Microsoft promotes utility computing

At its annual hardware engineering conference last month, Microsoft Corp. called on its hardware partners to jump on board with its latest move, one that could put Microsoft front and centre in the world of utility computing.

During his keynote at the WinHEC conference in New Orleans, Microsoft chief software architect Bill Gates referred to a new strategy the company is calling the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), which focuses on simplifying management in the enterprise data centre. The DSI is an architecture that is based on the Microsoft Software Definition Model (SDM), an XML-based technology that enables communication between Windows-based applications, operating systems and management tools.

According to Eric Berg, technical product manager for Windows Server Group, the SDM is the basis for application development and system functions. The technology allows IT operations staff to better describe requirements and policies to developers, which ideally will solve a plethora of problems before applications actually get to the data centre.

“That is key to our approach,” Berg told ComputerWorld Canada. “If you actually wait until you get to the data centre, you will never really get to the root of your problem.”

At the WinHEC show, Microsoft demonstrated a forthcoming software prototype called the Dynamic Data Centre (DDC), based on the SDM. Using Hewlett-Packard Co. Storage Works arrays, ProLiant servers and ProCurve switches, the DDC automatically allocated servers and configured storage and network switches in under five minutes.

The DDC is just one example of Microsoft’s Automated Deployment Services (ADS), currently available in beta with Windows Server 2003. And, while his company has yet to tinker with the provisioning software, Tony Fernandes said Microsoft is moving in the right direction.

Fernandes, vice-president of technology infrastructure for Inventure Solutions Inc., a national credit union based in Vancouver, said the company was looking for a better way to manage its Windows environment and opted to migrate to Windows Server 2003 from its NT platform last October. Fernandes explained that Inventure’s decentralized environment was a key pain point for the company, which sends workers from branch to branch, requiring administrators to define individuals on servers every time they moved. With the centralized nature and new automated services, Fernandes said he anticipates a smooth ride.

“Anything that minimizes the amount of configuration and human intervention is something that we look forward to,” he said. “To me, as a user of [Microsoft] technology, I have seen them move from being a department-oriented solution provider to an enterprise-wide solution provider. Things like DSI and ADS are steps in the right direction.”

While surely not first to bat with the utility computing scheme competing against the likes of IBM Corp.’s On-Demand and Sun Microsystems N1 strategies, Microsoft’s Berg said the company is in a good position.

“We have a different approach,” he said. “We believe it is all about software architecture and delivering great software. Over the next three to four years, we are planning to support more enterprise applications including Oracle, DB2, SAP and Siebel. With the support of our hardware partners, we are certain the initiative will play out for the customer.”

So far, Microsoft has announced HP, Dell Corp., Computer Associates, Fujitsu and Fujitsu Siemens as hardware partners supporting DSI. Microsoft Automated Deployment Services will ship in Q3.