Microsoft shows tip of management iceberg

Microsoft has announced plans to make its most significant push to date to create a management platform around its operating system and servers.

The company introduced "Topaz" the next version of System Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager, an event and performance-monitoring tool.

The two are the first plug-ins to a management platform Microsoft plans to create to support its .Net strategy, a collection of interconnected servers that support the online delivery of applications and services. The platform also will support Windows 2000 DataCenter, the high-end platform Microsoft is touting as a Unix competitor.

A few pieces of the platform will begin to be delivered in the next version of Win 2000, codenamed Whistler. But the platform won't mature until a follow-on release of Win 2000 codenamed Blackcomb likely in 2002.

"There is still a lot of work to be done in this space," says David Hamilton, group product manager for management at Microsoft. "We want to put as much infrastructure into the OS as possible." Hamilton says that includes a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) portal, and support for XML, the Common Information Model and Microsoft's own Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). "But there will be a need for these add-ons like configuration and operations management.

Microsoft is reacting to the need to make its platform more manageable as they try to position it for more mission critical enterprise duty.

"What they are doing is building an object-oriented framework much like Tivoli and Computer Associates," says Cory Ferengul, an analyst with the Meta Group. Microsoft says it plans to work with those two vendors.

But by relying on Microsoft's WMI, which was introduced in Win 2000, Ferengul says Microsoft is imposing on the industry the need to change management standards. "Since they are embedding some of this in the OS, they change the way other management applications have to be written to plug into the framework."

WMI is Microsoft's implementation of the Web-Based Enterprise Management standard created by the Distributed Management Task Force. In December, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Management Alliance, which is intended to rally third-party vendors around its management strategy. Many vendors have agreed to adopt Microsoft's WMI.

Ferengul says the management platform likely will appeal to small or Microsoft-centric enterprises, but that larger corporations will stick with the heavyweight management packages.

The Microsoft Management Console is based on technology Microsoft licensed last year from NetIQ. The software allows administrators to monitor events and performance of their servers. It includes an event log for centralized monitoring, event filters, auto notification by e-mail and pager, and a built-in knowledge base that provides a description of problems and a suggestion of possible solutions. The first edition of the software will focus on Win 2000, Active Directory, Exchange and SQL Server.

The console supports two user interfaces, a plug-into the MMC or through a Web browser. The software runs on Windows 2000 and requires SQL Server.

The next version of SMS will focus on integration with Active Directory and support for mobile users. Microsoft will include a new agent for remote servers and PCs, especially those client machines with poor dial-up connections. Users will bbe able to collect data about those machines, such as configuration settings, but also distribute and install software.

The software, however, won't support mobile devices even though they are a strategic client device in Microsoft's .Net strategy.

The Active Directory integration will allow enterprises to build their configuration management and software distribution around sites, domains and organizational units (OU) stored in the directory.

"Customers can build scopes of management around OUs, can apply security rules to groups of users," Hamilton says.

Other features of Topaz include package delta replications, which send only updates to software packages that has already been distributed instead of sending the entire package again. Topaz also includes improved software metering, which provides a range of query options, such as finding the number of copies of a particular application running on the network. Microsoft also has added new administrative tools and HTML-based query reports.

The Microsoft Operations Manager will go into beta before the end of March and is expected to ship in the fall. Topaz is expected to go into beta in September but likely won't ship until next year. Pricing has not been set.

This story, "Microsoft shows tip of management iceberg" was originally published by Network World.

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