Is Crossplatform App Management in Microsoft's Future?
Imagine, if you will, a world in which Microsoft Windows helps provide application-level management on other operating systems -- and possibly vice versa. With its emerging "self-healing" architecture, Microsoft hopes to gain ground in crossplatform enterprise management by partnering with other operating system (OS) vendors.
At this early stage of the game, observers are expressing some doubts about this uncharacteristic strategy from Microsoft. Most do agree, though, that Microsoft would have certain advantages working in its favor, including an army of Visual Basic developers and the financial resources needed to make things happen.
"We'd love it, of course, if every organization was either 'purely Windows' or 'Windows-centric.' The reality, though, is that many environments are not," maintains Michael Emanuel, a product manager at Microsoft.
Accordingly, he says, Microsoft will look for partnerships with other OS makers around its XML-based Dynamic Management Initiative (DMI) architecture, rolled out last week at the Microsoft Management Summit.
"Our goal is to take management all the way to the top of the enterprise stack. You can use as much or as little [of DMI] as you want," Emanuel said. "You can either extend [my object model] or inherit it into another."
"We won't always agree on how to communicate -- J2EE or .NET?" he acknowledges. Emanuel also notes, though, that Microsoft already uses the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) protocol to exchange messages between J2EE environments and its own .NET framework.
Windows can also be administered by crossplatform network management frameworks such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and Computer Associates' Unicenter, via industry standards like Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and Common Information Model (CIM).
Microsoft's vision for DMI goes much deeper, though. Ultimately, Microsoft sees the application and surrounding environment as working hand-in-hand to automate administrative procedures that remain time-consuming today. Server configuration and security patch installation are a couple of prime examples.
Although DMI is still in its infancy, elements announced so far include the System Definition Model (SDM) object model, two new administration tools, Automated Deployment Services (ADS), Windows System Resource Manager (WSRM), and System Center, a management capability that initially encompasses the existing Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).
Microsoft plans to further flesh out its DMI plans at the forthcoming WinHEC conference, Emanuel reports.
Microsoft to Seek OS Partners
Microsoft has already forged a DMI hardware partnership with HP, according to Emanuel, who hints the agreement might expand into application management.
Emanuel added that beyond the industry pacts already announced, Microsoft will seek additional DMI partners in the OS realm as well as the hardware and applications areas.
While Emanuel didn't specify the precise nature of the crossplatform relationships Microsoft wants, he also didn't rule out the prospect that DMI might someday be used to help administer Linux applications, for example.
"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.