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Microsoft to hone management tools

The software giant has renamed its division responsible for software used to manage Windows servers, as the company prepares to update management tools at a conference next week.

Microsoft has realigned its enterprise management group in what analysts see as an important step to extending further into big companies.

With the change, announced Tuesday, Microsoft's

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Management Business group will be called the Enterprise Management division. Division chief Kirill Tatarinov will now report to Bob Muglia, the executive in charge of Microsoft's Enterprise Storage division, rather than to Windows head Brian Valentine.

The change is significant, say analysts, as the group responsible for Systems Management Server (SMS)--software used closely with Windows Server--is now under the authority of the person responsible for the storage division. By separating the division from the Windows group, Microsoft is taking steps to ensure its three systems management software products fit better with businesses running other operating systems alongside Windows.

"What's going on here, is the realization that Microsoft has made that (systems) management is not just an operating-system issue," said Peter Pawlak, an analyst with market researcher Directions on Microsoft.

By putting the systems management division under Muglia, who manages a group also working independently from the Windows group, managers can refocus their efforts, Pawlak said. This could eventually lead to better support for developer tools and applications for Microsoft's systems management software. Over-emphasis on supporting Windows has hurt the acceptance of Microsoft systems management in the enterprise, where managers typically use multiple vendors and types of server.

"Everyone knows that in (systems) management you have to work with heterogeneity in the data center, and that's been Microsoft's weakness," Pawlak said.

Under its old organization, Microsoft delivered management software for Windows, while the company relied on third-party developers--such as BMC, Computer Associates or Tivoli--to provide tools that could work with other operating systems. But that strategy could falter as Microsoft moves up into the enterprise, where Windows might be just one of several operating systems used by a business, say analysts.

The division's existing products all run on Windows. Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM, is a tool for monitoring, managing and evaluating the performance of Windows. Systems Management Server helps configure and maintain Windows systems, as well as manage security patches and bug fixes. Application Center is a tool for deploying and managing Web-based applications.

Microsoft is making changes, in part, in response to customer complaints about the more Windows-centric strategy.

"We're being asked by our customers to be more serious about management, to provide solutions for enterprises," said David Hamilton, director of the Enterprise Management division. The name change and organizational change seemed to match customer requests, he said.

Hamilton said that enterprise customers complain that many existing management products are "too complex" to use or "take too long to install. Since so much of what the use is from Microsoft, they're really looking for us to help them in that space."

The change may also raise the level of exposure the division's products receive inside of Microsoft, where Windows and .Net Web services have led the company's charge into the enterprise.

"By having (Tatarinov) report to Bob Muglia, it allows us a lot more senior exposure within the company," Hamilton said.

Tighter ties?
Aligning the software that manages Windows Server products with storage division products could indicate the early stages of an important extension to Microsoft's management strategy.

Microsoft currently is developing a new file system that will deliver enhanced storage capabilities to Windows . The technology is expected to appear first in Yukon, code name for the next version of SQL Server, and later Longhorn, successor to Windows XP.

Tighter ties between the server management and storage groups could lead to the development of new storage management software products, although Pawlak didn't see this as the main reason for the organizational changes.

Hamilton dismissed any speculation that Microsoft might now shift focus to storage management software. "We haven't made a lot of progress in that area. But the storage management area is an area that we will continue to analyze as we move forward."

The systems management division has some "synergy with storage," Hamilton said. "We do think there are similar challenges in the enterprise space, and we do think there are similar challenges (in) developing new products and markets."

The software titan is expected to discuss some of those new products and strategies next week at a Microsoft-sponsored management software conference in Las Vegas. Hamilton wouldn't disclose next week's announcements. But he said the management division would give updates on all three of its products and management strategies around Windows Server 2003, which is set for launch April 24.

Two of the system management products are in a transition state, and Microsoft plans to lay out a clearer strategy for future versions. MOM, for which Microsoft issued Service Pack 1 in January, is still at version 2000. SMS 2003 is in late beta testing. The company is scheduled to release SMS 2003 to manufacturing in September.

Microsoft also plans to discuss new SMS 2003 add-on--or feature--packs that would extend the software's systems management features. The feature packs wouldn't ship until after the release of SMS 2003 final code in September, according to Microsoft.

The most interesting news may have to do with the impact of the organizational change on application development, Pawlak said. For good server management, support for the service must exist in the application from the start. "You just can't tack that on afterwards," he said.

As Microsoft expands its server management focus higher into the enterprise, the company must woo software developers with better tools and reasons to support the management software.

"Next week, I think one of the efforts they're going to be driving down is providing the facilities in Visual Studio .Net?and try to get developers to build that stuff into their applications from the get-go," Pawlak said.