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The Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) Standard

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Is WSDM just another management standard? Or a significant step in the direction of producing manageable web-based systems, software, and networks? Software consultant Stephen Morris looks at the various aspects of the argument.
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What Is Manageability?

Some big players, such as IBM, are pushing the Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) standard. [1] Others, such as Sun Microsystems, are holding back. Sun recently voted against WSDM becoming an OASIS standard, while IBM voted in favor of standardization—a large majority carried the vote.

Before we look in detail at what’s up with WSDM (pronounced wisdom), let’s briefly consider the problem it seeks to solve, namely the knotty issue of manageability. Surprisingly, manageability is a little like quality—concepts that we all know well, but difficult to describe! So let’s bring manageability down to earth by looking at how we all manage the software we use every day.

Email Management

When you use one of the standard email packages, such as Microsoft Outlook (technically known as a message delivery agent), the entities of interest are mostly email messages. You can also schedule appointments, make journal notes, and so on, but for this discussion let’s just consider email messages. You can typically expect to do most of the following in any given day:

  • Read messages in your inbox.
  • Ignore or delete irrelevant messages.
  • Reply to important messages.
  • Store messages you’ll need in the future.
  • Forward messages to other people.
  • Watch for (and carefully delete) unsolicited messages with suspicious attachments from strangers.

The words in bold type above represent actions. These are the ways in which you manage your email.

Big Brother, Email, and Manageability

None of us lives in a vacuum these days. Sometimes, organizational business policies (rules, in other words) can also have an impact on your email. For instance, if your inbox exceeds a certain size in megabytes, you may be prevented from sending mail until you clean up and reduce the space consumed. Likewise, if you become the unlucky user who inadvertently opens a virus-laden attachment that infects other machines, you can expect a visit from an irate system administrator. Figure 1 illustrates some of these important aspects of email management. The host organization in Figure 1 is called Enterprise X; email users in this organization employ an email package, and the normal management operations are listed on the right side of Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Management actions for email.

User actions in Figure 1 are prompted by both normal daily use and IT rules and regulations.

The important point to remember about enterprise software in general is that once you use a machine that’s plugged into a LAN, you’re interacting—for better or worse—with a wider architecture. Your email messages consume resources:

  • Host (that is, your own machine) disk space
  • Server disk space
  • Network bandwidth
  • Your time
  • Other people’s time

Some companies even go so far as to assign a dollar amount to every email message. So we can begin to see the importance of conserving these precious resources.

Management of Other Software Packages

As discussed for the simple case of email, any package that consumes host and network resources must be managed. If you create a document and place it on a server, it’s important that that document not contain viruses. Once the file is stored on the server, it’s consuming remote resources (relative to your machine). That issue is underlined when other users access your file—even though this isn’t a big issue on bandwidth-rich LANs, it’s a real pain when you have to download a 20MB document over a dial-up link! The important point is that we live in a finite world where resources tend to be scarce, so all software, systems, and networks have to be carefully managed.

Many organizations adopt human-centered ad hoc measures to manage their IT infrastructure. Some aspects are automated—Windows updates, antivirus software updates, and so on—but overall the effort is largely driven by IT staff. It’s unlikely that this approach has a reasonable future; it’s no big surprise to see companies such as IBM putting their weight behind management-related initiatives such as autonomic computing and more recently WSDM.

Two things should now be clear: IT management is a big topic, and it’s mostly achieved by manual effort. Given that the news channels are indicating that cyberterrorism (attacking infrastructures such as power grids) is still only a remote possibility, it’s likely that the drive to automate IT is not yet pressing.

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