Automated management is one of those topics that come in and out of fashion. The problems are permanent, but the currency of the topic changes over time. For example, IBM addresses the problem as part of its autonomic computing technology. Other vendors are less ambitious and just support basic SNMP.
Just last year, the Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) standard was born and for various reasons met with a mixed market reaction. Regardless of the technology used to manage a given system or technology, the aims are always fairly similar:
- Draw data from managed entities.
- Make decisions based on the management data.
- Apply changes to the managed entities to achieve your aims.
- Repeat the cycle from step 1.
The real problem at the core of IT management is the need for vendor independence. If I create a new application server and include extensive management technology, do I really want people to use my management tools on some other vendor’s products?
The reason I might want to make my management solution specific to my product is because management facilities add value. The easier it is to use a product, the more likely it is that people will buy and use that product.
There are numerous approaches to the provision of management data (my apologies for all the acronyms):
- Simple Management Network Protocol (SNMP)
- Custom data
- WMI (formerly Web-Based Enterprise Management [WBEM])
- Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI)
Each of the above has its merits; for example, SNMP dates back to the ’80s and is very well established (it is also platform-independent and language-independent).
On the other hand, SNMP is quite a low-level technology that offers data that in some cases reflects wire-level activity; for example, number of packets sent (or received).
The custom data approach reflects a given vendor’s management and is often tightly bound to a given product, platform, and language. An example of custom data management can be found in my broadband router. The latter device provides Wi-Fi connection and wired Ethernet interfaces, and the mode of management is via a web page.
So the router itself hosts a web server, and the management instrumentation can be accessed via HTML pages. It works for this device, but is most likely not compatible with another vendor’s device.
WMI is one of Microsoft’s management solutions. Even though it is tied to the Windows platform, this provides WMI with a big market footprint!
WSDM is an effort to standardize the management of web services. It resembles SNMP in some respects and is in the early stages of its lifecycle. IBM is a big backer of WSDM, but it remains to be seen whether the standard will achieve wide adoption.
One other standard (and there are others beyond the few discussed here) is that of IPMI. IPMI is a specification set created by a consortium of companies (Intel Corporation, Hewlett Packard Company, NEC Corporation, and Dell Computer, respectively). It defines hardware interfaces to enable monitoring of server elements such as temperature, voltage, fans, and so on.
So much for the theory. How do you actually draw management data from an entity?