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Microsoft, partners need work on management technology

Microsoft uses Management Summit to detail Dynamic Systems Initiative road map

Despite touting technology this week designed to let users integrate management platforms using modeling technology, Microsoft and its partners are missing key specifications that will take months to complete and years to roll into products.

The company used this week's Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) to unveil a 14-month product road map for the company's Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a 10-year plan to build a Windows management platform.

Microsoft's message was that corporate users finally will get their hands on DSI-enabled tools, such as System Center Operations Manager 2007 and Configuration Manager 2007, to start testing the worthiness of the four-year-old DSI vision.

Experts and users alike acknowledge that is a major step, but what was left unsaid is that significant gaps -- in terms of providing standards-based modeling technology key to cross-vendor integration -- still need to be filled.

Models provide operational information, or knowledge about each component of an IT system, and store it in a standard format, or schema. The models are used by management and monitoring tools to paint a big picture of all the moving parts associated with running an application or service. When one of those parts deviates from its model, the problem is pinpointed and corrected quickly, so the entire application or service does not crash.

The goal is a self-managing, self-healing network with better reliability, reporting and automated response/troubleshooting that makes administration less expensive and more consistent.

Users say that initial rollouts of modeling technology won't be easy but the benefits will increase year after year.

"Modeling is a challenge we need to step up to because it represents the start of getting to truly automated systems," says Jack Story, chief technologist for EDS. "When you look at service-level agreements today, what we want to build toward is business-level agreements and solution-level agreements."

Story says the desire is to go beyond notification that a server is up or down, and start flagging the health of the overall system.

"If Exchange is 'down' that has interest on one level, but if it is caused by the front-end server doing load-balancing work and I can actually instantiate another one right next to it as a response, and the system does that automatically because it is model-driven, then the net result is I don't see a degradation in performance from the [Exchange] service," Story says.

Microsoft will provide some of that capability with the System Center management products it ships this year, but the bigger picture is that standards-based models are mandatory to support multivendor integration.

At MMS, Bob Muglia, vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, guaranteed commitment to such standards as the Service Modeling Language (SML), which the company developed in conjunction with partners such as CA, Cisco, EMC, Dell and IBM.

That group last week turned SML, which is based on Microsoft's proprietary Systems Definition Model (SDM) 3.0 specification, over to the World Wide Web Consortium for standardization.

SML support eventually will be a feature in every management tool under Microsoft's System Center brand and in everything from Longhorn Server to Visual Studio. But SML isn't all that is needed to support standards-based modeling.

SML is basically XML with a set of extensions that make it more appropriate for management. But SML does not address systems management specifically, according to experts.

Microsoft and its partners need to develop other standards on top of SML to create a modeling infrastructure that can produce root or probable-cause conclusions by evaluating all the network components that sustain a system.

"Microsoft has convinced enough vendors to come along and get this SML into the open standards process, I think that was a coup for Microsoft," says Peter Pawlak, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Now Microsoft and its partners are working on the Common Model Library (CML), which uses SML as the foundation for models of specific network components, such as routers, storage devices, network servers and applications.

So far the work is in its infancy, having mostly been developed within Microsoft, just as SDM was.

"When the SML working group was created, there was complete understanding that this was the first step," says Larry Orecklin, general manager for System Center marketing. "The next step will be taken here soon, and the same set of players will think about CML." Orecklin says that step could come in three to four months.

The goal is that models based on SML and CML will come from Microsoft and other vendors. Corporate operations managers could then tune those models for their specific environments by adding attributes to the model.

"Everything we deliver will come with models," says Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of the Windows enterprise management division at Microsoft. "The end users will not create models from scratch, but they can customize them with things like compliance rules."

The bottom line today, however, is that Microsoft's emerging modeling infrastructure is Windows-centric.

"We are probably four or five years from the point where all the component vendors, application developers and corporate application developers will be truly designing their products for operation and management under the DSI vision," Pawlak says.