Microsoft unveils management road map

Microsoft this week showed it is starting to stitch together the first pieces of its ambitious plan to build a management platform, but a Windows-based utility computing environment is still years down the road.

At its annual Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, the company laid out the next two years of its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) strategy, which is focused on building its management platform around the next versions of System Management Server (SMS) 2003, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005, Visual Studio 2005, Windows Server 2003 R2 and Virtual Server 2005. The strategy includes plans to support management of non-Windows platforms, including Solaris and Linux.

Those pieces will be complemented with a set of tools under the brand name System Center. The first two are slated for delivery at year-end for capacity planning and backup/restore.

Microsoft also began to explain its XML-based modeling technology called System Definition Model (SDM), which lets developers create a model that explains how an individual application or system should operate. And the company announced upcoming support for WS-Management, a Web services protocol it has been developing with its partners that is key to extending management across multiple platforms.

The plans are the first major updates to DSI, introduced in 2003 as a 10-year plan to create a comprehensive management platform for Windows. Now Microsoft says its goal is for DSI to become an “enterprise management platform” that can manage network systems beyond Windows.

During his conference keynote, CEO Steve Ballmer said the company wants to provide users with “what you need for enterprise management tools that work at the kind of scale . . . interoperability and heterogeneity that’s required in the organizations that you serve.”

It was a signal that Microsoft is gunning for established management vendors such as IBM, Computer Associates and HP.

“I’m glad to see Microsoft has stepped back from a stance of taking over the world and realized there is a non-Windows world out there,” said an IT architect from a manufacturing firm who requested anonymity. He says Microsoft’s challenge now is execution and educating users about how to build a DSI platform.

“They have to start broadening the platform if they want to play in the enterprise space,” says Audrey Rasmussen, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

Microsoft said SMS 2003 and MOM 2005 are the foundations for a family of products under the name System Center, a change from original plans to develop System Center as a monolithic management hub.

Microsoft said SMS and MOM are due for a major upgrade in 2006-2007 that will align them with Longhorn and add role-based access, configuration management, deeper directory integration and support for SDM.

Later this year, Microsoft plans to release Visual Studio 2005, which will provide developers with the ability to build SDM-based management models into their applications. Those models, which are embedded in applications, are XML documents that outline parameters such as how the application should be configured and what security policies are associated with its operation.

The applications eventually will be able to feed that information to the SDM-enabled versions of SMS and MOM, as well as other management tools, which will manage those applications within those SDM parameters.

Microsoft plans to “SDM-enable” all of its infrastructure software, including the Longhorn operating system, so that the SDM-based management models can be used to repair, troubleshoot and report on network health.

Microsoft says it hopes its development and support of WS-Management, an emerging Web services protocol, will help extend SDM and management over many platforms.

The linchpin is that the protocol will have to garner widespread adoption for that to become a reality.

But for now, observers say Microsoft is making headway.

“Microsoft has solidified the role of SMS and MOM in their management road map, and the DSI strategy is now clearer with the model definition,” says David Friedlander, an analyst with Forrester Research. But Friedlander says Microsoft has some gaps to fill, such as service-level management and asset management, and must adapt to managing business processes in addition to systems and applications.

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