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Crunch time for Microsoft management plan

Apr 24, 20066 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Annual summit seen as an opportunity for company to clearly define ambitious road map.

Three years into a projected 10-year effort to create a self-healing management platform for Windows, it’s time for Microsoft to stop talking and start producing, analysts and partners say.

The company will get that opportunity this week at its fourth annual Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) in San Diego. But observers say Microsoft is stuck in first gear as it scrambles to get customers situated on the base management software and release products that support the most complex part of the platform, an XML-based modeling technology called the System Definition Model (SDM).

The company’s ambitious management plan, first introduced at MMS in 2003, is called the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). It is focused on building a management platform around System Management Server (SMS), Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), Visual Studio, Windows Server, Virtual Server, and a set of specialized tools, such as capacity planning, backup and reporting services, under the System Center brand name. Last year at MMS, Microsoft upped the stakes by adding plans to support management of non-Windows platforms including Solaris and Linux.

“This year is a put-up-or-shut-up year,” says Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. The putting up centers on SDM, which is used to build models that dictate how systems are managed.

Last year at MMS, keynote speaker Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of the Windows enterprise management division, said “knowledge expressed in models across the application life cycle is what DSI is all about.” Microsoft has not produced the infrastructure software to create that environment, however.

The SDM models, which are embedded in applications, are XML documents outlining such parameters as how the application should be configured and what security policies are associated with its operation.

The applications eventually will be able to feed that information to the SDM-enabled versions of SMS, MOM and other management tools that will use those SDM parameters to monitor health, configuration and tasks associated with the applications and supporting systems.

Microsoft plans to SDM-enable all its infrastructure software, including the operating system, so the SDM management models can be used to repair, troubleshoot and report on network health.

Microsoft, however, has made scant progress on SDM tools.

Last year, the company released Visual Studio 2005, which gives developers basic features for building SDM-based management models into applications, and Visual Studio Team System, which involves testers, architects and IT staffs in addition to developers in model-building.

Microsoft also won industry support for a Web-services standard it created called WS-Management, which is the transport protocol for SDM models and is under review for ratification by the Distributed Management Task Force.

But Microsoft’s big guns that could jump-start SDM are missing – most notably the next versions of MOM and SMS that incorporate support for management via SDM models. Microsoft is expected to launch the first public beta of MOM Version 3 at MMS, and SMS Version 4 is slated to ship early next year.

“Last year they talked about these health models in an abstract way,” says analyst Pawlak.

“They didn’t say what tools MOM V3 would have to support these models. They didn’t say how Orcas [the next version of Visual Studio] would allow you to develop these models as you develop your code. They have to talk about that this year. And they should have a finalized schema for SDM, something they have published that goes into what this thing looks like,” he adds.

Microsoft officials say they are evaluating whether the SDM schema they have created should be turned over to a standards body as some analysts have suggested. But first Microsoft says it wants to come up with a solid implementation a standards body could begin to evaluate.

Microsoft for its part says SDM’s model-based policies are a major area of investment this year, along with virtualization and expanding System Center for what it calls knowledge-driven management.

“I think you are gong to see a marked improvement in SDM with the new MOM and SMS versions,” says Felicity McGourty, director of product management in the Windows enterprise management division.

“Sometimes progress on DSI is equated with progress on SDM implementation,” McGourty says. But she says the two are not intertwined: “We do not want to have customers wait for our [SDM] architecture implementation. We want to know how we can give customers benefits against our current products.”

McGourty cites examples such as MOM management packs that begin to offer health models, and prescriptive guidance provided through Solution Acelerators for optimizing SMS for certain tasks.

But partners say some interested parties aren’t expecting to hear anything that substantial. “Many of our customers aren’t going to the show this year because they don’t expect to learn anything new,” says one partner who requested anonymity.

Other partners say Microsoft has gotten ahead of itself. “With DSI, I don’t think they are as far along as they think they are,” says another partner who asked not to be identified. “They aren’t getting the tools and the appropriate products out the door.”

The partner says that its products to extend the DSI concept often can’t be installed correctly because users don’t have SMS configured the way Microsoft would like. “Everything has to be golden on the SMS or MOM side for us to put our stuff in and have it work.”

But some analysts say, given the nature of the project and its decade-long time frame, Microsoft isn’t doing so badly with DSI, which is similar to initiatives churning away at HP, IBM, Sun and other vendors.

“The priority that they are putting on this is not going to deliver it in the time frame that they originally envisioned,” says Andi Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. He says any delay, however, must take into account the delays in the Longhorn operating system, which was slated to ship in 2004 when DSI was announced and now won’t be ready until late 2007.

“It’s a big leap to go from manual management to automatic, and then it’s another major leap to go from automatic to autonomic,” Mann says. “It’s not a surprise it is taking Microsoft time to get significant results.”

Building a platform Microsoft three years ago introduced the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), its decade-long plan to build a comprehensive management platform for Windows. In the next 20 months, the company plans to release a range of software to boost its fledgling management plans.
System Management Server (SMS) R2Includes integrated scanner and support for third-party patches.May 2006
Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 3.0Along with SMS 4.0, includes first support for System Definition Model, the modeling technology that’s key to DSI.End of 2006
SMS 4.0Integrates with Longhorn’s Network Access Protection and new Windows Image format file.First half of 2007
Systems Center Capacity Planner V2Expands beyond Exchange, MOM-only support.2006-2007
Systems Center Reporting Manager V2Deeper integration into the platform.2006-2007
Longhorn ServerTies into upcoming MOM, SMS feature sets.2007