A proposed standard to automate the management of data-centres and provision of computing on demand is well underway and has the support of both giant outsourcer EDS and systems management behemoth Computer Associates, according to Marc Andreessen, whose company Opsware started the idea.

Data Center Markup Language, or DCML, lets data-centre components, such as servers, operating systems and applications, share their specifications with each other and with management tools. Products supporting it will be out in the early part of 2004 from Opsware, and from other supporters later in the year. The proposals will also go to a formal standards body – probably Oasis – during 2004, Andreessen told TechWorld at the Cal-IT conference in London.

DCML is a simple (and almost human-readable) application of the XML mark-up language to the provision of information about equipment within the datacentre, but its applications will be profound, said Andreessen, as it will automate much of what current systems management companies charge for. “Any component should be able to define itself,” he said, stating that this will allow features such as roll-out, scaling and metering, and the much-sought-after utility computing model, to be easily produced.

“[Companies like] Tivoli would prefer that this not happen,” he said, “It is impressive that Computer Associates wants to change the way things work.”

DCML is the next step for Opsware, which was originally founded as Loudcloud, a Web-based outsourced service provider running applications for users on its own servers. Because the world was not ready for small application service providers (ASPs) Loudcloud passed its customers to EDS and began selling the infrastructure software it had developed and used, said Andreessen. Its largest customer now is EDS, and HP also uses Opsware. “Outsourcing is a game for big companies,” said Andreessen. “Customers make a decision based on the balance sheet of the provider.”