Microsoft shows maturing IT management vision

Microsoft fleshed out its Systems Center roadmap and released some new tools this week, including the long awaited Service Manager.

When Microsoft started offering systems management tools a few years back, analysts said the company would have trouble taking on market rivals because of its self-centered approach. But Microsoft has opened the floodgates on System Center management tools and will include some cross-platform support.

At the Microsoft Management Summit 2010 in Las Vegas this week, the company shared its three-year System Center roadmap, including six product releases this year and seven in 2011. And while Microsoft's management tools are mainly Windows-centric, the company has conceded a bit.

System Center roadmap

Released this week:
- System Center Data Protection Manager 2010
- System Center Service Manager 2010
- System Center Essentials
- System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3 (beta)

Coming this year:
- Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance (2010 and R2)

vNext releases for 2011:
- System Center Operations Manager
- System Center Virtual Machine Manager
- System Center Configuration Manager
- Opalis 
- Desktop Optimization Pack 2011 and R2
- version of Windows Intune

What is Intune?
Formerly called System Center Online Desktop Manager, Intune was described by Microsoft as a less powerful, cloud-based version of Configuration Manager for mid-sized businesses that will be available by monthly subscription.

Last year, Microsoft began offering Linux and Unix support in System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, and the company has long offered management packs for some third-party systems and applications. These packs are typically provided by that third party but distributed through the Microsoft Operations Manager catalog, said Don Retallack, a systems management analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, an independent analysis firm.

Data Protection Manager 2010, released this week, combines with third-party products to back up heterogeneous environments, both on-premises and to the cloud. Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 offers some management functionality for VMware vSphere 4 if it's used in conjunction with VMware management tools. And Microsoft acquired Opalis Software late last year to have an IT process management tool that supports Microsoft and non-Microsoft products; it is included with Service Manger 2010, which was also released this week, Retallack said.

Richard Ptak, principal of Amherst, N.H.-based IT consultancy Ptak Noel & Associates, said Microsoft would be handicapping itself by not offering cross-platform support when its competitors in systems management are doing so.

"Most environments are somewhat heterogeneous, so unless they make [System Center tools] completely transparent, people are going to have to maintain expertise in multiple management platforms, which is just annoying and expensive," Ptak said.

That said, System Center tools will make sense for Microsoft-only shops and there will be people who use them because of Microsoft's cache, Ptak said.

Less complex than CA or IBM

System Center tools are also simpler to use than more robust products from CA, IBM and the like, which tend to be "substantially more complex" because they manage every aspect of an environment, said Greg Shields, an independent IT consultant and author based in Denver and co-founder of Concentrated Technology.

Microsoft may also get its customers to use System Center tools by including them in enterprise licensing agreements and by making certain tools, such as System Center Operations Manager, an "absolute necessity" for Windows shops, Shields said.

But, large companies with heterogeneous data centers that already use well-established tools, such as BMC Performance Manager, may be a tough sell for Microsoft.

"The other players in this space are well established with good products that have been out in the field for a long time, so people will wonder, why switch from the devil you know to the devil you don't know?" Ptak said. "I'm sure their products will be good, eventually, but they have to mature."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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