Microsoft to unveil IT mgmt. platform

Microsoft next week is set to take its first major steps toward delivering a Windows platform designed to foster dynamically managed IT systems while making management efforts less expensive, easier to use and more consistent.

This week at its annual Management Summit, Microsoft will announce the availability of System Center Operations Manager, formerly called Microsoft Operations Manager. The software is Microsoft’s most significant management tool release since the company unveiled its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) in 2003.

DSI is a 10-year plan to create a Windows management platform. It includes a technology called the System Definition Model (SDM), a proprietary Microsoft technology for representing operational information or knowledge for each component of an IT system.

Operations Manager is the first management product to support SDM, which serves as the foundation to build models that servers and applications use to define their operational needs and communicate that data to the network.

The vision is that SDM-based models will foster better reliability, tracking, reporting, automated response/troubleshooting and rapid problem containment. DSI is Microsoft’s version of what others call autonomic computing.

Management buildout Microsoft is nearly halfway through its 10-year effort to create a management platform for Windows under its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) strategy. Here is a look at what products already support DSI.
ProductsKey DSI enabling featuresDSI architectural elements
Development tools
Visual Studio 2005Can capture modeling information while developing applications.Design for Operations Knowledge-Driven Management
Virtual Server and Virtual PCConsolidated infrastructure; ability to create test environments.Design for Operations Virtualized Infrastructure
Operating systems
Windows VistaConfiguration through imaging support for modeling, management specs.Design for Operations Knowledge-Driven Management Virtualized Infrastructure
*Longhorn ServerRole-based deployment using modeling; virtualization capabilities.Design for Operations Knowledge-Driven Management Virtualized Infrastructure
Applications
System Center managementModeling to support health monitoring, desired configuration monitoring and capacity planning.Design for Operations Knowledge-Driven Management
*Not released yet

“We are four years into the vision of DSI, and I feel like we are reaching the tipping point where it is crossing over from philosophy to a demonstration,” says Ed Anderson, director of DSI for Microsoft. “We have hard stuff, we have coded stuff up, we have specifications, we have involved the industry and we have implemented this stuff in our products.”

It’s the next half-dozen years of the DSI plan, however, where reality will determine if it all works. Experts say Microsoft will have to offer tools to simplify the collection and modeling of operational and other data, as well as convince customers to begin deploying integrated DSI-based systems instead of individual tools. The company also faces the task of carving out a spot among systems management heavyweights.

Operations Manager is one of two cornerstones in Microsoft’s suite of System Center-branded management tools. The other, Configuration Manager (formerly Systems Management Server), is scheduled to ship this summer and also include support for SDM.

With SDM support already available in its Visual Studio development tools, applications and systems built with those tools finally have an SDM infrastructure to communicate with.

“One of the goals with DSI was to bring the developers and the IT crowd together,” says Nelson Ruest, a consultant and systems integrator with Resolutions Enterprises in Victoria, British Columbia. “Microsoft is working on that internally and getting to a certain stage where there is cohabitation between the two, but whether that is penetrating in the customer base is a different story.”

Partners, however, are jumping on. F5 this week said that its forthcoming ControlPoint management appliance will have Microsoft’s Operations Manager baked in and it will include SDM-based extensions.

“We wanted to take advantage of the flexibility to create the concept and framework for the self-healing network that we want to promote as part of the application-delivery network F5 delivers,” says Warren Talbot, product manager for management strategy at F5.

On Thursday, Microsoft also made significant strides to get the industry on board, announcing that a multivendor effort to create a language called the Service Modeling Language (SML) was being sent to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for standardization. SML is based on SDM 3.0 and was developed by Microsoft and a slew of partners, including heavyweights BEA, BMC, CA, Cisco, EMC, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, and Sun.

“SML is a rock-solid piece of technology,” says Wayne Adams, senior technologist in the office of the CTO at EMC. “At EMC, we have been talking about infrastructure information models.”

The next sell will be to customers, and it won’t be easy as some are not even thinking past their next product upgrade.

“We are taking a tactical view, which means we are thinking about the next version of SMS,” says George Defenbaugh, manager of global IT infrastructure projects for Amerada Hess. “As far as DSI, that is not part of the conversation. We are trying to get the products upgraded in a harmonious fashion.”

But Defenbaugh says he is looking at Dynamic Configuration Monitoring, which is a feature of SMS and a concept under the DSI umbrella. “We do well to get these upgrades done; it is much harder to look at it from an overarching standpoint.”

Looking at the big picture is difficult, experts say, because DSI and SDM development is still in flux, and model-based dynamic management is a hard nut to crack.

Indeed, SDM is not even pervasive in the Microsoft infrastructure and it is already on its way out.

Microsoft’s Anderson said SDM can be thought of as an “artifact” and that Microsoft is aggressively moving toward SML, which has already shown up in Vista and will be in Longhorn at the expense of any SDM support. And it is set to be in all the System Center family of tools that ship after Configuration Manager this summer.

Operations Manager and Configuration Manager will be the last Microsoft products to support SDM, and Anderson says Microsoft is currently working on a transition strategy.

On top of that, Microsoft faces a difficult task developing sophisticated modeling schema’s that can truly make DSI fly.

Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, compares the modeling task to capturing all the knowledge a pilot has about flying a plane and turning that into code so it can by read by a program designed to fly the plane.

“How do you capture all that knowledge of the pilot? How do you take that knowledge and compare it to your instrumentation and then do the operation of flying the plane from A to B safely? When you talk about [DSI] that way it sounds rather daunting,” says Pawlak.

But Pawlak gives Microsoft credit for having an architecture in place and some tools that have the potential to meet the company’s vision of self-managing, self-healing systems.

“We are probably four or five years from the point where all the component vendors, application developers and corporate application developers will be truly designing their products for operation and management under the DSI vision,” says Pawlak.

“But I think Microsoft is making progress and you will finally start to see what they are trying to do when you see Operations Manager.”

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