Microsoft Expands Software Management Product Line

UPDATED: Microsoft’s been busy. The software giant took the wraps off Exchange “12,” announced new management software and made a strategic acquisition in the management space, all within a few days.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 is now the official product name of what had been known in development as Exchange 12, the email and collaboration server. Along with Exchange Server 2007, due either at the end of this year or in early 2007, the company is also planning to release new management software for centralized network administration and management.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the server and tools business for Microsoft , told a group of IT managers at the Microsoft Management Summit 2006 this week in San Diego, Calif., that the company is preparing a service desk console to provide a foundation for centralized software management.

Fitting in with this management strategy is the news that Microsoft will acquire AssetMetrix, an asset and license management solutions company based on Ottawa, Canada. Microsoft said the acquisition would allow it to deliver a more comprehensive asset and license management solution for customers of all sizes. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

One of the most common requests from customers is asset management in the context of license management, said Felicity McGourty, director of product management, Windows enterprise management division at Microsoft. It comes with an agent to probe every computer on a network for all of its software assets and compiles a report. From there, customers can determine how well or badly they comply with their site licenses.

Microsoft’s Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 does have the ability to take an inventory of Microsoft and some non-Microsoft assets, but it’s not as comprehensive as AssetMatrix, particularly when examining non-Microsoft software. AssetMetrix has a library of more than 300,000 applications and can recognize those applications right down to the patch level, said McGourty.

Microsoft plans to continue to offer the AssetMatrix service for non-SMS customers going forward. In the next six to nine months, existing SMS customers will get the AssetMatrix application library, and the next release of SMS will come with it as a standard feature for performing an inventory of all applications, said McGourty.

Exchange Server 2007 is notable in that it is only available for 64-bit x86 servers, running Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition. This is the first Microsoft product to be available only in 64-bit form. Microsoft cites the much higher memory support in 64-bit systems (16 petabytes vs. 4 gigabytes in a 32-bit system).

This means far fewer computers are needed to run a high-performance server, since 32-bit computers run out of memory so quickly, and there is far less disk I/O required, because more information can stay in memory. A 64-bit system also allows for larger mailbox sizes.

New in Exchange 2007 is PowerShell, formerly known as Monad, an automation management scriptable command line shell that will allow administrators to run routine and repetitive tasks through scripts. The Exchange Management Console is a graphical console also built entirely on top of Windows PowerShell. It will offer simpler navigation and new filtering capabilities for server management.

Exchange Server 2007 Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA) has been further integrated with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), allowing administrators to scan their servers for optimal performance.

Muglia said Microsoft’s forthcoming service desk will be the foundation for a set of management-related best practices and tasks, such as tracking a company’s hardware and software assets or updating software from a central point. It should be available by the end of next year, he said.

All of these moves are part of Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a project to increase centralized management of computers and automation of tasks. “With System Center, Microsoft is delivering on a clearly defined strategy for systems management to reduce the cost and complexity of managing IT infrastructures for customers,” Muglia said at the Management Summit according to a Microsoft release.

The service desk will be a part of Microsoft System Center, a suite of management solutions that includes Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager, plus data protection, reporting and capacity management software. The system desk will offer a workflow engine for facilitating best practices and be the foundation for a configuration management database (CMDB).

As part of the migration of products to System Center, Microsoft is renaming the pieces that make up the suite. Muglia also said the MOM version 3 will be renamed System Center Operations Manager 2007, while SMS version 4 will become System Center Configuration Manager 2007. SMS v4 is currently in beta testing, while MOM v3 is expected to begin beta testing soon.

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