Microsoft Takes Next Baby Step with Management Software

Eyeing the corporate segment of the market for management software,
Microsoft Wednesday released its Systems Management
Server (SMS) 2003 to manufacturing.


Formerly known as Topaz, SMS 2003 is the first piece in what the Redmond,
Wash., software giant promises will be a broad, deep portfolio of software
that helps corporations manage information from their data centers to their
employees’ mobile devices, putting Microsoft in competition with vendors
such as IBM, , Computer Associates and BMC.


SMS 2003 focuses on three key areas — support for mobile devices,
integration with Active Directory, which allows organizations to centrally
manage and share information on network resources and users while acting as
the central authority for network security, and enhancements to the metering
and reporting functions.


The latest version of SMS 2003 supports the full management
feature set from software distribution, asset management to remote
troubleshooting without requiring a set of local servers or services.


The new Advanced Client also uses a Windows technology called Background
Intelligent Transfer Services (BITS) to provide connectivity for all
management operations over low-bandwidth or low quality network links, such
as Remote Access Service dialup and remote Virtual Private Networking. SMS
2003 will also feature a checkpoint/restart function that restarts a failed
transmission.


SMS 2003 also allows administrators to track application installations and
correlate this with actual application usage, a metering feature
characteristic of utility computing architectures. This tells administrators
what applications are being used, how often, and how many users are using
the same applications, allowing them to more closely gauge the application
licenses required for their enterprise.


Uptime and availability are crucial characteristics of a data center. For
example, even minutes of downtime in the network of a financial institution
can result in millions of lost dollars from transactions that could not be
processed. SMS 2003 constantly tracks applications and services in the
network and provides tools to compare these with a list of available
patches, service packs and upgrades, allowing administrators to circumvent
outages.


SMS 2003 features a Web interface to the management database, which includes
preconfigured reports spanning the configuration of all machines on the
network, the software deployment and usage status, and details of individual
machine configurations. This is a big bonus because administrators are
commonly required to provide reports describing the progress of deployment
and upgrade projects. Manual generation of reports takes administrators
time, but by automating it, SMS 2003 allows workers to focus their attention
elsewhere.


SMS will soon offer greater support for mobile devices,
including Windows CE, XP embedded, and Pocket PC, through a new Advanced
Client that automatically checks the size of the connection and adjusts
transfer rates as needed.


Redmonk Senior Analyst James Governor called the company’s gradual glide into management software ambitious given the company’s “checkered history in that space.”


“But nobody got anywhere without taking on tough challenges and Microsoft has been incredibly successful doing that,” Governor told internetnews.com. “This is certainly targeted at IBM, Tivoli and BMC. SMS is targeted to start solving those management issues, but I think the problem with SMS is its brand and how it gets folded into systems going forward.”


Governor said Microsoft will have its work cut out distinguishing its management software from other parts of its platform, such as the new Office Exchange server, which features an “almost P2P-based approach” whereby servers poll each other.


However, he said, IBM is also significantly tweaking Tivoli to work as a single management model across multiple domains — enough so that Microsoft might not be the only large vendor charged with task of hawking a new concept.


Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004, the brother management software to
SMS 2003, is now in private beta testing with customers. The difference
between SMS and MOM is that the former is geared toward letting large
companies distribute software updates and patches automatically to clients
over corporate networks while MOM monitors network events to stave off
problems before they affect the network.


Aimed for beta before year’s end, MOM 2004 will contain such features as
auto-alert resolution, state monitoring, topological views, an intuitive
task-based operator console, and reporting. MOM 2004 will include management
packs for managing Web services components such as UDDI, ASP, .Net and IIS.
It will also include a management pack for monitoring services that operate
across disparate applications and systems.


MOM 2004 and SMS 2003 fall under the auspices of the broader company
platform, Microsoft System Center, which builds on the company’s Dynamic
Systems Initiative for corporate asset management, announced last March. The move was widely viewed as Microsoft’s answer to systems
management software lines such as IBM Tivoli and Computer Associates
International Unicenter.


Retail pricing for SMS 2003 with 10 device client access licenses is $1,219. Microsoft will officially launch its SMS 2003 Nov. 11,
with MOM 2004 arriving next year. The company intends to consolidate them
both into a single console called Systems Center set for release next
summer.


The company will unveil MOM Connector Framework, which will allow customers
to integrate MOM with Tivoli and Computer Associates, at the Professional
Developer’s Conference next week.

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