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Next services play for Microsoft: Systems management

More System Center online services will be on tap at the Management Summit later this month. Don't expect enterprises to be an easy sell.

Microsoft is working on a set of System Center Online Services, but some IT professionals say it won't be a good fit for enterprises.

Microsoft executives have said many of its products will be available as online services and its System Center systems management line is no exception. Already in the works are asset and licensing management services, and Microsoft has confirmed that it will provide more details for other services it plans to introduce at the Microsoft Management Summit being held in Las Vegas in late April.

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The company has already released hosted or software services for its Exchange messaging and SharePoint collaboration software. The services are aimed at the enterprise.

System Center Online Services was first introduced during a System Center partner show last year in Bellevue, Wash. Microsoft has since made an online asset tracking service available, called Asset Inventory Service (AIS), in its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. Members can activate AIS by logging into Microsoft Volume Licensing Services and going to the Online Services section once they're signed in. The service lets IT managers centralize and organize software asset information based on application type and what version of software they purchased.

This online service, as well as another one under development, called System Center Connection Pack, builds on Microsoft's acquisition of AssetMetrix in 2006. The Connection Pack will introduce asset management capabilities into System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

The software vendor is also working on a licensing management service that will help IT shops organize and manage Microsoft licenses online.

System Management Server is entrenched at Allstate Insurance Co., in Northbrook, Ill. One manager there said the company isn't likely to move to an online version of Microsoft's System Center products because of its investment in premise-based software.

So much has been put into controls, policies and life-cycle management, said Kevin Graham, technical consultant with Allstate that "I don't see how we could move those kinds of things to an online service," he said.

When it comes to software and license management, most enterprises keep inventory using Microsoft's own Software Assurance program, said James Adgate, compliance analyst with Aon Corp. in Randolph, Ill.

"We know what we have vis-à-vis [Microsoft's] volume licensing program," he said.

Other shops are making the move from SMS to the next release -- System Center Configuration Manager 2007. Scot Eckman, regional technology manager with Gallagher Benefit Services Inc., in Itasca, Ill., calls the migration a big task for companies smaller in size.

"Maybe if [Microsoft] got into Configuration Manager as an online service, smaller companies might consider it," Eckman said.

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