Managing IT Costs

Microsoft initiative joins utility computing fray.

If youre like most IT pros, the costs of operating your computing hardware are rising, with no sign of leveling off. The culprit is the increasing complexity of hardware, which is driving a spiral that could break your IT budget if nothing is done.

Vendors are responding. Microsoft announced in March its DSI (Dynamic Systems Initiative). Earlier, IBM unveiled its Autonomic Computing strategy, Hewlett-Packard rolled out its Utility Data Center initiative, and Sun introduced its N1 on-demand technology.

Earlier this month, Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia fleshed out some of the concepts and upcoming milestones for DSI. The components of DSI are worthy of attention, even though many of them will not be completely formed for at least five years and probably never implemented in the form we know them today. IT managers should put together a chart comparing the facets of DSI with the other players initiatives.

Muglia made a telling distinction between the approaches being taken by Microsoft and IBM. He praised IBMs focus on maximizing system resources but made it clear Microsofts management focus is on lowering the cost of application development and operations. "Our top priority is reducing the operations cost of running the system," he said. "Yes, you want to have enough [processor] capacity present to meet the needs of the application. The real focus isnt [on] achieving the highest possible utilization of CPU resources, which are cheap. The real focus is [on] reducing the costs of the people to man the system and improving the overall availability of the system."

It will be a good thing if all the major companies working in this arena can come to agreement as to their goals and—I dread to write it—standards that will make common implementations a reality. Although I see the smoldering ashes of the enterprise management systems of the late 1990s, I also see progress in developing utility computing. Microsoft has simplified incremental application updates with fundamental components that will help enable a companys DSI. WMI (Windows Management Interface) providers are now playing a major role in providing services such as enhanced inventory data in Microsofts Systems Management Server 2003.

One thing to keep on your checklist is whether a vendor supports any of the big boys utility computing strategies. The major vendors have their own products, but there is a host of products from third-party companies, such as Opalis Software and AlterPoint, that are competing to help IT managers reduce operational costs by automating some aspect of IT.

Another checklist item when examining any of the IT automation tools and platforms is usability. A good way to learn about a products usability is to find out whether its vendor is "eating its own dog food." I will be conducting tests to confirm a claim made by Muglia and David Hamilton, director of the Enterprise Management division at Microsoft. Hamilton said Exchange reduced the number of management messages it issued from thousands per day to fewer than 10 per day when responsibility for developing the Microsoft Operations Manager pack moved to the Exchange group.

For Muglia and Microsoft, this means improving the life cycle of application management. Although its easy to recoil from such pie-in-the-sky phrases, the next release of Microsofts Visual Studio, code-named Whidby, is adding modeling tools to allow application developers to describe the interrelationships of components. Microsoft is putting real legs under DSIs five- to 10-year promise. The products in the initiative will soon use technology such as XML and a corporate version of Microsofts error-logging system called Watson, which is currently used only by Microsoft to track operating errors.

What we will likely see over the next couple of years is a lot of wrangling over which standards bodies will govern the implementation of these utility products. While the polite language will likely continue in public, be ready for some power plays behind the scenes as the vendors jockey for position in the management arena.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevants e-mail address is