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Networks hope for clean Slate

Microsoft is filling in the details about a management console designed to free up managers to address big network policy issues instead of routine tasks.

LONG BEACH, California--Microsoft (MSFT) took the opportunity this week at its Professional Developers Conference to fill in the details about an upcoming management console designed to free up managers to address the big network policy issues instead of routine tasks.

The Microsoft Management Console (MMC), previously code-named Slate, lets administrators customize management utilities by using an OLE (Object Linking and Embedding)-based "snap-in" model. The idea is that instead of having to perform each specific function step by step, a manager can create a single application with built-in workflow to accomplish entire tasks, such as distributing an application to all the users on a network. These applications then snap into the MMC interface.

For example, a database administrator could create a snap-in to automatically check the performance of a portion of the network each time a Microsoft SQL database is replicated. All of this will be done with one click of the button on the centralized MMC console, eliminating the need for multiple applications and screens showing a variety of information unrelated to the task. This makes for a much more simplified management console that can help ensure that no steps are skipped or performed in the wrong order.

The MMC will be released as part of Windows NT 5.0 in the second half of 1997. At the same time, all applications for the BackOffice family of products will be upgraded with "snap-in" capabilities.

When it first comes out, MMC will only support Windows NT 4.0 and NT 5.0, but Microsoft plans to add support for Windows 95 and the next-generation Windows 97 soon after.

"What we are talking about here is [enabling] technology," said Michael Emanuel, a product manager in Microsoft's business systems division. "This is the way that one can start to have management technology that fits around the support structures of the organization."

Snap-in applications will be able to take advantage of existing enterprise management platforms such as Tivoli Systems, though, by letting snap-in designers program some application functions into the company's TME 10 management suite. A snap-in, for example, could run from the Microsoft Management Console but activate TME applications. Likewise, TME 10 will be able to launch the Microsoft Management Console.

Snap-ins will also be able to complete tasks and gather performance information across operating systems such as Novell NetWare and the various flavors of Unix. It will also support the Web-Based Enterprise Management schema.

Analysts at the conference who got a look at Slate said the console still doesn't provide an overall view of the network, which means that administrators still have to do too much work to figure out the whole network picture. Microsoft executives countered that the overall network topology should still be part of an enterprise management platform, as in TME.

Microsoft will write a variety of its own snap-ins for its products, including the Systems Management Server suite of desktop management applications, and expects third-party and corporate developers to write their own.