Management software is one category where Microsoft has never quite measured up to competitors. Redmond hopes to change that with an unlikely weapon: using code from the OpenPegasus project to extend its System Center suite to Linux and Unix environments.
Very open-minded of Muglia
Photo by Kim Kulish
Cross-platform management is the No. 1 customer request for System Center, and using open source code to get there represents recognition by Microsoft that it's far from a Windows-only world. It's also a significant move in the company's bid to be seen as a legitimate top-tier choice for enterprise management.
"I don't care what enterprise you walk into, they're not going to be single platform," says Clear Channel solution architect Curt Smith, a System Center customer. Clear Channel uses Linux to operate its radio Web platform, and VMware provides virtualization. "I want the ability to manage it all from one spot. You can't have a bunch of tools all over the place."
Last week, Microsoft released a beta of System Center Operations Manager 2007 Cross Platform Extensions, which it says will provide out-of-the-box service management for HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Sun Solaris; the extensions will be part of the next Operations Manager service pack. But Microsoft brass is talking like Cross Platform Extensions is just the first step in moving beyond Windows with System Center. "We've established a strong position in Windows management, but customers want us to do more," says Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft's server and tools business, adding that open source was the right way to respond. "Obviously our depth of expertise in Linux and Unix is not as deep as in our Windows platform. There's a lot of knowledge in the Linux and Unix community in OpenPegasus."
The company will join the OpenPegasus Steering Committee and contribute code back to the project; code Microsoft contributes will be freely modifiable and usable, so long as copyrights are left intact. OpenPegasus code ships in a number of Linux distributions, so Microsoft is technically announcing an intent to contribute to Linux by contributing to the project.
Open source is making a name for itself in systems management, to the dismay of many big players.
Microsoft also anticipates extending cross-platform support to other System Center products, including System Center Configuration Manager. For example, the upcoming System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, released in beta last week with final code due this summer, will manage VMware ESX Server as well as Microsoft virtualization products, and the next version will handle Citrix virtualization.
Novell, Quest, and Xandros also announced add-ons that use Cross Platform Extensions. Microsoft hopes this strategy of using partners to build out additional capabilities, such as managing Oracle on AIX, will be a differentiator, as will the company's depth of expertise on the Windows platform and System Center's low cost.
A lot of work remains before Microsoft's management software reaches parity with suites from CA, IBM, and others. A lack of mainframe support puts Microsoft behind, for example, and its long-delayed help desk software won't be released until 2010. But recognizing that Windows isn't the be-all, end-all is an important step.