Microsoft Refines Management Message

This week at the 2003 Microsoft Management Summit (MMS 2003) in Las Vegas, Microsoft will announce a major overhaul of its management vision and product lineup, an initiative that will change the company's focus to delivering solutions that manage the complete end-to-end lifecycle of its products. Microsoft announced the first stages of this transition at last spring's show. This year, Microsoft Senior Vice President Brian Valentine and other company executives will outline the specific product rollouts and time lines that the company will use to make the change.

Among the technologies that Microsoft will discuss this week are new feature packs for Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 (code-named Topaz), the upcoming version of the company's Change and Configuration Management (CCM) solution. According to David Hamilton, director of the Microsoft Management Business Group, SMS 2003 is a major upgrade focused on desktop management. The product will include features to manage the inventory of software installed on desktop computers, will support remote devices such as Pocket PCs, and will include new reporting and metering tools. "SMS 2003 will be more modular than the previous version and support Pocket PC 2003 \[due this summer\] onwards," Hamilton told me. "We will also be supporting Windows XP Embedded for customers using it to manage cash machines, free-floating devices in industrial settings, and so on. We believe the design principles for \[Pocket PC and XP Embedded\] devices need to be consistent with desktop management, with one UI, one concept. It's a real challenge to make that happen." SMS 2003 will ship in September, Hamilton said.

With the current release of SMS, SMS 2.0, Microsoft began releasing a series of add-on feature packs that let administrators more easily perform new tasks in SMS. One of the most popular feature packs for SMS 2.0 is the Software Update Services (SUS) Feature Pack, which makes rolling out critical security updates for Windows and Microsoft Office easier. With SMS 2003, Microsoft will continue the feature pack tradition with a variety of add-ons that the company will discuss this week for the first time.

Another key Microsoft management product, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), the company's event and performance manager, recently received a major update, Service Pack 1 (SP1). MOM SP1 adds international-language support for managing non-English environments, various performance and scalability improvements, and support for clustered databases. The latter two improvements make MOM more viable in large-scale, distributed environments, Hamilton said. "A lot of the focus with SP1 was on the international support," he noted. "MOM wasn't originally localized." Also, the company has updated MOM with a new software development kit (SDK) that developers can use to extend and automate MOM's features and a new MOM resource kit that includes new testing and debugging tools. "MOM is focused on operations management, such as events and performance," he said. "It collects events and looks at the performance of systems over time and predicts problems. It does that for any type of application, including Active Directory \[AD\], \[Microsoft\] IIS, DHCP, DNS, \[Microsoft\] Exchange Server, \[Microsoft\] SQL Server, or whatever."

Finally, Microsoft will soon update its high-availability Web application deployment and management tool, Application Center 2000, to SP2; the release will ship shortly after Windows Server 2003. Application Center 2000 SP2 will make it easier to manage IIS-based Web applications, which organizations often use in broad scale-out Web environments, Hamilton said. "AppCenter is broader in what it does \[compared to MOM\]," he said. "It's specifically for managing components of IIS-based Web applications, such as configuration data, content that is primarily located in Web pages and MSMQ \[Microsoft Message Queue Services\]."

Hamilton told me that Microsoft is concentrating its management efforts going forward on best practices, documentation, and solving common customer scenarios. "We have a broad-based effort around solution offerings called the Microsoft Systems Architecture \[MSA\], an umbrella offering for Microsoft Solutions for Management \[MSM\]," he said. The company shipped version 1 of MSA in December 2002; it includes a series of best-practice guides about topics that customers ask about most often, including deploying OSs, monitoring servers, and security patch management. "We received more interest in the guides than we had expected," Hamilton said, noting that Microsoft will release new guides every 6 months.

What details can we expect to hear at MMS 2003 this week? Hamilton said that Microsoft will make a series of announcements about the next versions of its management products and detail how these products are changing over time. Last year, the company provided rough guidelines for the evolution of its so-called Server Manager and Client Manager projects, which will eventually consolidate the current line of management products. This year, the company will give us more information about this migration. Stay tuned. I'll have more information about these developments next week.

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