March 10, 1997 10:00 AM ET
Polishing up SMS 'Opal'
Microsoft management software evolving as a plug-in
By Norvin Leach

  Changes to Windows and the addition of a new central management console are forcing Microsoft Corp. to change the identity of its SMS software.

Systems Management Server, which currently provides a complete infrastructure to inventory systems and distribute software over a network, will evolve to be more of a task-oriented add-on to the forthcoming MMC (Microsoft Management Console).

MMC, now in early beta testing, provides a central administration console for enterprise networks. It will house systems management utilities such as the NT Event Viewer and the Performance Monitor as plug-ins.

"It would be ideal if we could make end users just perceive SMS to be a plug-in, where they could choose various tasks and snap them into MMC," said Michael Emanuel, SMS product manager at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

SMS' role also is changing as Microsoft enhances the Windows environment. For example, the Zero Administration technology being built into Windows 95 and Windows NT (see story, "Microsoft ready to show 'zero administration'") will displace SMS' software distribution capabilities.

As a result, the next version of SMS, code-named Opal, won't add new core functions. Instead, Microsoft's focus is to make it easier for users to access existing SMS features.

For example, Opal will walk a user through the steps of rolling out software to thousands of clients, starting with a review of the hardware.

Opal is expected to enter beta testing this summer.

MMC's success may hinge less on the availability of Microsoft-developed snap-ins than on those created by third parties. That success, in turn, could rely on the Microsoft-led Web-Based Enterprise Management initiative-a plan to create a common data schema for system-management tools.

As late as a year ago, Microsoft was pushing an abstraction layer, called OLE MS, that would provide a common format for systems management information. Developers didn't go for it. "They needed another object model like they needed a hole in the head," said one source close to Microsoft.

So Microsoft scrapped those plans and created Web-Based Enterprise Management, whose charter is to build a core model for systems-management information. Opal will support that model, allowing it to exchange information with other applications and, potentially, MMC snap-ins.

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