A new technical specification to automatically manage data centres will finally be released next week at the CA World show in Las Vegas, although lack of support from many key players has cast doubt on the effort.

The Data Center Markup Language (DCML) Framework Specification 1.0 was originally touted in October last year by Marc Andreessen, whose company Opsware was behind it. Its existence has sparked the creation of an open-source version - OSDL.

The XML-based specification will provide an inventory of data centre elements, describe how those pieces interoperate and define the various policies that bind them together. The specification encompasses a range of data centre components, from servers to network gear and from applications to infrastructure software.

Supporters include vendors such as BMC, EDS, Mercury and Opsware, and users such as First Data, Lehman Brothers and the US Census Bureau.

Conspicuous by their absence, however, are some leading voices in the move to a new data centre and some of the top data centre product suppliers. Companies that have not thrown their weight behind the effort include Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and Sun. Some of the major companies, such as IBM, are involved in their own efforts; some note that they are waiting to see how numerous standards efforts shake out. HP says it is keeping an eye on DCML through its partnership with Opsware.

"If the DCML Organisation is trying to create a standard for better service management of what is in data centres and they are missing the companies that supply about 90 percent of the components in data centres, then they are in trouble," says Lance Travis, vice president at AMR Research.

Without DCML, proponents say the new data centre will resemble the Tower of Babel, with systems and gear from multiple vendors unable to communicate or execute on automated actions. The lack of communication will prevent heterogeneous products from automatically integrating and dynamically provisioning and reallocating resources in the new data centre, they say.

"We are getting a taste of what the future will look like today. Integrating management systems is manual, and there are too many sources of data to make sense of it," says Tim Howes, director of the DCML board and CTO at Opsware. "A typical mature data centre could have a dozen management systems in place that don't talk to each other." Howes says DCML will complement industry standards such as Common Information Model and SNMP.

As envisioned, a modelling tool creates a DCML document describing a particular data centre. This document then can be entered in a provisioning and configuration tool that "builds" a fully configured data centre environment. As a descriptive language, DCML could be used to create a data centre blueprint defining every element that must be configured and provisioned to re-create the environment automatically.

"I've always found that data centre management, even when it's done extremely well, is often done uniquely and differently even among different data centres at the same company," says Adriaan Bouten, vice president of IT and business development at USAToday.com. Bouten is interested in DCML and says he'd like to see end-user organisations help steer vendor companies toward a computing model that will benefit enterprise IT managers.

"I have a better chance of getting my vendors to work together if something such as DCML exists," he says. Bouten says he doesn't expect a speedy development process, as "these things always seem to take a long time", but he says DCML could get "vendors talking in the same language, which indirectly will benefit me".

Twenty vendors launched the DCML Organisation last autumn and about 45 more have joined since. It is divided into four working groups and plans to coordinate its efforts with those of other forums, such as the Distributed Management Task Force, the Storage Networking Industry Association and the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

What remains unclear is whether DCML will win over data centre suppliers such as IBM, which has been active on a different data centre standards effort. It, with partners such as Cisco, submitted the Common Base Event (CBE) format to OASIS and launched its Common Event Infrastructure (CEI). This is based on the CBE specification, which defines a standard format for the event logs that devices and software used to keep track of transactions and other activity.

CEI would enable business process events from WebSphere and network device events from Tivoli monitoring products, for example, to be integrated on one screen for IT managers. Today that type of integration would be manual. IBM says it isn't ruling out working with DCML, but that it's more focused on CBE and CEI.

Opsware's Howes says the DCML effort will move ahead with or without the bigger vendors' direct involvement. It's not uncommon for larger vendors to join such efforts later in the process, he adds.