Microsoft Uses Open Source To Extend Systems Management To Linux

Apr 29, 2008 (08:04 AM EDT)

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Microsoft's management software has never quite measured up to that of Hewlett-Packard, IBM, BMC, or CA, the "big four" of IT systems management. But the company hopes to begin changing minds about that at the annual Microsoft Management Summit this week, and much of the impetus comes from a rather unlikely place: the integration of open source code into a System Center management product.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it's extending its management software to Linux and Unix environments by integrating some of the open source OpenPegasus project's code into System Center Operations Manager, and will contribute back. The addition of cross-operating system management, the number one customer request for System Center, represents further recognition by Microsoft that it's not a Windows-only world. It also is a significant move toward putting Microsoft on equal footing as a legitimate enterprise management vendor.

"I don't care what enterprise you walk into, they're not going to be single platform. You just don't see that," said Clear Channel solution architect Curt Smith, a System Center customer, in an interview. Clear Channel uses Linux to operate its radio Web platform, has a bunch of creative employees on Apple OS X, and uses VMware for virtualization. "I want the ability to manage it all from one spot. You can't have a bunch of tools all over the place, or else you'll just end up cracking up."

The move toward enabling broad cross-platform management formally begins this week with a test release of System Center Operations Manager 2007 Cross Platform Extensions, which will provide out of the box service management support for HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Sun Solaris. It may take a while for Microsoft to build real enterprise-wide management credibility, and that starts with actually delivering on the promise of heterogeneity.

"We've established a very strong position in Windows management, but customers want us to do more," said Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft's server and tools business, in an interview. "This is definitely a big step for Microsoft from being simply a Windows-focused management company to an enterprise-focused management company."

Third-party software to manage Linux environments has been available before. But it costs extra and hasn't come direct from Microsoft, so it hasn't been as deeply integrated into System Center and adapters had to be upgraded with each product cycle. Now, those software companies can leverage Microsoft's own integration to provide deeper management of Linux- and Unix-based software.

Novell, Quest and Xandros are announcing their own add-ons that use Cross Platform Extensions to manage SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on a deeper level than Microsoft's software does, as well as Apache, MySQL, IBM WebSphere and Oracle running on Linux and/or Unix. In an interview, Xandros CEO Andy Typaldos said management of SendMail and Scalix is coming, too.

The use of OpenPegasus in Cross Platform Extensions is just a first step for Microsoft in broadening its management horizons. "As I look for the strategic direction I have for System Center, managing non-Microsoft applications and systems is a core part of my strategy," said Brad Anderson, GM of Microsoft's management and services division, in an interview.

Cross Platform Extensions will be included for free in the next service pack of System Center Operations Manager 2007, and Microsoft anticipates extending cross-platform support to other System Center products, including System Center Configuration Manager. The upcoming System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, a beta of which was released Tuesday (final release is slated for this summer), will manage VMware ESX Server as well as Microsoft virtualization products, and the next version will also manage Citrix virtualization.

On Tuesday, Microsoft also released a beta of System Center Operations Manager 2007 Connectors, which allows System Center to feed data to HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli. Though it has cost extra in the past, the Connectors add-on will be included for free in the next service pack of Operations Manager.

Why is Microsoft using an open source project to manage Linux rather than developing most of the code itself? All-in-all, it's as much a business decision as anything else.

"Obviously our depth of expertise in Linux and Unix is not as deep as in our Windows platform," Muglia said. "It's a non-trivial thing, and there's a lot of knowledge in the Linux and Unix community in OpenPegasus."

Going forward, Muglia said, that might be part of the prescription for use of open source code: If there's code already out there and Microsoft doesn't have the best expertise in-house to develop it, open source could be a consideration.

Microsoft won't just rip the code from OpenPegasus, but will join IBM, HP and others on the OpenPegasus Steering Committee and contribute code back to the project under the OSI-approved Microsoft Public License, which the Free Software Foundation has said is compatible with the GNU GPL version 3. The terms of the Microsoft Public License mean that any code Microsoft contributes will be freely modifiable and usable by anyone, so long as copyrights in the code are left intact.

"It's very important to me that we use OSI-approved licenses when using open source," Sam Ramji, Microsoft's director of platform strategy and one of its top open source advocates, said in an interview.

Microsoft's adoption of OpenPegasus for the Operations Manager add-in could be seen as a small data point that shows Microsoft is getting a little bit more comfortable with the open source world by working with IBM and others on an open source project. It's not like Microsoft is open sourcing all of System Center, but it is a step nonetheless.

"It was quite interesting to go and publish all these jobs that said, job description, Linux coding skills," Microsoft's Anderson said. OpenPegasus code actually ships in a number of Linux distributions, including Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux Server, so, as Anderson admitted, Microsoft is technically announcing an intent contribute to Linux by contributing to the project.

The company hopes that as it builds out its management software to be more of an enterprise management platform, Microsoft's strategy of using companies like Novell, Quest, and Xandros to build out additional capabilities that Microsoft itself won't provide -- such as managing Oracle on AIX -- will be a differentiator, as will the company's depth of expertise on the dominant Windows platform.

There's still plenty of other work to do. A lack of mainframe support puts Microsoft behind competitive product suites like CA's Unicenter, but breadth of management coverage is just one place from which Microsoft is coming from behind. For one, Microsoft's help desk software, System Center Service Manager, was delayed last year until 2010, meaning that customers will have waited four years since the product's announcement for its release. Service Manager will incorporate guidance for IT best practices and includes both a configuration management database and workflow engine.