As I noted last week, the 2003 Microsoft Management Summit (MMS 2003) yielded a management strategy roadmap and presented an interesting look at one of the company's future key management products: Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004. This week, I take a closer look at these developments and a few other future technologies that will soon begin occupying the thoughts and plans of IT workers who roll out Microsoft products.

Microsoft's Management Strategy In keeping with a product strategy similar to the Microsoft Office suite, the company is working to move its management products into an integrated system called Microsoft System Center, a suite of server products that the company will begin rolling out next year. According to Microsoft, the goal of Microsoft System Center is to provide a comprehensive solution for proactively managing enterprises of all sizes and driving down the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the Windows platform.

In early 2004, Microsoft will introduce the first version of Microsoft System Center, which will include MOM 2004 (which I discuss later) and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003. These products will include Change and Configuration Management (CCM), asset management, end-to-end application management, IT process orchestration, performance trending, reporting, and capacity planning features. Over time, the company will roll into the suite other products and services that fill in missing bits of functionality.

Microsoft didn't discuss pricing or licensing for the suite at MMS 2003, but the company had previously told me that it would consolidate MOM and SMS, so I don't know whether the products will be sold separately post-Microsoft System Center or whether the next version of the software will include components from each product. One product that was curiously absent from the Microsoft System Center plans is Microsoft Application Center, which comprises the other third of the company's management server trifecta.

MOM 2004
MOM 2004 builds on the current MOM version, adding simpler deployment and configuration tools and a host of customer-requested features, including auto-alert handling, state monitoring, a task-based operator console, broader management pack support, and better reporting tools. MOM 2004 will ship concurrently with four new management packs that will provide instance-aware monitoring, cluster support, and state-based monitoring, as well as a group of prebuilt reports, tasks, views, support advice, and diagnostics. The new reporting tools will support publish/subscribe functionality that will immediately transmit key event and performance concerns to the appropriate people. Naturally, MOM 2004 will integrate with Windows Server 2003, Active Directory (AD), and the Microsoft .NET Framework. In addition, MOM 2004 will work with other Microsoft server products such as BizTalk Server, Exchange Server, and SQL Server.

Longhorn and Blackcomb: The Next Cairo?
Microsoft's management plans are pretty straightforward, but what about its upcoming Windows releases? Microsoft will likely release to manufacturing (RTM) Windows 2003 in the days ahead and launch it April 24, although customers will likely be able to obtain it weeks before that date. With a new server release in the can, let's take a short look at Microsoft's plans for future Windows client and server releases.

Before last week, future Windows plans consisted of two projects, code-named Longhorn and Blackcomb. The next client release, Longhorn, would ship in late 2004 and build off Windows XP's task-oriented interface, adding an exciting new 3D UI and a SQL Server-based file system. A year or two later, Microsoft would ship Blackcomb, a server-only update to Windows 2003. At MMS 2003, Senior Vice President Brian Valentine discussed these products during interviews with reporters; however, he revealed more of Microsoft's uncertainty about Longhorn and Blackcomb than he did about their respective timelines.

"There were some bold statements made at certain points about client-only, server-only," Valentine said. "But when you think about it, anytime you do a new client release and that release is either developer/ISV \[Independent Software Vendor\]-focused or rich-scenario-focused (around more common storage and those kinds of things), you need server support if you are going to get \[that release\] deployed in the enterprise." This statement suggests that Longhorn might include a concurrent server release to synchronize the file system work between the client and the server.

But Valentine was even more direct about the need for a Blackcomb client: If the company makes bold changes to the server product, Microsoft would need an accompanying client release to take advantage of those changes, he said. Valentine noted that Longhorn, scheduled for release in late 2004, would probably slip to 2005, with Blackcomb following about 2 years later, in 2007 or 2008.

Valentine's comments apparently raised a hornet's nest of activity at Microsoft, which was besieged by press requests for clarification. "Brian was just thinking out loud," Windows Server Group Product Manager Bob O'Brien told tech reporter Mary Jo Foley. "But there are no plans for a Longhorn Server. That is not on the boards." What could happen, however, is a limited edition Longhorn Server release, similar to the Windows Server releases the company made for the first Itanium. Or, perhaps the company could ship an add-on pack of some sort that would provide Longhorn functionality to Windows 2003.

However you look at it, Microsoft's public flailing over the next versions of its most important product line should be disturbing to anyone rolling out Microsoft technology. If the company is this befuddled in public, how confused is it internally? I'd like to see Microsoft simply state its plans for future Windows versions and then implement those plans. In concert with the recent decision to extend the support lifetime for its various products, providing customers with an even-keeled update strategy is a key component of the maturity and reliability the company simply isn't projecting at this time.