Microsoft Starts to Deliver On System Center Promises

New systems management suite takes shape as revamped tools begin to ship

At its annual management tools conference last year, Microsoft Corp. talked up its System Center product family and tried to reassure users that its Dynamic Systems Initiative for autonomic computing was on track. Now the company is starting to deliver on its DSI promises.

Microsoft released System Center Operations Manager 2007, a rewritten version of its event and performance management software, on April 1. The other linchpin of the System Center family, Configuration Manager 2007, is scheduled to be available this summer, said Brad Anderson, a general manager in Microsoft’s Windows Server division.

Company officials said at the Microsoft Management Summit 2007 in San Diego last month that Operations Manager is focused on end-to-end management of computing services and processes, not on controlling individual systems.

Management Team

The following joint efforts were announced at the Microsoft Management Summit:

•  Microsoft is licensing EMCs Smarts network monitoring technology, and EMC will develop add-on network management and root-cause analysis tools for System Center Operations Manager.•  Microsoft, EMC and Cisco are creating a set of IT infrastructure models to make it easier to use the Service Modeling Language, which Microsoft originally developed.

The new release — formerly known as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) — includes management packs designed to simplify setup, plus self-tuning thresholds and the ability to monitor clients with or without software agents.

Managing Priorities

Virgin Megastore USA, a 13-store music retail chain based in Los Angeles, began installing the upgraded software last October and finished rolling it out early last month. CIO Robert Fort said that before doing so, the Virgin Group Ltd. unit was using a free open-source tool called Big Brother, but only to monitor a few servers in its data center.

Fort said Operations Manager is freeing his 12-person IT team from mundane help desk tasks and enabling staffers to more closely monitor any breaks in internal processes. That helps them decide whether a problem is major — one that involves a server, for example — or a minor issue related to a point-of-sale device or music kiosk, he added.

Microsoft said future updates will add network discovery and health monitoring capabilities via EMC Corp.’s Smarts technology, under a licensing deal announced at the summit.

Andi Mann, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., said he’s impressed by what he has seen of Operations Manager 2007. But, he added, “I’m looking to see if there really is knowledge out of the box. Implementation is always the beast.”

Configuration Manager 2007 — which has also been called Version 4 of Systems Management Server (SMS), Microsoft’s old name for the software — is in a Beta 2 release, managing 65,000 PCs.

Dell Inc. is using the beta version to deploy software on more than 20,000 PCs, said Takis Petropoulos, the company’s IT manager for enterprise tools engineering. New features, such as a task sequencer, make Configuration Manager more flexible than SMS 2003 for installing operating system images and pushing out software updates, he said.

At the management summit, Microsoft also announced beta release plans for other System Center products, including tools for managing data protection, virtual machines and help desk processes. Those products are a part of the company’s plan to create an integrated and modular line of systems management tools.

Mann said earlier versions of MOM and SMS had a reputation for being “less painful” to get up and running than infrastructure management platforms such as Hewlett-Packard Co.’s OpenView and CA Inc.’s Unicenter. But, he cautioned, that may change now that System Center is becoming “this whole family.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon