A major theme at MMS this week has been System Center’s commitment to and incorporation of industry standards. Microsoft has clearly realized that successful systems management requires the ability to work across technologies and platforms. Microsoft announced several partnerships between System Center products and third-party technologies to ensure that this new product line can help IT address management of hardware, as well as networking, and that System Center is thus not restricted by Microsoft’s limitations as a software company. A related trend was a theme of interoperability on the MMS vendor exhibition floor. The interoperability theme had two aspects: First, vendors found that one of the few ways third-party management products can compete with Microsoft’s management products was to offer interoperability functionality that Microsoft can’t pursue for competitive reasons. The second aspect of the interoperability theme was that Microsoft had asked selected vendors (such as Quest and eXc) to create interoperability solutions that help Windows platforms play well with non-Windows platforms and applications.

Intel vPro and System Center

Illustrating both the industry standards theme and the ability to manage at the hardware level was a joint announcement by Microsoft and Intel around Intel’s vPro platform. You can listen to my direct-from-MMS podcast conversation with Intel’s Mark Boles (director, Microsoft Program Office, Intel Software and Solutions Group) and Microsoft’s Brad Anderson (General Manager in the Windows and Enterprise Management Division) to get their perspective on the MMS announcements. Click here to go directly to the podcast recording.

If you’re not familiar with vPro, it’s an Intel business client platform based on the Core2 Duo 64-bit dual-core processor. Intel describes vPro as a platform that provides built-in, management and security capabilities, including remote management, provisioning, problem resolution, off-hours maintenance, and proactive security capabilities—all directly from the IT console. The vPro platform lets you remotely inventory assets and hardware and software, contain security threats, resolve software and hardware problems, and increase user uptime.

            At MMS, Microsoft announced plans to produce an add-on that will support the 2007 Intel vPro with Intel AMT technology (codenamed Weybridge) after the RTM of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 (formerly code named SMS v4). This news ensures customers who use Intel AMT and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 are supported when they move to SCCM 2007.

            In my conversation with Mark and Brad, Mark emphasized that vPro natively supports the standard Web Services Management (WSMan) protocol (“a common way for systems to access and exchange management information across the entire IT infrastructure. By using Web services to manage IT systems, deployments that support WS-Management will enable IT managers to remotely access devices on their networks - everything from silicon components and handheld devices to PCs, servers and large-scale data centers.” For details, click here.). And Mark pointed out that Intel is a coauthor of this standard. Brad cited several scenarios illustrating vPro features such as the ability to run hardware diagnostics in a pre-boot environment to determine whether a problem’s root cause rests in configuration or hardware. Another scenario involved the vPro chip’s non-volatile storage, which, for example, lets you retain a unique identifier for a workstation or server in situations such as replacing a hard drive. Both Mark and Brad noted that Intel will provide management packs to monitor hardware.

EMC, Cisco, and Microsoft

Returning to the theme of network management and System Center: In the MMS Day1 keynote, Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia announced that System Center Operations Manager (Ops Manager) will support management of networks, as well as systems. On stage with EMC Executive Vice President Howard Elias, Muglia revealed a strategic technology licensing agreement and broader industry collaboration between Microsoft and EMC that will accelerate Microsoft’s ability to add network management capability to System Center Operations Manager 2007. Microsoft will license the EMC Smarts network discovery and health-monitoring technology, which will be integrated into Ops Manager, and EMC will develop value-added network management and root cause analysis solutions for Ops Manager.

            Starting the initial phase of this agreement, EMC announced the EMC Smarts Connector for SCCM. This two-way connector enables Smarts to share network discovery, topology and root-cause events with Ops Manager and for Ops Manager to synchronize alert status and resolution back to EMC Smarts technology. The connector will be generally available in May 2007. Muglia said, “By integrating EMC’s market-leading network management technology into Operations Manager and collaborating with EMC to develop a new cross-domain behavioral model that will enhance our management pack schema, we are able to give customers a true network-aware service management solution and improve operations management across disparate devices and systems to help pinpoint the root cause of service-affecting problems.”

            In addition, Microsoft, EMC and Cisco announced they would collaborate on a set of network common models that will help customers take advantage of the standard Service Modeling Language (SML) to reduce complexity and simplify management of network-related tasks and resources. The collaboration will focus on creating sophisticated modeling of a network from both a structural and behavioral perspective to enable automation, provisioning, management and monitoring of datacenter operations in a simplified and high-level manner.

Interoperability at MMS

To demonstrate the company’s commitment to interoperability, Microsoft hosted a systems management interoperability lab, one of the first deliverables of the Interop Vendor Alliance, which was established last fall. Participants in the lab included EMC, F5, Engyro, Tidal, and CA Wily. Microsoft said that the Alliance would continue to focus on solving common interoperability challenges by conducting scenario-based tests that will result in practical guidance for customers.

So Much to Say…

This blog post is getting overly long and I have tons more to talk about, but I’ll close for today by congratulating all the finalists in Windows IT Pro’s Best of MMS awards. Choosing the winners was a ridiculously hard task, and we plan to cover all the finalists in the August issue of Windows IT Pro. The winners were: Best Management Product by a Microsoft Partner, NetIQ's AppManager 7; 1st Runner-Up, SpecOps Deploy; 2nd Runner-Up, VMPilot, from Emulex; Most Innovative Product, KACE's KBOX 1000; and Special Achievement Award, Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007.