Microsoft advances management plans

Company's 10-year plan likely to yield fruit, but product alignment will be key

It took no more than a few cases of miniature, toy flying pigs being handed out at Microsoft's annual management conference in April to dramatize how significantly the company's strategy for building a management platform has changed in the past five years.

The pink, soft-foamed, winged swine were visual confirmation that the company had answered the snarky question, "When will Microsoft support non-Windows platforms." (Answer: When pigs fly.)

At its annual Microsoft Management Summit (MMS), the company unveiled extensions to System Center Operations Manager 2007 that pull Linux and Unix operating systems in under Microsoft's monitoring software. More significantly, however, the move highlighted a major shift from March 2003; that was when Microsoft, starting with some point products and monitoring software from OEMs, announced that management was no longer an afterthought and a comprehensive platform for managing Windows was at the center of a 10-year plan called the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI).

Microsoft told users it finally would provide a well-managed Windows platform that supported modeling so network nodes and applications could communicate their needs to a management system that could plug into larger management frameworks

Fast-forward five years. Microsoft has tuned its message and turned its ship, lining up to go head-to-head with such giants as CA and HP; re-architecting its Operations Manager and Configuration Manager foundation tools; incorporating enemy platforms; and promising new tools for such tasks as managing virtualization, building models and providing workflow for automated problem resolution.

Gone from the 2003 vision are the Windows-only limitation, the single focus on the data center and a proprietary modeling language, in favor of standards, the DSI moniker and sideways glances at a company that once left management to its partners.

On track or not?

Now the question is whether Microsoft will complete its 10-year plan during the next five years.

Probably not, experts say, because the type of platform it wants to build now must evolve constantly to keep up with such advancements as virtualization. "Five years ago they started with nothing," says Kerrie Meyler, an independent consultant, blogger and lead author of Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 Unleashed. "I don't know if they are halfway finished, but they have come a long way."

Others agree that advancements have been made, but they might foreshadow the pace of what happens next, given that Microsoft still has major tools to update and rewrite to align all its core management software. "Operations Manager is a world-class monitoring tool and Configuration Manager is a quality software-distribution tool, but it took Microsoft way too long to get there," says Darren Mar-Elia, president of SDMSoftware, which develops tools for Microsoft group-policy.

Clearly, the past five years have been ones of development and learning for Microsoft, including some fits and starts. In 2003, Configuration Manager was called Systems Management Server (SMS). Operations Manager was known as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and had been on the scene since 2001 as part of a licensing deal with NetIQ, which had acquired the software when it bought Mission Critical.

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