Microsoft has made significant headway toward its goal—announced more than a year ago at the Microsoft Management Summit 2003—to make Windows the best-managed platform with the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO). The company's recent accomplishments in the systems management arena include its 2004 announcements of Microsoft System Center 2005 and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005, its 2003 launch and 2004 delivery of Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003, and important enhancements to MOM. Microsoft is not only committed to providing its own enterprise systems management tools but seeks to accommodate both complementary systems management tools from third-party vendors and larger framework-type network and systems management (NSM) tools from the so-called "big four" NSM vendors: BMC Software, Computer Associates (CA), HP, and IBM.

The burgeoning Windows systems and applications management market comprises many products and vendors. To guide you through the product offerings, let's start with a rundown of Microsoft's enterprise systems management strategy, explore enterprise NSM products from the big four, move on to third-party tools that enhance the functionality of Windows, and finish with a look at niche products that target specific systems management areas, such as Microsoft Exchange Server or the Internet.

Microsoft's Management Roadmap
In the past year, Microsoft has launched several initiatives to improve Windows server management. The first of Microsoft's major systems management actions occurred in March 2003, when Microsoft introduced the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) to enhance Windows and deliver solutions to simplify and automate design, deployment, and management of distributed systems. The goal of DSI is to decentralize management and eventually realize self-managing platforms and applications whose built-in logic automatically responds to problems by taking appropriate corrective actions. Although Microsoft admits the movement toward self-managing platforms will take time to gather momentum, DSI is a step in the right direction.

Also in March 2003, Microsoft unveiled its plans for System Center, a solution for managing configuration and operations for a wide spectrum of enterprise applications and platforms. System Center builds on DSI. At the Microsoft Management Summit 2004 in March, the company announced the delivery of System Center 2005, which includes MOM 2005, SMS 2003, and a new component called System Center Reporting Server, an integrated data repository and reporting service. Microsoft's long-term plan for System Center is to evolve it into an integrated solution that conforms to and reinforces DSI. Microsoft announced an additional product, MOM 2005 Express, a version of MOM geared toward smaller environments or subgroups of servers dedicated to specific applications in large environments. (For more information about Microsoft's recent systems management announcements, see "Microsoft Hones Management Initiative with New Products," InstantDoc ID 42062.)

MOM 2005 includes management packs, which are system-monitoring products that work with specific Microsoft applications, such as the Exchange Server 2003 and Active Directory (AD) Management Packs. MOM 2005 also includes the MOM Connector Framework (MCF), which is geared toward enterprise customers who maintain medium-to-large heterogeneous environments. MCF connects MOM to third-party management platforms, allowing bidirectional alert forwarding and synchronization of alert status conditions between MCF-connected management tools.

Finally, in 2003 Microsoft introduced the System Definition Model (SDM), an XML-based blueprint that creates definitions for distributed systems. A distributed system is a set of resources (hardware, software, or both) that work together to perform a common function. The SDM defines system resources as objects, making such grouped objects easier to manage than discrete objects whose relationship to the entire system might not be clear. Microsoft intends its new systems management technologies and initiatives to bolster its current management features, which include core OS components such as Group Policy, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Windows Script Host (WSH), and Windows Terminal Services.

While Microsoft makes grand plans around SMS and MOM, the company's Application Center product, which manages high-availability Web applications running on Windows 2000 Server, appears to have only about 4 years of life left. As Microsoft rolls Application Center's capabilities into the server OS and Microsoft applications, Application Center fades from Microsoft's management portfolio. However, Microsoft will integrate Application Center capabilities, such as cluster management and distributed application deployment and monitoring, entirely into the next version of Windows Server (code-named Blackcomb) and other associated technologies, such as the Windows .NET Framework and Visual Studio (VS).

The Big Four NSM Vendors
The big four NSM vendors have years of experience in managing complex environments. These vendors set industry standards for interoperability among NSM products. One of the main strengths of the big four is that their products' management components are integrated, which gives them an advantage in managing heterogeneous environments. The big four offer NSM solutions that span many platforms and technologies and are scalable for true enterprise applications—using these vendors' products to manage tens of thousands of heterogeneous nodes isn't out of the ordinary. Such enterprise-level products are understandably more complex and expensive to deploy and manage than smaller, more tightly focused products. However, the big four NSM vendors are working to make their products easier to set up and run through enhancements such as smarter management modules, more intuitive GUIs, and features that correlate system events to business services.

Nevertheless, deploying a comprehensive enterprise management solution is a complicated, time-consuming process that typically requires the help of a consultant. HP and IBM hold a slight advantage for large implementations because they have internal consulting groups to assist with customer installations. CA and BMC Software use external systems integrators to help customers with their implementations.

Achieving interoperability by adhering to systems management standards continues to be imperative for the big four. The ultimate goal of enterprise-level NSM products is to provide one interface—a "single pane" in NSM-speak—that serves as the centralized systems management operations center. To realize the single-pane goal, a management product should have its own best-of-breed modules yet also integrate with as many lower-tier management products as possible. For example, a large company might have management products from multiple vendors, including products for managing specific applications and network infrastructures. The primary management platform lets these disparate tools function as a comprehensive management solution.

The big four take a similar approach to product delivery: You buy the individual management tools you need and plug them in to your overall solution. The big four vendors avoid using the term "framework" to describe their products because they want to shed the stigma of an overly complex and expensive management model. The big four want to show customers that the vendors' NSM components can function as standalone products and are becoming easier to deploy and manage. Nonetheless, I believe "framework" still accurately describes what these products do best: Manage complex heterogeneous environments.

BMC Software's PATROL
BMC Software's PATROL enterprise management products offer a centralized view of services and technology to help IT determine the components involved in an outage and respond quickly to maintain service levels. These products fully integrate with BMC Software's centralized management tool, PATROL Enterprise Manager (PATROL EM), although they can function with or without it. PATROL EM is a highly scalable management environment that offers real-time problem notification and escalation reporting through familiar communication methods, such as email or pager. PATROL EM automates tasks to speed the correlation of problems to the business services they affect and take corrective actions. It also integrates new management technologies with technologies from previous generations of framework-style management solutions and interoperates with other vendors' management applications, including those of the big four.

PATROL solutions use agents that run on managed systems. The agents gather base system data and data from installed knowledge modules, which monitor and manage specific applications or functional areas. For example, an agent on a managed server gathers information from the PATROL for Microsoft SQL Server Knowledge Module and uses it to report a variety of SQL Server performance metrics.

BMC Software offers management solutions for many products and platforms. The company also has tools specifically to allow multidirectional integration with large environments that use other vendors' NSM products. BMC Software offers its products on a sliding scale of manageability, letting organizations tailor the levels of server management they require to their business needs. For example, you might want to manage all aspects of the servers hosting your enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) applications. However, on a simple file server, you'll probably want to manage only the integral system components (e.g., memory, disk space, processor utilization). BMC Software offers PATROL Express for environments that don't require in-depth, end-to-end management. Aligning solutions to actual needs saves you time and money and lets you better direct management resources.

CA's Unicenter
CA, which has been in the IT management business since 1985, offers the broadest portfolio of NSM products of the big four. Its solutions span the enterprise computing landscape from mainframes to cell phones. CA believes that although the framework concept suited IT organizations in the 1990s, the complexities and costs of integrating disparate solutions make the framework idea obsolete. In 2001, CA began to revamp its solutions based on a modular and adaptive model that fits somewhere between point solutions and a centralized management umbrella.

CA's Unicenter Network and Systems Management solution comprises three main products: Unicenter 3.0 Network and Systems Management, Unicenter Advanced Network Operations, and Unicenter Performance Management. The products provide services such as network and systems management, automated operations, IT resource management, database management, Web infrastructure management, and application management.

Unicenter 3.0 Network and Systems Management oversees the health and availability of OSs. It also provides basic status management on all infrastructure elements, such as network devices, business applications, and database systems. You can use the product's integrated autodiscovery tools to build a system-elements database, which in turn populates 2-D and 3-D system-dynamic visualizations. The product uses agents to gather in-depth management information for many platforms, and you can use this information for real-time, historical, and predictive analysis.

Unicenter Advanced Network Operations discovers, monitors, visualizes, and diagnoses complex network infrastructures. It provides end-to-end management of heterogeneous networks, including LAN, Virtual LAN (VLAN), WAN, and switched environments. Unicenter Advanced Network Operations provides event correlation and advanced root-cause analysis, a feature that reports not only failures but also their causes. Unicenter Advanced Network Operations supports many network technologies, among them DECnet, IPX, SNA, and TCP/IP.

Unicenter Performance Management delivers comprehensive information about the overall IT infrastructure, including components such as servers, workstations, routers, hubs, switches, LAN segments, and WAN links. The product provides service metrics such as network response times, bandwidth utilization, and delays that you can analyze to determine the source of performance problems (e.g., application, file, Internet server, Web). You can monitor and measure user activity to help resolve current problems and prevent future ones through effective capacity planning.

HP OpenView
HP's NSM vision incorporates the common enterprise management theme of aligning IT services with business needs, which HP calls "adaptive enterprise." HP OpenView management products play a large part in realizing the company's adaptive enterprise strategy.

OpenView's centralized console component, OpenView Operations, runs on Windows and various other platforms. OpenView Operations centralizes the management of distributed e-business infrastructures by deploying an agent to collect management metrics—such as application, network, or database statistics—to managed devices. The agents then send the collected data to the main console for processing and management. One agent works across all platforms to collect what HP calls "50 golden metrics," which are consistent on all managed platforms. You can use smart plugins to gather additional, platform-specific metrics for environments such as Exchange and AD.

HP aims to bring adaptive enterprise capabilities to the console by developing and acquiring products that provide these capabilities. For example, at the OpenView console, you view the discrete technologies that make up an application as a single business service. You can drill down in the service view to see problem areas. You can tell OpenView to perform automated actions in certain error situations, such as creating a Help desk ticket or starting a service, or specify a manual action, such as opening a Microsoft Knowledge Base article or annotating a solution to the problem in an internal knowledge base.

IBM's Tivoli
IBM has integrated 25 years of systems management knowledge and processes into an array of solutions under the Tivoli umbrella. Like the other big four NSM vendors' products, IBM's Tivoli can either operate as a standalone product or integrate into Tivoli's centralized console.

Tivoli consists of four product groups organized according to their functionality: security, storage, performance and availability, and configuration and operations. These categories encompass many solutions, ranging from essentials, such as IBM Tivoli Monitoring, to more specialized products, such as Tivoli e-Marketplace Manager. IBM also offers a Change and Configuration Management (CCM) tool—IBM Tivoli Configuration and Operations—that distributes software, manages the change and control of IT assets, automates workflow, and lets you remotely control systems.

Like the other big four vendors, IBM has tailored its products to help organizations align their NSM infrastructure with business objectives. IBM has also successfully promoted its autonomic computing initiative, which the company defines as using technology to manage technology so as to reduce the cost and complexity of owning and operating computers. IBM's ultimate goal with Tivoli is to enable an IT infrastructure that's self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing, and self-protecting.

Third-Party Assistance
Although Microsoft has significantly enhanced SMS, the product still has room for improvement. Many third-party add-ons are available that add capabilities to SMS or improve existing features. Following is a quick guided tour through third-party SMS add-ons. Table 1 provides a detailed listing of SMS and MOM add-on products.

1E offers four SMS add-ons: SMSWakeUp, SMSNomad, Patch Management Pack, and RightClick Deployment. SMSWakeUp automatically turns on one or more networked PCs to facilitate off-hours SMS activities (e.g., software and patch distribution, inventory). SMSNomad provides features such as intelligent bandwidth allocation and restartable downloads that facilitate the distribution of software across low-bandwidth links. Patch Deployment Pack combines SMSWakeUp and another 1E product, Night Watchman, and lets you perform reboots remotely. RightClick Deployment is an automated Windows XP migration solution.

Aelita Software's Aelita SnapReports for Microsoft SMS is an SMS-specific reporting tool that lets you create meaningful reports from SMS repository data more quickly than with the SMS tools. Altiris, a longtime SMS collaborator, offers several tools that integrate with SMS to extend its reach to Apple Computer's Macintosh, Linux, Palm Computing's Palm OS, Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry, and UNIX. The Altiris Web Administrator for Microsoft SMS provides SMS Console functionality in a Web interface, including remote control and reporting. The Altiris Mobile Client for SMS leverages your SMS infrastructure and provides specialized management capabilities for mobile clients. Finally, Altiris's UNIX Client for SMS lets you use SMS to manage UNIX systems.

CompuThoughts' SMSworks improves your control over SMS's software-installation process by managing installation privileges and allows more granular control over application settings during installations. Gravity Square's Advanced Scheduler for SMS integrates with SMS to better control when software packages are distributed, minimizing interruption of managed systems while they're in use. ManageSoft's Microsoft SMS connector integrates with and extends SMS by enhancing inventory data and making remote and mobile device management more robust. NetIQ's AppManager for Microsoft Systems Management Server monitors and manages SMS's core services and performance metrics to ensure that your SMS system is healthy and runs at peak efficiency.

PS'SOFT's QP: SMS License Compliance helps you manage installed software and maintain license compliance. Tally Systems' PowerCensus enhances SMS's inventory process by providing more accurate hardware and software recognition capabilities. Vintela Management eXtensions (VMX) lets you use the SMS interface to perform system discovery, hardware and software inventory, and software delivery to non-Windows platforms. XcelleNet's Afaria SMS Integration Suite extends SMS's ability to manage PCs, laptops, tablets, handheld devices, and smart phones.

Microsoft's plan for MOM is to provide tools for managing Microsoft's server and application infrastructure and let third parties create tools for managing other operations management areas through management packs. Many vendors—among them Actional, AmberPoint, and Service Integrity—have created management packs for managing Web services. CA has joined the effort with its Unicenter Web Services Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager, which integrates with MOM UI information that Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management, Unicenter Management for .Net Framework, and other CA products related to Web services management collect.

Dell and HP have created management packs for their hardware offerings. Similarly, VERITAS Software made its VERITAS NetBackup application more manageable by creating the Veritas Management Pack for MOM, and Citrix Systems created the MetaFrame XP Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager 2000. Full Armor released FAZAM Auditing for MOM to automate and simplify auditing of changes to Group Policy environments. NetIQ has Extended Management Pack (XMP) modules, and eXc Software has management packs that extend the reach of MOM to platforms such as IBM's iSeries, Linux, Novell NetWare, and UNIX. NetIQ also offers XMP modules to connect MOM to other management platforms, such as Tivoli and Micromuse's Netcool. NetPro Computing has released management packs for extending MOM's monitoring and management of AD, Novell eDirectory, and various flavors of DNS.

HP aims to bring adaptive enterprise capabilities to the console by developing and acquiring products that provide these capabilities. For example, at the OpenView console, you view the discrete technologies that make up an application as a single business service. You can drill down in the service view to see problem areas. You can tell OpenView to perform automated actions in certain error situations, such as creating a Help desk ticket or starting a service, or specify a manual action, such as opening a Microsoft Knowledge Base article or annotating a solution to the problem in an internal knowledge base.

IBM's Tivoli
IBM has integrated 25 years of systems management knowledge and processes into an array of solutions under the Tivoli umbrella. Like the other big four NSM vendors' products, IBM's Tivoli can either operate as a standalone product or integrate into Tivoli's centralized console.

Tivoli consists of four product groups organized according to their functionality: security, storage, performance and availability, and configuration and operations. These categories encompass many solutions, ranging from essentials, such as IBM Tivoli Monitoring, to more specialized products, such as Tivoli e-Marketplace Manager. IBM also offers a Change and Configuration Management (CCM) tool—IBM Tivoli Configuration and Operations—that distributes software, manages the change and control of IT assets, automates workflow, and lets you remotely control systems.

Like the other big four vendors, IBM has tailored its products to help organizations align their NSM infrastructure with business objectives. IBM has also successfully promoted its autonomic computing initiative, which the company defines as using technology to manage technology so as to reduce the cost and complexity of owning and operating computers. IBM's ultimate goal with Tivoli is to enable an IT infrastructure that's self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing, and self-protecting.

Third-Party Assistance
Although Microsoft has significantly enhanced SMS, the product still has room for improvement. Many third-party add-ons are available that add capabilities to SMS or improve existing features. Following is a quick guided tour through third-party SMS add-ons. Table 1 provides a detailed listing of SMS and MOM add-on products.

1E offers four SMS add-ons: SMSWakeUp, SMSNomad, Patch Management Pack, and RightClick Deployment. SMSWakeUp automatically turns on one or more networked PCs to facilitate off-hours SMS activities (e.g., software and patch distribution, inventory). SMSNomad provides features such as intelligent bandwidth allocation and restartable downloads that facilitate the distribution of software across low-bandwidth links. Patch Deployment Pack combines SMSWakeUp and another 1E product, Night Watchman, and lets you perform reboots remotely. RightClick Deployment is an automated Windows XP migration solution.

Aelita Software's Aelita SnapReports for Microsoft SMS is an SMS-specific reporting tool that lets you create meaningful reports from SMS repository data more quickly than with the SMS tools. Altiris, a longtime SMS collaborator, offers several tools that integrate with SMS to extend its reach to Apple Computer's Macintosh, Linux, Palm Computing's Palm OS, Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry, and UNIX. The Altiris Web Administrator for Microsoft SMS provides SMS Console functionality in a Web interface, including remote control and reporting. The Altiris Mobile Client for SMS leverages your SMS infrastructure and provides specialized management capabilities for mobile clients. Finally, Altiris's UNIX Client for SMS lets you use SMS to manage UNIX systems.

CompuThoughts' SMSworks improves your control over SMS's software-installation process by managing installation privileges and allows more granular control over application settings during installations. Gravity Square's Advanced Scheduler for SMS integrates with SMS to better control when software packages are distributed, minimizing interruption of managed systems while they're in use. ManageSoft's Microsoft SMS connector integrates with and extends SMS by enhancing inventory data and making remote and mobile device management more robust. NetIQ's AppManager for Microsoft Systems Management Server monitors and manages SMS's core services and performance metrics to ensure that your SMS system is healthy and runs at peak efficiency.

PS'SOFT's QP: SMS License Compliance helps you manage installed software and maintain license compliance. Tally Systems' PowerCensus enhances SMS's inventory process by providing more accurate hardware and software recognition capabilities. Vintela Management eXtensions (VMX) lets you use the SMS interface to perform system discovery, hardware and software inventory, and software delivery to non-Windows platforms. XcelleNet's Afaria SMS Integration Suite extends SMS's ability to manage PCs, laptops, tablets, handheld devices, and smart phones.

Microsoft's plan for MOM is to provide tools for managing Microsoft's server and application infrastructure and let third parties create tools for managing other operations management areas through management packs. Many vendors—among them Actional, AmberPoint, and Service Integrity—have created management packs for managing Web services. CA has joined the effort with its Unicenter Web Services Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager, which integrates with MOM UI information that Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management, Unicenter Management for .Net Framework, and other CA products related to Web services management collect.

Dell and HP have created management packs for their hardware offerings. Similarly, VERITAS Software made its VERITAS NetBackup application more manageable by creating the Veritas Management Pack for MOM, and Citrix Systems created the MetaFrame XP Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager 2000. Full Armor released FAZAM Auditing for MOM to automate and simplify auditing of changes to Group Policy environments. NetIQ has Extended Management Pack (XMP) modules, and eXc Software has management packs that extend the reach of MOM to platforms such as IBM's iSeries, Linux, Novell NetWare, and UNIX. NetIQ also offers XMP modules to connect MOM to other management platforms, such as Tivoli and Micromuse's Netcool. NetPro Computing has released management packs for extending MOM's monitoring and management of AD, Novell eDirectory, and various flavors of DNS.

The advent of MCF has opened a new category of third-party add-ons to MOM: MCF connectors. These connectors let MOM and other management frameworks interoperate. Early companies offering connectors include Aprisma, IBM Tivoli, Maranti Networks, MetiLinx, Skywire Software, and SMARTS. These companies recognize MOM's potential and understand the importance of interoperability with the MOM framework.

Point Products
Not every organization requires the breadth of solutions that the NSM big four offer. Fortunately, other vendors offer point products for managing smaller, less diverse environments. NetIQ has management products for Windows, SQL Server, and Exchange environments and products for Internet, performance, security, and voice/video management. Quest Software recently acquired Aelita to increase the depth and breadth of Quest's product portfolio. The merged companies will develop and market their respective management products until they combine product lines.

BindView targets its management solutions to specific business categories and has a strong security-management background. Novell ZENworks management solutions offer software distribution, asset management, and operations management for desktops, servers, handheld devices, and enterprise services. Heroix eQ Management Suite has solutions for managing applications, servers, databases, messaging systems, Web and e-commerce systems, and infrastructure devices. Many other management products are available that focus on a few areas or even one management area.

If you're looking for a focused NSM solution, make sure you select a best-of-breed application that adheres to management standards and has a history of integrating with larger solutions. Table 2, lists key features of systems management solutions from the big four and vendors of point products. Table 3, lists niche products.

Options Abound
If you run only Windows in your organization, Microsoft's management offerings might cover your immediate needs. The reality of heterogeneous systems in the data center, however, probably won't change; therefore, the need for integration between NSM solutions will remain strong. Finding a balance between easy deployment, scalability, and breadth of scope is key to selecting the best solution for you. Somewhere between the big four and the finely focused niche products, you'll find the management tools you need.