Q&A: EDS, Opsware Execs Talk Up New Standard For Utility Computing


Ben Horowitz, CEO of Opsware, and Darrel Thomas, chief technologist of hosting services, EDS, sat down to talk about Data Center Markup Language (DCML), a new XML-based standard designed for utility computing, with CRN Senior Editor Christina Torode. The interview took place at the Boston kick of event for the new DCML standards group, where 25 vendors gathered to pledge support.

CRN: Why is this standard necessary?

Horowitz:: We did a really good job of standardizing the front end of the new computing architecture with HTML and TCP/IP and that really enabled just a lot broader usage and much more utility with the Web and the Internet. The result on the back-end... is you have to manage all of the thousands and thousands of technologies that are in the data center and there's no common language across those technologies. There's no way for [the technologies] to communicate with each other, or for the management systems to communicate with them or for the customer to understand them in a common way. It's a mess for IT and it results in security problems, reliability problems and cost problems that are extremely significant and really broadly reported. So [having a standard] is a way to rationalize that and provide a common language for the data center.

Thomas: One of the other common problems we've found from an IT standpoint is that to embrace utility computing and utility IT, we had to take into account our current existing environments and systems that are in place and that are built on their own custom architectures and custom components. You may have a specific customer implementation using a product that might be slightly different than that of another customer, but they want to remain and maintain operational control of it from a CIO's perspective so those need to kind of peacefully co-exist, but be transformed into technologies that are conducive to utility computing. To do that, we feel that DCML gives us a blueprint of the existing environment, helps us understand the best practices and policies and procedures that are in there and use those as migration points to take them into utility computing. So it gives us an ease of a barrier of entry into utility computing.

CRN: How will the DCML standard work?

Thomas: It's a data format basically that gives you a blueprint and a description of all the different components of the data center. It gives you a perspective of environmentals such as floor space location, power requirements, cooling requirements, or the environment of servers and appliances and components that are in the environment. Then it allows you to drill into each one of the technology specific towers in the environment, from capabilities of policies for a firewall or other security components or switching from a network perspective or servers from an OS perspective, and then the best practices that are wrapped around managing those environments in a data center. Capturing that kind of information in a DCML format gives the ability for business continuity, ability to replicate a data center from a physical and operational standpoint, but it also gives us the ability to look at ways to move into service-oriented IT where IT at some point doesn't matter and gets pushed into the background. The things we will be doing more is more service outsourcing where you're trading services between service providers or even within customers. DCML gives us the ability to enable that more readily.

CRN: When people think of utility computing they often mention IBM. How come they are not a part of this effort?

Horowitz:: Really large companies often come into standards efforts a little late. For example Microsoft and IBM didn't start out supporting HTML. They came in later once customers demanded it and that's pretty typical. The proposition of DCML is one of best-of-breed so that you can buy routers, software, servers, management software from the best vendor available rather than having to buy form a single vendor in order to get integration. So you get integration despite going to several vendors. For a company that's providing everything they're going to tend to wait for the customers to drive them into it, which we think will happen.

Thomas: Look at Linux. Look where it came from a groundswell of an open alternative and now you've got IBM, HP, Sun and Microsoft trying to figure out how to accommodate it or embrace it in their current model. While they might not be here right now, we will fully expect them to become adopters and become proponents of DCML because of customers as we build things that are more prevalent. Also we did invite IBM and HP into the initiative and fully expect them and their IT arms to become a part of it.

CRN: Where are you at this point with this effort?

Thomas: We started off with the initial work in the earlier part of the year with an initial schema and white paper and specifications we're going to start-up with our partners. The partners haven't been completely engaged up until this point, but we're going to use the work that we've done so far between EDS and Opsware. In November we'll get the first working group meeting together between the partners. Out of that meeting we want to come out with a specification that will be available for public comment and review. Shortly thereafter, once we have several implementations, the specification will go to a standards body.

CRN: How to bill customers under the utility model is an on-going problem. Will this standard help alleviate this problem?

Horowitz:: DCML really helps with billing because one of the difficulties with utility computing is you have to know what's on the machine in a specific way because you're billing people for who's running what application, who's got what software out there, how is it configured and that information has to feed into the billing system in order for the billing system to be able to bill out on a per customer basis. Right now the problem is the software that manages those systems and the different billing software from different vendors don't interconnect. DCML will make that much more easier.

CRN: Are you seeing interest from the solution provider, VAR or development community in this standards effort?

Horowitz:: When we started developing it we picked up the phone to ask companies if they saw a lack of standards as a problem or not and whether they liked to be involved and 25 companies joined, which exceeded our expectations. Among those companies the amount of contribution and interest in the spec has been pretty startling. They really do want to get involved and drive the spec and that's been pretty encouraging and it's a lot of different developers, software companies and service providers that are involved.

Thomas: From our perspective in the SMB market where we don't compete [with smaller solution providers] we can compliment each other. We have a complimentary nature with a lot of hosting services companies that are not the powerhouses.

CRN: How does this standards effort compliment Jeffrey Heller's (EDS president and COO) message of EDS' strategy to "enable the agile infrastructure."

Thomas: DCML allows us to accommodate disparate technologies that are the life blood of what we do---taking what customers currently have in-house and running it and moving them towards more standardization and away from their own customized configuration. It falls into a path of what EDS has been talking about. We want to get you out of the way you are doing things because that's the reason you come to an IT provider, because what you're doing right now isn't working and move you into something that's more conducive to faster, cheaper, better and that means agility, utility computing. This will help us separate ourselves from our contemporaries that are proprietary in nature.