Over the next few years, Microsoft will get more adept at managing Windows than anyone else, according to sources familiar with Microsoft's gameplan. There's some possibility that Microsoft will make a stronger play in the multiplatform management space, too. Will long-standing partnerships withstand these strains?
Analysts agree that, for the moment, Microsoft still faces big challenges in systems administration. But how long will it take Microsoft to catch up to industry kingpins like HP, Tivoli, BMC, and Computer Associates? Opinions vary.
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Group, delivered a three-year estimate. "Microsoft first needs to make base level improvements in areas like Windows security, reliability, and scalability. They're slowly moving in that direction, however," Enderle said.
"Microsoft still reports a lot of errors. It's not the hard bloody environment that Unix is," according to Michael Betts, technical consultant for Pygmalion Computer Group in London, UK.
Nevertheless, Microsoft should be taken seriously as a Windows management contender, Betts argued. "If you look at just about anything Microsoft has done, they've come out on top. At first, the IE (Internet Explorer) browser had no share Netscape's. It was the same story for Exchange vs. Lotus Notes. Nobody took Exchange seriously till 4.0. But just look at these products today."
Cameron Haight, a Gartner Group analyst, thinks it will take Microsoft only 18 to 24 months to catch up to the big names. In Haight's opinion, Microsoft needs to develop more sophisticated management tools, while at the same time achieving better integration, both within its own growing product line-up and with outside vendors.
Is integration Microsoft's strong suit?
"You can monitor events through MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager). But what's really the best way of responding to these events? You need to find a way to tie this into the workflow process, too," the Gartner analyst pointed out.
Haight would like to see Microsoft come up with tools in categories such as capacity planning and probable-cause and predictive analysis. Yet he also applauds Microsoft's early adoption of IT Infrastructure (ITIL) best practices, as a way of making high-level workflow processes more manageable.
Others, though, believe that integration between Windows OS and Microsoft management systems such as MOM and SMS (Systems Management Server) is already turning into a strong suit for Microsoft.
"It's becoming very common for users to choose Microsoft over competing products for just this reason," Enderle said.
Cinergy takes MOM company-wide
Cinergy, an electric supplier in Ohio, is one case in point. After completing an internal study, Cinergy has now launched a company-wide initiative to replace a rival management system with MOM on all its Windows servers, said Tim Bellamy, enterprise architect at Cinergy. The main reason for choosing MOM?
"MOM is written with a better understanding of Windows. It hooks in better," according to Bellamy.
Four weeks ago, Cinergy entered production with a pair of applications -- Electric Customer Choice and Digital Utility System -- that combine MOM with Microsoft's BizTalk .NET Server. BizTalk is being used to export files among various applications running on Windows and Sun Solaris servers, as well as to route e-mails to the appropriate applications.
"We used to be a monopoly. Now, though, customers in Ohio can choose their own electric suppliers," Bellamy noted.
"Electric Customer Choice is an internal system that lets us track and account for how much electricity is being bought and sold. Also, providers can send us files letting us know that a customer is switching its supplier, for instance."
In contrast, Digital Utility System is a Web-based application for Cinergy's customer base. Customers can select electric services, see copies of usage statements, compare rates, and order materials, for example.
Cinergy started working on the two new systems about four months ago. MOM is being used to monitor BizTalk, as well as to alert technical staff to any problems.
"We're using the sample rule sets that come with BizTalk. Then, we're doing our own customizations," Bellamy said. "We're monitoring BizTalk to make sure the disk space isn't too low, and to monitor the health of the cluster. We're also making sure that BizTalk doesn't dump messages out to an unexpected queue."
"There are certain queues that we need to suspend. Let's say a supplier sends us an account number, and the number 'blows up,' even though it's a valid number. We then write it to a suspend queue. The suspend queue should stay empty. Nothing else should go in it. BizTalk alerts us if something goes wrong, so we don't have to sit there and watch the queues all day long. We can also get alerts at night and on weekends," he elaborated.
Cinergy did run into a few glitches with MOM's clustering mechanism along the way. "Both MOM and Wolfpack have clustering restart. So we have to turn off the restart in MOM."
The energy firm is still using the competing management product on its Solaris servers. MOM operates only in Windows, and the Solaris-based Oracle database contains Cinergy's stored procedures, Bellamy explained.
"Migrating the Oracle stored procedures to SQL Server 2000, for instance, would be a very demanding task. You'd have to make a good business case for it. At some point, though, this will come under review," he said.
"Meanwhile, we're actively looking for additional ways to use BizTalk for app-to-app communications. Our company does have a lot of applications."
In Version 1.0 of MOM's Application Management Pack, which is now shipping, Microsoft is providing preconfigured rules for most of its .NET applications and some older servers, too: Exchange 5.5 and 2000; SQL Server 7.0 and 2000; Commerce Server 2000; Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000; Host Integration Server 2000; Application Center 2000; Site Server 3.0; Proxy Server 2.0; and SNA Server 4.0.
"BizTalk is the only (.NET server) that ships its own management pack. (That's) because support did not ship in the original MOM Application Management Pack," a source at Microsoft said this week.
MOM partners sparse, so far
Till recently, Microsoft relied heavily on partners to produce SMS toolwork. To spur development of third-party software for MOM, the company recently created the Microsoft Management Alliance.
"There are many ISVs working on products to complement MOM," according to a Microsoft spokesperson.
With MOM already about a year old, though, only seven partners are currently shipping complementary products: NetIQ; Hewlett-Packard; Compaq; Crystal Decisions; GlobalMainTech; NEON Systems; and Netreon.
NetIQ, MOM's most active partner, is also a competitor. Microsoft's MOM is based on NetIQ's previous Operations Manager (OM), through code licensed from NetIQ.
At the same time, NetIQ is competing with Microsoft by selling Applications Manager (AppManager), a product similar to both OM and MOM.
Also on the partnership side, NetIQ has produced a long list of extended management packs (XMPs), meant to further MOM in various ways. NetIQ's XMPs strive to extend MOM administration into other apps, such as Oracle, antivirus software, and Web Services.
Other XMPs connect MOM to outside environments like Tivoli, Micromuse Netcool, and HP VangePoint Operations. The XMP connectors also include NetIQ's own AppManager and End2End Performance products, though. So is that cooperation or competition?
Will others hop on the MOM bandwagon?
How many other vendors will move on to MOM? "Once Microsoft takes hold of an application, a lot of companies will simply ride along on the tails of Microsoft," Betts observed.
Haight, though, isn't necessarily as optimistic on this particular point. "MOM represents a potentially lucrative alternative for third-party vendors." On the other hand, though, developers run the risk of wasting some of their resources, the analyst suggested..
"Microsoft doesn't always lay down the ground rules in advance for where it wants to compete," he added.
Is Microsoft's MOM already competing with smaller partners? In some situations, this appears to be the case. For most MOM developers, it isn't much of a problem, since they're adding brand new capabilities to MOM. Netreon, for example, has produced a MOM storage manager for Brocade storage area network (SAN) fabrics.
On the other hand, Crystal Reports is selling a report writer for MOM. Interestingly enough, MOM already comes with its own built-in report writer.
Competing with vendors large and small?
"Microsoft could end up competing with some of the larger vendors, too," Enderle agreed.
On one page of its Web site, Microsoft lists HP OpenView as a partner to MOM. Conversely, on another page, Microsoft compares MOM against "competing" systems that include HP OpenView and VantagePoint, as well as products from IBM Tivoli, BMC, and Computer Associates.
The cards do seem to tilt in Microsoft's direction. At least 16 of the criteria on the chart -- out of a total of around 50 -- measure degree of support for .NET and other Windows products and services.
Haight envisions growing integration among Microsoft's OS, management products, and .NET servers, though a new framework initiative called Portfolio now in the works.
Haight also predicts that Active Directory, SharePoint, Microsoft Message Queuing, and BizTalk will become more important components under this new scenario. Microsoft will use BizTalk as a workflow integrator between MOM, SMS and other products.
"Microsoft will concentrate on premium features for the Windows platform. These enhanced capabilities won't be available through anyone else," Enderle agreed.
"I think we'll start hearing more about all this, now that Kirill Tatarinov has come on board," Haight added. Tatarinov, who was previously BMC's senior VP and CTO, joined Microsoft in July as corporate VP of the Management Business Group. He's heading up development as well as marketing around MOM, SMS, and Microsoft's Application Center.
"The chance of Microsoft actually trying to manage other platforms is rather remote," according to Giga's Enderle.
Haight, however, noted another possibility. "I don't see (heterogenous platform) management as a strategic direction for Microsoft. Microsoft is thinking, 'I'm going to leverage my strength - and my strength is in Windows.' However, if (heterogenous) management will help Microsoft to sell more Windows, it might happen."