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Martin LaMonica

Staff Writer, CNET

Web services are becoming increasingly popular for linking software programs. Now, Microsoft and some other big companies are pitching the technology as a way to manage everything from big corporate servers to mobile phones.

On Friday, Microsoft, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Dell and Sun Microsystems put their weight behind a Web services management specification designed to simplify network administration across a wide range of devices. The Web Services Management (WS-Management) specification is a technical blueprint that they intend to establish as an industry standard.

The companies plan to introduce the specification next week at a meeting of the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), an industry standards organization, though they have not chosen which standards group to which they will submit the finished specification.

Once implemented in products–which Microsoft expects to start doing late next year–the new capabilities will let network managers poll networked devices to see whether they are working and address potential problems.

Conceivably, when combined with other specifications, WS-Management can also be used to manage things like set-top boxes and TiVo-like digital video recorders, analysts said. Service providers, cable companies and hardware makers could use the management specification to remotely configure and update consumer electronics gear, to offer new services, for instance.

Web services is the name for standards-based Internet middleware that lets software components share information with greater ease. Like existing management systems, the new specification is meant to prevent hardware crashes and help administrators fix problems. But the authors decided that a new method of tracking devices was necessary, said David Hamilton, director of marketing at Microsoft’s Windows and enterprise management division.

“There are reasonable management solutions to manage data centers, but they are inadequate when it comes to new form factors like blade servers and wireless devices,” Hamilton said.

Beyond the IT department
Existing systems management programs are focused primarily on corporate data centers, whereas WS-Management is appropriate for servers, PCs, mobile phones and even consumer electronics, said Pete McKiernan, lead product manager at Microsoft’s platform strategy group.

The specification’s backers envision both hardware and software companies implementing the new management system. Following the publication of WS-Management on Friday, the authors will be seeking industry feedback and making modifications over the coming year.

Microsoft will build support for WS-Management into an update to Windows Server, which is due late next year, and in the version of its Microsoft Operations Manager management software due in 2006.

Intel expects to build support for Web services management into its chipsets and firmware but has not laid out a specific time for doing that, said Lorie Wigle, marketing director at Intel’s manageability architecture and products division. The goal is to provide a standardized interface so that the management systems can control hardware devices.

Ultimately, WS-Management could be a long term-replacement for older management standards, such as Simple Network Management Protocol, according to the companies.

The authors of WS-Management said there is some overlap with an existing specification called Web Services Distributed Management (WS-DM), but there are significant differences, they said.

WS-DM is designed to track the performance of Web services applications, noted Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at research firm ZapThink. WS-Management is meant to manage devices using other Web services protocols under development, notably WS-Eventing and WS-Notification, he said.

The backers of WS-Management hope to collaborate with the companies working on the WS-DM protocol, they said.

WS-DM is being developed with contributions from established management software providers, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Computer Associates International. Sun and Dell are also members of the WS-DM working group at OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).

“The biggest challenge WS-M will face in the short term is being pigeonholed as a ‘Wintel’ effort,” Bloomberg said. The idea that the effort is just a Microsoft-Intel alliance could diminish its appeal among competitors, he said. “Sun is also on the list, but it’s not clear yet what their involvement is.”