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More enterprises are looking at Microsoft's desktop and server management software as viable options for Windows systems management. But IT managers with diverse platforms still don't view System Center in the same light as other major management platforms.

To get closer to the level of cross-platform functionality found in such established products as BMC Performance Manager, IBM Tivoli, HP OpenView and CA Unicenter, Microsoft needs to speed up delivery of management packs for third-party integration or offer more out of the box, said Stephen Elliot, an analyst at IDC, a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.

Microsoft also needs to accelerate its acquisitions in this space to fill out feature sets and be much more aggressive on the virtualization front, which is changing the way IT is being managed, Elliot said.

"Customers are saying [to Microsoft], 'Look, you've taken a good first step, but you need a broader portfolio,'" Elliot said.

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"One area is the service desk [System Center Service Manager] which was delayed. Another area they need to build on is virtualization and integration with the physical side and there's also a need for process automation and application management."

Microsoft is expected to shed new light on its desktop virtualization strategy as well as its integration partnerships this month at the Management Summit in Las Vegas, the annual confab that focuses on System Center. The company has recognized the need to better integrate its platforms with third-party applications with its acquisition of Engyro Corp. last June. Engyro builds connectors between System Center applications and third-party management tools.

System Center finds a place

Elliot added that Configuration Manager and Operations Manager are being used today by enterprises as collection platforms for Windows systems information that is then fed to IBM, HP, BMC or CA systems to correlate, display and analyze information sent from across Unix, Linux and Windows environments.

Allstate Insurance Company, for example, uses Configuration Manager and Operations Manager to manage its Windows environment and this data is then aggregated inside its Tivoli system.

"Overall management is a lot easier in the Tivoli product versus Configuration Manager," said Kevin Graham technical consultant with the Roanoke, Va.-based insurer. Allstate's IT department supports 90,000 end users and systems across Unix, Linux and Windows servers.

Based on server management and performance improvements he's seen in both Configuration Manager and Operations Manager, Graham said he believes that Microsoft's management products may play a larger role over time.

Replacing established players not much of an option

Microsoft also contends with third-party vendors specializing in Windows management. A predominant third-party Windows server and desktop management vendor is Symantec Corp.'s Altiris, said Richard Ptak, a principal at Ptak, Noel & Associates, a Nashua, N.H., consulting firm.

The System Center line will also have difficulty replacing established systems such as BMC in enterprises, since IT managers are averse to retraining staffs on a new management console. This is certainly the case when they are happy with the "single pane of glass" view they get from established players' products, Ptak said.

It's possible, he said, that Microsoft may not even care about taking on established players -- versus just focusing on Windows environments.

"In order to replace other [systems management products], it needs to look outside Windows walls and [Microsoft is] really buried behind those walls," Ptak said. "Besides, [Microsoft] has plenty of revenue coming in from other areas. It would take a serious and significant amount of research and development, although [Microsoft] could always buy its way in."

And there is a market for Windows-only shops. The primary management systems for Lifetime Products, a basketball equipment and polyethylene manufacturer with 1,000 desktops, are Active Directory, Group Policy and Operations Manager.

"It was an easy decision for us because we don't have Unix or Novell or anything like that. We're standardized on Microsoft," said John Bowden, CIO of Lifetime Products based in Clearfield, Utah.

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