Taming Windows

Microsoft delivers a smorgasbord of products aimed at one goal: making Windows easier to manage. But the job isn't done.

November 22, 2004

4 Min Read
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Almost two years after revealing a grand strategy for making Microsoft-based systems easier to manage, Microsoft last week made available a slate of products and disclosed new partnerships that should ease some of the biggest headaches businesses get from managing Windows.

Microsoft's new products should help IT managers as they migrate off Windows NT, patch Windows desktops, and manage their Windows servers and business applications, among other things. While the products are critical steps toward making Windows less costly to run, the company still faces hurdles, such as making Windows easier to run alongside Linux or Unix. "I'm skeptical that they will ever really pull off a true enterprise-management solution," says Mark Ehr, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

Microsoft's big-picture strategy--articulated by chairman Bill Gates as the Dynamic Systems Initiative--promises a departure from well-established systems-management platforms such as Computer Associates' Unicenter, Hewlett-Packard's OpenView, and IBM's Tivoli. Microsoft aims to build management tools directly into its underlying operating systems and applications, group product manager Eric Berg says.

Microsoft and Dell are partnering to simplify IT operations, says Dell CEO Kevin Rollins.

Even more broadly, Dynamic Systems Initiative is Microsoft's grand plan for creating Windows data centers that adapt to changing workloads. Speaking at Microsoft's IT Forum in Denmark last week, Gates described the Dynamic Systems Initiative as a framework for connecting all IT activities and moving away from managing individual systems and manual activities. "To do this well, we need to bring in all the different parts of the IT life cycle, including developers, analysts, and operations people who need to be connected," Gates said. "To do this really well, it has to be built into the development and modeling tools."

That high-level strategy touched down last week with key products, including general availability of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 and feature packs for its Systems Management Server 2003; availability of its previously announced Virtual Server 2005 and a migration toolkit to address the growing trend of server virtualization; and the second beta release of Windows Update Services to improve software deployment.Windows Update Services is particularly important to midsize companies for patching Windows desktops, while large companies generally use Systems Management Server 2003 for large-scale software patching and distribution. Virtual Server 2005 can be used to host older Windows NT 4 applications and run them on newer Windows Server 2003 servers. That's important because Microsoft support for NT 4 Server--including regular security patches--stops at the end of this year.

Microsoft also is partnering with Dell to integrate Dell's OpenManage 4 systems-management software with SMS 2003 to create unified tools for updating software, operating systems, and applications on a single interface. Dell has to help businesses cut the number of hardware-only system-management tools if it's going to help them reduce the complexity of IT operations, Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said last week at a news conference unveiling the partnership.

However, a weak spot in Microsoft's lineup is the lack of new products that deal directly with the management of Unix- and Linux-based systems operating in conjunction with a Windows environment, analyst Ehr says.

Yet even on this score, Microsoft offered some progress. The company has invested an undisclosed amount in Vintela Inc., which sells software that enables companies to tie Unix, Linux, and Mac operating systems to Microsoft's Systems Management Server 2003. Next year, Vintela plans software to connect with Microsoft Operations Manager 2005, which now comes with more application-specific "management packs" than before, letting customers feed performance data from a wider variety of applications to a central console. There are 130 such modules, including 80 for non-Microsoft products.

Svend Olling, CIO for the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen, says he uses Microsoft Operations Manager to run 350 Windows-based servers in 86 embassies. While standardizing around Microsoft, including Microsoft Operations Manager and Systems Management Server 2003, the Danish Ministry moved from a decentralized network of IT centers to a single data center in Copenhagen that controls IT functions in every embassy from New York to Baghdad. That means the ministry doesn't need systems administrators--who require security clearance and diplomatic status--in each embassy and instead can use local IT workers for minor support tasks. The ministry cut IT costs per employee in half, which is about 20% better than originally anticipated. Olling is upgrading to Microsoft Operations Manager 2005.Other Windows users are equally bullish. As group manager for Japan Research Institute America, which runs IT for Sumitomo Mitsui Bank Corp. in the United States and Europe, Shai Ofek has 420 Windows-based servers. JRI-America implemented Microsoft Operations Manager 2000 to manage about 50 servers and found it decidedly less than advertised. However, with Microsoft Operations Manager 2005, the group no longer has difficulties creating deployment permissions for new servers, and server searches are simpler. "We now have toolsets that allow us to actually see what's wrong within the environment," Ofek says.

For too many IT managers, the bottom line of what's wrong with their Windows environment has been that it's too complex and costly to manage. Microsoft's latest moves suggest it's at least throwing some of its muscle at that problem.

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