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Microsoft shifts manageability gears

Microsoft is charting a new course for its management software products. At the Microsoft Management Summit this week, executives pledged to build manageability features directly into applications, a notable departure from Microsoft's past strategy.

LAS VEGAS -- IT managers this week said they were hopeful that Microsoft's new manageability road map represents a step forward, but they challenged the company to deliver on its ambitious vision.

At the Microsoft Management Summit this week, Microsoft unveiled plans to build manageability features directly into applications, instead of offering discrete manageability software for clients and servers. The plan is a dramatic shift from the message given at last year's summit.

Customers generally liked Microsoft's initiative, called System Center, but were left with questions about how they would get to this manageability Holy Grail.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it looks like you are going to have to buy a lot of new products to get the benefit," said Ian Gordon, a software consultant at Knowledge Direct, a U.K-based technology consortium. "Five years is a long time but, if they do deliver what they say, it will be great."

But users also cautioned that Microsoft has a long way to go in order to make its plan a reality. "If it's integrated, then I don't have to work as hard," said Ian McInnis, a central domain administrator at Siemens AG and a supporter of the new strategy. But, he added, "Should this not be realized, there would be a huge confidence drop."

Microsoft's efforts to create an manageable, integrated view is an activity that will work across several different divisions within Microsoft, including the Windows group and the recently created enterprise management group. The success of this initiative will also depend on the ability of these groups to work together, one customer said.

For Microsoft to pull off its ambitious plan to build manageability features into its server platforms, the various departments must communicate better than they have in the past, said Karsten Moller, a systems administrator for Lego Co., the Danish toymaker.

Kirill Tatarinov, a corporate vice president of Microsoft's enterprise management division, told customers they will be living in a world where management is built into applications from the start. Customers will be able to have a complete enterprise view of their assets.

Getting there will involve a set of steps that look out over the next three to five years. The existing manageability products -- Systems Management Server, Microsoft Operations Manager and Application Center -- will continue to be upgraded and supported as they morph into the operating system, Tatarinov said.

"This is a multi-year road map," Tatarinov said. "The foundation starts today."

More immediately, Tatarinov also outlined plans for MOM 2004, plus some much-anticipated feature packs for SMS 2003, which is due out this fall. One feature pack offers improved mobility features, and the other lets customers do image-based OS provisioning. Both feature packs are due out in 2004, he said.

Microsoft last week launched its Dynamic Systems Initiative, which will allow the manageability features to be built into the applications. The next version of Visual Studio .NET will let application developers capture information about each application so it can be operationally aware and so the knowledge can be transferred to the operational environment, said Brian Valentine, a Microsoft senior vice president.

The company also released the beta of its Automated Deployment Services, a tool for server and administration that is central to the initiative.

News Writer Matthew A. DeBellis contributed to this report.


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