Microsoft management plans ambitious, ambiguous

Microsoft has offered a few details on its management strategy, but other details, helpful ones that might help you plan for the new System Center, are still up in the air.

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Customers waiting to hear about Microsoft's strategy for managing Windows got some answers last week.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE

Microsoft shifts manageability gears

At the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, company executives pledged to build manageability features directly into applications, a notable departure from Microsoft's past strategy.

But, like the systems management vendors also promising enterprise management technologies based on autonomic computing, the plans are ambitious and will take years to bear fruit.

Microsoft's strategy follows initiatives from IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. IBM says it will support heterogeneous enterprises, while HP and Sun have focused their efforts on their own proprietary platforms and on making advances through hardware and network infrastructure.

Microsoft's long-range plan is to have manageability hooks built into Windows applications. In the short term, two Microsoft products -- Systems Management Server 2003 and Microsoft Operations Manager 2004 -- will be brought together as a suite that will evolve into an integrated platform.

This integrated platform, called System Center, is expected to be available around the same time Microsoft releases the version of Windows Server code-named Blackcomb -- probably 2006 or later.

But beyond this scant information, there is little that a customer can do to plan, because there is no information about important details, such as how the initiative will be implemented, when it will actually be rolled out, and how Microsoft will pull it off, said Richard Ptak, president and consultant at Ptak & Associates Inc., an Amherst, N.H.-based systems management industry consultant. "How will [Microsoft] make this happen?"

Indeed, until Microsoft starts achieving some milestones, it will be hard for its customers to gauge whether or not System Center will be effective.

"It's a great strategy, as long as they can make their customer base comfortable with it," said Rod Trent, an SMS expert and president of MyITForum.com. "But it's hard to come up with a good idea about it, since there is no defined path."

Though all of the vendors' programs are aggressive, some experts said that they view Microsoft's plan with some skepticism because the company has a track record of software security problems, and because its vision is such a radical departure from its traditional strategy. In the past, Microsoft has tended to put the bare minimum of functions in its software and let third-party vendors make use of the hooks, Ptak said.

But Microsoft is not alone in overcoming challenges to the ambitious quest of creating a self-managing integrated systems management software platform. The company has talked about it before, Ptak said, but no vendor has had the discipline to make it happen. "Microsoft has a better shot than most, since they retain an enormous percentage of embedded applications."

For now, these initiatives are mainly just fodder for discussion, because few, if any, customers are spending buckets of money on strategic management initiatives, according to Mike Gilpin, a research fellow at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. But one reason customers are making only incremental decisions to extend the life of existing management software or switching to alternative solutions is because the software in place hasn't done the job, Gilpin said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Check out our collection of Microsoft management stories, a team report by Margie Semilof and Matthew A. DeBellis, by clicking here.

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