Q&A: With Microsoft System Center, Deploying and Managing Next-Generation Microsoft Technologies Just Got Faster, Easier, More Efficient

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 11, 2007 — The role of IT operations continues to move from backstage to center stage as companies work to align their IT resources with business goals, putting more pressure on IT departments to drive higher levels of efficiency and productivity.

The recent launch of 2007 Microsoft Office, Exchange Server 2007 and Windows Vista for business presents enterprises with a wealth of new opportunities to achieve these goals. However, for IT professionals seeking to take full advantage of these opportunities, it also presents other questions: How can they best roll out the new technologies, cost effectively run them in existing environments and use them to reach new levels of productivity?

Microsoft’s answer to these questions: Microsoft System Center — a family of leading systems management solutions that focuses on providing IT professionals with built-in tools and knowledge to help IT professionals proactively manage their IT infrastructure. With Microsoft’s flagship management products Systems Management Server 2003 and System Center Operations Manager 2007, the growing System Center family of management solutions enables enterprises to more easily and efficiently migrate and manage the new Microsoft technologies launched in November. For more insight into the System Center enterprise management solutions, PressPass spoke with Larry Orecklin, general manager of marketing for the Windows Enterprise & Management Division.

Larry Orecklin, General Manager of Marketing for the Windows Enterprise & Management Division at Microsoft

PressPass: What are the System Center IT management solutions that will ease the initial deployment and later the ongoing management of this next generation of Microsoft software?

Orecklin: The System Center Family of IT management solutions provides end-to-end management of an entire IT infrastructure from a full lifecycle perspective — from the point when a customer first thinks about planning and deploying new software solutions all the way through to monitoring and managing and backing them up on an ongoing basis.

For rapid deployment of Windows Vista, 2007 Office System and Exchange Server 2007, we have several new System Center solutions that customers can utilize today.

Systems Management Server 2003 Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack adds support for OS deployment to SMS 2003, allowing customers to deploy Windows Vista as they would deploy software applications. SMS is the only product on the market that allows administrators to automate deployment of Vista and Office 2007 with zero touch on the desktop – enabling administrators to migrate users and all their data to Vista all through automated, wizard-driven tools within SMS. The Zero-Touch Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) and SMS 2003 combine to provide more robust functionality by providing intelligent deployment scripts for tasks such as user migration, state migration, application portfolio migration, inventory planning, patch management and security setting lockdown.

The next version of System Center Capacity Planner enables the ability to model and simulate a real-world Exchange 2007 deployment before deployment. This simulated deployment before physically investing in the hardware or the deployment or upgrade of Exchange saves both time and money.

Deployment is only the first step, however. A large portion of IT budgets is spent on maintaining and supporting the IT infrastructure. For this end-to-end management of their IT infrastructure, customers can prepare for System Center Operations Manager 2007, which is scheduled to RTM (release to manufacturing) this quarter and will provide intelligent monitoring and reporting capabilities that deliver real-time information IT administrators need to quickly identify and resolve issues impacting service levels. It will help to proactively manage and monitor the health of the new software, while influencing better, faster decision-making. The various management packs — such as the Exchange Server Management Pack for Operations Manager 2007, or the Windows Vista or 2007 Office management packs for both Office client and Office server software — help to identify specific errors, notifying the administrator and providing steps to fix the problem. The benefit is faster troubleshooting, thus increasing response time and productivity.

Looking down the road, we are continuing to invest in new versions of our major technologies. We will have beta 2 of Data Protection Manager V2 available in the first half of 2007, which will ensure customers have data protection, data integrity and security, and reliable and efficient recovery of that data when they need it. And due out this summer is our next major version of SMS 2003, Systems Center Configuration Manager 2007. We have made a huge investment in Configuration Manager 2007 features that will take the whole notion of OS deployment to the next level with further technologies that simplify, automate and improve OS deployment.

PressPass: How does the SMS 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack help customers deploy and manage Windows Vista, 2007 Office and Exchange 2007?

Orecklin: Enterprise customers have to deploy new versions of operating systems across the entire enterprise, often to thousands of desktops in multiple physical locations. SMS 2003 works in the planning of the deployment with asset inventory enabling customers to understand what needs they may have from a new hardware perspective or from an application compatibility perspective. The OSD feature pack provides a customizable, centralized and scalable way to create and deploy x32- and x64-bit client operating systems.

PressPass: Microsoft has made significant investment developing solutions within the System Center brand. How are these investments driving more effective deployment and manageability?

Orecklin: There are three main areas where our investments in the System Center family of IT management solutions are having an effective impact for our business customers.

Fueling productivity. Throughout the System Center products, a major focus is ensuring that the tools are very easy to use, simple to understand and role-based in approach. Knowledge from the teams that develop Microsoft solutions is built into the tools and available out of the box, ensuring better management of physical and virtual environments. This knowledge allows much faster diagnosis and resolution of issues. Things like inline tasks and knowledge bases that exist as part of System Center Operations Manager 2007 significantly drive down the human intervention required leading to higher levels of productivity.

Lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Our focus on built-in knowledge, automation and integration with the Windows platform allows us to really drive a much more efficient process that requires less human involvement, which in turn enables customers to significantly drive down management costs on an ongoing basis. With Systems Management Server 2003 and the upcoming Configuration Manager 2007, customers have a zero-touch deployment methodology and toolset that gives them the most automated process to deploy Windows Vista quickly.

Flexibility and agility. System Center solutions and tools have tremendous flexibility and agility built in — for example, by allowing different users to interact with the management tools, be it an end user interacting with a Web-based portal or a particular administrator interacting with a user interface that he has customized for his own view and saved over time. This flexibility allows greater usage, which in turn drives lower TCO.

PressPass: The addition of client monitoring benefits to System Center Operations Manager 2007 is a major step forward in helping customers get control of their IT environments. Can you highlight the areas where client monitoring will give customers the knowledge and capabilities to drive greater efficiency?

Orecklin: There are three major areas where it plays a role and those correspond to the three levels of client monitoring capability within System Center Operations Manager 2007:

Agent-less exception monitoring (AEM) within Operations Manager 2007 gathers crash and hang metrics from the clients. This collection of data within a relational database enables the user to create trending reports and reports on overall crash and hangs across every single desktop, workstation and laptop within their organization. Without the AEM feature, the only record of crashes or hangs would be through calls to a help desk, which is a very expensive way to learn about crashes and hangs in the organization.

The second level of client monitoring uses Windows Vista and 2007 Office management packs to give the user collective health metrics of their client beyond crashes and hangs, including reliability and performance information for all the machines across their organization. Windows Vista incorporates a number of new manageability features built into it, but System Center management packs for Windows Vista and 2007 Office System provide an aggregated view of everything within the desktop — both the OS and applications, both Microsoft and non-Microsoft — that is running. It enables desktop administrators to access the business intelligence needed to become more proactive, saving both time and money.

The third and deepest level of client monitoring enabled by Operations Manager 2007 is business-critical monitoring, often used by financial institutions and other businesses that need to keep an audit trail for compliance reasons. It provides a business-critical view of every single machine within the organization that has access, be it a laptop or desktop, ATM or point-of-sale cash register. It captures everything that happens on that machine, so there’s a full audit trail for compliance reporting. Some organizations have used this capability in pilot deployments of Windows Vista to capture stats, metrics, performance and reports on a couple of hundred or 500 machines. The ability to capture the data that gives real-time view into actual production can speed up deployment of Windows Vista.

PressPass: What have you heard from your customers around their experiences using the System Center products to deploy the new technologies? 

Orecklin: We go through a series of steps in working with customers and partners that starts very early in the development cycle with some early-access and close partner customers, and then we expand that to public betas. For example, more than 11,000 customers have deployed and are using System Center Operations Manager 2007 in beta, which provided us with a great deal of feedback. Some of our early experiences have shown tremendous results.

PressPass: You also mentioned Data Protection Manager 2006 V2 earlier. Can you expand on what DPM V2 will offer to IT professionals upgrading to the new technologies?

Orecklin: Data Protection Manager V2 has tons to offer customers planning a migration to Exchange Server 2007. The primary benefit is one of the most important aspects of running an e-mail server — continuous date protection. DPM V2 offers continuous data protection for Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint Portal Server, as well as for file servers and mission-critical Microsoft applications using fully integrated disk-to-disk-to-tape protection. This allows customers the freedom to monitor data changes in real time, as well as seamless integration of tape and disk, to ensure minimal downtime and reliable application recovery with only a few mouse clicks.

In terms of data recovery, with DPM V2 we’re extending the recovery-centric design of DPM 2006 to Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint Portal Server and enhancing file server protection capability. Traditionally, the backup and recovery of an application required the identification and maintenance of various stores of user data, application binaries and configuration data as well as a list of procedures to recover both the data and the application. With DPM V2, IT administrators help protect and recover all applications or application objects by using application terminology and concepts such as mailboxes for Exchange or file shares for Windows file servers. Too often, current backup solutions fail either because of the incorrect configuration of what data gets backed up or how. DPM V2 unifies the application recovery process and the application backup process into one highly integrated continuous data protection solution.

PressPass: How are you working with the partner ecosystem, and where do the opportunities lie for partners to play a critical role in helping customers with migration and deployment? 

Orecklin: Partners are a critical part of the success here, and we have developed a number of programs in particular to Windows Vista and 2007 Office deployment. We’re working with partners across that entire stack of potential services, and have done a lot to ensure we have them signed up, trained and ready to go. There are assessment partners we work with to understand the customer infrastructure and plan for some of the Windows Vista and 2007 Office rollouts. There are asset management services that are required to work with customers to understand what is actually in their environment, what they have licensed and inventoried for and so on. There is a set of partners that focuses on security. A big part of all this is training. As customers roll out a new OS and new applications, the faster they can train up both end users and IT professionals to get the most value from it, the faster they get their ROI. In most cases, those partners have been part of our early Technology Access Program so they have a lot of knowledge of the new products coming out, both from a System Center tool perspective as well as from the core application perspective.

PressPass: What advice would you give customers today to prepare and begin deploying Windows Vista, 2007 Office System and Exchange Server 2007?

Orecklin: I would say a couple of things. Firstly, they need a focused, dedicated planning effort — whether they have the capabilities to do that in-house, or whether they want to work with partners, some of which I mentioned earlier. Secondly, they should have the management infrastructure in place before they roll out these new applications. Doing so can significantly improve their time to actually get the applications rolled out and get value from them. So, having Microsoft System Center in place first is, we believe, a fantastic starting point.

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