The window of opportunity for WS-Management

There is a narrow window of opportunity for WS-Management to become a unifying force that helps lower the need for management agents. Right now, WS-Management is still only “yet another manageability protocol”. Its adoption is growing but there isn’t much you can do with it that you can’t do through some other way (what resources today are only manageable through WS-Management?) and it is not so widely supported that you can get away with supporting just WS-Management.

I see two main reasons keeping pragmatic creators of IT resources (hardware and software) from more widely using WS-Management to expose the manageability capabilities of their resources. The first one, that I will cover here, is the fear of wasting development resources (and the lack of customer demand). The second one, that I will cover in a later post, is the complexity introduced by some technical choices in WS-Management.

There is plenty of uncertainty around the status and future of WS-Management. This means that any investment in implementing the specification is at risk of having to be later thrown away. It also means that customers, while they often mention it as part of a check-list, understand that at this point WS-Management doesn’t necessarily give them the investment protection that widely-supported stable standards provide. And as such they are receptive when vendors explain that at this point there really isn’t a stable standard for manageability that goes across domains and the best they can get is support for a patchwork of established specifications like SNMP, JMX, CIM/HTTP, WMI, etc.

One source of this uncertainty about WS-Management comes from the fact that there is an equivalent standard, WSDM, that came out of OASIS. But at this point, it is pretty clear that WSDM is going nowhere. Good metrics are hard to come by, but if you compare the dates of last commit activity in the three open-source WS-Management implementations that I know of (Openwsman, Wiseman and the WS-Management module of SOA4D) to that of the Muse implementation of WSDM, you are comparing ages in hours/days to ages in months. Another way is to look at the sessions in the Web services track at the recent Management Developers Conference: six presentations around WS-Management (including an intriguing Ruby on Rails module) compared to one for WSDM. Unless your company is an IBM-only account, WSDM isn’t a useful alternative to WS-Management (and it’s not due to technical inferiority, I still prefer WSDM MUWS to WS-Management on that point but it’s largely irrelevant).

The more serious concern is that, back when it wasn’t clear that the industry would pick WS-Management over WSDM, an effort was launched to reconcile the two specifications. That effort, often refered to as the WS-Management/WSDM convergence, is private so no-one outside of the four companies involved know what is happening. The only specification that has come out at this point is a draft of WS-ResourceTransfer in summer 2006 (I don’t include WS-ResourceCatalog because even though it came out of the same group it provides features that are neither in WS-Management nor in WSDM so it is not really part of converging them). What is happening now? The convergence effort may have died silently. Or it may be on the brink of releasing a complete new set of specifications. Or it may have focused on a more modest set of enhancements to WS-Management. Even though I was in the inside until a few months ago, I am not feigning ignorance here. There is enough up in the air that I can visualize any of these options realized.

This is not encouraging to people looking to invest their meager development resources to improve manageability interfaces on their products. What if they put work in WS-Management and soon after that Microsoft, IBM, HP and Intel come out with a new set of specifications and try to convince the industry to move from WS-Management to that new set of specifications? Much safer to stay on the sidelines for now. The convergence is a source of FUD preventing adoption of WS-Management. It is, on the other hand, a lifeline for WSDM because it provides a reason for those who went with WSDM to wait and see what happens with the convergence before moving away from WSDM.

Even before leaving HP, I had come to the conclusion that it was too late for the convergence to succeed. This doesn’t imply anything about HP’s current position on the topic, which I am of course not qualified to represent. But I just noticed that the new HP BTO chief architect doesn’t seem too fond of WS-*.

Even if the convergence effort manages to deliver the specifications it promised (including an update of WS-ResourceTransfer which is currently flawed, especially its “partial put” functionality), it will be years before they get published, interop-tested, submitted and standardized. Will there be appetite for a new set of WS-* specifications at that point? Very doubtful. SOAP will be around for a long time, but the effort in the SOAP community is around using the existing set of specifications to address already-identified enterprise integration problems. The final stage in the production of any good book, article or even blog post (not that this blog is a shining example) is to pair-down the content, to remove anything that is not essential. This is the stage that the SOAP world is in, sorting through the deluge of specifications to extract and polish the productive core. New multi-spec frameworks need not apply.

If there is to emerge a new, comprehensive, framework for web-based manageability, it won’t be the WS-Management/WSDM convergence. It probably won’t use SOAP (or at least not in its WS-Addressing-infected form). It may well use RDF. But it is not in sight at this point. So for now the choice is whether to seize the opportunity to create a widely-adopted standard on the basis of WS-Management (with all its flaws) or to let the window of opportunity close, to treat WS-Management as just another manageability tool in the toolbox and go on with life. Until the stars line up in a few years and the industry can maybe take another stab at the effort. To a large extent, this is in the hands of Microsoft, IBM, HP and Intel. Ironically, the best way for those who want nothing to do with SOAP to prevent SOAP from being used too much for manageability (beyond where WS-Management is already used) is to keep pushing the convergence (which is very much SOAP based) in order to keep WS-Management contained.


Filed under DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Standards, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer