The new System Center help desk offering, code-named Service Desk, will include a CMDB, signaling Microsofts planned entry into that emerging market, which is currently dominated by the big four enterprise management providers.
At the same time, with the backing of CMDB Working Group members IBM and BMC Software, Microsoft hopes to have the group adopt its Service Model Language, the company said.
SML, formerly Microsofts Systems Definition Model, provides a language for defining models of data center resources such as servers, networking gear and storage.
"Were entering the CMDB game ourselves. This helps us integrate information from different places and connect information about elements and services from multiple vendors at the enterprise level. We are in fact in the enterprise [management] game with this," said Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president at the Windows Enterprise Management Division here.
The Microsoft Service Desk offering, which will enter the public beta test period late April or early May of next year, will include connectors that can receive information from non-Microsoft elements.
"Service Desk is an application thats not connected to one platform or operating system. We can bring information from devices, from CMDBs from other vendors and information from existing management products," Tatarinov said.
That moves Microsoft beyond its stance of only managing Microsoft products and into the heterogeneous management arena dominated by the big four enterprise management providers—IBM/Tivoli, BMC Software, CA and Hewlett-Packard.
Still, the Service Desk wont be generally available until 2008, while the big four already have CMDBs in the market. And it still leaves other management tasks such as fault and performance management of heterogeneous systems to those other vendors.
That makes Microsofts effort a "work in progress," according to Gartner analyst David Williams in Austin, Texas.
In the meantime, Microsoft says that through its work with the CMDB Working Group it hopes to encourage adoption of SML by other vendors to permit heterogeneous, policy-based management.
"SML is something that an application or system owner can take and [use to] express their policy on managing and administering their environment. It can be used across management platforms that support SML," Tatarinov said. "Were driving to unify the schema to allow people like Oracle to express their policy," he added.
IBM is backing Microsofts bid to have the CMDB Working Group consider using the SML language to describe models of data center elements in order to help solve an industrywide problem, according to Ric Telford, vice president of autonomic computing at IBM, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
"Whats plagued IT management in the past is [lack of] agreement in the heterogeneous environment on the descriptions of various resources that make up the data center. The output of SML will be a set of models," he said.
The CMDB Working Groups initial mission was to create a common specification or protocol for sharing configuration information across a federation of data sources.
SML-based models could be one of multiple object types that the protocol supports, Telford said. "There may be other object types that others would like to have flow between repositories. That remains to be seen. My view[of what should be done] is to set a strategy and vision of a common modeling language so that down the road everybody starts creating their models and object types using SML as the modeling language," he said.
Telford said he views the CMDB protocol and SML as two of the three legs of a management standards stool that could ultimately help to lower the cost of IT operations management.
The third leg is represented by an effort to unify the separate Web Services Distributed Management and Web Services Management specifications for managing IT infrastructure using SOA (service-oriented architecture). "Weve been working to reconcile WSDM and WS Man. We expect next year well have a reconciled standard," Telford said.
"You have to store [the data], move it around and define it. WS Unified allows you to move it around, the CMDBF gives you a way to communicate to places the objects are stored in and SML gives you a way to define the objects themselves," he said.
Beyond the CMDB efforts, Microsoft is working to change the perception that it is a point-tools provider that markets SMS and MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager).
Earlier in 2006 Microsoft expanded the System Center management umbrella to include the Service Desk and System Center Virtual Machine Manager, joining the Data Protection Manager, Capacity Planner for Exchange and Reporting Manager.
But theres nothing that unifies those elements of System Center, and most wont be available anytime soon, said Gartners Williams. "I see it as an initiative thats helping Microsoft get its act together. It will take 2007 to give it real meat. No [Gartner] clients are asking about System Center. Theyre asking about MOM and SMS," he said.
And when Microsoft in 2007 releases the next version of MOM, renamed System Center Operations Manager 2007, it will add greater levels of automation, enhancements to simplify the collection of server log information for auditing, and self-tuning thresholds in its monitoring function to reduce the number of false positive alerts it generates.
Microsofts efforts to expand in this area have "earned them a seat at the table," said Fred Broussard, research manager at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "This does make them a legitimate competitor with the big four. But everyone continues to innovate," he said.