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Ambitious Microsoft service desk tool revealed

More details are emerging about Microsoft's upcoming help desk product, code-named Service Desk, during a hush-hush company road show.

As Information leaks out about the feature set in Microsoft's help desk product, code-named Service Desk, the software vendor is remaining tight-lipped.

Microsoft product managers who are on a road show to talk about upcoming changes in the System Center product line to partners said that the Service Desk is now expected to include service packs that work like today's management packs for Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM. The service packs will come in several key areas such as incident management, asset management, problem management and change management.

Microsoft also said there will be a full console called the Analyst Console as well as a self-service portal built on Office SharePoint Server 2007, which lets end users get information about a current ticket and check a knowledge base, according to members of an online community called Techlog, some of whom attended and blogged about the event.

Another feature is workflow, where an IT administrator can define that a change must be emailed to a change manager, which then uses the Outlook voting buttons to decide where Systems Management Server (SMS) can be run. Microsoft has confirmed the details.

Service Desk will also be integrated with new versions of MOM and SMS, which are due out in the next few months, and are called System Center Operations Manager 2007 and System Center Configuration Manager 2007, respectively.

The service desk software is in private beta now but is expected to go into public beta in the next few months. Microsoft said it plans a shipping date for late 2007 or early 2008.

The analysts weigh in

One analyst is calling the feature set an ambitious plan of attack on Microsoft's behalf, while another analyst questions if Microsoft's entrance is too little, too late.

Microsoft made public its intention to enter the service desk market in November. Since then, the software maker released Service Desk's software code to a select group of beta testers in December. Other than that, few details have emerged about the product. During the time Microsoft made its plans for Service Desk known, the only information made public was that the product would include a configuration management database and a workflow engine to automate such tasks as asset tracking and centralize software configurations.

Although some of the details are still sketchy, it's clear that Microsoft is moving aggressively into the help desk space with its Service Desk offering, said Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. "They've set some pretty ambitious goals for the product and are going to compete in a game with some very established players," Pawlak said.

To say that [Service Desk] all at once will be able to create trouble tickets and handle change and asset tracking is pretty ambitious, and I've seen no evidence of [these features] yet."

On the other hand, Microsoft has more resources and a better understanding of its own platform, he said. "By saying 'No, we will only focus on our platform versus Oracle or Linux' does simplify things for them to a great degree," Pawlak said.

Is a service desk passé?

Service Desk is being designed for Windows shops, however, and IT managers will be able to use an API to integrate Service Desk with other management systems and help desk applications, Microsoft said. The API may help in the company's bid to make room for itself in enterprises already using help desk products from BMC Software Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM.

But players such as HP and IBM have already begun to move beyond traditional help desks, said Richard Ptak, a principal at Ptak, Noel & Associates, a consultancy based in Amherst, N.H. The service desk concept is less relevant in light of the evolution of automated IT services and business services, he said.

"Everything eventually is going to be built into a management infrastructure," Ptak said. That's why service desks will eventually go away. IBM and HP are stumbling toward that same automated service-based architecture for management that can be implemented to run automatically based on policies and integrate with the delivery of business service and other services that plug seamlessly back into IT, he said.

Pawlak said he believes it will be a while before service desks disappear. He compares IBM's vision of self-healing and self configuring systems to Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI).

"DSI and other plans are all good things that are being worked on, but it will be many years until it bears significant fruit," Pawlak said. "End users and central IT infrastructure issues as well as application and security issues are not going to diminish any time soon, which is why incident and asset and change management will be needed for a long time to come."

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