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Microsoft Systems Center: Poised for Takeoff?

When one talks network and systems management tools, four companies come to mind: BMC, CA, HP and IBM. Should a fifth, Microsoft, be included? "Microsoft certainly has gained a lot of ground in the management space and now has a large, well-entrenched customer base," notes Mary Johnston Turner, research VP, enterprise system management software, at International Data Corp.

Yet, the Microsoft product line has been a solid performer but not a showstopper in the complex and competitive network and systems management space. While the vendor has done well marketing its solution to Windows IT shops, it has lacked the depth and the breadth evident in competitive systems.

Microsoft hopes that the next release of its line, System Center 2012, will change that once it arrives later this year. Microsoft is trying to wedge its way into this established market by taking on the management of virtualized and cloud applications, especially Windows Azure deployments, with a new element in the suite, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012. "Microsoft seems to have a good handle on what companies view as the top management concerns," says Don Retallack, research VP, systems and security, at market research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Corporations need to address virtual machine sprawl. These systems have popped up like dandelions in an open field, so businesses often do not have a clear understanding of how the devices have been configured, what is running on them or how well they are performing. System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 includes Microsoft’s long-discussed Server App-V technology, which isolates applications from the underlying infrastructure and enables consistent provisioning, patching and operation of applications across multiple resource pools in various environments.

This module also underscores Microsoft’s newfound willingness to try to open its management systems up to other vendors’ equipment. "Historically, System Center has worked only with Microsoft software," says Directions on Microsoft’s Retallack, "The company left connecting it to other vendors’ systems up to third parties." System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 features the ability to pool and allocate virtual resources from hypervisors such as VMware’s vSphere and Citrix Systems' Xen, as well as Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

In marketing its suite, the company has taken a page from its Office line. "Microsoft priced System Center aggressively: Customers receive the whole suite for about the cost of a couple of modules," says Retallack. In fact, System Center has become a product banner that includes more than a half-dozen modules, some of which companies use and others that they would never buy.

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