Category Archives: Standards

Review of Fujitsu’s IaaS Cloud API submission to DMTF

Things are heating up in the DMTF Cloud incubator. Back in September, VMWare submitted its vCloud API (or rather a “reader’s digest” version of it) to the group. Last week, the group released a white paper titled “Interoperable Clouds”. And a second submission, from Fujitsu, was made last week and publicly announced today.

The Fujitsu submission is called an “API design”. What this means is that it doesn’t tell you anything about what things look like on the wire. It could materialize as another “XML over HTTP” protocol (with or without SOAP wrapper), but it could just as well be implemented as a binary RPC protocol. It’s really more of an esquisse of a resource model than a remote API. The only invocation-related aspect of the document is that it defines explicit operations on various resources (though not their input and outputs). This suggest that the most obvious mapping would be to some XML/HTTP RPC protocol (SOAPy or not). In that sense, it stands out a bit from the more recent Cloud API proposals that take a “RESTful” rather than RPC approach. But in these days of enthusiastic REST-washing I am pretty sure a determined designer could produce a RESTful-looking (but contorted) set of resources that would channel the operations in the specification as HTTP-like verbs on these resources.

Since there are few protocol aspects to this “API design”, if we are to compare it to other “Cloud APIs”, it’s really the resource model that’s worth evaluating. The obvious comparison is to the EC2 model as it provides a pretty similar set of infrastructure resources (it’s entirely focused on the IaaS layer). It lacks EC2 capabilities around availability, security and monitoring. But it adds to the EC2 resource model the notions of VDC (“virtual data center”, a container of IaaS resources), VSYS (see below) and a lightly-defined EFM (Extended Function Module) concept which intends to encompass all kinds of network/security appliances (and presumably makes up for the lack of security groups).

The heart of the specification is the VSYS and its accompanying VSYS Descriptor. We are encouraged to think of the VSYS Descriptor as an extension of OVF that lets you specify this kind of environment:

Example content for a VSYS Descriptor

Example content for a VSYS Descriptor

By forcing the initial VSYS instance to be based on a VSYS Descriptor, but then allowing the VSYS to drift away from the descriptor via direct management actions, the specification takes a middle-of-the-road approach to the “model-based versus procedural” debate. Disciples of the procedural approach will presumably start from a very generic and unconstrained VSYS Descriptor and, from there, script their way to happiness. Model geeks will look for a way to keep the system configuration in sync with a VSYS Descriptor.

How this will work is completely undefined. There is supposed to be a getVSYSConfiguration() operation which “returns the configuration information on the VSYS” but there is no format/content proposed for the response payload. Is this supposed to return every single config file, every setting (OS, MW, application) on all the servers in the VSYS? Surely not. But what then is it supposed to return? The specification defines five VSYS attributes (VSYSID, creator, createTime, description and baseDescriptor) so I know what getSYSAttributes() returns. But leaving getVSYSConfiguration() undefined is like handing someone an airplane maintenance manual that simply reads “put the right part in the right place”. A similar feature is also left as an exercise to the reader in section that sketches an “external configuration service”. We are provided with a URL convention to address the service, but zero information about the format and content of the configuration instructions provided to the VServer.

EC2 has a keypair access mechanism for Linux instances and a clumsy password-retrieval system for Windows instances. The Fujitsu proposal adopts the lowest common denominator (actually the greatest common divisor, but that’s a lost rhetorical cause): random password generation/retrieval for everyone.

I also noticed the statement that a VServer must be “implemented as a virtual machine” which is an unnecessary constraint/assumption. The opposite statement is later made for EFMs, which “can be implemented in various ways (e.g. run on virtual machines or not)”, so I don’t want to read too much into the “hypervisor-required” VServer statement which probably just needs an editorial clean-up.

From a political perspective this specification looks more like a case of “can I play with you? I brought some marbles” than a more aggressive “listen everybody, we’re playing soccer now and I am the captain”. In other words, this may not be as much an attempt to shape the outcome of the incubator as much as to contribute to its work and position Fujitsu as a respected member whose participation needs to be acknowledged.

While this is an alternative submission to the vCloud API, I don’t think VMWare will feel very challenged by it. The specification’s core (VSYS Descriptor) intends to build on OVF, which should be music to VMWare’s ears (it’s the model, not the protocol, which is strategic). And it is light enough on technical details that it will be pretty easy for vCloud to claim that it, indeed, aligns with the intent of this “design”.

All in all, it is good to see companies take the time to write down what they expect out of the DMTF work. And it’s refreshing to see genuine single-company contributions rather than pre-negotiated documents by a clique. Whether they look more like implementable specifications of position paper, they all provide good input to the DMTF Cloud incubator.

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Modeling, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization

OWL news you can use

The W3C released OWL 2 today. Most readers of this blog are IT management people (whether they call it “cloud computing” or “boring old system management”) and don’t follow RDF, OWL, SPARQL etc too closely (if at all). Yet there is a lot of potential value in using these technologies for IT management, so I thought it might be helpful to provide some practical resources on the topic. I have selected articles that cover the special (some may say “twisted”) approach of using OWL and its friends for validation rather than just inference, as this use case is very relevant to IT management.

Of course you can also go to the W3C standard itself, starting with the overview of OWL 2.

Just so you don’t feel lonely if you decide to explore this path, have a look at Elastra’s sexy technology stack. ECML, EDML and EMML are all defined as OWL ontologies.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Modeling, OWL, RDF, Semantic tech, Specs, Standards

Missing out on the OCCI fun

As a recovering “design by committee” offender I have to be careful when lurking near standards groups mailing list, for fear my instincts may take over and I might join the fray. But tonight a few tweets containing alluring words like “header” and “metadata” got the better of me and sent me plowing through a long and heated discussion thread in the OGF OCCI mailing list archive.

I found the discussion fascinating, both from a technical perspective and a theatrical perspective.

Technically, the discussion is about whether to use HTTP headers to carry “metadata” (by which I think they  mean everything that’s not part of the business payload, e.g. an OVF document or other domain-specific payload). I don’t have enough context on the specific proposal to care to express my opinion on its merits, but what I find very interesting is that this shines another light on the age-old issue of how to carry non-payload info when designing a protocol. Whatever you call these data fields, you have to specify (by decreasing order of architectural importance):

  • How you deal with unknown fields: mustUnderstand or mustIgnore semantics.
  • How you keep them apart (prevent two people defining fields by the same name, telling different versions apart).
  • How you parse their content (and are they all parsed in the same manner or is it specific to each field).
  • Where they go.

SOAP provides one set of answers.

  • You can tag each one with a mustUnderstand attribute to force any consumer who doesn’t understand them to fault.
  • They are namespace-qualified.
  • They are XML-formatted.
  • They go at the top of the XML doc, in a section called the SOAP header.

You may agree or not with the approach SOAP took, but it’s important to realize that at its core SOAP is just this: the answer (in the form of the SOAP processing model) to these simple questions (here is more about the SOAP processing model and the abuses it has suffered if you’re interested). WSDL is something else. The WS-* stack is also something else. It’s probably too late to rescue SOAP from these associations, but I wanted to point this out for the record.

Whatever you answer to the four “non-payload data fields” questions above, there are many practical concerns that you have to consider when validating your proposal. They may not all be relevant to your use case, but then explicitly decide that they are not. They are things like:

  • Performance
  • Ability to process in a stream-based system
  • Ease of development (tool support, runtime accessibility…)
  • Ease of debugging
  • Field length limitations
  • Security
  • Ability to structure the data in the fields
  • Ability to use different transports (way overplayed in SOAP, but not totally irrelevant either)
  • Ability to survive intermediaries / proxies

Now leaving the technology aside, this OCCI email thread is also interesting from a human and organizational perspective. Another take on the good old Commedia dell standarte. Again, I don’t have enough context in the history of this specific group to have an opinion about the dynamics. I’ll just say that things are a bit more “free-flowing” than when people like my friend Dave Snelling were in charge in OGF. In any case, it’s great that the debate is taking place in public. If it had been a closed discussion they probably would not have benefited from Tim Bray dropping in to share his experience. On the plus side, they would have avoided my pontifications…

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Everything, People, Protocols, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, Utility computing

The future (2006 version), has arrived

Remember 2006? Things were starting to fall into place for IT management integration and automation:

  • SDD was already on its way to cleanly describe/package/manage the lifecycle of simple and composite applications alike,
  • the first version of SML came out to capture all the relevant constraints of complex and composite systems and open the door to “desired-state management”,
  • the CMDBf effort was started to seamlessly integrate all sources of configuration and provide a bird-eye view of your entire IT infrastructure, and
  • the WSDM/WS-Management convergence/reconciliation was announced and promised to free management consoles from supporting many resource discovery, collection and control mechanisms and from having platform/library dependencies between the manager and its targets.

It looked like we were a year or two from standardization on all these and another year or two from shipping implementations. Things were looking good.

Good news: the schedule was respected. SDD, SML and CMDBf are now all standards (at OASIS, W3C and DMTF respectively). And today the Eclipse COSMOS project announced the release of COSMOS 1.1 which implements them all. The WSDM/WS-Management convergence is the only one that didn’t quite go according to the plan but it is about to come out as a standard too (in a pared-down form).

Bad news: nobody cares. We’ve moved on to “private clouds”.

Having been involved with these specifications in various degrees (a little bit on SDD, a fair amount on SML and a lot on CMDBf and WSDM/WS-Management) I am not as detached as my sarcastic tone may suggest. But as they say in action movies, “don’t let sentiments get in the way of the mission”.

There is still a chance to reuse parts of this stack (e.g. the CMDBf query language) and there are lessons to learn from our errors. The over-promising, the technical misjudgments, the political bickering, the lack of concrete customer validation, etc. To some extent this work was also victim of collateral damages from the excesses of WS-* (I am looking at you WS-Addressing). We also failed to notice the rise of the hypervisor in our peripheral vision.

I tried to capture some important lessons in this post-mortem. For the edification of the cloud generation. I also see a pendulum in action. Where we over-engineered I now see some under-engineering (overly granular interaction models, overemphasis on the virtual machine as the unit of everything, simplistic constraint models, underestimation of config/patching issues…). Things will come around and may eventually look familiar (suggested exercise: compare PubSubHubBub with WS-Notification).

As long as each iteration gets us closer to the goal things are good.

See you in 2012. Same place, same day, same time.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Cloud Computing, CMDB, CMDB Federation, CMDBf, Desired State, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Modeling, Protocols, SML, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, WS-Management

REST-*: good specs, bad branding?

In an earlier post, I argued for standardization of some basic REST-inspired mechanisms for the narrow goal of supporting control interfaces for different forms of Cloud Computing. As I was doing so, I noticed the first report of something called REST-*, introduced by RedHat’s Mark Little and I ended my post by wondering whether we were talking about the same thing or not.

Now that more information has emerged it seems pretty clear that we are not.

Mark Little understands transactions very well. No argument. He is not happy with some aspects of how they are supported over SOAP. Fine. He thinks it can be done better (at least for 80% of the cases and with lower barriers to entry) directly on top of HTTP (no envelope). Fine. He would like this to be standardized so that middleware stacks can interoperate. Fine. Same applies for pub/sub and p2p messaging, the other initial project out of the REST-* effort. All good.

Where it all goes wrong is the attempt to get on the REST bandwagon. REST is not the only proper way to write distributed applications. It’s a good way to do it for a specific (through arguably very large) set of distributed applications. One that may not include financial trading or RFID-enabled inventory tracking. More specifically, REST might not be the appropriate approach for all parts of all distributed applications. Working on smoothly connecting the REST and non-REST parts is interesting. Working on forcing the non-REST parts under the REST mantle less so.

By REST here I mean REST-the-architectural-style (narrowly defined), not REST-the-brand (much more broadly defined). Even if your work does not fall under the umbrella of REST-the-architectural-style, you may choose to position it under REST-the-brand as a pragmatic calculation (like a police department might pragmatically include a plasma TV in the “terrorism preparation” accounting category). In the “pros” category, positioning it as REST gives you instantaneous press coverage. In the “cons” category, it gives you instantaneous twitter coverage (of the kind that Steve Jones reports). All in all, it seems like a bad bargain to me if you want to get things done. But Bill Burke (who works with Mark on this) has chosen to accept it: “I really don’t care in the end if any of the architectural principles of Roy’s thesis are broken as long these requirements are met”. As a side note, the REST-* announcement puts this comment by Bill on Roy’s blog in context…

In any case, the way the proposed umbrella organization is shaping up is also giving me concerns. Less about some nefarious intent than about a certain tone-deafness regarding how it comes across. I am not talking about details such as the REST-* moniker, the fact that http://rest-star.org is just a facade that redirects to http://www.jboss.org/reststar or the fact that their blog feed uses RSS rather than Atom (way to get the REST crowd on your side). Rather I am thinking of statements like “Red Hat, as the founder of REST-*, gets a permanent seat on the board. All other board members must be elected by the overall membership once a year”. Which suggests (probably incorrectly) more arrogance than even Microsoft and IBM combined were able to muster when setting up WS-I (modulo the Sun snub). Speaking of Sun, if the JCP (and Sun’s position in it) is the model that RedHat has in mind it might be helpful to point out to them that Sun invented the language after all…

All in all, the specifications Mark and team have in mind may make perfect sense, but they way they are going about it leaves me highly skeptical.

[UPDATE 2009/9/17: More REST-* skepticism. But it looks like Mark and Bill are taking it in stride, acknowledging a less-than-optimal execution and trying to fix things. I doubt this specific initiative can be salvaged, but I think a lot of the goals are good and need to be realized.  Though my intuition is that it is more likely to get done in a piecemeal fashion, distributed between specialized communities (e.g. the Cloud people, the messaging/AMQP people…) who take on, in a very practical way, the portions most relevant to their needs. Whether all the pieces then get pulled together in one place with a nice bow is not important right now.]

[UPDATED 2009/9/18: Changes!]

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Filed under Everything, JBoss, Middleware, Protocols, REST, Specs, Standards

Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI) draft released

Have you developed “Cloud API fatigue” from seeing too many IaaS “Cloud APIs” lately? Are you starting to wonder how many different ways there can possibly be to launch a virtual machine via an HTTP POST? Are you wondering why everybody else seems to equate Cloud computing with on-demand server instances?

If yes, then CDMI will come as a breath of fresh air. This specification (just a draft at this point) is a rare example of a different beast. Coming out of SNIA, it endeavors to standardize the way storage resources are managed and accessed in a Cloud environment. They call this DaaS (Data storage as a Service).

The specification has two components (which may benefit from being separated in two specifications at some point). One (called “control paths”) is an interface to manage a data storage service. That interface is expected to work across many forms of data storage from block storage (like AWS EBS) to filesystems (e.g. NFS) to object stores with a CRUD interface (similar to the WebDAV volumes of the Sun API). It also mentions a “simple table space storage” storage form, but that part is pretty fuzzy.

The second component of CDMI (called “data paths”) only applies to the CRUD object store and it describes a RESTful interface for accessing it. This figure from the specification does a good job of illustrating the two different APIs in the specification (and the different types of storage envisioned).

One of the most interesting sections in the document describes the way in which the authors envision the ability to export the storage resources provisioned/managed through CDMI to other Cloud APIs. They illustrate it in an example involving OCCI (see also this joint white paper). This is very interesting and another sign that we need a shared RESTful resource control framework for Cloud computing as a first layer of standardization. One of the reasons I used to justify this claim two weeks ago was that “there will not be one API that provides control of [all the different forms of Cloud Computing], but they can share a base protocol that will make life a lot easier for developers. These Clouds won’t be isolated, developers will use them as a continuum.” One week later, this draft specification illustrates the point very well.

[As a somewhat related side note, this interesting post about what it takes to provide a large-scale resilient data service (the Google App Engine data store). And more about the Google File System in general.]

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Everything, Protocols, REST, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization

Separating model from protocol in Cloud APIs

What happened to the separation between the model and the protocol in management APIs? For all the arguments we had in the design of WSDM and WS-Management, this was one fundamental concept that took little discussion before everyone agreed: that the protocol (the interaction model and the on-the-wire shape of the messages used) should be defined in a way that is agnostic to the type of resource being managed (computers, elevators or toasters — the perennial silly example). To this end, WSDM took pains to release MUWS (Management Using Web Services) and MOWS (Management Of Web Services) as two different specifications.

Contrast that to the different Cloud APIs (there is a new one released every other day). If they have one thing in common it is that they happily ignore this principle and tackle protocol concerns alongside the resource model. Here are my guesses as to why that is:

1) It’s a land grad

The goal is not to produce the best long-term API, it’s to be out early, to stake your claim and to gain leverage, so that you can steer the final standard close to your implementation. Editorial niceties like properly factoring the specification are not major concerns, there will be plenty of time for this during the standardization process. In fact, leaving such improvements for the standardization phase is a nice way to make it look like the group is not just rubberstamping, while not changing much that actually impacts your implementation. The good old “give them something insignificant to argue about” trick. It works BTW.

As an example of how rushed some of these submissions can be, did you notice that what VMWare submitted to DMTF this week is the vCloud API Specification v0.8 (a 7-page document that is simply a list of operations), not the accompanying vCloud API programming guide v0.8 which is ten times longer and is the real specification, the place where the operation semantics, payload formats and protocol considerations are actually described and without which the previous document cannot possibly be implemented. Presumably the VMWare team was pressed to release on time for a VMWorld announcement and they came up with this to be able to submit without finishing all the needed editorial work. I assume this will follow soon and in the meantime the DMTF members will retrieve the programming guide from the VMWare site in order to make sense of what was submitted to them.

This kind of rush is not rare in the history of specification submission, even those that have been in the work for a long time . For example, the initial CBE submission by IBM had “IBM Confidential” all over the specification and a mention that one should retrieve the most up to date version from the “Autonomic Computing Problem Determination Offering Team Notes Database” (presumably non-IBMers were supposed to break into the server).

If lack of time is the main reason why all these APIs do not factor out the protocol aspects then I have no problem, there is plenty of time to address it. But I suspect that there may be other reasons, that some may see it as a feature rather than a bug. For example:

2) Anything but WS-*

SOAP-based interfaces (WS-* or WS-DeathStar) have a bad rap and doing anything in the opposite way is a crowd pleaser (well, in the blogosphere at least). Modularity and composition of specifications is a major driving force behind the WS-* work, therefore it is bad and we should make all specifications of the new REST order stand-alone.

3) Keep it simple

A more benevolent way to put it is the concern to keep things simple. If you factor specifications out you put on the developer the burden of assembling the complete documentation, plus you introduce versioning issues between the parts. One API document that fully describes the contract is simpler.

4) We don’t need no stinking’ protocol, we have HTTP

Isn’t this the protocol? Through the magic of REST, all that’s needed is a resource model, right? But if you look in the specifications you see sections about authentication, fault handling, long-lived operations, enumeration of long result sets, etc… Things that have nothing to do with the resource model.

So what?

Why is this confluence of model and protocol in one specification bad? If nothing else, the “keep it simple” argument (#3) above has plenty of merits, doesn’t it? Aren’t WSDM and WS-Management just over-engineered?

They may be, but not because they offer this separation. Consider the following practical benefits of separating the protocol from the model:

1) We can at least agree on one part

Thanks to the “REST is the new black” attitude in Cloud circles, there are lots of commonalities between these various Cloud APIs. Especially the more recent ones, those that I think of as “second generation” APIs: vCloud, Sun API, GoGrid and OCCI (Amazon EC2 is the main “1st generation” Cloud API, back when people weren’t too self-conscious about not just using HTTP but really “doing REST”). As an example of convergence between second generation specifications, see for example, how vCloud and the Sun API both use “202 Accepted” and a dedicated “status” resource to handle long-lived operations. More comparisons here.

Where they differ on such protocol matters, it wouldn’t be hard to modify one’s implementation to use an alternative approach. Things become a lot more sensitive when you touch the resource model, which reflects the actual capabilities of the Cloud management infrastructure. How much flexibility in the network setup? What kind of application provisioning? What affinity/anti-affinity control level? Can I get block-level storage? Etc. Having to implement the other guy’s interface in these matters is not just a matter of glue code, it’s a major product feature. As a result, the resource model is a much more strategic control point than the protocol. Would you rather dictate the terms of a contract or the color of the ink in which it is printed?

That being the case, I suspect that there could be relatively quick and painless agreement on that first layer of the Cloud API: a set of protocol considerations, based on HTTP and REST, that provide a resource control framework with support for security, events, long-running operations, faults, many-as-one semantics, enumeration, etc. Or rather, that if there is to be a “quick and painless” agreement on anything related to Cloud computing standards it can only be on something that is limited to protocol concerns. It doesn’t have to be long and complex. It doesn’t have to be factored in 8 different specifications like WS-* did. It can be just one specification. Keep it simple, ignore all use cases that aren’t related to Cloud Computing. In the end, please call it MUR (Management Using REST)… ;-)

2) Many Clouds, one protocol to rule them all

Whichever Cloud taxonomy strikes your fancy (I am so disappointed that SADIST-PIMP hasn’t caught on), it’s pretty clear that there will not be one kind of Cloud. There will be at least some IaaS, some PaaS and plenty of SaaS. There will not be one API that provides control of them all, but they can share a base protocol that will make life a lot easier for developers. These Clouds won’t be isolated, developers will use them as a continuum.

3) Not just one access model

As much as it makes sense to start from simple and mostly synchronous operations, there will be many different interaction models for Cloud Computing. In addition to the base operations, we may get more of a desired-state/blueprint interaction pattern, based on the same resource model. Or, somewhere in-between, some kind of stored execution flow where modules are passed around rather than individual operations. Also, as the level of automation increases you may want a base framework that is more event-friendly for rapid close-loop management. And there are other considerations involved (like resource monitoring, policies…) not currently covered by these specifications but that can surely reuse the protocol aspects. By factoring out the resource model, you make it possible for these other interaction patterns to emerge in a compatible way.

The current Cloud APIs are not far away from this clean factoring. It would be an easy task to extract protocol considerations as a separate document, in large part due to the fact that REST prevents you from burying the resource model inside convoluted operation semantics. To some extent it’s just a partitioning issue, but the same can be said of many intractable and bloody armed conflicts around the world… Good fences make good neighbors in the world of IT specs too.

[UPDATE: Soon after this entry went to “press” (meaning soon after I pressed the publish button), I noticed this report of a “REST-*” proposal by Mark Little of RedHat/JBOSS. I will reserve judgment until Mark has blogged about it or I have seen some other authoritative description. We may be talking about the same thing here. Or maybe not. The REST-* name surprises me a bit as I would expect opponents of such a proposal to name it just this way. We’ll see.]

[UPDATE 2009/9/6: Apparently I am something like the 26th person to think of the “one protocol/API to rule them all” sentence. We geeks have such a shallow set of shared cultural references it’s scary at times.]

[UPDATED 2009/11/12: Lori MacVittie has a very nice follow-up on this, with examples and interesting analogies. Check it out.]

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Filed under API, Automation, Cloud Computing, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Modeling, Protocols, REST, Specs, Standards, Utility computing

VMWare publishes (and submits) vCloud API

VMWare published its vCloud API yesterday (it was previously only available to a few partners) and submitted it to the DMTF, as had been previously announced. So much for my speculations involving IBM.

It may be time to update the Cloud API comparison. After a very quick first pass, vCloud looks quite similar to the Sun Cloud API (that’s a compliment). For example, they both handle long-lived operations via a “202 Accepted” complemented by a resource that represents the progress (“status” for Sun, “task” for vCloud). A very visible (but not critical) difference is the use of JSON (Sun) versus XML (vCloud).

As expected, OVF/OVA is central to vCloud. More once I have read the whole specification.

In any case, things are going to get interesting in the DMTF Cloud incubator. I there a path to adoption?Assuming that Amazon keeps sitting it out, what will the other Cloud vendors with an API (Rackspace, GoGrid, Sun…) do? I doubt they ever had plans/aspirations to own or even drive the standard, but how much are they willing to let VMWare do it? How much does Citrix/Xen want to steer standards versus simply implement them in the context of the Xen Cloud project? What about OGF/OCCI with which the DMTF is supposedly collaborating?How much support is VMWare going to receive from its service provider partners? How much traction does VMWare have with Cisco, HP (server division) and IBM on this? What are the plans at Oracle and Microsoft? Speaking of Microsoft, maybe it will at some point want its standard strategy playbook back. At least when VMWare is done using it.

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Filed under API, Application Mgmt, Automation, Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Protocols, REST, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

Symptoms Autonomic Framework submission to OASIS: CBE meets ITIL?

IBM, Fujitsu and CA have recently proposed a charter for a new OASIS technical committee, called the Symptoms Autonomic Framework (SAF) TC. Including a specification candidate and other submitted documents, listed here.

For context, you need to remember the Common Base Event (CBE) specification that IBM has shopped around for a long time, initially hand in hand with Cisco. As always, the Cover Pages offer the best references on this saga. CBE was submitted to WSDM and came out (in a much-emaciated form) as the WSDM Event Format (WEF) in WSDM 1.1 part 2.

Because so many parts of CBE were left on the floor of the WSDM editing room and because WSDM itself saw little adoption, I have always been expecting IBM to bring CBE back in some form. When I heard of SAF, my instinct was that this was it.

Not so. SAF is meant to sit on top of an event system like CBE. It turns selected events/situations and other data points into symptoms and tells you what to do next. Its focus is on roles, process and knowledge bases. Not on the event format. The operations and payloads defined are not for exchanging events, they are for exchanging “symptoms”, “syndromes”, “prescriptions” and “protocols”.

As the terms show, the specification espouses the medical dialect (even “protocol” is meant to be understand in the medical sense, not as in “HTTP” or “FTP”). While I have been guilty of a similar analogy myself, I also think that if there is one area from which we don’t want to learn in terms of automation, system integration and proper use of IT in general, it’s the medical field. So let’s be careful not to push the analogy too far (section 8.1 of the SAF specification is a fun read, but not necessarily very compelling).

BTW, since when do we use terms strongly associated with one company in the name of standards group (“autonomic”)?

More fundamentally, the main question is what the chances of success of this effort are. Its a huge endeavor (“enabling interoperable diagnosis and treatment of complex systems”) and it tries to structure activities that have been going on for a long time and in many different ways. No-one will adopt this structure for its own sake, so the question is what practical benefits can be derived from this level of standardization. For example, how reliably can incoming events be mapped in practice to symptoms, how efficiently can symptoms be matched to protocols (in typical IBM fashion there seems to be a big  “XPath is my hammer” assumption lurking), etc…

The discussion on the charter is currently open in OASIS if you want to weigh in.

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Filed under Automation, Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Specs, Standards

REST in practice for IT and Cloud management (part 2: configuration management)

What benefits does REST provide for configuration management (in traditional data centers and in Clouds)?

Part 1 of the “REST in practice for IT and Cloud management” investigation looked at Cloud APIs from leading IaaS providers. It examined how RESTful they are and what concrete benefits derive from their RESTfulness. In part 2 we will now look at the configuration management domain. Even though it’s less trendy, it is just as useful, if not more, in understanding the practical value of REST for IT management. Plus, as long as Cloud deployments are mainly of the IaaS kind, you are still left with the problem of managing the configuration of everything that runs of top the virtual machines (OS, middleware, DB, applications…). Or, if you are a glass-half-full person, here is another way to look at it: the great thing about IaaS (and host virtualization in general) is that you can choose to keep your existing infrastructure, applications and management tools (including configuration management) largely unchanged.

At first blush, REST is ideally suited to configuration management.

The RESTful Cloud APIs have no problem retrieving resource descriptions, but they seem somewhat hesitant in the way they deal with resource-specific actions. Tim Bray described one of the challenges in his well-considered Slow REST post. And indeed, applying REST to these “do something that may take some time and not result exactly in what was requested” scenarios is a lot less straightforward than when you’re just doing document/data retrieval. In contrast you’d think that applying REST to the task of retrieving configuration data from a CMDB or other configuration store would be a no-brainer. Especially in the IT management world, where we already have explicit resource models and a rich set of relationships defined. Let’s give each resource a URI that responds to HTTP GET requests, let’s turn the associations into hyperlinks in the resource presentation, let’s mint a MIME type to represent this format and we are out of the office in time for a 4:00PM tennis game when all the courts are available (hopefully our tennis partners are as bright as us and can get out early too). This “work smarter not harder” approach would allow us to present this list of benefits in our weekly progress report:

-1- A URI-based scheme makes the protocol independent of the resource topology, unlike today’s data stores that usually struggle to represent relationships between stores.

-2- It is simpler to code against than CIM-over-HTTP or WS-Management. It is cross-platform, unlike WMI or JMX.

-3- It makes it trivial to browse the configuration data from a Web browser (the resources themselves could provide an HTML representation based on content-type negotiation, or a simple transformation could generate it for the Web browser).

-4- You get REST-induced caching and scalability.

In the shower after the tennis game, it becomes apparent that benefit #4 is largely irrelevant for IT management use cases. That the browser in #3 would not be all that useful beyond simple use cases. That #2 is good for karma but developers will demand a library that hides this benefit anyway. And that the boss is going to say that he doesn’t care about #1either because his product is “the single source of truth” so it needs to import from the other configuration store, not reference them.

Even if we ignore the boss (once again) it only  leaves #1 as a practical benefit. Surprise, that’s also the aspect that came out on top of the analysis in part 1 (see “the API doesn’t constrain the design of the URI space” highlight, reinforced by Mark’s excellent comment on the role of hypertext). Clearly, there is something useful for IT management in this “hypermedia” thing. This will largely be the topic of part 3.

There are also quite a few things that this RESTification of the configuration management store doesn’t solve:

-1- The ability to query: “show me all the WebLogic instances that run on a Windows host and don’t have patch xyz applied”. You don’t have much of a CMDB if you can’t answer this. For an analogy, remember (or imagine) a pre-1995 Web with no search engine, where you can only navigate by starting from your browser home page and clicking through static links step by step, or through bookmarks.

-2- The ability to retrieve the configuration change history and to compare configurations across resources (or to a reference configuration).

This is not to say that these two features cannot be built on top of a RESTful IT resource model. Just that they are the real meat of configuration management (rather than a simple resource-by-resource configuration browser) and that your brilliant re-architecture hasn’t really helped in addressing them. Does a RESTful foundation make these features harder to build? Not necessarily, but there are some tricky aspects to take care of:

-1- In hypermedia systems, the links are usually part of the resource representation, not resources of their own. In IT management, relationships/associations can have their own lifecycle and configuration properties.

-2- Be careful that you can really maintain the address of a resource. It’s one thing to make sure that a UUID gets maintained as a resource configuration changes, it’s another to ensure that a dereferenceable URI remains unchanged. For example, the admin server of a cluster may move over time from one node to another.

More fundamentally, the ability to deal with multiple resources at the same time and/or to use the model at different levels of granularity is often a challenge. Either you make your protocol more complex to account for this or your pollute your resource model (with a bunch of arbitrary “groups”, implicit or explicit).

We saw this in the Cloud APIs too. It typically goes something like this: you can address an individual server (called “foo”) by sending requests to http://Cloudprovider.com/server/foo. Drop the “foo” part of the URL and now you can address all the servers, for example to retrieve their configuration or possibly to reboot them. This gives me a way of dealing with multiple resources at time, but only along the lines pre-defined by the API. What if I want to deal only with the servers that host nodes of a given cluster. Sorry, not possible. What if the servers have different hosts in their URIs (remember, “the API doesn’t constrain the design of the URI space”)? Oops.

WS-Management, in the SOAP world, takes this one step further with Selectors, through which you can embed some kind of query, the result of which is what you are addressing in your message. Or, if all you want to do is GET, you can model you entire datacenter as one giant virtual XML doc (a document which is never assembled in practice) and use WSRF/WSDM’s “QueryExpression” or WS-Management’s “FragmentTransfer” to the same effect. BTW, I have issues with the details of how these mechanisms work (and I have described an alternative under the motto “if you are going to suffer with WS-Addressing, at least get some value out of it”).

These are all non-RESTful atrocities to a RESTafarian, but in my mind the Cloud REST API reviewed in part 1 have open Pandora’s box by allowing less-qualified URIs to address all instances of a class. I expect you’ll soon see more precise query parameters in these URIs and they’ll look a lot like WS-Management Selectors (e.g. http://Cloudprovider.com/server?OS=Linux&CPUType=X86). Want to take bets about when a Cloud API URI format with an embedded regex first arrives?

When you need this, my gut feeling is that you are better off not worrying too much about trying to look RESTful. There is no shame to using an RPC pattern in the right circumstances. Don’t be the stupid skier who ends up crashing in a tree because he is just too cool for the using snowplow position.

One of the most common reasons to deal with multiple resources together is to run queries such as the “show me all the WebLogic instances that run on a Windows host and don’t have patch xyz applied” example above. Such a query mechanism recently became a DMTF standard, it’s called CMDBf. It is SOAP-based and doesn’t attempt to have anything to do with REST. Not that it didn’t cross the mind of a bunch of people, lead by Michael Coté when CMDBf first emerged (read the comments too). But as James Governor rightly predicted in the first comment, Coté heard “dick” from us on this (I represented HP in CMDBf and ended up being an editor of the specification, focusing on the “query” part). I don’t remember reading the entry back then but I must have since I have been a long time Coté fan. I must have dismissed the idea so quickly that it didn’t even register with my memory. Well, it’s 2009 now, CMDBf v1 is a DMTF standard and guess what? I, and many other SOAP-the-world-till-it-shines alumni, are looking a lot more seriously into what’s in this REST thing (thus this series of posts for me). BTW in this piece Coté also correctly predicted that CMDBf would be “more about CMDB interoperation than federation” but that didn’t take as much foresight (it was pretty obvious to me from the start).

Frankly I am still not sure that there is much benefit from REST in what CMDBf does, which is mostly a query interface. Yes the CMDBf query and its response go over SOAP. Yes in this case SOAP is mostly a useless wrapper since none of the implementations will likely support any WS-* SOAP header (other than paying the WS-Addressing tax). Sure we could remove it and send plain XML over HTTP. Or replace the SOAP wrapper with an Atom wrapper. Would it be anymore RESTful? Not one bit.

And I don’t see how to make it more RESTful. There are plenty of things in the periphery the query operation that can be made RESTful, along the lines of what I described above. REST could make the discovery/reconciliation tasks of the CMDB more efficient. The CMDBf query result format could be improved so that from the returned elements I can navigate my way among resources by following hyperlinks. But the query operation itself looks fundamentally RPCish to me, just like my interaction with the Google search page is really an RPC call that happens to return a Web page full of hyperlinks. In a way, this query (whether Google or CMDBf) can at best be the transition point from RPC to REST. It can return results that open a world of RESTful requests to you, but the query invocation itself is not RESTful. And that’s OK.

In part 3 (now available), I will try to synthesize the lessons from the Cloud APIs (part 1) and configuration management (this post) and extract specific guidance to get the best of what REST has to offer in future IT management protocols. Just so you can plan ahead, in part 4 I will reform the US health care system and in part 5 I will provide a practical roadmap for global nuclear disarmament. Suggestions for part 6 are accepted.

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Filed under API, Application Mgmt, Automation, Cloud Computing, CMDB, CMDB Federation, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mashup, Mgmt integration, Modeling, REST, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, Utility computing

A small step for SCA, a giant leap for BSM

In a very short post, Khanderao Kand describes how configuration properties for BPEL processes in Oracle SOA Suite 11G are attached to SCA components. Here is the example he provides:

<component name="myBPELServiecComponent">
  ...
  <property name="bpel.config.inMemoryOptimization">true</property>
</component>

It doesn’t look like much. But it’s an major step for application-driven IT management (and eventually BSM).

Take a SCA component. Follow the SCA-defined component-to-composite and service-to-reference relationships upwards and eventually you’ll get to top level application services that have a decent chance of mapping well to business-relevant activities (e.g. order processing). Which means that the metrics of these services (e.g. availability, response time) are likely to be meaningful and important to the line of business. Follow the same SCA relationships downward and you’ll end up (in a SCA-based infrastructure like Oracle SOA Suite 11G), with target components that are meaningful to the IT administrator. Which means that their metrics and configuration settings (like “inMemoryOptimization”) are tracked and controlled by IT. You now have a direct string of connections between this configuration setting and a business relevant metric. You can navigate the connection in both directions: downward/reactive (“my service just went down, what changed in the infrastructure”) versus upward/proactive (“my service is always slow, what can I do to optimize the execution”).

Of course these examples are over-simplistic (and the title of this post is a bit too lyrical, on account of this). Following these SCA relationships in brute-force fashion will yield tens of thousands of low-level configuration settings for any top-level service, with widely differing importance and impact (not to mention that they interact). You need rules to make sense of this. Plus, configuration-based models are a complement to runtime transaction discovery, not a replacement (unless your model of the application includes every single line of code). But it’s not that often that you can see a missing link snap into place that clearly.

What this shows is the emergence of a common set of entities between the developer’s model and the IT admin model. And if the application was developed correctly, some of the entities in the developer’s model correspond to entities in the mental model of the application user and the line of business manager. SCA is the skeleton for this. Attaching configuration to SCA components puts muscle on the bone.

The road to BSM is paved with small improvements in the semantic alignment between IT infrastructure and application services. A couple of years ago, I tried to explain why SCA is very relevant for IT management. Now we can see it.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, BPEL, BSM, Business, Business Process, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Middleware, Modeling, Oracle, SCA, Standards

Anthology of blog posts about protocols and data formats

I just finished reading or re-reading a half-dozen great short texts about data formats and protocols, in the XML/RDF space.

I started with this “do we need WADL” post by Joe Gregorio (since the previous entry made me go back to WADL which is used by Rackspace). Under the guise of a Q&A about WADL, Joe’s post disposes of the notion that IDL-based code generation is any good (of course the reference on this topic is Steve’s Alpine paper, but Joe very elegantly captures the gist of it a few sentences). He then explains what it really take to specify a protocol (hint: it’s not just a syntax). This is about WSDL and XSD as much as WADL.

When I reached the point in Joe’s Q&A where he discusses whether one should ever create a new protocol, I remembered a post on this very topic from Tim Bray, which I easily Googled back to life. Two of them actually, one about why you shouldn’t do it and the other about how to do it since he knows his advice will be ignored. There are so many lessons in these that I won’t even attempt to summarize.

Tim’s second piece then delivered me to this excellent article about the various facets of RDF. It’s six years old but still true. Though if it was written today I expect it would add “graph query language” and possibly even “constraint language” as facets of RDF.

While I am at it, I should add to the list this to this bird-eye view of all the XML obstacles that pedestrians run into (I have highlighted this entry in a previous post).

These are all very well written articles by people who think very clearly about the domain. None of them technically taught me anything I didn’t know before, but they definitely helped me clarify my thoughts (and find the words to explain them to others).

We’re not artists. We’re not scientists. We’re not mathematicians. But there is some beauty in computer protocol design too. These writings are museum pieces, in the “lasting/worthwhile” sense of the term (not the “old/outdated” sense that it often has in the computing world). Don’t rush to read them, they are all several years old and have aged very well. Wait until you have the time to read them carefully.

I didn’t set out to create a best-of compilation of writings about protocols and data formats. I just happened to run into these great entries in a 30 minutes period and I was impressed by how much “above average” they all are. Is it luck? Does the topic of computer protocols naturally attract good thinkers and writers? Am I just in a good mood tonight? Who knows.

There must be others, possibly even better. Elliotte Rusty Harold occasionally surfaces one through his not-so-daily “quote of the day“. Suggestions for more articles of this caliber are welcome. A thousand monkeys may not be able to produce Hamlet, but a thousand bloggers may come close to an equivalent of Feynman’s lectures.

[UPDATED 2010/11/12: Over a year later, here’s an addition to this anthology. Stu’s succinct and beautiful explanation of the underlying issues with partial resource update (and REST in general).]

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Filed under Articles, Everything, Protocols, RDF, Specs, Standards

YACSOE

Yet another cloud standards organization effort. This one is better than the others because it has the best domain name.

A press release to announce a Wiki. Sure. Whatever. Electrons are cheap.

Cynicism aside, it can’t hurt. But what would be really useful is if all these working groups opened up their mailing list archives and document repositories so that the Wiki can be a launching pad to actual content rather than a set of one-line descriptions of what each group is supposed to work on. With useful direct links to the most recent drafts and lists of issues under consideration. Similar to the home page of a W3C working group, but across groups. Let’s hope this is a first step in that direction.

I am also interested in where they’ll draw the line between Cloud computing and IT management. If such a line remains.

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Filed under Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Grid, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, W3C

The CMDBf specification is now a DMTF standard

The CMDBf specification has finished its trek through the DMTF standard process. The last step was board approval and finally here is the official DMTF standard. It’s called version 1.0.0 which is a bit confusing since the version submitted to DMTF was dubbed “version 1.0″. I guess it means that this standard is the first version of the DMTF specification called CMDBf.

If you have been following the process closely, then you won’t find many technical changes since the last public draft. If you last read the specification when it was submitted to DMTF, then you’ll notice several improvements but no drastic change. If you are yet to take a first look at CMDBf, now is the perfect time.

To help you in that endeavor, I plan to update the query pseudo-algorithm to conform to the standard version of the specification when I get a chance. In the meantime, the slightly-outdated one is probably still helpful in wrapping your mind around the query mechanism.

Gentle(wo)men, rev your (query) engines.

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Filed under CMDB, CMDB Federation, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Specs, Standards

File upload/download and remote program execution using WS-Management – a practical solution

The previous blog post described a way to upload and (in theory at least) download text files to/from a remote Windows machine using WS-Management. In practice, the applicability of the method is  limited for upload (text files only, slow for large files) and almost nonexistent for download. Here is a much improved version.

This is another example of something that was too obvious for me to see last weekend when I was in the thick of fighting with WS-Management SOAP messages and learning about WMI classes. It just took a day of not thinking about it to have the solution pop in my mind: use ftp.exe. For the longest time (at least since Windows NT) Windows has been shipping with this FTP client. And the documentation shows that you can call it from the command line and provide it with the name of a text file containing the commands to execute. Bingo.

Specifically, here are the steps. Let’s say that I want to run a program called task.exe on a remote Windows machine and that program takes a large binary file (data.bin) as input. I want to transfer both to the remote machine and then run the program. This can be done in 3 simple steps:

Step 1: upload the FTP command file to the remote Windows machine. The content of the command file is below. mgmtserver.myco.com is the name of the machine from which the two files can be retrieved over FTP. I use anonymous FTP here, but you could just as well provide a username and password.

open mgmtserver.myco.com
anonymous
binary
get task.exe
get data.bin
quit

Step 2: execute the FTP commands above. This downloads task.exe and data.bin from mgmtserver.myco.com onto the remote Windows machine.

Step 3: execute the program on the remote Windows machine (“task.exe data.bin”).

Here are the on-the-wire messages corresponding to each step:

Step 1: upload the FTP command file to the remote Windows machine

<s:Envelope xmlns:s="http://www.w3.org/2003/05/soap-envelope"
  xmlns:a="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2004/08/addressing"
  xmlns:w="http://schemas.dmtf.org/wbem/wsman/1/wsman.xsd">
  <s:Header>
    <a:To>http://server:80/wsman</a:To>
    <w:ResourceURI s:mustUnderstand="true">http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process </w:ResourceURI>
    <a:ReplyTo>
    <a:Address s:mustUnderstand="true">http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2004/08/addressing/role/anonymous</a:Address>
    </a:ReplyTo>
    <a:Action s:mustUnderstand="true">http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process/Create</a:Action>
    <a:MessageID>uuid:9A989269-283B-4624-BAC5-BC291F72E854</a:MessageID>
  </s:Header>
  <s:Body>
    <p:Create_INPUT xmlns:p="http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process">
      <p:CommandLine>cmd /c echo open mgmtserver.myco.com>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo
      anonymous>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo binary>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo get
      task.exe>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo get data.bin>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo
      quit>>ftpscript</p:CommandLine>
      <p:CurrentDirectory>C:datawinrm-test</p:CurrentDirectory>
    </p:Create_INPUT>
  </s:Body>
</s:Envelope>

As before, you need to set the Content-Type HTTP header to “application/soap+xml;charset=UTF-8″ (or UTF-16).

Step 2: execute the FTP commands to download the files from your server

It’s the same message, except the <p:CommandLine> element now has this value:

<p:CommandLine>ftp -s:ftpscript</p:CommandLine>

Step 3: execute the task.exe program on the remote Windows machine

Again, the same message except that the command line is simply:

<p:CommandLine>C:datawinrm-testtask.exe data.bin</p:CommandLine>

Note that I have broken this down in three messages for clarity, but you can easily bundle all three steps in one SOAP message. Just use this command line:

<p:CommandLine>cmd /c echo open mgmtserver.myco.com>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo
anonymous>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo binary>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo get
task.exe>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo get data.bin>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;echo
quit>>ftpscript&amp;&amp;ftp -s:ftpscript&amp;&amp;C:datawinrm-testtask.exe
data.bin</p:CommandLine>

Of course this can also be used in reverse, to download files from the remote Windows machine rather than upload files to it. Just use PUT or MPUT as FTP commands instead of GET or MGET.

This mechanism is a major improvement, for many use cases, over what I originally described. I feel a bit like someone who just changed a flat tire by loosening the lug nuts with his teeth and then found the lug wrench under the spare tire.

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Filed under Everything, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Microsoft, Portability, SOAP, Standards, WS-Management

Uploading a file to a Windows machine via WMI/WS-Management

[UPDATED 2009/6/30: Check the following post for a more practical solution.]

Here is a simple way to upload a text (i.e. not binary) file to a Windows machine. Because my interest is to be able to do it from any platform, I investigated the use of WS-Management. But the method relies on invoking WMI methods over WS-Management, so I don’t see why it would not also work in a straight WMI scenario if you prefer.

I am not a Windows management expert, so there may be a much better way to do this (e.g. BITS). But if what you’re after is the simplest possible way to drop a file on a Windows machine it from a non-Windows machine, it doesn’t get much simpler than sending an XML doc over HTTP and calling it a day. Here is how.

The easiest would be if the CIM_DataFile WMI class had a “create” method to create a new file. It doesn’t. But Win32_Process does. Invoking this method creates a new process and you get to specify the command line to execute. All you need to do is come up with a command line that invokes a program that will create the file that you want to upload.

There may be alternatives, but the command line I came up with for this purpose uses the “cmd.exe” interpreter (the Windows command-line shell). By using the “/c” option, you can invoke this interpreter with its instructions as parameters directly on the command line (it gets a bit confusing because we have two “command lines” here, the one that is used to launch the “cmd.exe” shell and the one that is presented inside the “cmd.exe” shell).

Anyway, if you type the following line inside the “start/run” field in Windows

cmd /c echo 1st line > test1.txt

It will have the same effect as opening a command shell, typing “echo 1st line > test1.txt” in it and the closing it. It creates a new file called “test1.txt” with one line of content (“1st line”). If you want a second line, you can do this by adding a second command that uses “>>” (append) instead of “>”. And the two commands can be joined by “&&” to invoke them in one pass. So to create a file with three lines, we’d execute:

cmd /c echo 1st line > test1.txt && echo 2nd line >> test1.txt
&& echo 3rd line >> test1.txt

Now all we have to do is package this in a WS-Management SOAP message and post it to the WS-Management listener of the Windows machine. In the process, we have to escape the “&” in the command line to “&amp;” because of XML syntax rules. The resulting message looks like:

<s:Envelope
  xmlns:s="http://www.w3.org/2003/05/soap-envelope"
  xmlns:a="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2004/08/addressing"
  xmlns:w="http://schemas.dmtf.org/wbem/wsman/1/wsman.xsd">
<s:Header>
<a:To>http://localhost/wsman</a:To>
<w:ResourceURI s:mustUnderstand="true">

http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process

</w:ResourceURI>
<a:ReplyTo>
<a:Address s:mustUnderstand="true">

http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2004/08/addressing/role/anonymous

</a:Address>
</a:ReplyTo>
<a:Action s:mustUnderstand="true">

http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process/Create

</a:Action>
<a:MessageID>uuid:9A989269-283B-4624-BAC5-BC291F72E854</a:MessageID>
</s:Header>
<s:Body>
<p:Create_INPUT
  xmlns:p="http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process">
<p:CommandLine>cmd /c echo 1st line > test1.txt &amp;&amp; echo 2nd line >>
  test1.txt &amp;&amp; echo 3rd line >> test1.txt</p:CommandLine>
<p:CurrentDirectory>C:datawinrm-test</p:CurrentDirectory>
</p:Create_INPUT>
</s:Body>
</s:Envelope>

You don’t even need a WS-Management toolkit to do this as the only WS-Management header is w:ResourceURI which can easily be set manually. You don’t need a WS-Addressing library either as all the headers are also static (except for the MessageID even though nobody will care in practice if you always send the same value; I hereby authorize you to re-use the one in my example as much as you want). As a side note, this is yet another illustration of how useless this header (and more generally WS-Addressing) is in 95% of the case. And yet the Microsoft WS-Management implementation (like many others) will make a point to fault if you don’t send it. But ranting against WS-Addressing is a topic for another day (look for a future post titled “WS-IfInteroperabilityWasEasyItWouldNotBeFunWouldIt”).

I should mention that you want to set the Content-Type HTTP header to “application/soap+xml;charset=UTF-8″ for this message. Or UTF-16 if that’s what you’re sending.

A few comments:

  • This obviously only works for character-based files, not binaries
  • I’ve noticed that the parsing of the wsa:Action header is pretty minimalistic. The Microsoft implementation seems to just pick up the text behind the last “/”. So you can type send “blahblah/Create” and it works just as well as the correct value, “http://schemas.microsoft.com/wbem/wsman/1/wmi/root/cimv2/Win32_Process/Create” (it knows what class to apply the operation on from the Resource URI). Interestingly, there is only one URL ending in “/Create” that doesn’t work and it’s the WS-Transfer “Create” operation (“http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2004/09/transfer/Create”). That’s because the “Create” operation invoked in the message above is not the WS-Transfer “Create” operation but rather the homonymous operation on the WMI class.
  • Using the “/k” modifier on “cmd” in the command line (instead of “/c”) would also work, but the command shell would stay alive after returning so over time you’d have quite a few of them hanging out and using up memory on the remote machine. Not a good move.
  • As part of this exercise, I noticed an error in the MSDN page describing the “invoke” method of Win32_Process. In the SOAP body, the URI for the “p” namespace prefix uses “…/cim/…” instead of “…/cimv2/…”, which caused my first attempts to fail.

If the file you want to upload is large, you can break the upload over several successive messages similar to the one above. As long as you use the same file name and use “>>” instead of “>” you’ll keep appending to the end of the file until it’s complete.

Of course this could be any type of text file, including XML (watch for the character-escaping rules though, both for XML and for “cmd” as you have to apply them in the right sequence). Even better, it could be a Python, Perl or PowerShell script too. And in that case (assuming the corresponding interpreter is installed on the machine) you can use the same mechanism to also invoke the script for execution. So that you use this WS-Management interface just to bootstrap into a more comfortable remote-control mechanism.

The next logical question (for extra credit) is whether WS-Management can be used to read files remotely instead of writing them. In theory yes, though in practice you’re much better off with alternate solutions, like the remote shell extension to WS-Management that I have described as “dumb SSH” previously.

But since you ask, here is the theory. My first attempt was to do a WS-Management “Get” (the Get operation from WS-Transfer) on an instance of CIM_DataFile (using the “Name” selector and setting it to “C:datawinrm-testtest1.txt”). But this returns the properties of the file rather than its content. Whether this is kosher is an interesting theoretical question to ponder from a REST-beard-stroking perspective, but it’s useless for my file retrieval purpose. As before, one solution is to use the magical Win32_Process “Create” method to overcome the shortcomings of the CIM_DataFile class. The windows command shell “type” command can be used to display the content of a text file. But the WMI Win32_Process “create” operation that we use here only returns the processId and a result code, not the stdout stream (unlike the remote shell protocol that I mentioned above). We cannot therefore use it directly to return the output of the “type” command over the wire.

The solution is to use one Win32_Process “create” operation over WS-Management to write the content of the file in a place where a subsequent WS-Management opeation can read it. I can think of two examples off the top of my head: directory names and environment variables.

Here is how you’d do it with directory names. The following command takes the test1.txt file, reads it and creates nested subdirectories, one for each line in the input file. The name of the directory is the content of the corresponding line in the file.

for /f "delims=" %I in (test1.txt) do @mkdir "%I" && cd "%I"

For example, if the file content is

1st line
2nd line
3rd line

The command will generate the following three subdirectories:

1st line
  |_ 2nd line
      |_ 3rd line

What’s the point? You can use WS-Management enumeration to retrieve the names of all directories (using the Win32_Directory WMI class). Now that may be a bit overwhelming, so you want to add a WS-Enumeration filter to your WS-Management request. The Microsoft WS-Management implementation supports the WQL filter syntax that lets you do just that.

BTW, you can presumably do the same thing with files, but directories by their nesting make it easy to read the lines in the order in which their appear in the file. Though you’d quickly run into path length limitations (and characters that are not valid in file/directory names).

A slightly more robust approach may be to set each line of the file in an environment variable (again via the “for”, and using “set” after the “do”). You can then read these environment variables over WS-Management by doing a WS-Transfer Get on the Win32_Environment WMI class. Unlike CIM_DataFile (for which Get only return properties, not the content), a Get on Win32_Environment includes the value of the environment variable as one of the properties. The pragmatic reasons for this dichotomy are obvious, but the architectural consequences will give a headache to anyone who still has any illusion that WS-Transfer has anything to do with REST.

As a side note, the “for” instruction can keep no more than 52 variables at a time, so if your file has more than 52 lines you’d have to send successive WS-Management requests and add a “skip” option to the “for” operation on subsequent requests (“skip=52″, “skip=104″, etc…). Again, practicality isn’t much of a concern here, we’re just playing with theory (Ed: “we”? how many people do you expect will still be reading at this point?).

That’s it for today’s episod of “Windows management for the on-the-wire-protocol guy”. Maybe next weekend I’ll take some time to look more into the remote shell over WS-Management protocol extention and how it can be misued/abused.

[UPDATE: The next post describes a more practical approach.]

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Filed under DMTF, Everything, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Microsoft, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, WS-Management

Native “SSH” on Windows via WS-Management

Did you know that you can now SSH to a Windows machine over WS-Management and its is a documented protocol that can be implemented from any platform and programming language? This is big news to me and I am surprised that, as management protocol geek, I hadn’t heard about it until I started to search MSDN for a related but much smaller feature (file transfer over WS-Management).

OK, so it’s not exactly SSH but it is a remote shell. In fact it comes in two flavors, which I think of as “dumb SSH” and “super SSH”.

Dumb SSH

Dumb SSH is the ability to remotely run a DOS-like command shell over WS-Management. Anyone who has had to use the Windows command shell as a scripting language ersatz understands why I call it “dumb”. I expect that even in Microsoft most would agree (otherwise why would they have created PowerShell?).

Still, you can do quite a few basic things using the Windows command shell and being able to do them remotely is not something to sneer at if you’re building a management product. If you’re interested, you need to read MS-WSMV, the WS-Management Protocol Extensions for Windows Vista specification (available here as a PDF). By the name of the specification, I expected a laundry list of tweaks that the WS-Management and WS-CIM implementation in Vista makes on top of the standards (e.g. proprietary extensions, default values, unsupported features, etc). And there is plenty of that, in sections 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3. The kind of “this is my way” decisions that you’d come to expect from Microsoft on implementing standards. A bit frustrating when you know that they pretty much wrote the standard but at least it’s well documented. Plus, being one of those that forced a few changes in WS-Management between the Microsoft submission and the DMTF standard (under laments from Microsoft that “it’s too late to change Longhorn”) I am not really in position to complain that “Longhorn” (now Vista) indeed deviates from the standard.

But then we get to section 3.4 and we enter a new realm. These are not tweaks to WS-Management anymore. It’s a stateful tunneling protocol going over WS-Management, complete with base-64-encoded streams (stdin, stdout, stderr) and signals. It gives you all you need to run a remote command shell over WS-Management. In addition to the base Windows command shell, it also supports “custom remote shells”, which lets you leverage the tunneling mechanism for another protocol than the one made of Windows shell commands. For example, you could build an HTTP emulation over this on top of which you could run WS-Management on top of which… you know where this is going, don’t you?

A more serious example of such a “custom remote shell” is PowerShell, which takes us to…

Super SSH

Imagine SSH with the guarantee that the shell that you log into on the other side was a Python interpreter, complete with full access to the server’s management API. I think that would qualify as “super SSH”, at least for IT management purposes (no so exciting if all you want to do is check your email with mutt). This is equivalent to what you get when the remote shell invoked over WS-Management (or rather WS-Management plus Vista extensions described above) is PowerShell instead of the the Windows command shell. I have always liked PowerShell but it hasn’t really be all that relevant to me (other than as a design study) because of its ties to the Windows platform. Now, thanks to MS-PSRP, the PowerShell Remoting Protocol specification (PDF here) we are only a good Java (or Python, or Ruby) library away from being able to invoke PowerShell commands from any language, anywhere.

I have criticized over-reliance on libraries to shield developers from XML for task that really would be much better handled by simply learning to use XML. But in this case we really need a library because there is quite a bit of work involved in this protocol, most of which has nothing to do with XML. We have to fragment/defragment packets, compress/decompress messages, not to mention the security aspects. At this point you may question what the value of doing all this on top of WS-Management is, for which I respectfully redirect you to your local Microsoft technology evangelist, MVP or, in last resort, sales representative.

Even if PowerShell is not your scripting language of choice, you can at least use it to create a bootstrap mechanism that will install whatever execution engine you want (e.g. Ruby) and download scripts from your management server. At which point you can sign out of PowerShell. For some reason, I get the feeling that we just got one step closer to Puppet managing Windows machines.

A few closing comments

First, while the MS-WSMV part that lets you run a basic command shell seems already available (Vista SP1, Win2K3R2, Win2K8, etc), the PowerShell part is a lot greener. The MS-PSRP specification is marked “preliminary” and the supported platform list only contains Windows 7 and Win2K8R2. Nevertheless, the word from Microsoft is that they have the intention to make this available on XP and above shortly after Windows 7 comes out. Let’s hope this is the case, otherwise this technology will remain largely irrelevant for years to come.

The other caveat comes from the standard angle. In this post, I only concern myself with the technical aspects. If you want to implement these specifications you have to also take into account that they are proprietary specifications with no IP grant (“Microsoft has patents that may cover your implementations of the technologies described in the Open Specifications. Neither this notice nor Microsoft’s delivery of the documentation grants any licenses under those or any other Microsoft patents”) and fully controlled by Microsoft (who could radically change or kill them tomorrow). As to whether Microsoft plans to eventually standardize them, I would again refer you to your friendly local Microsoft representative. I can just predict, based on the content of the specification, that it would make for some interesting debates in the DMTF (or wherever they may go).

This is a big step towards the citizenship of Windows machines in an automated datacenter (and, incidentally, an endorsement for the “these scripts have to grow up” approach to automation). As Windows comes to parity with Unix in remote scripting abilities, the only question remaining (well, in addition to the pesky license) will be “why another mechanism”. Which could be solved either via standardization of MS-PSRP, de-facto adoption (PowerShell on Suse Linux is only one Microsoft-to-Novell check away) or simply using PowerShell as just a bootstrapping mechanism for Puppet or others, as mentioned above.

[UPDATE: On a related topic, these two posts describe ways to transfer files over WS-Management.]

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Filed under Automation, DMTF, Everything, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Portability, Specs, Standards, WS-Management

Cloud APIs need to be complemented by Cloud processes

A lot of attention has been focused on technical standards for Cloud computing, especially over the last month (e.g. DMTF incubator announcement). That’s fine, but before we go crazy with detailed technical standards let’s realize that for Cloud computing (of the public variety at least) to take off we’ll need just as much standardization of non-technical interactions. Namely processes.

This, to me, is one of the most interesting angles on the recent announcement by Amazon AWS that they now support (in limited beta) the ability to load data from storage that is physically shipped to them. Have a look at this announcement and you’ll notice that it spends more time describing a logistical process (how to pack, how to ship…) than technical interfaces (storage device requirements, how to create a manifest…). It is still part of the “AWS Developer Guide” but clearly these instructions are not just for developers.

Many more such processes need to be “standardized” (or at least documented) for companies to efficiently be able to use public Clouds (and to some extent even private Clouds). Let’s take SLAs as an example. It sounds good when a Cloud provider says “we offer SLAs”. But what does it mean? Does it mean “we advertise some SLA numbers, you’re responsible for contacting us (trough a phone number hidden somewhere on our site) when you think we’ve violated them; if we agree with your measurements then you may get a check in the mail at some point in the future”? Not so useful. If, on the other hand, there is a clear definition of the metric that the SLA applies to, a clear definition of how it gets measured (do we trust provider performance reports, customer measurement, a third party monitor…), a clear process to claim refund, a clear process to actually provide the refund (credit for future service or direct payment, when/how is the payment made…), then it becomes more useful.

I picked the SLA enforcement example because it happens to be an area that the TMF (TeleManagement Forum) has made partially available as a teaser for its eTOM business process framework (aimed at telco providers). The full list of eTOM processes is only available to paying subscribers. One of the goals of the eTOM process framework is “to simplify procurement, serving as a common language between service providers and suppliers”. Another way to say it is that eTOM “recognizes that the enterprise interacts with external parties, and that the enterprise may need to interact with process flows defined by external parties, as in ebusiness interactions”. Exactly what we are talking about when it comes to making public Clouds easily consumable by enterprises. SLA management is just one small part of the overall eTOM framework (if you look for it in this eTOM overview poster it’s in purple, under “assurance”, in the first row).

My point is not to assert that Cloud providers should adopt eTOM. Nobody adopts eTOM directly as a blueprint anyway. But, while the cultures and maturity levels are sometimes different, it is also hard to argue that Cloud providers have nothing to learn form telco providers (many of which are becoming Cloud providers themselves). I shudder at the idea of AT&T teaching another company how to handle customer service, but have you ever tried to call Google?

Readers of this blog are likely to be more familiar with ITIL than eTOM (who, incidentally, incorporates parts of ITIL in its latest version, 8.0). For those who don’t know about either, one way to think about it is that Cloud providers would implement processes that look somewhat like eTOM processes, that Cloud consumers implement IT management processes that follow to some extent ITIL best practices and that these two sets of processes need to meet for public Clouds to work. I touched on this a few months ago, when I commented on the incorporation of Cloud services in an IT service catalog.

My main point is not about ITIL or eTOM. It’s simply that there are important process aspects to delivering/consuming Cloud services and that they have so far been overshadowed by the technical aspects. The processes sketched in the AWS import/export capability represent the first drop of an upcoming shower.

[UPDATED 2009/5/22: More on telcos becoming Cloud providers from EMC’s Chuck Hollis, with a retort by James Governor. Just listing these as FYI but my main point in this post is not about telcos, it’s about the need to clarify processes, independently of whether the provider is Amazon or AT&T. It’s just that the telcos have been working on such process standardization for a long time. Hoff provides another example of where process standardization is needed in Cloud relationships: right to audit.]

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Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Business Process, Cloud Computing, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Standards, Utility computing

Cloud API: what’s cooking between IBM and VMWare?

In the previous entry, I declared that I had a “guess as to why [the DMTF Cloud] incubator was created without a submission”, that I may later reveal. Well here it is: VMWare and IBM are negotiating a joint Cloud API submission to DMTF and need more time before they can submit it.

This is 100% speculation on my part. It’s not even based on rumors or leaks. I made it up. Here are the data points that influenced me. You decide what they’re worth.

  • VMWare has at numerous time announced (comments here and here) that they would submit a vCloud API to DMTF in the first half of 2009.
  • In the transcript of this VMWare webcast we learn that an important part of the vCloud API is its adoption of REST as part of a move towards more abstraction and simplicity (“this is not simply proxy-ing of VIM APIs”).
  • IBM, meanwhile, has been trying to get a SOAP-based IT management framework for a while. Unsuccessfully so far. WSDM was a first failed attempt. The WS-Management/WSDM reconciliation was another one (I was in the same boat on both of these). The WS-RA working group at W3C (where the ashes of WS-RT are smoldering) could be where the third attempt springs from. But IBM is currently very quiet about their plans (compared to all the conference talks, PowerPoint slides and white papers that that heralded the previous two attempts). They obviously haven’t given up, but they are planning the next move. And the emergence of Cloud computing in the meantime is redefining the IT automation landscape in a way that they will make sure to incorporate in their updated standards plans.
  • Then comes the DMTF Cloud incubator of which the co-chairs are from VMWare and IBM (“interim” co-chairs in theory, but we know how these things go). Which seems to imply an agreement around a proposal (this is what the incubator process is explicitly designed for: “allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification”). But there is no associated specification submission, which suggest that the agreed-upon proposal is still being negotiated.

VMWare has a lot of momentum in a virtualization-focused view of IT automation (the predominant view right now, though I am not sure it will always be) and IBM sees them as the right partner for their third attempt (HP was the main partner in the first, Microsoft in the second). VMWare knows that they are going against Microsoft and they need IBM’s strength to control the standard. This could justify an alliance.

It seems pretty clear that VMWare has an API specification already (they supposedly even gave it to partners). It is also pretty clear that IBM would not agree to it in a wholesale way. For technical and pride reasons. They did it for OVF because it is a narrow specification, but a more comprehensive Cloud API would touch on a lot of aspects where IBM has set ideas and existing products. Here are some of the aspects that may be in contention.

REST versus WS-* – Yes, that old rathole. Having just moved to REST, the VMWare folks probably don’t feel like turning around. IBM has invested a lot in a WS-* approach over the years. It doesn’t mean that they won’t go with the REST approach, but it would take them some time to get over it. Lots of fellows and distinguished engineers would need to be convinced. There are some very REST-friendly parts in IBM (in Rational, in WebSphere) but Tivoli has seemed a lot less so to me. The worst outcome is if they offer both options. If you see this (or if you see XPath/XQuery expressions embedded inside URLs or HTTP headers), run for the escape hatches.

While REST versus WS-* is an easy one to grab on, I don’t think it’s the most important issue. Both parties are smart enough to realize it’s not that critical (it’s the model, not the protocol, that matters).

CBE/WEF – IBM has been trying to get a standard stamp on its Common Base Event format (CBE) forever. When they did (as WEF, the WSDM Event Format) it was in a simplified form (by yours truly, among others) and part of a standard that wasn’t widely adopted. But it’s still there in Tivoli and you can expect it to resurface in some form in their next proposal.

Software packaging – I am not sure what’s up with SDD, but whether it’s this specification or something else I would expect that IBM would have a lot to say about software packaging and patching. A lot more than VMWare probably cares about. Expect IBM’s fingerprints all over that part.

Security – I have criticized IBM many times for the “security considerations” boilerplate that they stick on every specification. But this in an area in which it actually make sense to have a very focused security analysis, something that IBM could do a lot better than VMWare I suspect.

ITSM / ITIL – In addition to the technical aspect of IT management operations, there are plenty of process and human aspects. Many areas of ITSM are applicable (e.g. I have written about the role of service catalogs, or you can think about the link to CMDBf). IBM has a lot more exposure there than VMWare.

Grid – IBM’s insistence to align Grid computing and IT management is one of the things that weighted WSDM down. Will they repeat this? In a way, Cloud computing *is* that junction of IT management and Grid that they were after with WSRF. But how much of the existing GGF Grid infrastructure are they going to try to accommodate? I don’t think they’ll be too rigid on this, but it’s worth watching.

Seeing how the topics above are handled in the VMWare/IBM proposal (if such a proposal ever materializes) will tell the alert readers a lot about the balance of power between VMWare and IBM.

As a side note, there are very smart people in the EMC CTO office (starting with the CTO himself and my friend Tom Maguire) who came from IBM and are veterans of the WSDM/WSRF/OGSI efforts. These people could play an interesting role in the IBM/VMWare relationship if the corporate arrangement between EMC and VMWare allows it (my guess is it doesn’t). Another interesting side note is to ask what Microsoft would do if indeed VMWare and IBM were dancing together on this. Microsoft is listed in the members of the DMTF Cloud incubator, but I notice a certain detachment in this post from Steve Martin. For now at least.

Did I mention that this is all pure speculation on my part? We’ll see what happens. Hopefully it’s at least entertaining. And even if I am wrong, the questions raised (around the links between previous IT management efforts and the new wave of Cloud standards) are relevant anyway. I am still in “lessons learned” mode on this.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: Here is a first-hand source for the data point that VMWare plans to submit the vCloud API (rather than second-hand reports from reporters): Winsont Bumpus (VMWare’s Director of Standards Architecture) says that “VMware announced its intention to submit its key elements of the vCloud API to an existing standards organization for the basis of developing an industry standard”.]

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, OVF, SOAP, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

A pulp view of Cloud computing politics

As promised, here are some more thoughts on the creation by DMTF of an incubator for Cloud standards. The first part of this entry asks whether DMTF will play nicely with the other kids in the playground. The second part examines the choice of the “incubator” process in DMTF for this work.

Sharing the sandbox with the other kids

In other words, will the DMTF seek collaboration with other standards bodies, as well as less-structured organizations (the different Cloud forums and interest groups out there) and other communities (e.g. open source projects). The short answer is “no”, for reasons explained below.

The main reason is that companies don’t have the same level of influence in all organizations. Unless you’re IBM, who goes in force pretty much everywhere, you place your bets. If you are very influential in organization A but not in B, then the choice of whether a given piece of work happens in A or B decides the amount of influence you’ll have on it. That’s very concrete. When companies see it that way, the public-facing discussions about the “core competencies” of the different organizations is just hand-waving that has little actual weight in the decision. Just like plaintiffs pick friendly jurisdictions to press charge (e.g. East Texas for patent holders), companies try to choose the standard organization they want the game to be played in. As a result, companies influential in the DMTF want the DMTF to do the work and companies influential in other organizations would rather have the other organization. Since by definition those influential companies make the will of the organizations, you see organizations always trying to grow to cover more ground. For example, VMWare has invested quite a lot in DMTF. I don’t know if they are even members of OGF (at least they are not organizational members) so it makes a huge difference to them. Sure they could just as well ramp up in OGF. But at a cost.

That’s a general rule that apply to DMTF like others. But collaboration is especially hard for DMTF because it is on the “opaque” side of the openess scale (e.g. compare it to OASIS, W3C and OGF which have large amounts of publicly-accessible working documents and mailing list archives). It’s hard to collaborate if the others can’t even see what you’re doing.

But, you may ask, doesn’t the Cloud incubator charter list “Work register(s) with appropriate alliance partners” as a deliverable, and aren’t “work registers” what DMTF calls its collaboration agreements with other organizations? Surely they are taking this collaboration to heart, aren’t they? Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a work register in place between DMTF and the OASIS WSDM technical committee which said things like “OASIS web service standardization for resource sharing and provisioning will be cross-leveraged in DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards” and “recommendations related to management of and management using web services will be submitted to OASIS”. Then Microsoft submitted WS-Management, a replacement for WSDM, to DMTF and DMTF used the work register as a doormat.

Don’t get me wrong though. I do believe that Cloud standards are closely related to IT management automation and that the DMTF has a central role to play there. I am not arguing against DMTF’s attempt to tackle this. I am just doing a reality check on the prospect of open and meaningful collaboration with other organizations.

OGF is not standing still and has also staked its claim to the Cloud (also focusing on the IaaS form of Cloud computing): it’s called OCCI for Open Cloud Computing Interface and will share its documents here. OGF and DMTF have long had a work register too (it includes an eerily familiar sounding sentence, “Grid technology will be cross-leveraged in the DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards”). Looks like it is going to endure its first stress test.

As for the less structured Cloud gatherings (like CCIF), they’ll be welcome as long as they play the cheerleader role (“If this group forms a Cloud trade association, I can see us establishing an alliance with the DMTF to coordinate the messaging and driving adoption of the DMTF standards”) or are happy providing feedback into a black hole (“DMTF already has a process for providing feedback: http://www.dmtf.org/standards/feedback/ so no additional legal agreements need be made for community members to provide their input”). These are from Mark Carlson, the DMTF VP of Alliances, in a thread about the incubator announcement on the CCIF mailing list. BTW, Mark is a very fair-minded person and an ardent promoter of collaboration (disclosure: he once gave me a ride in a cool Volvo convertible to the Martha’s Vineyard airport so I could catch my puddle-jumper back to Boston, so I owe him). It’s not him personally, it’s the DMTF that is so tightfisted.

The use of the “incubator” process

This second part is for standards junkies and other process wonks who run their family dinners by Robert’s rules of order. Normal people should feel free to move on.

I am not at all surprised to see the incubator process being used here, but I am surprised to see it used in the absence of a submitted specification. I expected VMWare to submit a vCloud API document to this group. What’s a rubber stamp for if you don’t have a piece of paper to stamp with it?

I have my guess as to why this incubator was created without a submission, but that’s a topic for a future post (a good soap opera writer knows to pace the drama).

In any case, this leaves us in an interesting situation. The incubator process document (DSP 4008) itself says that “the purpose of this is to allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification without being blocked by those who would prefer a different proposal”. What’s the “proposal” that members of this incubator align with? That Cloud computing is important? Not something that too many people would dispute at this time.

This has interesting repercussions from a process standpoint. The incubator process pushes you towards an informational specification that is then sent to a new working group for quick ratification. The quick ratification is, in effect, the reward for doing the work in the incubator rather than in private. But this Cloud incubator is currently chartered to produce proposed changes to OVF and other DMTF standard (rather than a new specification). Say it does that, what happens to the proposed changes then? Presumably they are sent to the working groups that own the original specifications, but what directives do these groups get from the board? Are they expected to roll over and alter their specifications as demanded by the Cloud incubator? Or do these changes come as comments like any other, for the groups to handle however they sees fit?

Take a concrete example. Oracle, BMC, CA and Fujitsu are very involved in the DMTF CMDBf working group but not (that I can see) in the incubator. If the Cloud incubator comes up with changes needed in CMDBf for Cloud usage, are these companies supposed to accept the changes even if they are disruptive to the original goals of the CMDBf specification? Same goes for WS-Management and even OVF. It’s one thing for an incubator to produce its own specification, it is another entirely to go and try to change someone else’s work. Presumably this wouldn’t stand (or would it?).

The lack of a submission to this incubator may end up creating a lot of argument about the interpretation of DSP 4008. For one thing, the DSP is not precise about when a submission to an incubator can take place. Since an incubator is meant to assemble people who agree with a given proposal, you’d expect that the proposal would be there at the start (so people can self-select and only join if they buy into it). But this is not explicit in the process.

The more Cloud API standardization unfolds, the more it looks like the previous attempt.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: I just saw that Winston Bumpus has been blogging recently on the VMWare exec blog. Hopefully he will soon have his own feed for those of us interested in Cloud standards, an area in which he is a major actor. In this entry he describes his view of the DMTF incubator process. It doesn’t really align with my reading of the incubator process document though. Winston sees it as “a place for ideas to be developed or incubate before specifications are created”, while I see the process as geared towards work that starts from an existing submission. In any case, what really matters is less what the process says than how it is used, and so far it seems that it is being used as Winston describes.]

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Filed under Cloud Computing, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Standards, Utility computing, VMware