Microsoft Vies for Systems Clout

Wants to be competitive in systems management market

Its been a year since Microsoft said it wanted to become a major player in the competitive enterprise systems management space. At the Microsoft Management Summit here April 24-28, the company introduced several offerings designed to bolster that push.

Two additions to Microsofts growing basket of System Center products include a new service desk offering and a forthcoming virtualization manager, code-named Carmine.

The moves make sense, but the Redmond, Wash., software maker has a way to go to catch top systems management vendors such as BMC Software and IBMs Tivoli unit, and its still delivering only a portion of whats needed to manage IT environments, said one industry observer. "What Microsoft has is necessary, but not sufficient. Theyve got pieces," said Chip Gliedman, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Westport, Conn.

Microsoft said the new System Center Service Desk is aimed at streamlining IT service management for Windows environments. Its "designed to provide an ERP [enterprise resource planning] system for IT," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of servers and tools at Microsoft. "It holds all the processes and change control logic into one cohesive thing."

System Center Service Desk, which is based on ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) best practices, codes the prescriptive guidance that Microsoft has as part of its Operations Framework into the software itself. "It will integrate deeply with other System Center products and extend out to the heterogeneous world," Muglia said.

System Center Service Desk, which will include a workflow engine that implements ITIL processes through templates for specific types of scenarios, represents Microsofts first foray into configuration management databases, which are already being implemented by large enterprise management providers.

The offering includes a portal that allows IT administrators to display status information on problems they are resolving, reducing the number of support calls the service desk must handle. The software is due late next year.

The Carmine virtualization manager will help customers create and manage images of each virtual partition. In addition, Carmine will add provisioning capabilities and leverage growing product support for Microsofts System Definition Model.

"There are multiple levels to managing virtual images, and Im not sure how far Carmine goes to address that," said analyst Rich Ptak, of Ptak, Noel & Associates, in Amherst, N.H. "Managing images is just the start. You also have to think about provisioning and thinking strategically how much of your work you want to allocate to each image."

But Ptak and analyst Peter Christy agreed that virtualization will eventually become a commodity and that any timing advantage market leader VMware has may not last.

"The money to be made is in good management of the environment," said Christy, principal at NetsEdge Research Group, in Los Altos, Calif.

Microsofts hypervisor virtualization is expected in the Windows "Longhorn" release due late next year. The Carmine software will go into beta testing late this year and be released later in 2007.

Also in the works is the new "Monad" automated scripting environment, which will be named Windows PowerShell. It automates scripting and allows administrators to "run powerful scripts in advanced ways," Muglia said. PowerShell, an object-oriented scripting language, enables administrators to easily link multiple scripts to perform a function.

PowerShell is due later this year for free. The first Microsoft product to use it will be Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.


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