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DASH Improves Remote Admin

The DASH framework is designed to let administrators manage desktops and mobile PCs even when those devices are powered down.

PC component makers, desktop and notebook system companies, and systems management software vendors have signed on to this DMTF initiative. The big names in PCs and notebooks are involved--Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel. Other hardware players include AMD, Avocent, Broadcom and NVidia. On the systems management software side, Microsoft, Novell, Symantec and WBEM Solutions are backing the standard.

There's a good deal of nuance in this framework, and how vendors use the standard with specific capabilities is difficult to foresee. The potential is considerable, however, in that DASH will let administrators view system information without booting a desktop OS. This could, for example, let admins see a state record for a particular software package on a system to determine if it needs an update.

The DMTF's desktop and mobile architecture for System Hardware, introduced in early March, aims to help admins avoid some of the problems of remote workstation management, such as having desktop and mobile computers hang during an update. The group plans to build a standards-based approach to make remote management easier using its Web Services for Management, or WS-Management, specification.

With DASH, a remote-management application could, for instance, let admins know what software is installed on a system while the system is off or reboot one that has hung. DASH also could let a system developer create a preboot state in which a remote-management application could read installed software version information using the CIM (Common Information Model) schema. The framework will let admins charged with upgrading one application across a geographically dispersed group target solely those PCs with a particular version of the software, without having to boot every PC on the network to determine software inventory.

As a framework, rather than a specification, DASH may not deliver a level of consistency administrators have seen from other DMTF initiatives. Although DASH has common elements that define security, hardware reporting and application behavior, vendors are free to create proprietary elements within the framework, complicating management of heterogeneous environments.

Model Behavior

DASH is a follow-on to the DMTF's Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware initiative for remotely managing servers in the data center. SMASH 1.0 was released in December 2006 and includes similar capabilities for remotely managing servers with an eye toward out-of-band management. Part of SMASH is a command-line interface for remote management.

DASH has three main architectural elements (see diagram, at right): the client, the MAP (Manageability Access Protocol) and the managed system. The client represents the administrator's remote-management application. MAP encompasses the protocols and services needed to access new DASH-enabled functionality in the conventional DMTF CIM and WS-Management methodology.

On the managed system, a device profile describes a new DASH-enabled system attribute. A DASH-enabled system could, for example, include a sensor that monitors the system's power state. This sensor could provide information for a management application to access, while CIM is still used to describe that system state in a common way for systems-management apps. At the WS-Management level, DASH provides two new architectural components, the management service infrastructure and client object management adapter, which define mechanisms for authentication as well as communication with the systems-management applications.

The management service infrastructure basically provides a way for a management application to access the instrumentation on a managed system through CIMOM (Common Information Model Object Manager); the operation invocation engine; and the authentication, authorization and audit service. These provide the necessary protocols for executing commands on the target device, managing data in CIM and providing authorization and authentication between the management application and the remote system. The client object management adapter provides the transport services and management protocol service for managing the remote device from the system management console.


According to the DMTF's president, Winston Bumpus, these new controls will allow for better out-of-band management of desktop and mobile systems. In a proactive role, systems admins will be able to make better determination of remote system states before updating software. Power controls will let admins determine if the system is on or off, for example, and provide a new mechanism for turning off or restarting that system when controls within the OS aren't available, such as when the system hangs. To incorporate such functionality, however, hardware manufacturers must create new system components for some of these capabilities.

DASH also gives system manufacturers a way to store information, such as title and version number, about applications in a way that can be read over the network when the system is off. This could let admins more selectively target systems for updates.

For more reactive management, such as in helpdesk apps, DASH could give support workers more information about a system without requiring user intervention. A DASH-enabled application, for instance, could address complicated support issues, such as a scenario where a user's system won't start because of a hardware or OS failure.

Bumpus says the DASH framework defines 60 to 80 new profiles. These profiles not only address sensors and hardware controls for system elements, such as power and thermal characteristics, but also define how security for authentication, authorization and auditing is handled via WS-Management.

Still To Come

Vendors began testing and providing demonstrations of DASH implementations in March, but full support is still a ways off. Administrators shouldn't expect to be able to manage systems using new DASH-enabled capabilities until early 2008. It will take that long for hardware manufacturers to deliver systems that support DASH and for systems-management software developers to support the new framework. Because DASH gives vendors some latitude for innovation, predicting what capabilities will be in first-generation products is difficult. We'll likely see power controls and sensors as common heterogeneous elements in systems and software tools to manage more common elements in system-management applications.

Michael Caton has 18 years experience evaluating technology products. Most recently he has been reviewing crm and messaging and collaboration products.