Now is the time for IT managers who use or who are thinking about using Microsoft's enterprise management software to decide whether the software vendor's Windows manageability strategy is in line with their own long-term plans.
And there is a lot to consider.
At next week's Microsoft Management Summit 2004 in Las Vegas, the company will release more details about System Center, a product that combines Systems Management Server (SMS), a desktop software distribution technology, and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), a server management platform.
Direction on SUS-SMS
Microsoft is also expected to give customers a sense of the direction of its free products, such as Software Update Services, which has some functions that are similar to SMS. The company will also provide some details on pending technologies, such as the integration of Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 1.2 into SMS, and the progress on MOM 2004, which is expected to ship this summer.
The first version of System Center, which isn't due out until the end of 2004, is expected to integrate the back ends of both SMS and MOM. "Microsoft will attack the combined product from an analytical standpoint," said Corey Ferengul, an analyst at the Meta Group, a Stamford, Conn., consulting firm.
Most vendors address integration by rewriting tools so that modules all link, Ferengul said. They target user interface or event integration, but they miss data integration. The first version of System Center will export inventory information from both products into another database.
Vision on demand
Microsoft is also expected to reveal more progress with its long-term Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), an organic computing program similar in intent to IBM's on-demand computing effort, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s N1 and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s adaptive enterprise. System Center and the current manageability products are key beneficiaries of DSI.
As for System Center, Microsoft will have some convincing to do, because customers say they aren't sold on the idea of a combined product. Reacting to Microsoft's early plans, SMS customers said they aren't sure, from a functional standpoint, how the two can merge, and they are concerned about how Microsoft would handle licensing for them.
"Based on my conversations with Microsoft, I'm not sure how it would work in the short term," said Roger Wilding, senior technical engineer at CNF Inc., Palo Alto, Calif. "Perhaps in the long term [it will work]."
Will a single console work?
Wilding said that he believes there is some credibility to Microsoft's wanting to merge the day-to-day workstation-management and server-monitoring functions. "It would be nice to have one console, but it depends on how they do it," he said.
Last year, David Hamilton, director of product management in Microsoft's enterprise management group, said that Microsoft decided that System Center will allow for some functional independence between desktops and server administrators.
For Microsoft, swaying customers to adopt a combined platform could prove difficult. "Our plans are to stick with SMS, and we will definitely look at MOM, but also all the other options out there," said Tim Brennan, an SMS administrator for Oregon's Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles.
Brennan said that support for Microsoft products has been strong, but he said that having everything managed by one vendor might be a problem if something doesn't work out. "What if they change the licensing structure?" he said. "It could be hard to get out."
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