MOM vs. The Giants: Microsoft Struggles for Net Management Supremacy

by Jacqueline Emigh

Though already out for a year, and despite Microsoft's control of the underlying architecture, MOM faces a fight for the hearts and minds of network managers.

Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) first hit the market about a year ago. Administrators, though, are still addled with questions. How does Microsoft's new MOM network management system (NMS) interplay with NetIQ, UNIX management, and Microsoft's own Systems Management Server (SMS), for instance?

MOM, SMS and other Microsoft management products carry "ominous implications for the NSM 'Big 4' - BMC Software, Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard (OpenView), and IBM Tivoli," according to a recent report by the Gartner Group.

The Windows management market will double in size from $2.7 billion in 2000 to $6.6 billion through 2005, Gartner predicts. Microsoft carries strong advantages over competitors in this market because it controls the underlying technology architecture - OS, directory services, and applications. Gartner, though, points to disadvantages for Microsoft, as well. "The Microsoft management 'stack' is not complete."

Moreover, integration between MOM, SMS, and Application Center still leaves a lot to be desired, added one of the authors of the report, Cameron Haight, during an interview this week. The Gartner analyst predicted that it will take Microsoft anywhere from 18 to 24 months to overcome these drawbacks.

"As I've heard it, initial sales of MOM have been acceptable, but not overwhelming. A lot of the sales have been for small deployments. There's been some apprehension among users. People are still evaluating the product," concurred Michael Betts, technical consultant for PIGMailion Computer Group in London, UK.

One set of reasons for the slow start? User confusion over the differences between MOM and SMS on the one hand, and between MOM and NetIQ's product line-up, on the other. Microsoft licensed the source code for NetIQ's Operations Manager (OM) in October, 2000.

"There haven't been big technical hurdles, because NetIQ has gone in for ease of use. I'll agree, though, that Microsoft's (explanation of MOM vs. NetIQ) could use more definition," said Gartner's Haight.

Meanwhile, after hearing about MOM, some net managers conjectured that Microsoft wanted to replace SMS. Microsoft officials are doing what they can to shoot down this theory.

"A lot of people are concerned about MOM - what we call Microsoft Operations Manager -- as being a replacement product for SMS," acknowledged Wally Mead, of Microsoft Support. Actually, "that is not the intent at all," he added, during a recent Webcast.. Conversely, MOM is instead "a very complementary product to SMS."

Microsoft is positioning MOM as an "operations management" system. SMS and App Center, on the other hand, are mainly "change and configuration management" products, according to Mead.

Specifically, MOM's key capabilities include distributed event management; built-in rules; automatic discovery; alerts; performance monitoring; graphical and Web reporting.

"Primarily what operations management products do is they collect systems security and application log events," said Mead. MOM primarily monitors "your Windows NT, your Windows 2000 servers that are providing all your infrastructure services to your environment, whether it's the SQL Server, the SMS Server, your Exchange servers, your Active Directory domain controllers, and so forth. So you're monitoring numerous servers and getting those reports up into a single Admin Console."

MOM works mainly with Windows 2000 servers, though, at this point, according to Betts. "MOM does provide some limited management of NT servers straight out of the box. But where it keeps three logs for Windows 2000 servers - a systems event log, a security event log, and an applications log - it only keeps a systems event log for NT servers," he said.

"If you want to get security event and applications logs for NT, you'll have to buy NetIQ's Extended Management Pack (XMP) for Windows NT, a product that 'unlocks' the (NT) agents."

To confuse matters further, NetIQ also sells Applications Center (AC) - a product somewhat similar to OM. NetIQ's AC manages both Windows 2000 and Windows NT platforms.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and NetIQ are each selling XMPs for Microsoft's .NET servers. Moreover, NetIQ, Compaq and Global Maintech have come out with XMPs and other tools geared to greater crossplatform managemement functionality

"Microsoft-centric" forever?
Observers agree, though, that Microsoft's management products are likely to remain "Microsoft-centric" for the foreseeable future.

MOM and SMS, however, both already contain Windows Management Interface (WMI) interfaces, for exchanging information with SNMS-compliant NMS running on UNIX and other OS.

"The advantage of SNMP is that it's universal. The big disadvantage is that it doesn't give you much information," according to Haight.

Microsoft plays "MOM"
In the high-stakes NMS game, why does Microsoft want to play the MOM? "Historically, Microsoft only dabbled in product development and opted to let third-party independent software vendors (ISVs) provide primary support for Windows platforms," notes Gartner's report.

Microsoft is investing in Windows management products and services for "defensive, offensive, and opportunistic" reasons, according to Gartner. Defensively, Microsoft wants to "preserve its Windows platform against competition from other OS platforms."

Offensively, the goal is "to use Windows management as a key enabler to improve the scaling up (within the data center) and scaling out (to the Internet) capabilities of Windows." From an opportunistic perspective, Microsoft is seizing the opportunity "to exceed $1 billion in he Windows management market before mid-2005."

"At the end of the day, though, Microsoft is primarily in this game to secure the Windows market - and to beat the likes of Linux. If Microsoft can make a ton of money in the process, then, so much the better," Haight elaborated during this week's interview.

Managing Linux from Windows?
"Back in the 1400s and 1500s, Spain and Portugal divided the world," Haight quipped. In a similar sense, Microsoft and NetIQ are now divvying up Windows management, he contended.

"NetIQ has two primarily roles: to be the 'advanced technology' group for Microsoft, (through) some of the XMPs for advanced applications, and to act as an integrator of third-party environments, though XMPs for UNIX, for instance," Haight added.

For its part, Global MainTech recently announced a "WMI Event Provider" aimed at using MOM to view devices in MVS, Linux, UNIX, and AS400 environments.

Some doubt, though, whether SNMP-based management from MOM will pick up much steam. "Windows hasn't quite proved itself yet in large heterogeneous environments. Mainframe people, in particular, find themselves suspicious of new environments. I'm not sure that mainframe people will want to do network management in Windows," Haight observed.

Long live SMS
MOM isn't the only Microsoft product with operational management features. SMS contains some, too. SMS, though, is aimed much more closely at configuration or change management, according to Microsoft's Mead.

"SMS has some summarizers in the status system that can tell you the operational state of an SMS server; tell you whether some of the services on the SMS servers are up or down; tell you what the disks\ space is; whether you're in good condition or bad condition in disk space; your Microsoft SQL Server space and so on," said Mead.

Actually, Microsoft's first product in the operations management space was Health Monitor. "HealthMon 2.0 shipped with SMS 2.0. It was on the compact disk, and you could install it as an add-on product if you wanted to - and it gave you very, very basic capabilities for operations management," according to Mead.

HealthMon didn't even look at event log entries, though, he pointed out. "Basically, it was looking at PerfMon data, PerMon counters, and monitoring your performance of systems."

Microsoft subsequently released HealthMon 2.1 with the Windows Datacenter Server. "It had the ability of reading some additional data. It had some additional data sources, and a little bit more ability to be customized, than the SMS version of Health Monitor. MOM, however, goes well beyond HealthMon," Mead maintained.

MOM vs. AM
MOM is still in its infancy. As the product matures, though, it will be competing with Big 4 products, as well as with NetIQ's AM and other NMS from smaller players.

Administrators are divided over the merits of MOM vs. AM. "If you are running a mission critical e-commerce type shop and need robust monitoring, I would still stay with AppManager. If I am looking long term, and rolling out an enterprise management strategy over the year time window, I will still stay with MOM," wrote one administrator, in an Internet newsgroup.

"Well that of course assumes you want a reactive monitoring solution rather than a proactive management solution. MOM is an event consolidator - a good one at that - but in essence it is mainly interpreting data written to the event logs (i.e. historic information)," responded another user.

"App Manager can read log events, but it also takes data from a number of other sources, including the ability to read system state variables via API. In other words, MOM will alert on what the program is aware of, whereas AppManager can look deep inside the application to assess its true health. Those who go with MOM will most likely choose to complement it to get that deep knowledge of AD, Exchange, SQL, etc. But I can also see a reason why AM users would add MOM."

MOM vs. Multiplatform NMS
In Betts' opinion, MOM's main strength in the larger NMS arena can be found in the fact that it comes with 8,000 built-in rules. MOM's rules can be applied to event collection, alerts, performance, and report generation, for instance. The XMP from Microsoft and other vendors provide additional rules for .NET and non-Microsoft servers.

"You can get MOM out there right away. Some other products (from larger NMS vendors) are going to take you longer to deploy," Betts predicted.

"Right now, Microsoft wants to become absolutely brilliant at managing Windows. Others, on the other hand, are trying to do a good job of managing Windows along with other environments."

In MOM SPK2, due for imminent release, Microsoft is expected to clean up MOM's initial code. Also anticipated for SPK2 is SDK2, for applications requiring custom rules.

For MOM 2.0, Betts predicts tighter integration with both SMS and Application Center. "I think a lot of people will hold out for 2.0, before launching large deployments," he predicted.

Message boards to the rescue

To help clear up earlybirds' questions, Microsoft trainers are offering a couple of courses. Course 2550, Implementing Microsoft Operations Manager 2000, is a three-day offering. Course 569, Deploying Microsoft Operations Manager, runs for four days.

Free Web-based assistance is available, too. Microsoft is providing a free downloadable deployment guide to MOM 2000 from its MOM Web site. Meanwhile, message boards are being run by both Microsoft and other parties.

Betts, for instance, maintains a message board called MomAnswers (http://www.momanswers.com ). Topics range from "install, configure, extend, WMI/rules, and troubleshooting to scripting, tutorials, and news," for example.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Monday Sep 16th 2002