Net managers gain flexibility

The success of the World Wide Web browser interface is spilling over into enterprise
management, as leading hardware and software companies collaborate on browser-based
network and systems management products scheduled for 1997 delivery.


Heading up the initiative are BMC Software Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Compaq Computer
Corp., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.


Other backers include a cross-section of the industry: Dell Computer Corp., Symantec
Corp., Boole & Babbage Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., SystemSoft Corp., Platinum
Technology Inc., Tandem Computers Inc., Technically Elite Concepts Inc., Computer
Associates International Inc., Novadigm Inc. and Seagate Technology Inc.


Every management vendor is adding Web functions to its products, "using the
browser as a console and using the Web as a transport for remote management," said
Greg Cline, director of the Internet Research Service at the Business Research Group in
Newton, Mass. "But this goes way beyond that."


Bob Krueger, Microsoft's general manager of systems management products, said network
administrators would gain tremendous benefits from being able to host management
applications on virtually any operating system platform.


The initiative would preserve the current Simple Network Management Protocol for
networks and the Desktop Management Interface for servers and desktop computers, but would
extend SNMP and DMI with a Web-based management schema, access protocol and management
services layer.


"We're not asking people to throw away what they have or rewrite their management
applications,''"said Wayne Morris, director of corporate strategy for BMC Software,
of Houston.


Illustrating the scope of the initiative, BMC and Intel have agreed to encode BMC's
Patrol application management agent into the silicon of the Intel i960
reduced-instruction-set-computing I/O processor, widely used in servers and network cards.


"Basically, this allows you to map those [management] applications and extend
them," Morris said.


The companies backing the initiative have already asked the Internet Engineering Task
Force and Desktop Management Task Force to approve a new HyperMedia Management Schema
(HMMS), HyperMedia Management Protocol (HMMP) and HyperMedia Object Manager (HMOM).


HMMS is analogous to an SNMP management information base, or MIB, and HMMP is analogous
to SNMP itself, "taking those one step forward," Morris said.


When vendors begin to offer HMMP-enabled network devices, network managers won't have
to throw out their SNMP devices. "SNMP always will have a place, because it's a
lightweight protocol," Morris said. "But a standard schema and protocol will
make end-to-end management much easier."


One well-known industry analyst reacted to the announcement with scepticism.


"The melding of the Web with management is inevitable and certainly much
needed," said analyst James Greene of Summit Strategies Inc. in Boston.
"Unfortunately, there's a graveyard of dead management standards out there."


Greene believes, however, that the initiative could succeed at pulling in most of the
platform vendors.


"The power of the Internet is such that it will at least get interest. How
thoroughly these guys follow through remains to be seen," he said. "No one wants
to be proprietary around the Internet. It's taboo, and that can cast a long shadow on
you."


As it is now, Greene said, "people are either spending a lot of money on
enterprise management and not getting a lot of results, or they're not doing it at all and
paying for it in other ways.''


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