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DMTF approves CIM 1.0 -- but will vendors bite?

When will this object-oriented management data model make its way into product plans?

By Robert McMillan

May  1997
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Though it may have seemed like an impossible task last July, the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) has got Sun, Microsoft, and other industry vendors to agree on a specification for its Common Information Model (CIM). Version 1.0 of the specification was recently posted on the DMTF Web site, following the group's recent developers conference in San Jose, CA. CIM is what the DMTF calls a "meta schema" which describes the rules of how to build an object model for network management data.

BMC Software's director of corporate strategy, Wayne Morris says that CIM is significant because it has not only the ability to represent management information about multiple, different objects, but it can also represent relationships between them, unlike other data models. Morris says that because this relationship information is not handled by management software today, network managers often need to hold the information about which applications users are using, and on which databases, in manual form. "It's almost hilarious," he says. "They maintain a configuration file that tells them that. In a lot of cases they have to look [user information] up manually." Applications written to support CIM would be able to make calls for this type of relationship information.

What are the components?
CIM evolved from Microsoft's Hyper Media Management Schema (HMMS), which was launched in July 1996 as part of Microsoft's high-profile Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) effort. Microsoft handed HMMS over to the DMTF, which then had to convince Sun that the schema was no threat to its Java Management API (JMAPI) effort. In addition to CIM, WBEM is composed of a data model, called HyperMedia Object Manager (HMOM) and a HTTP-based protocol called HyperMedia Management Protocol (HMMP), which was recently rejected by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Arrington says that CIM has the ability to describe management information at a very high level and provides a model for breaking it down into components. Five working groups have been set up to extending CIM's core schema to include five object classes: system, networks, database, devices, and application spaces -- in short, anything on the network that could be managed. Object classes would have subclasses, which would have properties; all of which would be defined using the CIM schema.

For example, the device object class could include, say, a temperature sensing device as a subclass. Properties would be things like the temperature measured by the device or the peak temperature over the last 24 hours. The DMTF is looking at further extending these working groups to include telecom and business process modeling.


It seems the big hurdle, once the various object classes are developed, is to get vendors to map their management data to CIM. Even the DMTF's own Management Information Format (MIF) would have to be redone to take advantage of the object-oriented nature of CIM. Arrington says that this could easily be achieved through automated software. Microsoft product manager Michael Emanuel hesitates to call the conversion of data to CIM format "mapping," saying that the term implies a less-than-perfect level of accuracy. He does acknowledge that imperfect mapping is precisely what CIM's critics fear it will deliver, but counters that these fears will be assuaged by the actual implementations of CIM. "This is healthy skepticism," says Emanuel, "and it needs to be born out by what people do."

In fact, he claims that an un-named member of the DMTF is developing software that would update MIF files across the network to the CIM-compatible Management Object Format (MOF). Morris says that BMC will have software that will do on-the-fly mapping of CIM to its Patrol product in the second half of this year. Other vendors, presumably, will follow.

While CIM promises interoperability at the data level, the whole point of Microsoft's WBEM effort was to use Web technology to achieve the Holy Grail of network management: process level interoperability. This is what HMMP is supposed to do, but HMMP uses the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) as its transport, and the idea of using a stateless protocol to transport management information did not fly with the IETF's Network Administration working group when Microsoft pitched it recently. Microsoft says it is continuing with its HMMP efforts, but remains shut out of the IETF. Arrington says that recently the Object Management Group has taken an interest in the problem, and its Internet Inter ORB Protocol is now also being considered.

Still, the measure of CIM's success will be in the products that support it. Theo Forbath, a consultant with Northeast Consulting Resources says ease of use will be a key factor. "How practical is it going to be? That really depends on how easy the vendors make it." Microsoft says that CIM will be implemented in version five of NT, the next generation of its Windows operating system, and in its Systems Management Server. HP, BMC, and IBM are all developing CIM products that are expected to begin shipping by the end of this year. Sun, though it worked on the CIM specification, could not comment on its product plans.

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