IBM has announced that the IBM Change and Configuration Management Database (CCMDB) is to ship 30 June, along with three Process Manager tools.

The company calls the CCMDB a kind of command centre for automatic discovery of IT information on servers, applications, storage and network devices and software across an enterprise. Al Zollar, general manager for Tivoli Software at IBM for the past two years, discussed the upcoming releases - as well as the evolution and importance of management products to customers.

What generally is important about these new products?
We've been talking about the capabilities of the Change and Configuration Management Database and how they are soon [to be] generally available. The specifics in the announcements are important to the IT management vision, which is about being able to improve the quality, efficiency and service-level attributes of systems, as well as improving labor productivity and automating more functionality in systems.

Let's back up and talk about how these products are being received in the market and their core value.

We estimate, through data from IDC, that $30 billion worldwide will be spent on software for infrastructure management in 2008. Meanwhile, the labour required for IT operations will be about $325 billion globally at the same time, which is 10 times the amount spent on management software. So, this is a big area in IT that requires automation. We see the ratio of labour to assets as extreme.

What does that mean?

That systems are way too manually operated.

For at least a year, we've heard from IBM and the other major vendors -- CA, Hewlett-Packard Open View and BMC -- that the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and other quality standards groups see the centralised management database as critically important. So what has happened in the past year?

The CMDB is an important integration concept. What happened is that many competitors hyped the CMDB. When we looked at this, we saw this as a master data management problem for IT data. But in a major system, the data on the configuration of an infrastructure exists in many repositories, really in maybe hundreds of repositories. So, we've talked about a federated database approach, and I'm pleased the rest of the industry is seeing it that way.

So everybody really agrees on that approach? We are working on sending a specification to a standards organisation to allow federation of configuration data. We announced in April that we are working on creating a new interoperability specification designed to enable customers to federate and access information from multivendor IT infrastructures. It is an effort by IBM, BMC, CA, HP, Fujitsu and the ITSMF [IT Service Management Forum International], an independent user organisation.

By when?
By the end of this year.

So if you all interoperate, how are you, IBM, going to be special and different?
There are several things we do differently. The package we deliver is called CCMDB, for Change and Configuration Management Database. We tightly combine change management and configuration management with the data about systems. Our process model is open, using Business Process Execution Language, [a] syntax of XML. We also focus on the fact that it's not just configuration items we care about. We developed technology to manage relationships, and it involves agentless scanning.

Also, our IT service management strategy is based on service-oriented architecture [SOA]. We are truly SOA. Another big difference is how we handle the System Z environment, the mainframe. Some competitors such as HP and Mercury pretend the Z series doesn't exist. They don't have solutions for that platform and kind of, ignore it. Others such as CA and BMC tend to look at the mainframe software for management as a silo separate from the distributed systems management software you are using. If you look at us, what you see is true end-to-end integration -- and I know that's an overused term. For us, it means that you have coherent management across the mainframe environment and the distributed environment from a single pane of glass or interface. We do that with several products.

But the important thing for customers is, how much all the major vendors want to interoperate?

In the interest of customers, to have standards is the important thing. Certainly customers have had a lot of software from us and other vendors. So, proposing rip-and-replace strategies to them may be in the vendor's interest, but it is not in the customer's interest. As more and more of these standards get defined and hardened and shipped in product, the easier the burden on the customer becomes. So, we'll differentiate ourselves on quality-of-service attributes.

You are also announcing three Process Manager tools will ship on June 30, called IBM Tivoli Availability Process Manager, IBM Tivoli Release Process Manager and IBM Tivoli Storage Process Manager.

There are three Process Managers separate from the CCMDB, but two are included in the CCMDB. These are critical parts of the overall strategy and these are all brand-new. So there are five total, with Change and Configuration Process Managers in the CCMDB. The separate ones include release management, for software releases and updates, and availability process management, for managing outages and performance issues, following ITIL standards. For storage, we have followed the best practices in IBM and some of our partners. These process managers really automate many of the manual steps and they integrate process associated with IT services delivery.

What do you tell customers their return on investment will be on these tools?
It's situationally dependent. But we have customers who have very, very successful implementations. These products are really taking custom or one-off approaches and taking it to a more standardised product. So, some customers have provisioned servers with our product taking the normal process of 90 days down to hours. We have ROI tools we use with customers.

What is the two-year forecast for management software?
We have been talking about autonomic computing for the past five years. It's about how the technology should be self-managing. Also, you really want the overall IT service-delivery function, the IT operations group, to be autonomic and to run on business goals and policies in support of the business service. People have really responded to this, and in the past two years, Tivoli has been able to report double-digit growth. We're getting a lot of positive feedback from customers and some of the industry analysts that this is where the puck is going. IBM is investing with Tivoli, so we can be successful with our clients.