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Microsoft's IT product challenges for 2008

The big servers for IT will arrive as expected from Microsoft in 2008, but the promised service desk isn't likely to make the cut.

IT managers get new versions of Windows Server and SQL Server next year, as well as service packs for Windows XP and for Vista.

They'll also be looking for the server virtualization technology -- now called Hyper-V -- for Windows Server, which Microsoft has promised to deliver approximately 180 days after Windows Server 2008 is released in late February.

What won't they see?

New server versions for 2008
Microsoft will launch Windows Server 2008 next February

Future SQL Server to add policy management
IT managers won't see System Center Service Manager, formerly code-named Service Desk, which was originally set to be released to manufacturing in early 2008. The product's release date now appears to be slipping to at least the end of 2008 or early 2009.

The next-generation help desk, which was first discussed publicly by Microsoft at the Management Summit in April 2006, was due to ship in early 2008, but there has only been an initial beta released last summer. Experts said they believe there is latent demand for Microsoft to provide a capability to coordinate IT delivery services with IT management processes. But building something that can scale is also difficult.

Microsoft's virtualization story

Windows Server 2008 is, for the most part, an incremental release, but the virtualization component is a first-generation product for Microsoft, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm.

"Writing a hypervisor is a pretty defined scope of work and I tend to think that you want it thin, fast and stable, which are attributes that Microsoft does not usually do well," Cherry said. "Microsoft's software is more and more stable but it's never been tuned to be the least code path possible. I think we are going to see the thickest thin layer we've ever seen."

But the real issue isn't just the hypervisor, it is virtual desktop management. To that end, Microsoft is expected to release a beta of its next version of the Virtual Machine Manager to support Hyper-V sometime in the first half of 2008.

SQL Server 2008 on tap

It may have taken five years for Microsoft to put out SQL Server 2005, but the next release of the database – SQL Server 2008 – appears to be on track for delivery sometime in mid-2008.

Part of the success of getting the database done on time may have to do with the fact that the development process was reworked. Database development today is done via community technology previews (CTPs). Bits of code are released over time adding various features, versus running the application through full-blown beta trials that tend to offer users code that is more unstable.

Business intelligence features through integration with Office 2007 and a new data warehousing platform are major areas of investment by Microsoft with SQL Server 2008.

A unified security console

Another marquee product coming from Microsoft sometime in the second half of next year will be the unified security and reporting console that is currently code-named Stirling.

The product is coming out at the same time that Microsoft is, separately, unifying security and management tools within the System Center product line using Dynamic Systems Initiative technology.

Natalie Lambert, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said security technology is becoming a commodity and many of the tasks handled by the security group are moving to the operations team to be managed by the server group.

"Microsoft should be focused on consolidating the security and management tools," Lambert said. "I see them consolidating on two different dimensions -- on security and management, and separately they have an entire platform for each of the different domains in security."

"Microsoft is ahead of the curve in bringing these tools together but they will have to break down silos [between IT groups]," she added.

Microsoft will have the ability to meet the needs of organizations that are moving security into their overall operations, and those that are trying to consolidate their security, she said.

Also in 2008 for IT managers

In the first quarter of next year, expect a first service pack for Windows Vista, and sometime in the first half of 2008, a third service pack release for Windows XP is anticipated.

And although the System Center Service Manager may not make it out in 2008, Microsoft will expand the management lineup with the second quarter release of System Center Mobile Device Manager, which will let IT managers set policies for mobile devices, among other things.

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