Microsoft to update management software

Microsoft Corp. is expected to detail features of its forthcoming Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004 product and preview the beta version of Software Update Services (SUS) 2.0 at a conference in Las Vegas next week.

At its third annual Microsoft Management Summit, the software vendor will also announce a name change for SUS. The 2.0 version of the patch management software will be called Windows Update Services, according to the agenda for the event, which starts Monday.

More than 2,000 people have registered for the conference - a sell-out crowd, according to David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's Enterprise Management division. Attendees will get details on Microsoft's management product road map and an update on the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), its plan for reducing IT complexity by improving software manageability, he said.

"We will be making significant announcements in both strategy and product space," Hamilton said, declining to give any further details ahead of the event. DSI was announced just before last year's Management Summit.

Due out midyear, MOM 2004 will be an update to the MOM 2000 performance management software. In addition to new features such as a graphical systems views and enhanced reporting tools, MOM 2004 has been designed to be easier to deploy than its predecessor, Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, has said.

With MOM 2004, Microsoft will also refresh all its "management packs" for the software and introduce new packs designed to monitor Web services, the company said. Management packs are modules that allow MOM users to monitor specific applications or Windows services, such as Exchange or Active Directory.

Microsoft will also give an update on its plans for System Center, which bundles together MOM 2004 with Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and is due out in the second half of the year. System Center will be a key element of the DSI plan and combine the change and configuration management capabilities provided by SMS with the management and monitoring functionality of MOM.

Microsoft needs to provide more clarity on the overall management road map, as well as about where System Center fits in and what benefits it is going to bring, said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft Inc. in Kirkland, Washington.

"What is the benefit of bundling MOM and SMS? They haven't really spelled that out," Pawlak said.

Addressing a top pain for IT organizations -- the application of software patches -- Microsoft will give Management Summit attendees a preview of its new patch management software, SUS 2.0. To be renamed Windows Update Services, SUS 2.0 is a significant update from SUS 1.0, according to Microsoft, and is due out in the first half of the year.

The SUS update includes improvements in patch delivery, status reporting, network usage and improved implementation and administration flexibility, Microsoft has said. New functionality also includes the ability to patch not only Windows operating systems but also SQL Server, Office System and Exchange Server products, Microsoft has said.

An update to SUS is much needed, Pawlak said. "SUS 1.0 was a fairly weak first attempt, and before it will be accepted by savvy systems administrators it needs to have quite a few more capabilities," he said. The first version of SUS was really no more than a way to download patches to a local network and host them there for clients to download; it lacked any intelligence, Pawlak said.

But Pawlak is not convinced Microsoft is heading down the right path with the SUS update, in part because the SMS product has been well received and provides its own patch management capabilities.

"Why would Microsoft not release SMS in various versions to provide patch management" instead of building another patch management product based on completely different architecture? Pawlak said.

Microsoft has offered SUS at no charge, while SMS 2003 costs US$1,219 for the first 10 client access licenses.

LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. uses both SUS and SMS in different parts of its organization for patch management. It would like to settle on one product, but both have shortcomings, according to Donald Wright, a systems administrator at the Richmond, Virginia-based real estate transaction services provider. SUS lacks reporting features, while SMS is too complex, he said.

"It will be important to see Microsoft's strategy for addressing these shortcomings, as well as their overall strategy regarding the relationship between the two products. In our field offices, SUS is the preferred patch management platform. It is simple to implement; SMS has a much steeper learning curve," he said.

"The concern from an enterprise perspective is the lack of reporting in SUS. Analysts can distribute the patch, but there is no way to track the distribution. SMS handles the reporting aspect of the process well, but requires a considerable time investment to master. Unfortunately, time is not a something our admins have in surplus," Wright said.

LandAmerica also uses MOM to administer servers in its data center. Although the current version works, certain basic features, such as simple monitoring, exclusion of specific systems from rule sets, and reporting, are not well implemented, Wright said. "Since MOM 2004 is Microsoft's first full version upgrade ... our expectations for the new version are high," he said.

Although the Management Summit focuses mainly on Microsoft products, some other vendors get room to show off their wares. Several vendors will be making announcements at the event:

-- Computer Associates International Inc. is scheduled to announce the general availability of a new integration option for Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management that provides MOM 2000 users with visibility into the health and status of Web services across .NET and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) environments.

-- Tidal Software Inc. will announce Nsight SAP, a tool that allows for management of SAP AG's MySAP applications through the MOM console.

-- Configuresoft Inc. is announcing the integration of its Enterprise Configuration Manager with Microsoft's SMS, providing centralized configuration control.

-- Softricity Inc. will announce integration of its SoftGrid product with Microsoft's SMS, allowing SMS users to manage the Softricity application delivery product through the SMS management console.

- Silect Software Inc. will introduce Health Reporter 2004 for MOM, an upgrade from MOM Health Reporter that offers new reporting and configuration options, among other enhancements. The product provides status information about the health and performance of MOM infrastructures.

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