Streamline Your Systems Management

In March 2004, Microsoft refined its new management vision with the announcement of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 and the first version of its unified operations environment, System Center 2005. Both products are due for release later this summer.

Know thy network! This is the first caveat of network management, and Microsoft wants to help get you there. In March 2004, Microsoft refined its new management vision with the announcement of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 and the first version of its unified operations environment, System Center 2005. Both products are due for release this summer.

Microsoft's management story hasn't been bad, but it was a bit convoluted: group policy management through Active Directory, Web content and COM+ component deployment with Application Center Server 2000, systems management with Systems Management Server 2003, and event and performance monitoring with Operations Manager 2000. This made systems management fairly complex because each product has its own console and systems interface as well as architectural requirements.

With the launch of Windows Server 2003 last spring, Microsoft began promising an improved management vision, and Microsoft developers have been hard at work to make it come to pass. Since then, Microsoft has released the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC), a unified tool for Group Policy Object (GPO) management within the enterprise. The GPMC has gone a long way toward simplification of the GPO management by bringing together all the tools and utilities you need to manage systems through an Active Directory. What's even better is that the GPMC is free to licensed Windows users (see Resources).

Microsoft has also released Automated Deployment Services (ADS), another tool free to organizations with volume licensing agreements with Microsoft. ADS is a powerful push server operating system deployment tool based on XML scripts and a proprietary disk imaging technology. It offers the capability to remotely install bare-metal servers. This was the first product released under the new Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) Microsoft is pushing for improved systems manageability.

The second DSI release was Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003, a long-awaited upgrade to Microsoft's famous configuration management tool. SMS 2003 now sports a brand new architecture, optional integration with Active Directory and a new, thin client for systems management, making it a more powerful solution than any previous version. But DSI is not only focused on new products. It also provides best practices for application development and systems management through the use of a new system definition model (SDM), which helps organizations better define the interactions of related software and hardware components in a distributed network. This will eventually lead to more manageable software and applications because their design includes a manageability focus.

Another best practice for systems management is to use a system construction model to design reference computers or servers and deploy them. One great advantage of such a model is that it also gives you a graphical representation of how and where management technologies interact with it (see Figure 1). This helps you understand which management technologies are required in your network. This is also one of the objectives of the DSI: to create a new vision of integrated management technologies to simplify the management efforts required for Windows networks. Continuing on with this vision, Microsoft has now announced the third software release for DSI: MOM and System Center 2005.

"In actual fact, our first release of System Center focuses on three core components," said David Hamilton, director of the Enterprise Management Division at Microsoft. "This means that in addition to the System Center 2005 console and Operations Manager 2005, it includes enhancements to Systems Management Server. These enhancements are in the form of two additional feature packs: a Device Management Feature Pack for managing the Windows Mobile platform and an Operating System (OS) Deployment Feature Pack. The latter will include a new imaging technology that is focused on capturing the files required for an operating system to run. While it is primarily oriented toward client systems, we're still debating whether it should also include server deployments," Hamilton said.

Center Your Systems
This means that SMS, MOM, and System Center are quickly coming together to provide unified management. It also means that a complete Microsoft management system would include Active Directory coupled with GPOs, SMS deployed in advanced mode, the new MOM 2005, and System Center (see Figure 2). If Microsoft decides to include server deployments in the new SMS OS Deployment Feature Pack as Hamilton states, then it means that the enterprise can be managed without needing to integrate ADS into the picture, reducing the number of management interfaces you'd need to deal with. The presence of SMS also eliminates the need for Software Update Services or Windows Update Services as the new release will be called because SMS can manage patch deployments on its own. The use of SMS in advanced security mode also supports the integration of devices running the Windows Mobile operating system into the management framework.

The integration of MOM 2005 ensures the proper operation of all servers and the services they deliver. And the inclusion of System Center helps provide an integrated view of the data both SMS and MOM can gather on networked services (see Figure 3). For example, the System Center Reporting Console will let you combine a historical view of the changes performed on the system through SMS software and patch delivery with a historical view of the performance levels offered by the server. This could let you identify the reason for performance drop-offs if, for example, the installation of a new component has an effect on server performance. This combined data view is not available to users of both MOM and SMS today.

Focus on a New MOM
Justifications for moving to the new MOM abound. One of the major justifications is the new administrator (see Figure 4) and operator consoles (see Figure 5). The latter, especially, offers improved access to manageability features. It sports a brand new look that is reminiscent of the latest version of Outlook and gives users quick access to all the tools they need such as ping, remote control, IP configuration, the Computer Management console, and the Event Log. This will definitely be a boon to MOM operators. In addition, the administrator's console now provides help on MOM deployment and configuration.

Like the SMS advanced client, MOM agents now work with the local system account on Windows 2000 servers or the new NetworkService account on Windows Server 2003. The latter grants them required access and only the required access. In addition, MOM 2005 offers a new agentless management mode; this means it will monitor systems through the remote procedure call (RPC) port. This mode can be used for sensitive servers where an agent cannot be installed. MOM is also tightly integrated to the Windows platform. For example, it includes new canned reports such as Candidates for Virtualization, which is designed to quickly identify servers that have a very low utilization. This would let you choose to move these servers to the upcoming Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 and remove the physical boxes from your management workload.

These are not the only new features supported by MOM 2005. It now includes improved scalability and manageability. For example, management groups—MOM's basic unit of management—can include up to 3500 agent-managed servers and up to 60 agentless systems. A management server can support 1200 agent-managed systems, and a management group can contain up to 10 management servers. A management group can now process up to 120,000 alerts per day, a considerable improvement. MOM 2005 will include 16 management packs out of the gate, letting you manage services such as Active Directory, Exchange, SQL Server, the Domain Name System, Terminal Services, and much more. Finally, MOM 2005 includes a new MOM Connector Framework, which lets you integrate third-party tools with MOM or vice versa, giving operators an even broader view of the network. All of these enhancements make MOM ready for prime time, even in support of worldwide deployments (see the sidebar, Stepping Up to MOM 2005).

If worldwide deployment is not for you, you can opt for the new MOM 2005 Express, which is a subset of MOM 2005's feature set. It is designed to simplify the management of smaller environments. "You could say that MOM Express is a superset of the current Server Status Monitor (SSM) available with MOM 2000," Hamilton said. SSM is free, available, and contained in the MOM 2000 resource kit (see Resources). It is quite useful, but it is limited to the monitoring of 10 servers and doesn't compare to the feature set found in MOM 2005 Express. MOM Express will be a great addition to the management toolkit of small to medium-sized businesses.

Prepare for System Center Today
Even though MOM and System Center are not available today, you can still get ready for them. If you buy into Microsoft's new management vision, you'll want to begin with a complete update of SMS 2003 in your network, making sure you're no longer using any of its legacy components. Both the full-featured MOM and MOM Express are currently available in beta. The full-featured edition also includes the System Center Reporting Console. Microsoft claims they're not ready for production environments, but you'll see that the current beta is quite solid and stable.

This is just the beginning of DSI. According to Hamilton, the second version of System Center will include improvements to SMS, MOM, and the System Center Reporting Console, as well as two additional components: a new technology called Indy and something called Desired States.

"Indy will focus on capacity planning, letting you identify the requirements for an application before you deploy it, and Desired States will let you identify how your servers should be configured. Configure it and maintain that configuration even if it changes over time due to external factors," Hamilton said. "Combined with the other components of System Center, these tools will help provide complete datacenter management capabilities."

No release date has been announced for version two of System Center, but given the way it looks today, it should be an unmitigated success.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.

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