Ballmer: We want to help you manage all of your IT

Microsoft is positioning its systems management products as enterprise class and cross-platform.

Microsoft wants to help enterprises manage their entire IT environments, not just Windows systems, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Ballmer told attendees at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

To underscore the point of heterogeneity, Ballmer shared the stage with a large Sun Microsystems server and during a demonstration showed how Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), one of Microsoft's systems management products, could be used to monitor servers running Red Hat's Enterprise Linux and Sun's Solaris.

In the demonstration, Bill Anderson, a senior product manager at Microsoft, used MOM to remotely turn off one server running Solaris and start up a backup server. The demonstration used WS-Management, a Web services specification developed by Microsoft, Sun and others.

"We have worked closely with Sun, yes Sun, the people we never used to work closely with," Ballmer said. "That kind of heterogeneous interoperability not only are we committed to, but the work we are doing with Sun is very instrumental to it."

Microsoft and Sun last year signed a 10-year settlement and collaboration agreement. Ballmer said he and Sun CEO Scott McNealy will give an update on that pact soon.

"Scott and I are going to do sort of a state of the union report [on] where we have gotten in a few weeks," Ballmer said. The companies have been criticized that their effort, which they had said was about interoperability, has not resulted in many tangible results for users.

Beating the interoperability drum, Ballmer also said that Virtual Server 2005 with the release of Service Pack 1 later this year will officially support more guest operating systems (OSes), including Linux.

Virtual Server lets users run different OSes on a single hardware server. It can host a range of x86-based OSes, including Linux, but there has not been official Linux support.

Additionally, Microsoft plans to build virtualization into Windows Server. The addition, based on Windows hypervisor technology, will come in the Longhorn "wave" of products, said Bob Kelly, a general manager in the Windows Server Group.

Kelly would not say whether the virtualization features will be in the first Longhorn server release, due in 2007, or be added later. The virtualization technology will support hardware technologies from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Also related to virtualization, Microsoft said it will offer a royalty-free license for its Virtual Hard Disk format for partners to build on top of the format. For users of MOM, Microsoft recently shipped an addition so they can manage virtual servers from the operations management application.

In his presentation, Ballmer said that while Microsoft "grew up on the desktop," it has matured into a provider of enterprise class products. "It was just 16 years ago that we started work on Windows NT, 16 years ago we began a journey to be very serious about enterprise computing," he said.

And in enterprise management, Microsoft has made its big steps in the last five years with products including MOM and Systems Management Server (SMS) and its Dynamic Systems Strategy (DSI), a 10-year project to create a self-managing IT environment.

"Really, the last five years is where I think we made the big advances in enterprise management," Ballmer said.

At the Management Summit this week, Microsoft fleshed out DSI and presented a road map for systems management products that will support it, including new releases of MOM and SMS planned for 2006 or 2007. "When we announced DSI a couple of years ago, analysts were saying to us that it feels a little fluffy ... DSI is very real," Ballmer said.

DSI is Microsoft's utility computing plan. It promises plug-and-play manageability. For example, an Exchange Server brought online in a network would automatically inform the management software of its status, configuration and tasks. The self-managing environment is built around hardware, software and applications that can signal their management needs using Microsoft's System Definition Model (SDM).

With the release of Visual Studio 2005 later this year, Microsoft will give developers the ability to include management information in their applications using SDM. The next versions of SMS and MOM will be able to consume SDM data.

Microsoft has reached a turning point for its systems management technology, said David Friedlander, an analyst with Forrester Research. "DSI is no longer a fuzzy vision, we can now see where that will fit in with the products. In the next two to three years it will be part of Microsoft products, and not just in systems management."

Aside from actually delivering the products that it has announced, Microsoft also has some additional areas that it could improve in, according to Friedlander. "The product road map lacks some maturity on service level management. To help customers manage not just a system, but entire business processes," he said.

Ballmer's keynote was interesting, said Joel Hawk, with Ajilon Consulting of Dallas, who currently works with Microsoft management products at a large semiconductor company. "The interoperability with Linux, Unix and Windows is something we would really like to throw into our environment," he said.

"I thought Ballmer's presentation was going to be more low-level Microsoft marketing hype, it was better than I expected," Hawk said.

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