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Microsoft is mum on mixed platform management

Managing mixed platforms is a juggling act that means you may have to compromise features for manageability. One expert says you need to prioritize, pick a product, and stick with it.

IT administrators looking for guidance on whether they should stick with one major management platform in a mixed environment or whether they should manage their Windows clients and servers separately won't find a definitive answer to this question.

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  • Chances are, a large company with a mix of software platforms that include a mainframe, Linux or Unix servers, and Windows servers may already have an all-encompassing management platform from one of the big software vendors in that market, such as Computer Associates International Inc., IBM Corp.'s Tivoli unit, Hewlett-Packard Co. or BMC Software Inc.

    Windows administrators can extend their existing systems, or they can use Microsoft's own manageability software. A third option is to choose a third-party desktop management product from someone like Altiris Inc., NetIQ Corp. or another company. For many managers, the decision is a coin toss, largely because there is no defined management product road map from Microsoft, analysts said.

    "Until [there is an articulated strategy,] then all purchases are tactical," said Cameron Haight, an analyst at Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn., research firm.

    Haight advises customers today to focus on what are considered best-of-breed tools because they would have a greater knowledge of the product. For customers already using products from one of the four largest management vendors, the best decision as to what to do about Windows will differ because each management platform is somewhat distinctive.

    Haight described the major platforms in a nutshell. He said CA is perhaps the only one-stop shop, with software for mainframes, Unix and Windows systems, and everything from software distribution to help desk, he said.

    BMC specializes in performance and availability management, though that focus may change because the company said in September it will acquire the assets of Remedy, a subsidiary of Peregrine Systems Inc. that makes help desk software.

    Hewlett-Packard's OpenView is known for network management, though its Operations for Windows lets customers view components that support applications such as event management and performance monitoring. How much attention OpenView will receive in the wake of HP's merger with Compaq Computer Corp. is anyone's guess, Haight said.

    Like HP, IBM's Tivoli unit has tremendous resources and strong engineering. The company seems focused on providing support for key IBM platforms, like WebSphere and its DB2 database. But Tivoli has seen many booms and busts, and has also had a revolving door for senior managers. "Today, the company seems to be on the right track," Haight said.

    The products, though complex, are all high quality. But once you buy into them you are pretty well locked in, said Mitch Tulloch, a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based consultant and author of the Microsoft Encyclopedia of Networking.

    "If Windows servers are the main workhorse in your company's network, SMS is a good choice," Tulloch said. "[SMS 2003] will include better management of remote users, is integrated better with Active Directory and includes a new client that will make management of servers even easier.

    "If your environment is Unix or [IBM's] WebSphere or legacy, Tivoli or the others are probably best for now."

    So much of manageability is planning -- developing a long-range plan and sticking to it as much as possible, he said. Though choosing between functionality and manageability will always be a tradeoff, you are sometimes better off choosing integrated products from one vendor that sacrifice certain features you'd like to have, rather than managing a heterogeneous environment with a potpourri of tools and interfaces.

    "If I were an enterprise manager, I'd make a list of the top 10 things I'd like to be able to do but can't, and then find a single management product that does five of them and kiss the others goodbye," Tulloch said.

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