NetIQ and Altiris execs give the systems management lowdown

System administrators are hungry for a way to consolidate management tools, and they're going to stay hungry, according to experts from two leading management software firms.

System administrators are hungry for a way to consolidate management tools, and they're going to stay hungry, according to experts from two leading management software firms.

Fully integrated, automated management tools are hard to come by now, according to Altiris' Dwain Kinghorn and NetIQ's Matt Dircks. The good news, they said, is that IT managers' lean days may be over soon. New automated tools are in the works, as are improvements in security and Web administration technologies.

So, when will administrators be able to end their fasts? Kinghorn and Dircks offered some insights at the recent Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas. Kinghorn is CTO of Lindon, Utah-based Altiris and Dircks is vice president of product management at NetIQ. In this interview, they offer a view of what's to come in Windows systems management.

SWM: What are the trends in the systems management marketplace right now?
Kinghorn:

Providing services that are Web-based and leveraging the data interchange between applications over standards like XML. That's an item that a lot of systems management vendors are writing services on. You'll see not only Altiris, but other companies recognizing that there's a need to consolidate, reduce and simplify the number of tools that are out there. There's a challenge to train and maintain support staffs in organizations that can keep all these systems up and running.

Dircks:

What we've seen from customers is the concept of convergence. There's a functional orientation around systems management. You have the operation center folks, where it's all about availability and performance. Then, there are the security folks. Obviously since Sept. 11 security has been heightened. There's a lot of confusion out there. People are looking to deal with a much more complex environment than they had to before. The traditional notions of high performance and availability are a paradox if you're not secure. But, if you're highly secure, there's a point of not being available to connect with partners and customers. Therein lies the quandary. Overall, there's a more complex environment where people don't have the budgets and have to do more with less. So, administrators are asking themselves: How do I provide a holistic view of my enterprise and do it with a 5% or 10% cut in my budget?

SWM: What functionalities do Windows IT managers want but haven't gotten yet?
Kinghorn:

Ongoing health and viability in the form of policy-based administration, as opposed to reaction-based administration. You set a policy, and tools try to maintain that system within the bounds of the policy that you set. As Windows becomes more and more complex, automating the maintenance of a system in a known state is a difficult challenge. A thick client, a Windows XP or 2000 box, with all the locally loaded applications, is a difficult challenge for admins to keep in a state that's going to be operating in a known baseline. Administrators don't want to physically touch the box. They want to have a knowledge or something in the background that confirms the system is operating and configured in a known and expected state before the user calls up with a support issue.

Dircks:

Security. Customers are really struggling to secure their environments in a more cost effective and straightforward fashion. We're seeing customers that want a single view of mixed operating environment systems. Customers are also trying to increase the efficiency of their networks and blend voice and data traffic. Customers also want to report and manage Internet access: firewall management. Roughly 70% of firewalls are mis-configured. Half the time you don't know what kind of traffic is going out: If it's pornographic, or IP and it doesn't need to go out, or if people are on E-trade all day. Customers want to manage infrastructures more securely and efficiently and protect their own IP address.

SWM: What are the number one technologies system administrators are adopting now?
Kinghorn:

Obviously, Web-based and XML are very common initiatives because they provide opportunities for cross-vendor integration. Web and XML-based communications make it more reasonable to bring in Unix and Macintosh and other non-PC systems because those are platform neutral technologies. So, it becomes reasonable that you can consolidate Unix, Mac, PC, Palm and other devices into a single schema, a single way that you interact with them.

Dircks:

XML Web services and the concept of the manageability convergence.

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