Microsoft Ups Enterprise Ante

Company hoping to gain footing in large-scale management arena.

Microsoft Corp. executives are set on challenging Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and others for supremacy in the enterprise management market, but their company faces a long, hard road to get there, according to users.

At the Microsoft Management Summit conference here last week, Steve Ballmer, Microsofts CEO, said the company is committed to managing heterogeneous computing environments. And he backed up that statement by demonstrating limited management functions performed on a Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris machine using a mixture of prototypes, third-party products and MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) monitoring software.

But few attendees who saw the demos were ready to embrace Microsoft as a legitimate rival to enterprise management behemoths such as IBM Tivoli and HP.

"They have low-end monitoring. There are tough problems Microsoft doesnt have answers for," said Stephen Elliot, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

And although Microsoft has delivered more solid management software with the latest SMS (Systems Management Server) and MOM, users say the company is still bringing up the rear in the management market.

"Theyre making progress, but they still have a long way to go," said Quinn Obermeyer, a manager at Abbott Laboratories, in Abbott Park, Ill.

The heterogeneous management functionality Microsoft is using is based on technology developed as part of the WS-Management specification Microsoft co-authored with Intel; WS- Management is advancing as a possible standard with the help of Dell Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Sun.

It also portends a potential showdown between the WS-Management backers and HP with the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) group, which is advancing a rival specification.

But Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Microsofts Enterprise Management Division, acknowledged the importance of a single standard.

"We as an industry will have to come together and to reconcile the differences."

To become a major enterprise management provider, Microsoft is also relying on more significant application providers to accept its instrumentation approach. That approach, based on using Microsofts System Definition Model to create operational awareness within the applications as they are created, has only resulted in specific MOM management packs, developed, to date, mostly by Microsoft and a handful of smaller third parties. It is likely to see broader adoption when SDM is released as a core component of Visual Studio 2005, due later this year.

In the meantime, small vendors are filling in the gaps. Tidal Software Inc. integrated its new SAP performance management software with MOM, but "We wish SAP was investing in DSI [Dynamic Systems Initiative] to manage SAP," said Tatarinov.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will expand its management portfolio with three new offerings that will be grouped into a suite dubbed Systems Center. Although Systems Center was originally slated to be a consolidation of MOM and SMS, customers did not want a single offering. Microsoft instead integrated the two tools and announced major new releases of each due by 2008. The other new Systems Center members, due this year, include Systems Center Reporting Manager 2005; Systems Center Data Protection Manager 2006, for backup and recovery; and Systems Center Capacity Manager 2006, for planning capacity for Exchange and MOM servers. Microsoft will expand its virtualization capabilities and integrate them with MOM.