As Microsoft prepares to ship its long-awaited desktop management software in November, thoughts are already turning to the next generation of Windows management tools and how it will affect administrators within IT shops.
Sometime at the end of next year, or just beyond, Microsoft will release the first version of System Center. The move will be the initial step in a plan to combine the functionality of its desktop management package, Systems Management Server 2003, and its server management software, Microsoft Operations Manager 2004.
Initially, some administrators were excited about the idea of having one software package that manages all platforms. But interest soon turned to concern as they contemplated just how the roles within their IT shops would change if they used such a product.
After getting some feedback from administrators, Microsoft has decided that System Center will allow for some functional independence between desktop and server administration, said David Hamilton, director of product management in Microsoft's enterprise management group.
Hamilton said that there are great benefits to a complete integration of SMS and MOM, but Microsoft has decided that the product should have some modularity. "We think there are benefits to bringing them together, but we know there are people who want it separated," Hamilton said.
Joining separate IT communities
Some IT experts grew concerned because SMS and MOM were developed to handle very different environments. In large enterprises, desktop management administrators and server administrators are functionally separate. The separation can be resolved, but not without the shifting of responsibilities among staff.
The System Center concept was introduced in March. The first iteration, expected to be available in late 2004, will bundle SMS 2003 and MOM 2004, also due out next year. Over time, it will evolve into a comprehensive platform that will embody Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, an autonomic computing effort that was outlined by Microsoft at this week's Professional Developers Conference.
But some IT experts argue that Microsoft shouldn't force customers to conform to one mold.
"They will need flexibility in the administration architecture of System Center to make its adoption more manageable," said Michael Schultz, an SMS consultant based in southern Connecticut.
The integrated version of System Center won't come for several years; the first version will likely retain an interface similar to the one SMS and MOM use today, and it will offer some integrated reporting capabilities, Hamilton said. The main way to access integrated data will be through a data warehouse. The software will be modular so administrators can, for example, just do operations management or change configuration, he said.
Functional independence will make some administrators breathe a little easier, even though they realize that the product will probably undergo many design changes before it sees daylight.
But Brian Rogers, operations engineer at Tree of Life Corp., a St. Augustine, Fla., specialty foods distributor, said that there is a fundamental problem with the System Center approach. Microsoft has been focusing its efforts on consolidation, he said, but System Center can't accurately consolidate systems because servers and workstations need different care and feeding.
"I wouldn't want to use the same tools on the server as I use on the workstation," Rogers said.
Multiple manageability systems
At his company, Rogers said that the manager in charge of the servers is an AS/400 server administrator, who also happens to be evaluating IBM's Tivoli as a manageability platform. So in a few years, his enterprise may potentially have two manageability platforms that can handle clients and servers.
Of course, Microsoft's decision to place a seam in System Center isn't everyone's first choice. Some administrators would be happier with a single, integrated platform.
Randy Hammer, an engineer at Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign Inc., said that he would "rather have the entire cake in one big bite" because he believes a combined product is more powerful overall and will ultimately be a bigger benefit to IT shops, as administrators' knowledge becomes concentrated.
"I would settle for strides, but not baby steps, in the right direction," Hammer said. "I would also love to see a road map showing what they intend, and then try to stick with it."
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