Microsoft Uses Open Source To Extend Systems Management To Linux

Microsoft is extending its management software to Linux and Unix by integrating some of the open source OpenPegasus project's code into System Center Operations Manager.
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.