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Microsoft won't force unified management on customers

The future for Microsoft systems administration is System Center and a unified approach to client and server management. But for now, Redmond will continue to offer customers discrete Windows management products.

LAS VEGAS -- Though Windows administrators praised Microsoft's latest road map for manageability -- which calls for the combined management of clients and servers -- customers also expressed relief after hearing they'll be able to keep the two worlds separate if they want.

At the recent Microsoft Management Summit, the company's manageability czar, Kirill Tatarinov, outlined a future version of System Center, the platform that will wed Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). The inaugural version of System Center is expected to be released at the end of this year.

Tatarinov, a Microsoft vice president and the force behind Microsoft's management strategy, stepped in on Wednesday for chief executive Steve Ballmer, who had been scheduled to deliver the keynote address. Instead, Ballmer was in Europe attempting to negotiate an antitrust settlement with European Union officials.

In addition to discussing product futures, Tatarinov gave updates for two upcoming SMS 2003 feature packs and Service Pack 1, also due out later in 2004. The OS deployment feature pack will help customers create OS images and provide improved reporting capabilities. The device feature pack will extend SMS functions to mobile devices.

A focus on the new MOM

Tatarinov said that, this year, Microsoft will focus on MOM up until the release of MOM 2005, which is due later this year. Both MOM and a scaled-down version of MOM, called MOM Express, feature improved deployment capabilities in the form of a wizard-based installation process and a cleaner user interface.

Improvements to MOM will likely spill over to SMS. Tatarinov said that Microsoft has begun working on how it can similarly simplify SMS by making the user interface more task oriented and by using wizards for deployment.

Connectors that ship data to and from MOM and other vendors' management frameworks are also forthcoming. A connector for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView management platform will be available next month, he said. There is already a connector for the IBM Tivoli framework.

Tatarinov also showed customers blueprints for System Center version 2.0, which doesn't have a formal release date yet. The first version of System Center will only offer some rudimentary back-end integration of MOM and SMS data; the second version is where Microsoft will exploit its System Definition Model technology, particularly within elements such as desired state management, capacity planning and data warehousing.

Customers at the conference Wednesday were particularly interested in the capacity management features, a manifestation of Indy, a project that was unveiled at last year's Management Summit. "The idea that you can compute the size of the server you will need is impressive," said Steve Chramosta, an IT administrator for SMS at Nebraska Public Power District, a utility company based in Columbus, Neb.

Upgrading SMS

While IT administrators took in Microsoft's long-term plans, their daily jobs remain focused on the less grand, but more important task of upgrading from SMS 2.0 to SMS 2003. Microsoft is taking a long view with System Center, but customers were glad to hear Tatarinov say that Microsoft would continue to invest in SMS and MOM as independent products. The decision was based on customer feedback received in focus groups, the software maker has said.

At this point, many companies have organizations that are focused on client or server management. The server administrators are already using an entrenched management product, so moving to a combined technology like System Center would be difficult at best.

"I'm glad they are keeping the products separate," Chramosta said. "I expected that it would be an all or nothing situation."

Others agreed.

"We have a lot of data in SMS and would like to use it in MOM, so you get the best of both … [but] it's good to keep it separate if you want," said Christian Brassoe, and IT administrator for Danish telecommunications provider TDC Services in Copenhagen.

"It's good that MOM and SMS are not going away, because this idea of bundling products can backfire," said Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm.


Special report: News from Microsoft Management Summit 2004

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