This is the first time I have been to this conference, which has traditionally centered around the SMS product. While I came not expecting much, and there weren't any ground shaking announcements (although as always there are plenty of announcements), I still leave the conference quite impressed. The show runs five days, and I've attended the main three days. I'm guessing that there are probably about 1500 attendees, and sessions are fairly technical and well attended. (Smaller than an iForum, but larger than the Citrix Summit, if you subtract out the Citrites.)
At the conference, Microsoft highlighted its plans for "System Center" including releases that will occur in the next 12 to 18 months. You can check the Microsoft System Center site directly for details such as availability dates. System Center includes a variety of products, some of which are new versions of existing products and some of which are new to Microsoft. As a complete set, Microsoft is trying to create a compelling vision of systems management with capabilities that catch up with what has previously existed more fully at the network side of the house and by other vendors.
System Center Configuration Manager 2007 is the new version of SMS. Significant improvements have been made to make this product more usable, including discovery (down to the application and configuration level) and smart updating. It also ties in not only with Microsoft's update services for patches, but with HP and Dell (for example) as well. SMS earned itself a bad reputation with many in initial versions and deserves a new look by customers.
System Center Operations Manager (formerly MOM) is the centerpiece of the real-time enterprise management of the environment, understanding both physical and virtual environments. They are also licensing part of SMARTS from EMC, which provides a root cause engine, helping to diagnose the most likely repair scenarios. The results from this are tightly integrated into OM and initiation of selected actions is right there. It works great! (Well, in the demos anyway.) These are the kinds of things I was doing on the network side using HP ITO and SMARTS and a lot of scripting eight years ago. Extensibility of both SCCM and SCOM is done using Management Packs, as in the past. These are key to using these products and provide significant customization opportunities.
While the complete complements of System Center are really geared for larger enterprises, Microsoft also has a mid-market version called System Center Essentials (RTM in April) that should have appeal as well. It handles up to 500 PCs and 30 servers. SCE is also extended using the same management packs, so customization opportunities exist there as well. A small-market version dubbed System Center Online is rumored to be in the works. It was not announced here but a Microsoft speaker did confirm that it was coming (without details) in one session that I was in. Also an MSP like solution of using Essentials at the customer site remotely managed and monitored using Operations Manager was highlighted in a session I was in.
SC "Service Manager" was introduced (formerly this was code named "Service Desk". This is more of a Microsoft "Help Desk" package. Fans of the SoftGrid "Zero Touch" will recognize the "Self Help Portal". This is why Zero Touch is going away (well, that plus Microsoft has something else called "Zero Touch Installation"). As part of Systems Manager product, it includes modeling of approval "business logic" and will integrate not only with SoftGrid for provisioning new applications as virtual apps to the desktop, but also with Configuration Manager (SMS) to provision traditional apps when applicable.
Of course, all of these System Center products may be separate, but work best when deployed together due to deep integrations.
While Terminal Services appears as part of the solution set of this Microsoft Group, it was strangely (to me anyway) ignored during the conference; casually mentioned as part of the overall solutions but not really discussed. Nothing on new TS capabilities in Longhorn, either. On the other hand, the new hypervisor was shown. Of course it is still scheduled for release "no more than 180 days after Longhorn ships," so we won't get excited about that.
The Desktop Optimization Pack was also presented in several sessions. This includes both the Winternals tools (the non-free stuff) and SoftGrid for Desktop Clients and is priced at $10 per desktop (but the desktop has to be on subscription). I heard unquotable noises that there will be an addition to the pack in the near future.
This is the first MMS since the SoftGrid purchase, and it was very prominent throughout the conference, being shown in each keynote and many of the labs and breakouts. Microsoft, through this conference, made it clear that virtualizing applications is an important part of their strategies, especially at the desktop. There was a considerable amount of interest from the audience.
No new announcements of SoftGrid features were discussed at the show (so far) beyond what is currently shipping with 4.1. However, someone from the SoftGrid Team did post information on a 4.1 SP1 and 4.2 release today on the softgrid blog. The lack of information on future releases continues and has been frustrating, but one should not confuse that with a lack of commitment. They are targeting large scale deployments at large customers first and planning to trickle down, not up.
Microsoft is making significant progress on the management front. I think that customers which are primarily Microsoft OS oriented should be looking at this stuff, especially if they do not yet have one of the other guys in place already.
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