Microsoft Takes Next Step with Management Software

by Clint Boulton

Windows System Management Server 2003 is released to manufacturing weeks before its official launch.

Eyeing the corporate segment of the market for management software, Microsoft Wednesday released its Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 to manufacturing.

Formerly known as Topaz, SMS 2003 is the first piece in what the Redmond, Wash., software giant promises will be a broad, deep portfolio of software that helps corporations manage information from their data centers to their employees' mobile devices, putting Microsoft in competition with vendors such as IBM, Computer Associates, and BMC.

SMS 2003 focuses on three key areas -- support for mobile devices, integration with Active Directory, which allows organizations to centrally manage and share information on network resources and users while acting as the central authority for network security, and enhancements to the metering and reporting functions.

The latest version of SMS 2003 offers greater support for mobile devices, including Windows CE, XP embedded, and Pocket PC, through a new Advanced Client that automatically checks the size of the connection and adjusts transfer rates as needed. The new client agent supports the full management feature set from software distribution, asset management to remote troubleshooting without requiring a set of local servers or services.

The new Advanced Client also uses a Windows technology called Background Intelligent Transfer Services (BITS) to provide connectivity for all management operations over low-bandwidth or low quality network links, such as Remote Access Service dialup and remote Virtual Private Networking. SMS 2003 will also feature a checkpoint/restart function that restarts a failed transmission.

SMS 2003 also allows administrators to track application installations and correlate this with actual application usage, a metering feature characteristic of utility computing architectures. This tells administrators what applications are being used, how often, and how many users are using the same applications, allowing them to more closely gauge the application licenses required for their enterprise.

Uptime and availability are crucial characteristics of a data center. For example, even minutes of downtime in the network of a financial institution can result in millions of lost dollars from transactions that could not be processed. SMS 2003 constantly tracks applications and services in the network and provides tools to compare these with a list of available patches, service packs and upgrades, allowing administrators to circumvent outages.

SMS 2003 features a Web interface to the management database, which includes preconfigured reports spanning the configuration of all machines on the network, the software deployment and usage status, and details of individual machine configurations. This is a big bonus because administrators are commonly required to provide reports describing the progress of deployment and upgrade projects. Manual generation of reports takes administrators time, but by automating it, SMS 2003 allows workers to focus their attention elsewhere.

Redmonk Senior Analyst James Governor called the company's gradual glide into management software ambitious given the company's "checkered history in that space."

"But nobody got anywhere without taking on tough challenges and Microsoft has been incredibly successful doing that," Governor told internetnews.com "This is certainly targeted at IBM, Tivoli and BMC. SMS is targeted to start solving those management issues, but I think the problem with SMS is its brand and how it gets folded into systems going forward."

Governor said Microsoft will have its work cut out distinguishing its management software from other parts of its platform, such as the new Office Exchange server, which features an "almost P2P-based appraoch" whereby servers poll each other.

However, he said, IBM is also significantly tweaking Tivoli to work as a single management model across multiple domains -- enough so that Microsoft might not be the only large vendor charged with task of hawking a new concept.

Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004, the brother management software to SMS 2003, is now in private beta testing with customers. The difference between SMS and MOM is that the former is geared toward letting large companies distribute software updates and patches automatically to clients over corporate networks while MOM monitors network events to stave off problems before they affect the network.

Aimed for beta before year's end MOM 2004 will contain such features as auto-alert resolution, state monitoring, topological views, an intuitive task-based operator console, and reporting. MOM 2004 will include management packs for managing Web services components such as UDDI, ASP, .Net and IIS. It will also include a management pack for monitoring services that operate across disparate applications and systems.

MOM 2004 and SMS 2003 fall under the auspices of the broader company platform, Microsoft System Center, which builds on the company's Dynamic Systems Initiative for corporate asset management, announced last March. The move was widely viewed as Microsoft's answer to systems management software lines such as IBM Tivoli and Computer Associates International Unicenter.

Retail pricing for SMS 2003 with 10 device client access licenses is $1,219. Microsoft will officially launch its SMS 2003 Nov. 11, with MOM 2004 arriving next year. The company intends to consolidate them both into a single console called Systems Center set for release next summer.

The company will unveil MOM Connector Framework, which will allow customers to integrate MOM with Tivoli and Computer Associates, at the Professional Developer's Conference next week.

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

This article was originally published on Thursday Oct 23rd 2003
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