Microsoft releases new Service Desk software

Microsoft releases new Service Desk software

Microsoft Corp. Tuesday announced a new management application as part of its growing System Center family of tools, this one aimed at reducing the time and effort involved in servicing help desk calls.

In his keynote address at the Microsoft Management Summit in San Diego, Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of server and tools business, also showed off features in the upcoming Systems Management Server (SMS) Version 4.

Muglia also said the next version of SMS, which helps IT administrators set up and manage large groups of Windows machines, would be renamed as Systems Center Configuration Manager 2007. The next version of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), the company's event and performance monitoring software, will also be folded under the Systems Center umbrella and renamed Systems Center Operations Manager 2007.

Bryan Henson, a senior systems engineer at Pioneer Natural Resources Co., an oil and gas company in Irving, Texas, said he was interested in the new Service Desk software, which Muglia described as an "ERP system for IT." Service Desk will tie in events created by MOM and other software so that the help desk can quickly connect problems, processes and resolutions while keeping end users better informed and thus reducing extra calls or e-mails.

He said Pioneer had already been looking to switch off its current help desk software, Service Center from Peregrine Systems Inc., because it doesn't import events well.

Henson was also impressed by Network Access Protection (NAP), a feature coming in SMS v4. NAP can check that client PCs running the upcoming Windows Vista operating system have the latest security updates. If not, SMS will prevent them from accessing the corporate network until the updates are installed, all the while keeping users notified through pop-up messages.

"You can patch all day, but what happens when a user logs in before getting the latest updates?" Henson said. He added that NAP was a feature his manager "had been asking Microsoft for for a long time."

Pioneer uses SMS 2003 Service Pack 1 to oversee 1,600 client PCs and 400 servers in Irving and worldwide.

Beta 2 of SMS v4 is due this quarter, with a a final version due late next year, about the same time that Windows Longhorn Server, the successor to Windows Server 2003, ships in the second half of next year.

Microsoft also showed enhanced group policy security features in Windows Vista that managers will be able to create in SMS v4. To drive home one point, Muglia grabbed an epoxy gun during a demonstration and filled in the Universal Serial Bus ports on a PC -- a measure he claimed some companies are doing to prevent employees from plugging in USB flash drives and possibly stealing or taking home sensitive data.

Microsoft demonstrated Powershell, a command-line interface formerly code-named Monad. Powershell is similar to Unix shells but is based on object-oriented programming and is integrated into .Net. In a demonstration, Microsoft showed how commands typed into Powershell map exactly to functions performed using a mouse under the graphical interface, and vice-versa. Powershell is expected in the fall.

The software company is also creating a virtualization management tool code-named "Carmine," Muglia said, though he did not give a release date.

The keynote's lightest moment came when Microsoft showed a video produced by its U.K. division purporting to show Microsoft employees so willing to "share the pain" of its customers that they suffer physical abuse from mechanical chair tacks, electrocuting armrests and more.

Regarding Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), the overarching strategy to help make IT systems more self-managing by using information about applications that is captured in models, Muglia said the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) had accepted the Web Services for Management (WS-Management) specification as a preliminary standard.

The lack of news surrounding DSI, first announced three years ago at this show, prompted one attendee, who declined to have his name used, to complain that he felt the keynote was "a bit light" on news.

"Some of the features they showed were nice, but I was looking for more architect-scale news," he said.

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