As part of an overarching plan to lower the total cost of PC ownership by making the systems-management features in Windows NT 5.0 more sophisticated, Microsoft will slowly reposition its Systems Management Server (SMS) offering, while also increasing its reliance on third parties to help manage NT in enterprise-wide systems.
"If I had my dream, it would be to make management go away; that has to be our mission," said Jim Allchin, Microsoft senior vice president of personal and business systems. "We will take pieces as appropriate of SMS and provide those in the operating system to simplify the management task."
More value-add needed
With major elements of SMS going into NT 5.0, Allchin said that Microsoft's management offering needs to add value another way in the next and subsequent releases. "As we move ahead, SMS is going to focus on things like health of the system, health management, support for event correlation, and inventory," Allchin said.
"There are things we probably don't want to burden down the operating system with, such as gathering up all the inventory analysis and information and putting it in one place."
The first indications of a refocused SMS strategy were seen last month, when the company announced plans to bundle systems-management tools from Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates, and Tivoli Systems with NT 5.0. That alliance strategy is being driven, in part, by a realisation that the company may have underestimated the challenges associated with systems management in the enterprise.
In particular, Allchin said the company has had problems integrating support for the older versions of its operating systems and applications during such tasks as software distribution.
"We've been humbled by how hard that is because you immediately get into these global distributed environments with incredibly old equip-ment," Allchin said. "So we've been struggling with that. And the original versions of the product were too complicated, even though they had a lot of features, and they had to create a lot of infrastructure that is now going to be in NT."
As a result, SMS, along with other third- party products in this space, will be focused on higher-level tasks. "We see third parties as adding value to the manageability of NT, and focusing on inventory and health management, automation, and batch scheduling," according to Allchin.
A key element of Microsoft's plan to make NT systems management more sophisticated is a new NT 5.0 system service called the Installer, which will track everything on a PC client machine's registry and manage DLL dependencies. Other pieces of that puzzle include IntelliMirror, which provides client- side caching and roaming user support.
"The Installer service for NT very much plays to Microsoft's need to cut down the cost of installing and maintaining desktops," said Peter Kastner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group. "Microsoft has been talking about lowering cost for some time, but the mantra is 'wait for NT 5.0'."
With Office 98, due by the end of the year, network managers will see the first Windows applications to leverage the Installer technology. Microsoft will offer these managers scenarios in which they can run applications as components that can be dynamically managed from an NT server.
"In Office 98 and in NT 5.0 there's an installer technology that relates together the DLLs, and you can basically 'just cache whatever you want'," Allchin said. "No matter what happens, that stuff will remain on your client, and if it's changed it will be updated."
While Allchin said the next version of SMS will ship by the end of 1998, Microsoft officials are mum about NT 5.0's release date.
Microsoft has not given up on shipping NT 5.0 by the end of 1998. However, many observers do not expect it to be launched until 1999 - although Allchin did say a feature-complete Beta 2 is scheduled for early release later this year.