.