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EDS, Opsware Team for Utility Computing Standard

EDS and Opsware are leading an effort to create a standard language that shuttles information exchange between disparate data center components, in an effort to balance the growing dominance of IBM and HP in the utility computing sector, internetnews.com has learned.

The companies have partnered with several other vendors to create Data Center Markup Language (DCML), which a source familiar with the news said will serve as the fountain from which companies interested in providing utility computing services can share resources, such as software, hardware or even ideas about processes.

Marc Andreessen, chairman of data center automation software Opsware and founder of Netscape, and Jeff Kelly, EDS executive vice president of Infrastructure Services, are planning to appear in Boston on Tuesday Oct. 14 to present their proposed specification, which they ultimately plan to turn over to a standards body such as OASIS or the World Wide Web Consortium for approval.

"They've worked out a standard whereby resources can be shared back and forth and allocated or de-allocated among various entities," the source told internetnews.com. "They're hoping the follow-on with XML will gain market adoption. Such standards are certainly right for the industry."

EDS and Opsware declined to comment.

Utility computing services are often described as IT infrastructure and services that are ordered up on an as-needed basis, much the same way a homeowner might use electric power.

But on-demand, or utility computing services, are also automated and intuitive, which can help shave hours from systems administrators' time budgets. IBM and HP have been touting such services for awhile, but this month marks the one-year anniversary since Big Blue announced its intent to become fully on-demand across the board.

Since acquiring dynamic provisioning software provider Think Dynamics last May, IBM has consistently rolled out a number of on-demand strategies, including virtual server services across its Intel, Unix and Linux server platforms, as well as bundled systems such as the Web Infrastructure Orchestration.

HP has been sizing up how to plug its vaunted Utility Data Center in the market, and has landed Philips as a customer.

Other entrants, such as Sun Microsystems, Veritas, CA and EDS have toeholds in the utility computing market, although analysts say they face tough competition from HP and IBM, which have longer leads on services and products in the marketplace already.

Now, this source said, EDS and Opsware are moving to slow IBM's and HP's momentum in the nascent and somewhat turbulent sector before they gobble more market share. But the source noted that it would be a stretch to believe vendors such as IBM or HP would want to join the DCML group to share their resources after they've invested so much into their own strategies.

"If I implement a set of standards [on one hand] and I am IBM [on the other] and I agree to this technically, I make it easier for a customer to switch service providers whereas, If I sign a service contract with IBM it will be difficult to break that contract," the source said. "If I adopt DCML, what it means is that its open so it is simple if not painless to switch from one provider to the other. So, one negative side is why would IBM agree to such a standard if it allows a customer to switch to HP, and buy from HP or procure from an HP data center?"

The source agreed that the potential for utility computing is promising, but noted that very few customers are actively employing it. "There is more promise than reality. Ultimately it will mature and it will it solve problems that exist, but I don't anticipate that until five or six years from now. One of the problems is that a full upgrade is needed in order to install utility computing."

Though on-demand technologies have frequently been lauded by analysts and championed by vendors as the next era of intelligent computing, many of the same analysts have acknowledged that vendors are far from permeating the enterprise space with their new wares because of a lack of standards.

Also slowing a broader embrace in the immature technology and strategies is the fact that investing in on-demand computing is a hard sell for customers because it requires retrenched infrastructure across the board in many cases.

Summit Strategies analyst John Madden told internetnews.com that in order for utility computing to be realized, there has to be a degree of heterogeneity in virtualization infrastructure, which is the pooling of physical data from multiple network devices into what appears to be a single device that is managed from a central console.

"HP and IBM need to virtualize resources and servers from other vendors, and all of them have pledged to adhere to emerging standards, but the proof will be in the pudding over next couple of months and next year to see whether vendors enable that," Madden said.

The pairing of EDS and Loudcloud as leaders for DCML is an interesting one. The companies' relationship includes the sale of Opsware's hosting business to EDS in 2002 for $63.5 million, as well as a $52 million three-year licensing agreement to use Opsware software. In November 2002, EDS agreed to license Opsware software for its utility services business.

But with the strength of those two, the source said, it is difficult to imagine how they could expect to pose a significant challenge to IBM and HP because of their relatively late entrance and few solutions. The source, who noted the group is looking at a 6-month timeline to implement the standard, said Sun is a likely partner for DCML.

"What they're doing is admirable and we need it, but I'm just not sure customers are ready to jump aboard," said the source.