When I started writing this column two years ago, Microsoft had recently realized that customer satisfaction demanded the company demonstrate a commitment to taking IT professionals' feedback seriously. The company touted its self-image of being a data-driven business but lamented its lack of success at "closing the loop" (i.e., letting customers know that Microsoft heard and acted on their concerns). My goal with this column has been to provide a "closed loop" opportunity for you to ask Microsoft questions and get answers from the developers who create the products.

This month, I look at some upcoming Microsoft releases and report on how features and functionality match up with the concerns you've raised. Big picture: My impression is that the server and management development teams understand IT needs and are responding to your input. System Center Essentials (SCE, pronounced "ski") and Data Protection Manager version 2 (DPM v2) are good examples. I'm not so sure about the teams working on the desktop side of Microsoft Office 2007 System. (I'm excluding the Office servers, such as Exchange and SharePoint, because those teams do understand IT.)

MOM + SMS = SCE?


"Can MOM 2005 Help Small Businesses?" (December 2004, InstantDoc ID 44426) was probably, the Hey Microsoft! column that generated the most reader mail. Readers wrote that despite a need for management tools, they hadn't considered Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) before MOM 2005 Workgroup Edition came out. Several Small Business Server (SBS) consultants wrote that they were looking for a way to monitor their clients' networks remotely. One of the most common requests was for a management tool combining some features of MOM and some of Systems Management Server (SMS).

Today, SCE Beta 2 (SCE supersedes MOM Workgroup Edition) is available, and it looks like customer feedback has shaped the product. As SCE Product Manager David Mills told me, "IT generalists in the mid-market \[50 to 500 PCs\] are still doing a lot manually—like running around to the desktops and updating patches or keeping asset inventory in a spreadsheet. A lot of enterprise management solutions are available, but they tend to be complex to set up and use and they're not priced for the mid-market IT budget. Also, existing solutions tend to be point solutions that only do one thing, such as inventory or patching. We're coming into the mid-market with a unified management solution for all the essentials— change and config, monitoring, software distribution, updating, and asset inventory—and priced right for the mid-market segment. With SCE you not only get monitoring for servers, but also monitoring for clients. It's a much more comprehensive package than MOM Workgroup."

So SCE really is that awaited combination of SMS and MOM features? "Yes, but it's built from the ground up on \[System Center\] Operations Manager \[Ops Manager\] and WSUS architecture," David replied. "The WSUS side handles updating, software distribution, asset inventory. The Ops Manager side is for monitoring."

What about those SBS consultants looking for a monitoring solution? David disclosed, "Moving forward, we're enabling SCE as an endpoint for remote management. Once customers start installing and using SCE, partners who want to offer managed services will be able to use Ops Manager 2007 with a special management pack that will unlock a customer-centric view and remotely manage customer sites that have SCE installed. This isn't completely baked. The technology is there, and we're working on how to bring this to market, how to price and license it, and all that. SCE and Ops Manager are built with that capability in mind. So you'll be seeing more about that story."

I've heard that the upcoming server SKU code-named Centro (which will be along the same lines as SBS but for the mid-market) will incorporate SCE as its management solution. David affirmed, "That's still the plan. They're baking SCE management architecture into Centro."

SCE is targeted for release by second quarter 2007. You can download Beta 2 at http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/sce/default.mspx.

DPM v2: Beyond File and Print


When I wrote "What's Data Protection Manager?" (March 2005, InstantDoc ID 45248), the product was in its first beta. Although readers didn't know much about DPM at that time, I was amazed at the level of interest they expressed in a Microsoft disk-to-disk-to-tape backup product. That first DPM version performed only file server backup, and the functionality that survey respondents requested most was the ability to back up Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange Server.

Now, a year after the release of DPM 2006, DPM v2 Beta 1 is available. As readers requested, Beta 1 supports both SQL Server and Exchange, and the Beta 2 version in early spring will support SharePoint.

Senior Product Manager Jason Buffington told me, "Our focus is around combining the advanced CDP technology with traditional tape on a single platform in an easy-to-restore vehicle for the primary Windows workloads. The big news is we're broadening what we protect and how we protect it. We're providing native agents for Exchange 2003 and 2007, SQL Server 2000 and 2005, Share-Point, and for clustered Windows servers. We've also added system-state and bare-metal recovery, as well as local agent install, SMS/SUS integration, Command Line Interface and PowerShell cmdlets, support for protecting servers across trusted domains, file/folder exclusions, encrypted files, and media encryption."

DPM 2006 was positioned as a mid-market-product, and I wondered if DPM v2 would be different. Jason said, "Our tag line for v2 is 'enterprises of all sizes.' Because we support both disk and tape and all the core server workloads, this version is for all business sizes." DPM requires AD because one of the product's key features is auto-discovery of new servers, which are added to the environment through AD.

I asked Jason to elaborate on the Exchange support. He said, "With Exchange, you'll be able to restore at a storage group, database, mailbox, and public folder level. If you want to restore a mailbox, you have to back up the mailboxes. We have a patented filter technology that lets us protect the whole but restore individual parts. It means that administrators won't have near the difficulty in selecting what to protect. DPM v2 really improves even the workflow of how an IT administrator decides how to protect the data. This will yield a more reliable backup, which means a better restore."

What about SQL Server and SharePoint? "You get database-level protection and recovery. With SharePoint, we hear very clearly from customers that they're not satisfied with the SharePoint backup solutions available today. So we have a vested interest in making that work."

Jason added, "You can protect SQL data, Exchange data, and file data from within one UI, specifically within a single policy. This means one set of snapshots, one set of synchronizations, regardless of the fact that they're on multiple servers throughout the environment. That way, if I ever have to restore anything, I can restore an entire customer set or project set in a single view. That's really compelling if you have any kind of regulatory compliance perspective."

The release of DPM v2 is slated for late 2007 or early 2008. You can learn more about the product at http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/dpm/beta/overview.mspx.

Office and IT


In "Windows Error Reporting: Elementary, My Dear Watson" (August 2005, InstantDoc ID 46982) and "Windows Error Reporting: Hoping for Fixes" (October 2005, InstantDoc ID 47636), I wrote about Windows Error Reporting (WER) because readers were so confused about the data Microsoft receives and what the company does with the information. Readers wrote me they were glad to finally get some clarification about WER.

But today, because of Office 2007's launch, what's interesting is some of the data from the survey behind those articles. We asked IT pros about their main concerns with the Office desktop applications. Among the biggest problems respondents had was the lack of a consistent deployment tool that minimizes the resource burden and installs the standard configuration.

Microsoft's marketing information focuses on new end-user features; not much is being said about the IT pros who will be responsible for purchasing and deploying Office 2007. But those concerns are being addressed. According to Microsoft, new IT tools include "an Office Migration Planning Manager, a File Conversion Tool, a new Setup Architecture, an Office Customization Tool, greater Group Policy capabilities, and a new Multilingual Architecture. Microsoft also is providing customers with Desktop Deployment Planning Services, a Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator, and an Office Resource Kit to help ensure trouble-free adoption of the latest release." You can learn more at http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/itpro/highlights.mspx.

On Top of IT


Once Microsoft figures out how to turn a negative (in this case, Microsoft's discovery that IT pro customer satisfaction was terrible) into a positive, the company can turn on a dime. I hear that IT customer satisfaction is growing impressively because of efforts to reach out to IT pros. It makes sense to me that the server teams, which depend on IT pros, have excelled at soliciting customer feedback and using it to improve products. It also makes sense that the traditionally end-user?oriented groups, such as Office, haven't been as successful with that challenge. Let me know what you think about Microsoft's efforts and whether you agree about Office.