Ten major IT vendors including IBM, Microsoft, HP, Intel, Cisco and Sun have released a draft new spec for managing diverse systems, the service modeling language (SML).

SML provides a consistent way to describe system information about computer networks, applications, servers and other IT resources including services in extensible markup language (XML).

"We fully expect other vendors to support SML," said Kirill Tatarinov, Microsoft's VP of enterprise management. All 10 vendors - which also include BEA, BMC, Dell and EMC but noticeable lack CA, Oracle and AMD - are publishing the draft specification on their websites on Monday to solicit feedback from the wider IT community including customers. SML will be submitted to a standards body before the end of this year, Tatarinov said.

SML is based on work Microsoft began three and a half years ago on its System Definition Model (SDM), part of the vendor's Dynamic Systems Initiative aimed at simplifying complexity in users' IT infrastructure. As the software giant went through the process of revising and evolving SDM, it solicited input from other vendors, Tatarinov said. At the same time, customers were telling Microsoft and its peers to work together on systems management to ease the burden users had in trying to deal with a variety of different vendors' tools. There was no standard format for representing IT hardware, software and services.

Come November 2005, at a design review for SDM, Microsoft, IBM and the other companies decided to pool their efforts. Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM, recalled that what Microsoft had been doing with SDM was "eerily similar" to work IBM had been engaged on internally around the same issue of simplifying systems management.

Microsoft already offers some early elements of SML in its Visual Studio 2005 development tools, Tatarinov said. By next year, all of Microsoft's System Center management tools will incorporate SML, and the next major of its Windows Server operating system, codenamed Longhorn, will include built-in SML functionality.

As for IBM, the first place users will be likely to take advantage of SML will be in the vendor's Rational development tools, Telford said. IBM's Tivoli systems management software will support the new language as will its IT resources such as its servers. Some of the internal work IBM did on a common language prior to getting together with Microsoft which Telford terms "pre-SML" will begin appearing in IBM software later this year, he added.