CIM poised to ease management data integration

By Paul Korzeniowski | Aug 24, 2000 | Print this Page

How CIM and other DMTF standards work

The Distributed Management Task Force's (DMTF) CIM specification is an object-oriented information model that provides a conceptual framework within which any management data may be modeled. It is not bound to a particular implementation and allows for the interchange of management information between management systems and applications, which can be either agent-to-manager or manager-to-manager.

In a CIM compliant world, you can build applications using management data from a variety of sources and different management systems. The specification allows management data to be collected, stored, and analyzed using a common format while allowing vendors to add proprietary extensions for value-added functions.

CIM includes two parts: the CIM Specification and the CIM Schema. The CIM Specification describes the language, naming, Meta Schema, and mapping techniques to other management models such as SNMP Management Information Bases. The Meta Schema defines the terms used to express the model and their usage and semantics. CIM offers a richer way of describing managed resources: Originally developed for systems, it has been extended for describing network infrastructure, devices, and applications.

In addition to developing CIM, the DMTF has taken charge of the Directory Enabled Networks (DEN) specification, which makes it simpler for directories to exchange information. DEN integrates knowledge about user profiles, applications, and network services to allow for a new class of intelligent networked applications and provide users with a full range of services, regardless of their location. DEN builds upon CIM to model the functionality and management of network elements and services, and the resulting common schema will yield increased integration of management services.

CIM and DEN are a foundation for solving management data interchange problems. However, vendors can use CIM as a data model, but retain their own proprietary encoding and transport mechanisms for exchanging data between applications. This limits interoperability and forces users to standardize on a single vendor's management software. Using the Extensible Markup Language (XML) to access CIM data solves this problem. In June 2000, the DMTF announced XML Mapping and XML Document Type Definitions (DTDs), which define a standard representation of CIM elements and messages in XML.

These pieces will enable corporations to move away from management systems based on proprietary interfaces to a new management infrastructure based totally on Web technology and open interfaces.

As manager of Windows NT system management systems at Nabisco Inc., of Parsippany, N.J., Richard Burton has been grappling with a common problem: difficulty in integrating management data generated by a number of autonomous management applications. Recently, the task has become simpler because his desktop Windows 98 and Windows 2000 systems, NT servers, and key management tools (Microsoft's Systems Management Server, and Santa Clara, Calif.-based NetIQ Corp.'s ApManager Suite) all support a consistent data model: the Common Information Model (CIM).

We've written a Java applet that tracks which employees are using our server resources so we can more efficiently configure our network and more accurately gauge usage for applications like a charge-back system, explains Burton, whose group is responsible for 8,000 users. We wouldn't be able to do that if the information was not stored in a common data format. The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), an ad-hoc consortium in Portland, Ore., envisioned such benefits when it began work on CIM 1996.

But Burton now represents the atypical user. CIM really hasn't had much of an impact on corporations to date because few management applications support it, notes Ray Paquet, a vice president and research director at market research firm Dataquest Inc. Even CIM backers admit that specification has been slow to take hold, but they expect usage to increase during the year with widespread deployment coming in the next few years.

Multiple applications, multiple headaches

Everyone agrees that CIM, or something like it, is needed. Right now, most companies maintain multiple, vendor-specific management applications: one for the database management system, another for the switches, a third for routers, another for their servers. These systems generate autonomous, redundant sets of management information, such as user names and IDs. Ensuring that simple changessuch as an update when an employee leaves--get propagated in all the right places has been an administrative nightmare. Technicians either manually enter the changes or build links that move information among proprietary management applications. In either case, they spend a lot of time with mundane, administrative chores rather than adding more advanced management functions, such as automatic problem identification.

CIM addresses this issue by outlining consistent ways management applications identify information--such as network port numbers and user IDs--and then storing the information in databases called schemas (see sidebar below).

Coming soon: More compliant products

The CIM schemas are more comprehensive than current management standards--including the Desktop Management Interface, Remote Monitoring (RMON), and Desktop Management Interface (DMI). So CIM's adoption should help companies minimize the sort of product-specific extensions included in other approaches and make it simpler for companies to build sophisticated management applications that collect information from a variety of devices and then automatically take corrective actions.

Yet currently, CIM is more prototype architecture than deliverable products. Clearly, the DMTF has done a good job of getting the major vendors talking about CIM; now, they have to make sure they deliver compliant products, notes John McConnell, president of McConnell Consulting, in Boulder, Colo. The roster of supporters includes BMC Software Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Computer Associates Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, and Sun Microsystems Inc., but few are shipping CIM-compliant products.

The DMTF's early emphasis was on system management and there a few tools available there; network group management work is about a year behind, admits Jim Turner, director marketing at Cisco's Enterprise Management Business unit and DMFT chairman.

Nabisco was able to take advantage of CIM because it's a Microsoft shop and many of the available products have been designed to manage Windows and Windows NT desktops. CIM support is included in Microsoft's Win32 Registry, which tracks and reports software assets on Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 systems, as well as the company's primary management system, Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0. Microsoft has delivered a CIM object manager (CIMOM) called Windows Management Infrastructure (WMI), which acts as a liaison between management applications that request information and the various agents managing different elements, such as a desktop computer or a network switch.

In addition to Microsoft support, vendors, such as 3Com Corp., Compaq Computer Inc., Dell Computer Corp., HP, and IBM are writing CIM "providers" that take information from their existing management agents and send it to WMI. And several CIM-compliant desktop management products, such as BMC Software's Pilot 3.3, Computer Associates' Unicenter TNG, Microsoft's SMS, Tivoli NetView and NetIQ's AppManager Suite, can use WMI as a single point of contact for all the information they need about a desktop.

The features have helped Nabisco improve its management system. SMS gives systems administrators a much richer set of attributes that they can use to determine which desktops or servers should receive software updates. Before, the company delivered software via unique IDs that SMS generated; but it can now can utilize properties like User ID, group membership, or system attributes to target software updates and that makes software delivery easier and faster.

Sun added Solaris WBEM Services, a Java-based CIMOM, to its Solaris systems. The Unix-based CIMOM provides for a Unix system the same coordinator/liaison services as WMI does for Windows. Intel Corp. plans to write providers to Unix-based CIMOMs and Compaq is developing CIM object managers for its high-end servers.

In order for CIM to fulfill its potential, enterprise management must move beyond these two operating systems to other types of software and network devices. Nabisco would like to extend it to Tivoli Management Environment from Tivoli Systems Inc., of Austin, Texas which manages its IBM mainframes, Unix systems, and AS/400 mid-range computers, and Cisco's CiscoWorks but doesn't have all of the necessary components. We're waiting for our vendors to fill in the missing pieces, said Burton.

That should soon take place. We've been sponsoring interoperability demonstrations and tests, which are usually the last step before a company delivers a compliant product, and the number of companies taking part in them has been steadily increasing, said Winston Bumpus, the president of the DMTF and director of open technology and standards at Novell Inc.

As these products arrive, more organizations can use CIM to reduce their management chores. Because it will lower companies' network management costs, CIM will gain widespread acceptance, concludes Dataquest's Paquet. It's a question of when it will happen rather than will it take place and I expect the ramp up to take place in the next 12 to 18 months. //


Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Mass. and specializes in networking and telecommunications issues. His electronic mail address is