Microsoft weaving security, management into single platform

Evident of a larger industry trend, Microsoft on Wednesday began to lay out a strategy to integrate security and management tools into its Forefront and System Center brands of products.

The company announced the impending availability of Forefront Client Security and System Center Essentials 2007 and said integration between the two was the start of a trend to combine management and security.

The two products are built on the same management infrastructure, which is based on Microsoft’s Operations Manager.

Forefront Client Security marries virus and spyware protection for desktops, laptops and server operating systems, while System Center Essentials 2007 is a single package of tools targeted at small and midsize businesses that incorporates elements of Configuration Manager, Operations Manager and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

Experts say Microsoft is joining a trend that has other vendors, such as IBM, Symantec and LANDesk looking at the same type of integration.

“Certainly [Microsoft’s announcement] is a reflection of a trend we’ve seen growing over the past two to three years where both management and security professionals are showing a much greater interest in integration across these two domains,” says Scott Crawford, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

He says vendors are lining up resources as evidenced by IBM acquiring Internet Security Systems and Symantec buying Altiris.

“[Management and security] are the flip side of the same coin,” Crawford says. “They both target risk. Security is about managing the negative side of IT, such as security threats and insider risks. If you think about management tools in terms of risk, they are managing risk to the positive side of IT, such as business-critical availability and service-level management. Now you have a common windows and visibility into the whole of risk management.”

Microsoft said its combination of management and security products would include a common service-management platform that provided workflow, process automation and reporting capabilities. The integration would stretch across identity and access, change and configuration management, and problem resolution.

Experts says Microsoft will likely add its emerging modeling technology to the mix.

Models provide operational information, or knowledge about each component of an IT system, and store it in a standard format, or schema. The models are used by management and monitoring tools to paint a big picture of all the moving parts associated with running an application or service. When one of those parts deviates from its model, the problem is pinpointed and corrected quickly so the entire application or service does not crash or so that a security hole can be closed.

Microsoft’s Forefront family of products is made up of Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) 2006, the Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG), Forefront Security for Exchange Server, Forefront Security for SharePoint, Forefront Security for Office Communications Server and Forefront Client Security.

The System Center lineup includes Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Service Manager, Data Protection Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, Capacity Planner and Essentials.

“We’ve been driving these [product families] together and building them on a common management infrastructure, our System Center management infrastructure,” says Larry Orecklin, general manager of System Center marketing for Microsoft. The integration includes Active Directory and Group Policy, System Center for reporting eventing and alerting, and WSUS to distribute agent software to clients and push out patches to PCs.

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