With Opalis, Microsoft bids for cross-platform credibility

Big enterprises are not pure Windows shops. Microsoft hopes its investment in Opalis Software will extend its reach in systems management and boost integration across platforms.

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It’s been more than a year since Microsoft acquired Opalis Software technology, and IT managers are still trying to wrap their heads around just what the product adds to Windows systems management.

But as the automation software’s integration continues to extend beyond Microsoft products, the company hopes the product will bring a measure of cross-platform credibility to Microsoft, a lack of which is a common slam against its System Center systems management product suite.

As of today, Microsoft supports integration packs for most System Center products, such as System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) and Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). Additional integration packs for third-party systems management products are also available and could be of even more interest to those working in heterogeneous environments.

Integration with non-Microsoft software is Opalis’ main thrust. While the software ships with generic third-party integration, it’s the company’s strategy to also support advanced integration packs for the most popular options from companies like IBM, CA and Hewlett-Packard, according to Robert Reynolds, Microsoft’s director of cloud and data management.

Because of the high number of competitor options in production, however, Microsoft leans on the IT community to extend Opalis integration beyond the big names. Opalis ships with a “Quick Integration Kit” designed to help IT pros create their own unique integration packs that go beyond the product’s generic capabilities.

In addition to the official integration packs from Microsoft, IT pros have taken to CodePlex to post new and extended integration packs for everything from Exchange Server to VMware vSphere. Other vendors, like Quest Software, have also begun developing Opalis integration packs for their own System Center product extensions.

Microsoft’s integration timeline
Up until now, updates for new or existing third-party integration packs have been somewhat sporadic and usually released based on priority (most popular get first dibs).

These are not pure Microsoft shops; they want to be able to manage everything together.

Don Retallack, systems management analyst, Directions on Microsoft

Robert Hearn, a senior program manager with Microsoft, recently noted on the company’s TechNet forum that past integration packs “were produced by Opalis to meet the needs of specific customers … [they] were updated as needed and not part of an ongoing plan.” Heard added that the process of updating third-party integration packs to ship as Microsoft products can take time, and is far more involved than simply “updating a few lines of code.”

Keeping those integration packs up to date, however, could be crucial to helping Microsoft realize the greatest payoff from its investment in Opalis. Don Retallack, systems management analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said that while most systems management platforms these days include some form of workflow and monitoring functions, the Opalis automation capabilities could give Microsoft an edge in multi-vendor environments.

“That’s what customers have,” Retallack said. “These are not pure Microsoft shops; they want to be able to manage everything together.”

The concept makes sense, but adoption is slow. Matt Tinney, a System Center engineer with Edmonds, Washington-based consulting firm Windows Management Experts Inc., said he only recently started discussing Opalis with clients.

Tinney said he works with a client that has a multi-vendor monitoring strategy including both SCOM 2007 and CA Spectrum. He said that Opalis 6.3 will be a part of the overall monitoring design, and they are currently exploring the integration options for CA.

In the past, integration of such third-party monitoring tools with System Center could be complicated. “Without Opalis, a custom connector would most likely have to be created and customized heavily to have a bidirectional flow of alerts to or from CA Spectrum and Operations Manager,” Tinney said.

Next act for Opalis
Microsoft will introduce an updated version of Opalis later this month, currently dubbed Opalis v.Next, at Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) 2011. Though the product details are vague, the software will be newly branded and delivered as a full-fledged member of the System Center suite, accessible from the System Center download site, Reynolds said.

Microsoft will also unveil new monikers for its recently acquired AVIcode products at MMS 2011.

Find more systems management news, tips and resources in this guide.

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