MS lays out initiative around self-managing software

Microsoft Corp. Tuesday unveiled a multiyear, multistage plan for the construction of a management platform intended to provide corporate customers with the tools needed to make Windows-based servers and applications a reliable piece of their datacenter computing environments.

Management has been a historic weak spot for Microsoft, often becoming an issue only after systems and applications are deployed.

But the company is attacking that reality with its broadest effort to date called Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), which will incorporate a number of technologies and products, including development tools and the operating system, to create a self-managing computing environment covering everything from applications to servers. Microsoft's competitors, including IBM, Sun and HP are working on similar initiatives generically referred to as autonomic computing.

As could be expected, Microsoft is taking a Windows-centric management view and will rely on third-party partners to connect Microsoft's management tools into heterogeneous environments.

"Increasingly people want the one-stop shopping approach and less baling wire and duct tape," says Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "This initiative sounds comprehensive for Microsoft systems but heterogeneity is the rule in large enterprises. If large enterprises have to go to third parties to get that they may just choose a broader set of management tools from the start."

Under the DSI umbrella, Microsoft has created what it calls its System Definition Model (SDM), an XML-based technology that will be built into the operating system and used in the development of applications so management becomes an inherent part of the entire Windows environment.

Microsoft plans to start building SDM support into Visual Studio.Net later this year, but support in the operating system and management tools won't come until the Windows Longhorn timeframe, which has slipped to late 2004. Microsoft says the entire management platform will be finalized with the Blackcomb release of Windows, which has slipped out to 2006 or beyond.

Microsoft also said it will combine its Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), an event and performance monitoring tool, and Systems Management Server (SMS) into a single product called System Center, which will provide tools to manage desktops, laptops, PDAs, applications and servers. It also will deliver tools for change and configuration management, asset management, application management, IT process orchestration, performance trending, reporting and capacity planning.

The first iteration of System Center, slated to ship next year, will combine SMS 2003, which has a planned September release date, and MOM 2004, which Microsoft unveiled on Tuesday and plans to ship mid-2004. Future versions of System Center will more closely integrate the two. Microsoft also hopes to entice hardware and software partners to build their products to support the DSI architecture.

"The goal is to enable customers to have a fully automated datacenter that self-adjusts to changing business priorities," says Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Microsoft's newly formed enterprise management division. The idea is to have a system that can recognize when changes are needed, such as dynamically adding servers to a Web site as it encounters spikes in usage, he says.

"There are some similarities with autonomic computing but the key difference is that this is an architecture," Tatarinov says. "It's a unifying architecture from the ground up instead of unifying multiple components."

Microsoft is highlighting two features in Windows Server 2003, scheduled to ship next month, as the first deliverables under DSI: Automated Deployment Services, technology for deploying software, and Windows Systems Resource Manager, a workload management tool that lets you specify resources such as memory for individual applications.

But perhaps the key piece is SDM, which will use XML to define every aspect of managing servers and applications. SDM will become a key piece in Microsoft's all encompassing Web services effort branded under the .Net moniker.

"The operating system will provide the SDM schema engine," Tatarinov says. "And developers will build SDM support into their applications using Visual Studio.Net. It's a huge change in how Microsoft thinks about management, which for years has been an afterthought."

Tatarinov says management will become inherent in the Windows platform in the same way the company has built in scalability and the way it is currently incorporating security under its Trustworthy Computing initiative.

With SDM, applications will express in XML how they can be managed and the operating system will be able to read those instructions and act on them.

Microsoft also plans to use SDM as the basis of its Web services integration to support other platforms such as Unix and Linux under its management platform.

"Partnerships will be the most important step in supporting heterogeneous environments," Tatarinov says. "We don't want to build agents to manage other systems, we want to use Web services. Our System Center will bring it all together."

Microsoft's SDM is a proprietary model. The company has yet to commit to an effort to create a Web services management standard that just began at the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). Microsoft has come under fire recently for creating its own standards proposals, typically in partnership with IBM, independent of the work going on in recognized standards bodies.

"We are watching what is happening in the OASIS group," says David Hamilton, director of product management in the enterprise management division.

As part of the management effort in the near term, Microsoft will continue to develop its current management products. SMS 2003 will be bolstered by a set of Feature Packs that will be released six months after the tool ships this fall. A highlight of those packs will be a provisioning tool that allows users to lay down their desktop configurations, or images, and then push them out to new machines all from within SMS. Previously, a third-party tool was needed to create the image.

With MOM, Microsoft is making the software easier to deploy and making the user interface more task based. MOM also will feature a host of redesigned Management Packs that are now being built by the specific teams within Microsoft responsible for products such as Active Directory, Exchange and SQL Server.

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