The Holy Grail: Industry-Wide System Management Standards at Last?

Commentary by Ian Foster, on behalf of the Globus Management Committee, on the new HP-IBM-Intel-Microsoft Roadmap, "Toward Converging Web Service Standards for Resources, Events, and Management".

Table of Contents

HP, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft have announced plans to "develop a common set of [Web Services] specifications for resources, events, and management." We explain why this announcement is good news for the Grid and Web Services communities, and outline how we expect the Globus open source community will work to implement these new specifications when they appear, and to enable a painless migration path for current software.


HP, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft announced on March 15, 2006, their intention to work together to "develop a common set of [Web Services] specifications for resources, events, and management that can be broadly supported across multiple platforms" [1]. They also published a roadmap outlining what these specifications will be [2].

This roadmap proposes an approach to reconciling two similar but competing approaches: the Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) family of specifications (including Web Services Resource Framework (WSRF) and WS-Notification (WS-N)) [3], supported by IBM, HP, and others; and the WS-Management family of specifications (including WS-Transfer, WS-Eventing, and WS- Enumeration) [4], supported by Microsoft, Intel, and others.

The published roadmap suggests that the new specifications that are to be developed will include essentially all of the core concepts introduced back in 2001 in the Open Grid Services Infrastructure (OGSI) [5] and subsequently incorporated in WSRF/WS-N [6]. So this initiative is good news: it promises to deliver what the Grid and Globus communities have been working towards for close to 5 years: industry-wide standards for Web Services-based systems management.

The open source Globus Toolkit v4 (GT4) uses the WSRF and WS-N specifications within all of its Web Services. Since the release of GT4, the Globus position has been that as standards in this area inevitably evolve, we will do everything possible to provide a painless migration path for GT4-based implementations to new standards. Based on our knowledge of the specifications that are to be reconciled, and what we read in the roadmap, we are confident that Globus will be able to provide a simple migration path to these new specifications for code written to GT4's Java, C, and Python runtimes.

Why This Announcement is Good News

Back in 2001, we made the strategic decision to build future Globus software on a Web Services foundation. We also identified the need for industry-wide standards for Web Services-based systems management, and to this end developed draft specifications for document-oriented state inspection, notification, lifetime management, etc. Out of this work came the OGSI specification published by GGF in 2003.

Since that time, we have been working with the Grid community to implement and apply these Web Services interfaces and mechanisms. The reformulation of OGSI into the WSRF/WS-N standards (motivated by external concerns) caused some delay, but the release of GT4.0 in May 2005 and subsequent widespread adoption has been steadily building confidence in the approach. However, a major problem remained: the competing WS-Man specifications, which both prevented interoperability of different implementations, and caused fear, uncertainty, and doubt among users, particularly in industry.

The HP-IBM-Intel-MS announcement promises to overcome this final hurdle to industry-wide standards for Web Services-based systems management. According to the roadmap, essentially all core concepts in the first OGSI draft of 2001 (and subsequently in WSRF/WS-N) are to be included in the reconciled specifications. We have WS-Addressing Endpoint References (EPRs) as names for state elements, document-based inspection of state, lifetime management of state elements, and notification of changes to state. We also have a commitment to building higher-level system management specifications on this foundation.

We, and no doubt many others, will want to see discussion of these proposed specifications moved to an appropriate standards body as soon as possible. However, the fact that these major players are making this public (and detailed) commitment to reconcilation of divergent approaches is a big step forward.

How Globus Will Respond to This New Initiative

Globus users will recall the painful migration from the OGSI-based GT3 to the WSRF/WS-N-based GT4. We committed with the release of GT4 to never repeat that process, despite the inevitable evolution in core standards. Thus, when these new specifications stabilize, we will implement them--but we will also work to provide a painless migration path for GT4-based services and clients.

While detailed specifications are not yet available, we are confident, based on knowledge of the existing specifications that are to be reconciled, and the published roadmap, that such a migration path will be easy to achieve. Thus, we expect the Globus open source community to respond to this new initiative as follows:

  1. We will continue to deliver and support high-quality open source implementations of WSRF/WS-N, in Java, C, and Python.
  2. We will monitor the work of the HP-IBM-Intel-MS team, and when specifications stabilize, implement those specifications in Globus software. As we incorporate support for the new WSDL interfaces into the GT4 C, Java, and Python Web Services runtimes, we will do so with minimal changes to their internal APIs.
  3. We will develop software that make it easy to build services that support both WSRF/WS-N and the new reconciled interfaces. We will use this software to produce versions of GRAM, RFT, and other GT4 services that support both sets of interfaces--thus enabling interoperability of Grids based on old and new specifications.
  4. We will engage in the development of the proposed specifications-- hopefully within the context of an appropriate standards body.

What This Announcement Means for Developers and Users

The strong commitment stated by HP, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft to the concepts, mechanisms, and interfaces encoded in WSDM/WSRF/WS-N and WS-Man/WS-Transfer/WS-Eventing should provide developers and users with considerable confidence that this technology is here for the long haul.

Similarly, Globus' intention to both implement these new specifications and address migration issues means that developers and users should feel confident designing and coding programs that target Globus (GT4) WSRF/WS-N interfaces. As the new specifications solidify, developers and users will be able to evolve their software to use those new specifications, at a pace of their choosing.

Thanks for taking the time to read our views on this announcement. We will also be interested to hear your perspectives and thoughts on these developments, and how we in the Globus community should be responding to them.


    (Also see:
  2. K. Cline et al., Toward Converging Web Service Standards for Resources, Events, and Management, 2006,
  5. S. Tuecke et al., Open Grid Services Infrastructure (OGSI) Version 1.0. Global Grid Forum, Proposed Recommendation GFD-R-P.15, 2003.
  6. I. Foster et al. Modeling and Managing State in Distributed Systems: The Role of OGSI and WSRF. Proceedings of the IEEE, 93(3):604-612, 2005.