Intel, Dell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard have announced plans to work with an industry organisation to standardise the way servers are managed.

The four companies will lead a new working group, called the Server Management Working Group, being formed within the Distributed Management Task Force. (DMTF) standards organisation. It will define interfaces for the discovery, configuration and management of servers on a network, said Chad Engelgau, the senior manager responsible for server manageability planning at Dell.

The new interfaces will make it easier for independent software vendors and system administrators to write software that works with a variety of hardware, said Engelgau. "With this new standard, information is going to be exposed in an industry standards way so that any third party is going to be able to access that information," he said.

The Server Management Working Group plans to develop these standards in a specification called the Command Line Interface (CLI), a draft of which is expected to be delivered in by 1 July 2004, according to a DMTF statement.

The effort is also being supported by Advanced Micro Devices and Sun Microsystems, the statement said.

The four companies leading the Server Management Working Group have been discussing ways of standardising server components for several months now. This announcement represents a first tentative step in that direction according to Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

Speaking at the Oracle Open World conference in September, Dell Chief Executive Officer Michael Dell said his company was "in discussions with some fairly large computer companies to get some agreement on a standard blade architecture."

At the time, the discussions included standards for common software APIs, hardware interconnects and form factors for high-density servers, like blades.

Dell had no comment on whether discussions to define a blade standard were ongoing, but Intel, one of Dell's partner's in today's announcement, would not support such an effort, according to Nim Homayoun, a strategic planning manager with Intel. "We don't believe in standardising the form factor of blades," he said.

Standardisation of server management tools is important but a common blade form factor would not necessarily be a good idea at this time, said Haff. "There really are a lot of different potential design points for a blade server," he said. "You couple that with the fact that (blade technology) is so new and people are still figuring out ways to work that, and it seems to me that you'd possibly be restricting different approaches early in the game."

The first meeting of the new DMTF group will be held in Dallas, on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.