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Microsoft seeks to get its servers in sync

By , Network World
May 30, 2005 12:01 AM ET

Network World - After several failed attempts to use marketing to create a corporate computing platform, Microsoft now is turning to engineering in an attempt to pull Exchange, SQL Server, Windows and its other infrastructure servers into a cohesive stack of enterprise software.

Microsoft's engineering effort underlies the Windows Server System, which was born as a marketing term, but now could potentially become something quite different.

Microsoft has lumped 19 servers under the Windows Server System banner and is attempting to lash them together into a cohesive unit with its Common Engineering Criteria (CEC). The criteria were introduced last June as a blueprint and set of rules for how servers are developed, secured, managed, certified, customer approved and licensed.

The servers are grouped in three categories: Operations, which includes Identity Integration Server and System Management Server; Applications, which includes SQL Server and BizTalk; and Information Work, which includes Exchange and SharePoint Portal Server. Windows Server 2003 provides plumbing features such as Active Directory and VPN support (see graphic for a complete list).

The company has released its first three servers designed under CEC principles, and more are due this year.

The goal is to simplify IT environments, says Bill Hilf, director of platform technology for Microsoft.

"We should be able to engineer out as much complexity as we can before the software arrives to the customer," he says. "The way to factor out that complexity is the integration story."

Chapters of that story include: completing its lineup of CEC-compliant computers, delivering on Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, a plan to create a management platform for Windows; succeeding in securing its code through its Trustworthy Computing initiative; and supporting XML-based standards to back integration with non-Windows platforms.

Just getting started

Microsoft's largely behind-the-scenes integration efforts are catching some customers by surprise.

"I didn't know they were doing this, but we can see it already working," says Lance Auman, director of enterprise infrastructure for the San Francisco Unified School District. Auman says he uses Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), one Windows Server System server, to integrate his 311 servers around a common management model. He also is in the process of testing one of the newest Windows Server Systems servers, Data Protection Manager, to help solve his back-up problems.

"The beta already has a MOM management pack with it," he says.

"It's imperative for us that all this stuff work together," Auman says. "It is the only way we can manage it all with the small staff we have."

The CEC includes requirements that servers have modules, called management packs, that connect into MOM - a monitoring and performance application. . It also stipulates support for command-line scripting that servers can run inside a virtual machine, and that all servers use the same installer technology and patching tools. CEC also mandates customer feedback loops, logo programs and training.

Microsoft plans to adhere to the CEC in all the servers it releases going forward.

Next month at its annual TechEd conference, Microsoft plans to announce new CEC requirements for 2006.

"The thing that makes Windows Server System more than just a gimmick is the CEC," says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies. "It also telegraphs to people what they can expect with products in that pool of servers."

Microsoft's efforts here amount to an acknowledgment by the company that it previously hasn't had common engineering requirements for its server products, Davis says.

It's an attempt by the company to compete using "its entire stack of software instead of point products. Instead of Windows vs. Linux, Exchange vs. Notes, and have people look at Microsoft's portfolio in its entirety," he says.

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