Microsoft's infrastructure management aspirations

* Microsoft plans to become a cross-platform systems management vendor

Microsoft wants to change a key number in the systems management market: the big four

Microsoft last week at its Microsoft Management Summit conference detailed its plans to become a cross-platform systems management vendor to compete with the likes of BMC, CA, HP and IBM. Microsoft is by no means the first vendor to challenge the status quo of management software, but like EMC, Symantec and other established vendors it could have the customer base and back account to make its mark.

For one, Microsoft intends to work with the Open Group on its OpenPegasus project, which is an open source implementation of the Distributed Management Task Force's (DMTF) Common Information Model (CIM) and Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM) standards. Working with open source could help Microsoft draw in IT managers looking to put the flexible software model to use for management cross-platform systems

Microsoft also announced at the show several management-related products, starting out in beta release. One set of extensions to the company's System Center Operations Manager 2007 product will be able to discover, monitor and manage virtual and physical systems. Microsoft also said it will make available for free Operations Manager 2007 Connectors, which would integrate with HP and IBM Tivoli management platforms.

But this isn't Microsoft's first play for management market share, there was Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), which Microsoft started to deliver in 2007. Now the vendor could face challenges going beyond its Windows-centric approach to include Linux and Unix platform management. Microsoft's plans to integrate with products already in place in enterprise IT shops could help its efforts along, according to industry watchers.

"The shift they made was to support heterogeneous environments, and the question becomes how well will they support them," said Steve Brasen, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, in a story by Network World Senior Editor John Fontana, who reported from the Microsoft show. "Initially [Microsoft's offering] is not as comprehensive as the big four, but over time I would expect their heterogeneous support to improve, but the question then will be to what degree."

Microsoft has to be considered a contender in any software market, but it is coming late to the systems management game -- which challenges even its leaders to stay current and relevant to customers. If Microsoft can tackle the pain points of newer environments without relying on old ways of managing -- such as rolling out agents to every managed device -- maybe it could offer an innovative alternative to what IT managers already have in place or hear about from BMC, CA, HP and IBM.

A recent report from Forrester Research prognosticates about the state of the IT management software market in 2013, and according to lead author and research vice president Jean-Pierre Garbani, vendors will need to evolve to a service-centric approach to come out on top. There are numerous aspects of managing large environments, many of which remain disparate, but Forrester argues that when internal enterprise IT shops start to manage and deliver IT services as service providers do, the 12 management disciplines relevant today will be whittled down to service delivery; service management; and service support -- which could open the market up for innovators.

"By 2013, most customers will expect IT management software vendors to either cover at least one (if not all) of the three new market categories -- or to clearly position themselves as a specialists in a narrow niche of as a highly innovative contender," the report reads. "Now would be the time to do this, while most vendors are still thinking about (and living) in the old paradigm."

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