Roadmap Q&A: Microsoft's Eric Berg on the Future of Systems Center and DSI

Vista and Office dominate the Microsoft technology picture at the moment, but progress on the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) -- which, so far, is four years in the making -- continues by leaps and bounds with delivery of key products in the Systems Center suite of systems management tools.

Eric Berg, Microsoft's director of product management for Systems Center, took some time at the Microsoft Management Summit in San Diego to give ENTmag a DSI progress report.

ENTmag: How is the Systems Center roadmap shaping up from when you unveiled the roadmap at last year's MMS?

I think it's incredibly strong, especially this year in terms of deliverables. If you look at what we announced today, Systems Center Operations Manager 2007, which RTM'ed and will be available April 1st, which is one of two core products. The second one is Systems Management Server, which will be known as Systems Center Configuration Manager, ships later this fall. The two core products this year get brand versions.

Also in the fall, we'll be shipping Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager and our second version of Systems Center Data Protection Manager.

So, it's really very robust deliverables this year.

And then, just on the horizon, for next year, we talked about the product that was codenamed Systems Center "Service Desk," which is now Systems Center Service Manager, which will be shipping in the first half of next year.

It's quite a set of deliverables we have over the next 12 to 18 months.

How does Systems Center Essentials differ from the rest of the Systems Center portfolio?

We've gotten a little more sophisticated about how we think about our end customers and, therefore, what's the right kind of solution to deliver to them.

What we did with Systems Center Essentials is we went out and spent probably about 12 to 18 months talking to midsize companies. For us, that's about 25 up to 500 PCs and maybe up to 25 or 30 servers. And [we looked at] what those IT organizations -- and when I say "organization," I mean usually one, maybe two people -- what do they look like, what's their scope of capabilities, what are their responsibilities...? That's sort of where the genesis of Systems Center Essentials came from.

What we've done is effectively integrate the operations management and configuration management capabilities into one central console that's very easy to use and provides that user with what sort of maps to what they have to do: They have to do inventory, they have to do software distribution, they have to do monitoring, they care about desktops, they care about servers, they care about the network. All of those capabilities that map to their scope are within the context of Systems Center Essentials.

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Really, what you can think of that is how we take our core technologies and deliver those in a way that's designed for and targeted at midmarket.

What is the difference between Connectors and Management Packs as far as how you interact with your partners to develop them?

Management packs really are sort of a vehicle for capturing the knowledge associated with managing a particular component in your environment and also can be used to roll up how you think about multiple components describing an end-to-end service. So, you'll have a management pack for anything, from a piece of hardware to server hardware, a management pack for the application, for the operating system. It can be hardware or software, but it really describes the overall health and the knowledge associated with how to manage that particular thing.

Connectors are usually conduits for interchanging information between different management tools. So, we'll build a connector, like we announced today a connector that exists between EMC Smarts and Operations Manager 2007. We have connectors that exist from partners that get built from, say, Operations Manager 2007 into integrating other management consoles from competitors like HP and Tivoli and CA, or maybe even up into service desk solutions like Remedy. Think of connectors as a way to pass information and do that kind of manager-to-manager integration.

So, what partners are you working with right now?

Well, typically what you see is not us building those connectors. We have some very strong partners who basically go out and look at, 'OK, where most often are the 12,000 people who are using Ops Manager, what are the tools they most often want to connect with?' and, therefore, they prioritize their development and work on connectors to those different pieces of infrastructure in that environment. Like in the case of EMC, we're not building that connector -- EMC is.

That relationship you have with EMC is getting closer. Can you tell us about other features that were announced today?

At the core of the relationship, we'll be licensing some of their network discovery and health technology, and we'll be actually integrating it as a core feature of Ops Manager in the next version. So that's the ability, just like today, where I can go discover the servers and the applications in my environment, I'll be able to discover all the networking components and the health associated with them. That'll be out of the box features that will be integrated with the next Ops Manager 2007.

The second piece is, they're building a connector between their stand-alone tool, which has some of that network discovery capability, and be able to push that information into Ops Manager 2007 today. When you have that core networking discovery in Ops Manager, the connector won't be necessary, because it'll be native in Ops Manager.

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What EMC will then build will be additional capabilities on top of that stack, where they bring their powerful automated root cause technology, etc. Now I can get that information up and throughout Ops Manager. They can do some really sophisticated analysis using the tools that they have in their portfolio today.

Has HP's acquisition of Mercury Interactive changed the competitive stakes in the systems management arena?

I don't think so. In some ways, it's a validation of the strategy that we've had in the roadmap we have for the Dynamic Systems Initiative. As [Microsoft's senior vice president of Server and Tools Business] Bob Muglia explained in his keynote, since 2003, our vision in this space we've absolutely been approaching this from a development and deployment and operations standpoint, thinking about it across the lifecycle. It doesn't change our competitive approach to this environment. We're going to continue to execute on it, and I think we're very far ahead in that space. It'll be interesting to see if they bring in those assets.

What they really lack, relative to other competitors, is that they really don't own a platform. So. they have a lot of tools, but they don't have a platform around which they can build a core strategy.

Might that actually be an advantage, since they've got some flexibility because their solutions aren't built around a specific platform?

Yeah, but you have to ask yourself if there's a tradeoff that happens over time between "breadth" and "depth." I think, historically, a lot of the management framework vendors have attempted to solve a very broad set of problems by providing frameworks that oftentimes are very shallow in terms of their capabilities in any one particular platform. I think that's one of the benefits that we bring, especially starting from our strength -- from the deep relationships we have with the hardware vendors, the operating system's capabilities, both our own applications and the ISV ecosystem that we've formed strong partnerships with -- so that we can really think about what it takes to manage that stack from top to bottom.

Let's move on. How rich is your support for Linux in Systems Center, specifically SuSE Linux, since you've got a strong interop marketing plan with Novell?

It's at a couple of different levels. Like a lot of monitoring tools, we can do basic SNMP monitoring out of the box, but that doesn't get into the richer, knowledge-based monitoring. But you can monitor basic information about almost any device.

At the second level, we have a set of partners who are delivering solutions that extend Ops Manager to manage and extend into a heterogeneous environment, whether it be a partner like EMC who's more focused on network management, or other partners like Quest or others who are developing management packs for non-Windows environments.

We provide a very rich SDK around our management packs, we provide a set of authoring tools for them to create those management packs, and a very well-defined set of APIs for them to interact with Ops Manager. And we've been working with those partners very closely. In fact, between MOM 2005 and Ops Manager 2007, we've developed a pretty rich SDK now, so that pretty much anything that you can do from the UI, you can do in a programmatic way. A lot of what we wanted to accomplish with Ops Manager 2007 from a partner perspective is, you know we had a pretty good ecosystem around MOM 2005, but we learned a lot about what we could do better, so those partners could take a deeper bet and get a little more integrated with our core infrastructure. So, we've opened up more of the product so they can integrate in a tighter fashion.

System Center Version Expected
Systems Management Server 2003 SP3 Last version before SMS gets renamed as Systems Center Configuration Manager 2007; expected in 2Q 2007
Operations Manager 2007 Formerly MOM 3, enterprise systems management suite already RTM'd, with availability April 1; will have network and health monitoring technology licensed from EMC
Operations Manager 2008 This version will natively implement network management technology from EMC; release some time in 2008
Essentials 2007 Version of Systems Center targeted at midmarket; expected Q3 2007
Configuration Manager 2007 Known formerly as SMS 4, new version will have native Vista client support; expected late Q2
Data Protection Manager 2008 Enterprise backup/recovery and continuous data protection is currently in beta 1; planned for Q3, but more like Q4
Service Manager 2007 Codenamed "Service Desk," provides self-service help desk within Systems Center; expected in 1Q 2008
Virtual Machine Manager Another beta of "Carmine," which allows native management of virtual machines and virtual servers, due in April; release expected early Q3
Capacity Planner Tool for planning and sizing Windows and Exchange deployments currently in beta release, with release expected in
Asset Manager Technology acquired from AssetMetrix provides licensing and hardware and software tracking data to other Systems Center tools; planned for end of 2007
SoftGrid Application virtualization tool acquired from Softricity; will allow management of virtualized applications in VM environments natively from Systems Center; expected in 2008

Virtualization is a hot topic. What work is being done to make virtual machines more manageable within Systems Center?

Our view of it is not very narrow; it's a very broad view...we're making investments, not just in virtual machines and the Hypervisor area, but the acquisition that we made of Softricity and in the SoftGrid technology, which really allows us to virtualize applications and turn them into essentially a streaming service. And then we've had, for quite a considerable amount of time, the presentation layer virtualization, i.e., the Terminal Services work that we've done.

Relative to other vendors, we're both more broad from a core virtualization perspective, we're not just narrow in just thinking about virtual machines. The second thing which is different is when we think about our Systems Center tools, there's some great integration between the tools such as the Virtual Machine Manager and Ops Manager and the management packs that we talked about. What we're thinking about is how do you manage from not only some unique things you can do with virtual machines, but really, let's give you a set of management tools that, in an integrated fashion, manages your virtual and your physical environment.

At the end of the day, customers don't want to create a new set of roles in their environment and develop a new set of skills around managing virtual machines. They really want to think of this as one part of their computing fabric.

Let's get back to the Dynamic Systems Initiative. It's been four years since it was introduced and there are a few years to go for the roadmap to play itself out. But since the introduction of the DSI, its scope has changed. How so, and can we anticipate that there's an end to this project or does it just keep evolving?

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It's interesting. Back in 2003, we set a pretty high bar in terms of where we were headed and what a self-managed, dynamic system looks like. We've even expanded that scope, to talk about the business analysts. That is, we think about systems modeling relative to [the needs of] the business analysts, which kind of impacts our information worker tools and our Office suite of technologies and some of the work we can do to start connecting there.

I think as we've gotten deeper into the power of modeling -- I think we've seen new areas in the company that can exploit it and therefore deliver value to customers. Will that continue to expand? I imagine it will continue, just as Microsoft continues to expand in terms of its offerings into this space.

I do think it will continue to be focused somewhat around the core principles that we've talked about: about knowledge, about embedding knowledge into these core models, about driving this "Design for Operations" capability into all the components that need to be managed. We've talked about it with Cisco and EMC and Microsoft expanding that even further, the standards work that we've done to drive to system modeling language, and now the core models that get built on top of that... All of that is still around the same technology vision that we had four years ago around model-based management and then capturing the knowledge in those models.

Now, I think as we continue to make more progress on the core building blocks in place, you'll see a shift toward the higher end, higher value automation, business process-focused activities and we'll be spending less and less time talking about getting the core infrastructure in place.

So, your partners will be playing in that space, right?

Absolutely. That's a core Microsoft playbook -- create a platform and enable an ecosystem of partners around that.

Essential readings on Microsoft Systems Center:

Microsoft Steps Closer to DSI Vision

System Center Operations Manager Ships

Microsoft Operations Manager 2007 to RTM in March

MS and F5 Ink Operations Manager Deal

SP3 Beta Bows for Systems Management Server 2003

Microsoft Unveils Management Roadmap (from Redmond, 2003)

Microsoft Updates Roadmap at MMS (from Redmond, 2006)

Microsoft's Systems Center portal