Users seek more info on Microsoft's model plan

Microsoft last week took several steps designed to bolster its System Center line of management tools. But some attendees at the Microsoft Management Summit in San Diego said they were disappointed by the lack of new information about the company's Dynamic Systems Initiative.

DSI is Microsoft's overarching strategy for making systems more self-managing through the use of software models in which IT staffs can capture data about their computing environments. The System Center products, including Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager, are also key components of DSI.

But the System Center announcements made at last week's conference were "more tactical than strategic," said a systems engineer who asked not to be identified. "In six months, I'm going to have to think about how to implement these tools. What I got was very much an appetizer. What I needed was a full entree."

"Some of the features they showed were nice, but I was looking for more architect-scale news," said another attendee who also didn't want to be identified.

In an interview, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, said that the company shipped the first design-side version of its System Definition Model (SDM) as part of the Visual Studio 2005 Team System development tool set released last fall. SDM is the technology that can be used to create models as part of DSI.

Muglia also pointed to Distributed Management Task Force Inc.'s announcement last week that it had accepted the Web Services for Management specification as a preliminary standard. Microsoft was one of the development leaders on WS-Management, which it views as a key element of DSI, because the standard will help ease interoperability between Microsoft's tools and software from other vendors.

"We announced DSI three years ago, and since then, we've kept on driving forward and filling in the blanks," Muglia said.

System Center competes with product suites such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView, IBM's Tivoli and CA's Unicenter. At last week's conference, Microsoft announced Service Desk 2007, a help desk application that currently is in beta testing. It also showed off features that will be in the upcoming Version 4 of SMS, including support for Microsoft's Network Access Protection technology.

The NAP tools will be able to check PCs running Windows Vista to see if they have the latest security updates. If not, SMS will prevent them from accessing a corporate network until the required updates are installed and will notify users about their status via pop-up messages.

"You can patch all day, but what happens when a user logs in before getting the latest updates?" said Bryan Henson, a senior systems engineer at Pioneer Natural Resources Co. in Irving, Texas. The oil and gas company uses SMS 2003 to manage 1,600 PCs and 400 servers worldwide. Henson said NAP is a feature that Pioneer "had been asking Microsoft for for a long time."

Service Desk 2007 will give help desk staffers a single view for tracking trouble tickets. "The first version won't have all the cool features you'll want, but I think the product will be good enough that I'd give a serious look at the beta," said Dan Twing, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates.

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