ITXPO - Microsoft to focus on app management

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA (10/24/2003) - Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer this week said the software maker intends to put greater emphasis on developing management functionality in its applications. And to that end, users should "stand by for news" of an acquisition by Microsoft in the area of XML Web services, he said.

Ballmer, in a keynote interview with Gartner Inc. analysts at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2003 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, didn't elaborate on his acquisition plan. But speculation among industry observers focused on the acquisition of a Web services management vendor, and the one that appeared to be at the center of the speculation was AmberPoint Inc. in Oakland, Calif.

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass., said Microsoft has expressed interest in investing in Web services management. He said if Microsoft should acquire a company in that space, it would likely be a vendor that is ".Net savvy."

Bloomberg noted that AmberPoint and Actional Corp. fall into that category, but he said he doubts it would be one of them. "Microsoft tends to wait until a company has achieved some level of success," he said.

Microsoft said earlier this month that it's working with other vendors to ensure that .Net-based Web services written for the Windows operating system can be managed in a heterogeneous environment. Microsoft Operations Manager management packs for Web services from Actional, AmberPoint and Computer Associates International Inc. will be unveiled next week at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's enterprise management division, said the company decided to work with those vendors because they have good .Net offerings and J2EE products. He said he has met with many Web services management companies in the past 12 months, and only a subset fit into that category.

"We felt those three companies were doing interesting things," Hamilton said. "They were excited about what was going on, and they actually had some customers that had this need. None of the Web services management companies have a lot of customers. Most of them are less than 50 customers. But Actional and AmberPoint (have more), and we thought that would be a great chance to work together to try some of these things out."

Gartner analyst David Smith said customers believe Microsoft generally treats management as an "afterthought" in application development. In response, Ballmer conceded, "It's always a tricky thing to know how to weave together an approach to developing new applications and managing them. And you're right -- the right way to do it is at the same time."

Ballmer said Microsoft has had a bias to build an application first, which "sometimes makes it hard to get the management right afterward." He added that Microsoft is "really focused . . . to give ourselves and our customers the tools to design applications that are manageable from the get-go."

Ballmer also conceded that Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, while designed to "really focus in on the next generation of manageability," is just as much of a marketing label as those phrases used by competitors.

"In some senses, that's what all these slogans are; they're great advertisements," he said. "That's what 'on demand' is, that's what 'adaptive enterprise' is, that's what 'software for the agile business' is," Ballmer said.

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Users Welcome Better Management, 'On Demand' or Not

Same puzzler, different place. Some users were once again left scratching their heads about what vendors really mean when they talk about "on-demand" computing. This time the venue was last week's Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2003.

While some users at the event said they realize that the on-demand strategy loosely refers to using management software tools to align IT infrastructure with business priorities, they generally were unable to say what's really new other than grouping existing management tools under a new marketing umbrella.

Others were simply glad to see a renewed emphasis on systems management. "There's a big need, absolutely, for better management tools," said Gary Caldwell, general manager of IT at Cinergy Corp. in Cincinnati. The electricity and gas utility uses products from Altiris Inc. in Lindon, Utah, for a wide range of systems-monitoring and virus-protection functions.

Computer Associates illustrated its on-demand story at the Gartner event by showcasing a customer, International Paper Co., that has used CA's Unicenter management tools for about 18 months to achieve on-demand-like benefits. Ben Morris, senior manager of enterprise architecture at Stamford, Conn.-based International Paper, said CA's BrightStor Storage Resource Manager helped the company quickly locate 5 percent more storage capacity in a 50TB storage infrastructure.

Another CA tool, Unicenter NSM, has made it possible for a single IT worker to manage 169 system components, up from 85 three years ago, Morris said. And with Unicenter ServicePlus Service Desk, system problems have been solved faster, with the most serious ones getting solved first, he said.

International Paper found that implementing on-demand processes created cultural challenges. Some IT workers have been reluctant to relinquish control of their systems to automated management tools, Morris said.

Louis Blatt, senior vice president of CA Unicenter, said it's common for divisions within companies to claim a group of servers or other devices as their own to run their departmental applications. But an on-demand strategy requires them to relinquish ownership as applications and computing time are shifted and shared across an enterprise, he said.

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