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Microsoft's TechEd 2007 -- high concepts, few products

At Microsoft's biggest Windows confab, IT managers learned about a new generation of security tools, IIS 7.0 integration with Windows Server and little else.

ORLANDO – Windows Server 2008 is only half a year away from release, but Microsoft continues to try to sweeten the next-generation server operating system's feature list -- this time by adding its Web server software to the OS core.

At TechEd, held here this week, Steven Guggenheimer, general manager of the application platform group at Microsoft, said adding Internet Information Services 7.0 to Windows Server 2008 "should improve the overall security of the Web server, since the OS core is only about 25% of the OS."

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Microsoft also disclosed plans for the next-generation of Forefront security tools, code-named Stirling, which promise unification of protection technologies across the client and server. The company also retired the code names of Katmai and Orcas -- the products will now known as SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, respectively.

The main message in the TechEd 2007 keynote from Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, was about giving IT managers an overview on where the company is investing to help solve business problems.

Muglia suggested core optimization models that IT shops can use to compare against their own organizations and get better business results. These are models based on infrastructure, on business productivity and on application platform.

In a new spin on an old idea, Muglia outlined a dynamic IT model with foundational components that will require better federation between multiple service providers, security across the board and interoperability between platforms, which remains a concern today.

"Process and model is at the center of driving down IT costs in terms of service management and lifecycle management," he said. "Microsoft can take a leadership role in helping IT define IT applications through its lifecycle."

Microsoft has been working on several initiatives to nurture along this process, including its Dynamic Systems Initiative, the .NET programming environment and its Trustworthy Computing Initiative. Adding virtualization to the OS down the road is another area of investment for Microsoft.

How much these high-level concepts resonate with busy IT managers is tough to say because even the slickest plans on paper tend to crash into daily IT reality.

"It's always interesting to hear where [Microsoft] wants to lead you, but we find the business drives the needs and we are left to implement [to meet those needs]," said Warren Sanchez, an enterprise administrator at Avnet Inc., a Phoenix, Ariz.-based computer components distributor.

"It would be nice to put the horse in front of the cart, but the marriage between business and IT is always nebulous," Sanchez said.

Part of the problem is that too many Microsoft tools that are part of Microsoft's vision are not in use in every shop. For example, Avnet does not use Visual Studio or BizTalk Server -- two pieces that help pull together the Microsoft vision.

The problem of overworked IT departments also tends to hinder even small efforts to develop an overarching dynamic process.

"Our resources are low, our budget is low and for us any sort of initiative is going to stretch us," said Bob Pebles, manager of network services at Spokane Community College in Spokane, Wash. "I've been trying for five years to get us into a portal system," he added.

It's not that IT managers don't see the value in Muglia's proposals. Although some of it might be unrealistic, it's not undoable, Pebles said.

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