"W2K Can Run and Run"
Users and analysts point to recent progress by Microsoft in the dual areas of system reliability and management as a potential portent for success in the crossplatform application management realm.
"Windows 2000 can run and run," says Bruce Elgort, manager of information services, Strategic Business Operations, for Sharp Microelectronics America. Sharp's network was recently upgraded from Windows NT/95 to a largely Windows 2000/XP environment, although it also includes Sun Solaris and Linux systems used by developers. Despite the greater reliability of W2K, however, Sharp is now migrating from Microsoft Exchange to Lotus Notes.
"Microsoft has been playing in the management space with SMS, MOM, and Application Center. Also, Data Center 2003 running on Unisys hardware is 'data center grade.' It can scale quite high. It's quite competitive with Unix and even with some mainframe systems," contends Dwight B. Davis, VP and practice director at Summit Strategies.
"I think Microsoft can do a really credible job of managing its own applications. That's already starting to happen with .NET," admits Jasmine Noel, who heads up industry analyst firm J Noel Associates.
"Vendors need to keep their applications instrumented just to run them on .NET," Joel added. "If Microsoft can embed that into its development tools, so much the better."
Managing Windows Apps from Elsewhere
Some can foresee management of Windows applications from other platforms. "You can extrapolate a certain degree of crossplatform management in the Web services aspect. Microsoft's been supporting open standards. What they've unveiled about DMI so far, though, is still very Windows-centric. A core theme is to 'design in' application awareness from scratch," according to Summit's Davis.
Microsoft, though, will be opening up its data model, Davis predicts. "HP is a close partner of Microsoft's and will certainly look at Microsoft's announcement as something that might be managed under its Adaptive Infrastructure push. Microsoft would like to say, 'We're the best provider of management.' I think HP, though, would be more the umbrella under which [DMI] might play."
IBM and Sun have been less friendly with Microsoft. "Potentially, though, either one might look to envelop Microsoft's stuff in the future," according to the Summit analyst.
The Other Way Around?
Most folks are less convinced, though, about Microsoft stepping into the role of crossplatform data center manager.
At this point, Microsoft seems to lack the needed industry credibility. "Here goes Microsoft with another direction change," said Elgort of Sharp. "Like a lot of other initiatives, this will probably fall on to the back burner. People like me are getting fed up with all this. Times are tight. The fun and games are over. We're interested in reducing ROI, and that's going to come from better [systems] administration."
Elgort says he's been frustrated by Exchange's management capabilities, as well as with frequent needs to upgrade the Windows OS just to keep pace with Microsoft's latest features. "Exchange isn't as flexible as it could be. The inability to restore someone's mailbox without layered tools is ridiculous. The 2GB mailbox limitation is also ridiculous," he adds.
"It'd be a huge jump to go from managing Microsoft systems to managing a heterogeneous enterprise environment. If I have trouble opening up a Microsoft Office file on my Macintosh, how on Earth is Microsoft going to manage applications on other people's platforms?" Joel asks.
"Microsoft would have to acquire somebody who really plays in the management game -- not just some funky company who just so happens to be making money. Then, I might buy the idea," the analyst suggests.
At this point, Windows can certainly exchange data with other OSes, Davis agrees. "But does that equate with application awareness at the data center? I don't think so."
Microsoft still has a lot to prove on the enterprise management front, he indicates. "It would be an incremental process for Microsoft to win the respect of people in the data center. Data Center 2003 is certainly nothing to belittle. Within the data center, though, the product is still a long way from being perceived as showing that 'Microsoft is There.'"
Does "incremental" mean "impossible," though? Despite numerous flops along the way, Microsoft has a track record of astounding the IT world by scaling some mighty high hurdles. Could crossplatform application management really be in Microsoft's future? Only time will tell.