Microsoft plans open approach to data center management

Microsoft will take an open approach to systems management with its initiative for simplifying corporate data centers, with plans to let products from Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates International and other vendors manage servers and software that conform to its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a Microsoft official said this week.

Like efforts underway at Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, DSI aims to make it easier to deploy and manage software across large groups of servers and storage equipment. The idea is that CPU power and storage will be assigned to applications automatically as demand dictates, making more efficient use of resources. Microsoft first discussed its efforts in March, saying the various components would be rolled out over three to five years.

While Sun, HP and IBM primarily are addressing the deployment and management of software, Microsoft is taking a "holistic" approach that starts with software development, said Eric Berg, a technical product manager with the Windows Server Group. Visual Studio developers eventually will be able to write applications that include information about their operational characteristics and resource requirements, which will be buried within the application in the form of XML documents, he said.

Microsoft calls the architecture the System Definition Model (SDM). Applications built using the SDM should be easier to manage because of the information they include about their operational characteristics, Berg said. Microsoft is evolving the Microsoft Operations Manager and other tools to take advantage of SDM, but also expects that HP OpenView, CA Unicenter and other popular management products will be adapted to support it, he said.

The information about SDM applications will be presented as a "runtime service," he said, an XML Web service that can be consumed by management tools from Microsoft and other vendors.

"We are putting a bunch of Web services on (the SDM runtime service), so other folks like HP can create management tools" that support the SDM, he said.

The management task is complex since applications often are deployed across multiple servers, each with its own storage system and network characteristics, and "a new generation of management tools" must evolve for the task, he said.

It's unclear whether the major tools vendors will buy into Microsoft's plan, especially since extending its own tools will put it in competition with those vendors, an issue that Berg acknowledged. At the same time, HP is among Microsoft's closest partners and the companies are working together on aspects of DSI, he said. He expressed confidence that HP and other management tools vendors would support the effort.

Like the data center efforts from the other top vendors, Microsoft's DSI is expected to take years to fully evolve. The company also is on relatively unfamiliar territory; its products are not nearly as prevalent in data centers as those of HP, Sun and IBM.

Microsoft positioned Windows Server 2003, launched last week, as the first deliverable of DSI and its "key foundation." In the second half of the year comes Automated Deployment Services, an add-on to Windows Server 2003 for deploying hundreds of Windows server images simultaneously. In the fourth quarter Microsoft will release products based on technologies it acquired from Connectix, including a server virtualization product for managing groups of servers as if they were a single machine, Berg said.

Further out, in what Berg called the "second wave" of deliverables, comes the version of Visual Studio that supports DSM, as well as versions of SQL Server, Exchange and other Microsoft applications. In the "third wave," Microsoft will add support for third-party products such as databases from Oracle Corp. and IBM and applications from SAP AG and other partners, he said.

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