, Jan. 16, 2001 — Whether they’re working at their company headquarters or from a hotel room, many business employees count on being connected to the right software and information to perform their jobs. But as people change locations within a company or work from remote locations, keeping them plugged into the information technology network is an ongoing challenge for many businesses’ information technology staffs.
Microsoft is targeting these and a host of other management challenges with the next version of its Systems Management Server product and a new application, Microsoft Operations Manager, that complement each other in helping companies administer their technology environments more efficiently. Today, Microsoft announced the products’ features and availability for initial beta testing within the next several months.
The new edition of Systems Management Server — code-named Topaz — includes enhanced support for mobile users as well as tight integration with Active Directory capabilities in Windows 2000. The product focuses on change and configuration management processes such as distributing, updating, repairing and removing computer systems. Microsoft Operations Manager, based on technology licensed from partner NetIQ, works side-by-side with Systems Management Server to monitor the performance and availability of networked systems ranging from Windows 2000 Server to the Microsoft .NET Enterprise Server line of applications. Microsoft Operations Manager is scheduled for beta testing in the first quarter of this year, and Topaz will be released for initial beta testing in the second half of the year. General release dates for both products will based on beta testers’ feedback.
“These products represent important next steps in a comprehensive roadmap for systems management that Microsoft unveiled last October,” said David Hamilton, group product manager of the Microsoft Management Technologies Group. “Using our customers’ insights and expectations as a compass, Microsoft is rapidly advancing its management solutions vision with products and services that help ensure worry-free administration of Windows servers, desktops and applications.”
The Microsoft management strategy also includes a series of standards-based management interfaces called .NET Management Services, which provide the underlying communications plumbing that allows management applications and the systems they monitor to easily work together. In addition, a broad-based partner program known as the Microsoft Management Alliance provides technical information and marketing resources especially for developers creating management software on the Windows platform.
Faster Software Delivery, Improved Asset Tracking Throughout the Network
Nabisco Inc., one of the earliest adopters of Systems Management Server in 1994, uses it to configure and maintain nearly 10,000 desktop computers. The product streamlines software distribution by enabling Nabisco’s IT administrators to target specific applications to certain groups of users — such as loading a spreadsheet application on the machines being used by each of the company’s finance employees — regardless of where the individuals are located. Systems Management Server also can determine the physical location of any machine on the network and what software is being used or loaded there, which helps Nabisco oversee its large number of leased computers and prevent unauthorized software installations.
Nabisco estimates that using Systems Management Server to distribute software electronically is saving the company more than $7 million annually through faster delivery times, reduced IT staff visits to individual work stations, lower leasing costs and other improvements. “We’re more efficient than ever,” said Rich Burton, manager of the Distributed Systems Group in Nabisco’s information technology department, “and Systems Management Server gives us capabilities we never had before.”
New Tools Keep Mobile Workers Well-Connected
Of the enhancements promised in Topaz, Burton is particularly pleased with its additional support for remote users. “Some of our sales force is almost exclusively based in home offices, and others come into a Nabisco sales office only once every couple of months,” he said, “so we have a lot of different challenges in providing them with up-to-date software.” In the event that a remote worker is downloading software or other data over a phone line and the connection gets dropped, a Topaz feature called Checkpoint Restart will allow the user to resume the download from where it left off instead of having to repeat every step.
Topaz also uses many of the core capabilities in Active Directory, an essential part of the Windows 2000 network architecture that allows organizations to efficiently share and manage information about network resources and users. By exploiting Active Directory’s ability to group users or machines with common needs into organizational units, Topaz provides even richer options for distributing software and managing IT resources.
“While Active Directory and Windows 2000 are not required for running Topaz, the overall solution gets a lot better when all three are working together,” Hamilton said.
He added that improved metering capabilities in Topaz help system administrators more accurately track statistics such as which applications are running on a desktop at any given time and how many copies are running system-wide — crucial knowledge for companies that must comply with usage limits in their software licensing agreements. Additionally, Web-based reporting tools in Topaz provide more options for dissecting information within the system and allow users to view data from any location with Internet browser access.
“Topaz is intelligent enough to deliver the right software and information to the user’s desktop, through the appropriate communications mechanism and in the appropriate time frame,” Hamilton said.
Industry-Leading Operations Management Technology
As with the latest enhancements for change and configuration management in Topaz, customer feedback largely fed Microsoft’s decision to license NetIQ Operations Manager technology for the new Microsoft Operations Manager product. “Many companies had urged us to provide integrated solutions for the full range of management processes,” said Hamilton, “and NetIQ was the established leader in providing event and performance management. The alliance has allowed Microsoft to quickly build a solution for monitoring, diagnosing and reporting as part of a well-managed Windows environment.”
Microsoft Operations Manager is designed to ensure that servers and applications throughout the system are running properly and identify current or potential problems: Are the servers running out of disk space or experiencing memory problems? Are exceptions, errors or security infringements occurring? The product also measures overall system performance to identify inefficiencies and areas for preventive maintenance.
When it encounters a problem, Microsoft Operations Manager sends alert messages from all the various systems to one screen in the Microsoft Management Console, which can be viewed from a Web browser. Microsoft Operations Manager also can be programmed to send an electronic message to an employee’s pager or email system, enabling faster notification and response from anywhere.
Specific intelligence is built into the solution to recognize problems from a host of different systems and applications, particularly Microsoft Windows 2000, Active Directory, SQL, Exchange and Internet Information Services.
Nabisco, which currently uses a NetIQ product called AppManager to monitor a wide range of systems, plans to install Microsoft Operations Manager on the company’s more than 450 Windows 2000- and Windows NT-based servers as soon as the product is available. Over time, Burton’s group will layer the existing AppManager structure on top of Microsoft Operations Manager.
Ongoing Improvements Mirror Customer Needs
Burton added that Microsoft has impressed Nabisco by showing a willingness to improve its current management technologies in response to changing business needs. “It’s been very active in shaking out what’s most important to customers like us and building those demands into the product,” he said.
“Microsoft’s management strategy is driven by a desire to make Windows the best-managed environment for our customers’ critical business systems throughout their enterprise,” said Deborah Black, vice president of the Microsoft Management Technologies Group. “The new Microsoft Operations Manager solution and Systems Management Server, code-named Topaz, are part of our continued investment in bringing businesses the most advanced end-to-end management solutions for their Windows environments.”