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Big Changes Looming for Windows Server and Management Tools

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For managing its upcoming Windows 2003 Server, Microsoft plans to release System Center, a suite that will combine Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). Several years from now, though, SMS and MOM will both be history. As Microsoft adopts a new “self-healing” architecture, administration and monitoring tools will instead gradually be integrated into the OS, application servers, and applications. Applications will become “operationally aware and able to take part in their own management,” as one Microsoft official puts it.

Don’t hold your breath, though. The complete implementation of Microsoft’s plan for a new systems architecture — unveiled last week at the Microsoft Management Summit — will take a good five to ten years, according to Michael Emanuel, a product manager at Microsoft. When the plan reaches full fruition, outside management tools — including SMS and MOM — will supposedly become unnecessary.

Applications might even become manageable “independent of Windows,” Emanuel said. For that to happen, however, Microsoft must first succeed in convincing other OS makers to adopt elements of its architecture.

A Long Road Ahead…

Other observers also foresee a long road ahead. “It’s a complicated process, involving many different players, and I think it will take about ten years to get there. Until then, there’s still a lot of serious blocking and tackling to be done,” states Steve Larsen, CEO of BigFix, one of Microsoft’s third-party partners on the security and management side.

“Microsoft is going to have to completely ‘do over’ the Windows code,” criticizes Ed Brill, senior manager of messaging and collaboration for IBM’s Lotus Software.

…But Microsoft Has a Roadmap in Place

Microsoft, though, has already sketched out a roadmap. Windows’ revamped, XML-based architecture will float an alphabet soup of new acronyms: DSI (Dynamic System Initiative), SDM (System Definition Model), ADS (Automated Deployment Services), and Windows System Resource Manager (WSRM).

ADS is a new server provisioning and administration tool that is already in beta with early customers like Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Cable and Wireless PLC, and Rackspace Managed Hosting. Broader availability is eyed for the second quarter.

Windows Server 2003 will provide initial OS support for ADS; the SDM object model; WSRM, a dynamic system resource management tool; and Virtual Server, a tool based on virtual machine technology purchased from Connectix. Other enhancements in Windows 2003 will include network load balancing and Windows server clustering.

The overriding DSI model, however, centers most directly on SDM, an XML-based blueprint for capturing operational needs of applications and then bringing those requirements together with data center policies. On the application development side, Microsoft will start to support DSI in the next edition of its Visual Studio developer toolset.

“For the Microsoft object model to become very widespread, Microsoft must collect the members of its developer community and get them working on it,” suggests Dr. Ram Chillarege, president of Chillarege Research and former head of IBM’s Center for Software Engineering.

Full DSI Implementation Awaits Post-Blackcomb Release

Microsoft anticipates taking further steps toward DSI with Longhorn, the follow-on to Windows XP, and after that with Blackcomb, the successor to Windows Server 2003. Blackcomb is widely expected to ship in the 2006 to 2007 time frame.

The DSI model won’t be fully implemented, though, until “the release of Windows Server after Blackcomb,” acknowledges Emanuel.

By then, MOM and SMS infrastructural underpinnings will have faded out of the Windows picture. This means SMS agents, login points, client access points, and distribution points, as well as MOM aggregation points and management points, he says.

Microsoft’s current Application Center, an application server for configuration management, will pass away even sooner than that, with the release of Blackcomb.

Emanuel adds that Microsoft has no plans to discontinue any of its other app servers. Meanwhile, despite the imminent release of Microsoft System Center, MOM and SMS will continue on as distinct entities for some time to come.

Page 2: What’s on the Horizon for MOM and SMS?

What’s on the Horizon for MOM and SMS

MOM 2004 — a major overhaul also rolled out at the Management Summit — will meet one big item on administrators’ wish lists by “cutting deployment time from days to hours,” Emanuel reports. Other new features to look for include a new operator console — with built-in alert views, topology views, and “context-sensitive diagnostics” — plus a new set of knowledge-based management packs.

Microsoft has actually already taken the first step toward a self-healing approach with the release of next-generation MOM XMPs (extended systems management) packs for Microsoft Exchange, BizTalk Server, and Active Directory, reports Emanuel.

As previously reported on CrossNodes, some of Microsoft’s applications groups — including Exchange, BizTalk, and Active Directory — have worked closely with the MOM product group, lending their knowledge of particular applications to help determine which events should be exposed for MOM monitoring.

Microsoft’s partners are also at work on tools to supplement the existing MOM and SMS environments. AmberPoint has just integrated its management environment — already available for J2EE — with MOM for crossplatform administration, says Ed Horst, AmberPoint’s VP of marketing.

BigFix already makes automated patch management tools for Windows; however, a new product release slated for April will add a number of new features, including “much enhanced scalability” and more finegrained administrative rights.

“Also, we’ve actually fixed a lot of the problems with SMS,” according to Larsen. The new release from BigFix will check to find out not just whether remote control software is installed, but whether or not it’s running.

Is Microsoft’s Approach Really That Unique?

Other systems makers — including IBM, HP, and Sun — have all been promoting their own visions of the “self-healing” OS. Is Microsoft’s concept really all that unique?

Emanuel maintains that there are many possible pivot points for systems management. “We are making the application the point at which you pivot — as opposed to a management company, for example, which would make the management system the point at which you pivot,” he elaborates.

“When DMI reaches full fruition, the XML schema will richly describe the application. It will contain the full step-by-step instructions for the services needed by the application. This is innovative.”

Essentially, the application will live in a “cloud” of services. “We’ve been asking, ‘What do I need to do to the underlying application to make it a dynamic system?'” If DMI goes as planned, applications written with Visual Basic will eventually be able to tell the “cloud” how many Web farms or database servers are required, for instance. ADS will then automatically bring up and configure the needed servers, while WSMR and the virtual server will automatically reconfigure and reallocate system resources.

DMI also represents an attempt by Microsoft to move beyond “Windows-centric” management, contends Emanuel.

Industry Reaction Mixed

So far, though, industry reaction to Microsoft’s plan is quite mixed. IBM’s Brill, for example, disparages the emerging Windows 2003/Greenwich/Exchange Server 2003 environment as “the first release of a second-generation product.”

“We’ve tried to focus Notes/Domino on messaging management,” Brill adds. Instead, Microsoft is providing ‘some sort of hybrid systems administration/messaging director’ environment, or something.”

“Microsoft and IBM are deathly enemies in some areas, but they seem to have figured out how to work together in others,” notes AmberPoint’s Horst.

Winning Over the Naysayers?

As Chillarege sees it, to win over the naysayers, Microsoft needs to add more stability to the Windows product, while at the same time continuing to push forward with innovative features.

In the next edition of this series, we’ll drill down into Microsoft’s chances for gaining more traction in enterprise administration.


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Jacqueline Emigh

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