Microsoft planning to do an "Internet Explorer"
on the lucrative network management market? With the
launch of Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 beta
1 version last month, the signs are ominous for the
other players in this field. However, Microsoft has
so far insisted that SMS is still a "Windows-only"
tool and will rely on cross-platform partners for heterogeneous
are very much focused on managing the Windows environment,"
said David Hamilton, director of product management,
management business group, Windows division, Microsoft.
The list of management features includes software distribution,
asset management and remote troubleshooting. He said
that Microsoft is merely plugging a "weak point"
in most vendor management solutions, which is Windows
management, and will integrate with vendors like NetIQ,
HP and others to provide cross-platform management.
So will Microsoft intrude on the turf of heterogeneous
or Unix management? "We simply don't do that",
was the quick answer from Hamilton.
we are trying to do," he said, "is to leverage
on our Windows platform and create a uniquely-customized
management solution." He felt that major management
vendors in the market, like BMC and Tivoli, tend to
take a generalized approach to managing Windows environments,
which makes them less apt than the newest version of
SMS when it comes to, say, installing Microsoft applications.
you want to remotely-deploy Internet Explorer on Windows,
it is more complicated (with other vendors) because
the OS isn't going to help them along," he said.
The "help" in this case refers to providing
access control, security patching, elevating user profiles
in some instances, and invoking specific software installation
mechanisms like the Windows Installer, he said. Also,
software deploy tools from other vendors may not understand
the nuances of the installation behavior of Internet
Explorer, like profile matching and login after reboot.
As a result, he said, vendors like BMC and HP often
require additional pieces of client software, called
agents, when it comes to managing Windows environments.
This makes them clumsier to install, upgrade and patch,
2.0 vs 2003
But just how good will SMS 2003 be? After all, SMS 2000
endured bad rap as a flaky management suite that has
only its low price going for it. According to Hamilton,
SMS 2003 has been significantly enhanced in several
key areas. Most notable are the improved management
of bandwidth-strapped remote devices using slow bandwidth-aware
agents; and a glitzier Web-based reporting interface
which replaces Crystal Decisions' Crystal Reports used
in SMS 2.0. Other enhancements include slow-link enhanced
software metering and better SMS management and upgrade.
remote environment is a key focus for SMS 2003, and
we have re-engineered the agent software so that it
is deeply bandwidth aware," he said. As a result,
he added, using SMS 2003 to manage across 14.4Kbps modem
links will now be less bumpy. SMS 2003 is also bandwidth
sensitive depending on the applications that are running.
"For instance, if you are reading e-mail, SMS 2003
is smart enough to not interrupt it with a preset software
upgrade trigger," he explained.
SMS 2003 will also be smart enough to operate in a Web
services world. A key aspect of the .NET architecture
is to allow mobile, non-PC devices to connect to a network
and access personal information at any time and from
anywhere, which was a key development focus of the new
version. SMS 2003, together with Microsoft Operations
Manager (MOM) and Application Center Server, are seen
as key software components to manage future versions
of .NET, Biztalk and Exchange servers.
And recently, Microsoft announced a group to look at
storage management, which will almost certainly add
a key component to SMS, since storage management is
increasingly being tied with network management.
So while Microsoft insists that it wants to complement
existing solutions in the market, it is also building
complementary components of its own to enhance its product
coverage. And no wonder. By Gartner's reckoning, the
worldwide network systems management market broke $9
billion in 2001 and by 2005 the Windows management market
alone will surpass $6 billion. It is simply too lucrative
to pass up.
- Ong Boon Kiat
The article first appeared in Network Computing Asia