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RSS in Systems Management

Over the past few years, I’ve spent some of my day dreaming time thinking about what RSS would look like in systems management. This post from Marshall about and got me day dreaming again.

The idea of those services is that you’ll get notifications when RSS feeds are updated: they’ll IM you, send you a text message, or otherwise hunt you down. This is the event notification aspect of RSS in systems management. While it’s the most obvious and easiest application of RSS, it’s just a small slice of the over-all uses.

The rest of the pie, as it were, is composed of the consequences of thinking about:

  1. RSS as a protocol for data delivery.
  2. RSS’s subscribe/pull model and the subsequent declarative living that results from what you subscribe to (Gillmor calls this “gestures” nowadays).
  3. RSS’s new sibling format, OPML. Stay tuned to the web for more on that.

As you might be thinking (hopefully shaking your head as you do), “whao, sounds like a golden hammer.” Indeed: that’s the cautionary guide to keep in your head whenever RSS comes up outside of the blog world. That guidance isn’t intended to stymie RSS thinking, just to make sure you don’t fall down a rabbit hole. It’s like a safety line while you’re scaling a mountain or a building.

The Discussion So Far

I’m sure there’s been much discussion about using RSS in systems management (and other) applications. I know I’ve whiled away hours of hallway and office chat on the topic. Here’s a summary of blog posts I’ve come across and remember on the topic:

RSS for Support and Patch Management

Fred Johannessen, of BMC, spun up the topic of RSS in systems managenet a few months ago, kicking off most of the posts I’ve seen recently. He first posted about
RSS for sending out support notifications:

Why not have customers subscribe via RSS to product support? Then as products notices come out, they have one page to look at. In fact, the page will automagically update.

Apple is a master at this: they’ve got RSS for everything, as do others. It’d be interesting to speculate about how much cash their iTunes feeds bring in. I find 80% of the widgets I use in their Dashboard Widgets feed: their feeds drive usage and downloads.

One aspect of RSS in support and patch management that I haven’t seen yet — but have talked to a few people about — is using RSS enclosures to deliver patches: both to end-users and path management agents. Adding some simple conventions, or even RSS extensions, in this area would go a long way towards standardizing patch management. The podcasting phenomena is built around little more than convention: the same could be done for patch management.

Simple Communication

Fred also posted about RSS as a “device for communicating change”:

RSS is a tool that can be used to communicate changes to interested/impacted parties both inside and outside the firewall – if we had a mature implementation of private RSS.

Indeed. They don’t call it “Really Simple Syndication” for nuthin’ ;>.

The important, though “common sense,” thing to call out here is that managing feeds is much easier than managing email. Even more important: those “parties” don’t have to be humans, they can be other applications that need to coordinate with each other.

The Best Thing We Have

James picked up on Fred’s posts in
a post on the mainframe blog, summarising as:

Fred’s key insight – Change management above all requires effective communication, and RSS is an effective and lightweight communications and notification.

In a comment to that post, Boas Betzler raises what will surely be one of the top 3 debated points about RSS: there’s no guarantee of delivery…surely that’s not enterprise! (The other two are security and bandwidth/performance.)


These are just some starting points for figuring out how RSS could be used to improve systems management. I’m hoping that you, dear reader, will point me towards other ideas that I might have missed, or simply leave your own in the comments.

Disclaimer: BMC is a client.

Categories: RSS, Systems Management.

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One Response

  1. I’m glad my little post about one part of this helped kick off the rest of it! I’ll be coming back to this post to think further about these matters myself.

    See you in the halls at Austin!