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System Center Cross Platform – Finally, Heterogenous Support in System Center – MMS08

System Center Cross Platform

I guess I can’t say that I recommend you running this many non-Windows system in your environment. But, if you do, we want to be able to provide you with a great cohesive management environment for that. (Applause.)

[Y]ou told us that Windows is great, and Windows might be a large part of your data center, but for many of you, you have heterogeneity out there. So we’re taking a step towards allowing you to have one single solution with System Center, to manage that entire heterogeneous environment.

–Bob Muglia

System Center Cross Platform

While virtualization was the darling of Microsoft’s Management Summit this week in Las Vegas, for my money, the Cross Platform beta was the most interesting aspect for two reasons:

  • Being able to manage non-Windows environments can make Systems Center a “real,” enterprise-grade IT management platform.
  • Microsoft will be working directly on open source software.

Ever since following System Center, I’ve been on their case to support more than just Windows. Sure, there were partners and even management packs to do this, but shoving that work beyond the boundaries of Redmond isn’t quit the same thing.

The Details

System Center Cross Platform support is only in beta now. The architecture (above) is based on the use of CIM, WS-Management, and SSH. Microsoft is using OpenPegaus with, presumably, some other components. And the agent, as it were, runs on some select Linux and Unix distros, even available as an RPM.

Open Source

When the beta gets to release, it seems like Microsoft is going to contribute – open source – parts or all of the agent. As Sam Ramji said in a blog quote on the topic:

It simply makes great technical and business sense to cooperate with the OpenPegasus community to build upon an industry-standards based, cross-platform technology. Just as important, however, is preserving the virtuous cycle of contribution, benefit, and subsequent contribution: Microsoft is joining the OpenPegasus Steering Committee. The agent technology—being built will be contributed back to the community under the Microsoft Public License (MS-PL), an OSI approved open source license.

I hesitate to say exactly what Microsoft is going to open source because there was quit a bit of confusion in the conversations I had before, during, and after the announcement with different folks. Bob Muglia was the first one to actually mention that Microsoft would be open sourcing parts (or all) of Cross Platform, while others didn’t mention it at all. Sam’s comment above is the most straight forward I’ve found so far.

To be fair, companies doing open source often wait until the last minute to lock down exactly what they’re going to open source. This is no problem, really, and in fact I advised a company to do this just yesterday. And to be fair, Cross Platform is in beta: figuring out the open source strategy can be part of the polishing to get to release.

But, let’s get one thing straight: Microsoft working on open source directly is something pretty damn notable. Insiders like RedMonk have talked with Microsoft for a long time about their intentions, desires, and all that to be involved in open source. And, sure, there’s all sorts of standards, open (or just obfuscated depending on what your employee badge says) and everything else and whatnots. But actually pulling the trigger on something like this is novel.

Let’s check back in post-beta and see how it shakes out.

What’s Supported

System Center Cross Platform Diagram

It will take some poking around and looking to see exactly what new “management packs” (Microsoft’s conceptual entity for “IT stuff your managing and monitoring” like “IIS,” “Windows Vista,” etc.) in Cross Platform cover. But, an early look and conversations indicate base level operating system metrics (CPU, memory, storage, network) across *nix platforms. Check out this whitepaper on Cross Platform for more details.

Partners and Others

Microsoft is, of course, looking towards partners to build cross platform extensions (or, “providers,” I believe). Indeed, they’re working with Novell, Quest (check out this web site they launched too), and Xandors. So far, including the ones Microsoft has mentioned, I’ve found these management packs mentioned: Apache, MySQL, Solaris, Oracle Database, Oracle Application Server, WebSphere, VMWare, HP-UX, SUSE, and “Linux.”

In talking with Microsoft, I tried to vet the idea of anyone coming along and integrating with the Cross Platform agent. I haven’t done my due diligence, but their intention was to have anyone and everyone develop an extension if they wanted. There’s still the fine-print to look over, Microsoft told me all the needed docs would be available for anyone to come along and build such an extension. I’m always cautious as I’ve been bitten by such hopefully thinking in the past.

That said, if everything is “cool,” it’s worth other IT management vendors spending a bit of time figuring out if there’s revenue in providing a Cross Platform extension. Microsoft tells me there’s over 13,000 System Center Operations customers out there which is a pretty nice base of mid to enterprise-sized IT management to sell to.


This Cross Platform support is currently in beta, but you can expect it to be fully cooked soon enough. Another year or so after that will give System Center Cross Platform enough time to mature and gel – for Microsoft and partners to build out “extensions” to support non-Windows IT and applications. You know: see if this stuff actually works. Part of that maturing is making sure the sentiments Muglia expressed above stay the same instead of sway back closer to Windows-only. Doing cross platform configuration management is still on the table – Microsoft IT Management can still only deploy and patch Windows software.

But, once this cross platform support is so “gelled,” those arguing against using Microsoft to manage your IT will have lost a major winning point (that it only works with Windows). They’ll still be able to tell you that the core platform only runs on Windows, but that requirement is a dirty “secret” for several people. At that point, the debate to use System Center vs. other options will revolve around which one is “better” in terms of wide coverage (devices managed), features (still no service desk, runbook, non-Windows configuration management, etc.), and price.

Additional Reading

Keep an eye on the Microsoft.Unix.Computer blog. Also, it’s worth checking out some more pessimistic takes here and in the comments here.

Disclaimer: Microsoft is a client and paid travel and hotel for MMS 2008.

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Categories: Conferences, Enterprise Software, Open Source, Systems Management.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] 2008/5/5: As expected/hoped, Coté did share his thoughts on this “cross-platform” move from the MMS […]

  2. […] I was hoping that by the time MMS was over there would be more clarity about the “Cross Platform Extension” to System Center that Microsoft announced there. But most of the comments I have seen have focused on two non-technical aspects: Microsoft is interested in heterogeneous management and Microsoft makes use of open source. That’s also the focus of Coté’s coverage. […]

  3. […] Microsoft System Center Cross Platform – Finally, Heterogenous Support in System Center You told us that Windows is great, and Windows might be a large part of your data center, but for many of you, you have heterogeneity out there. So we’re taking a step towards allowing you to have one single solution with System Center (tags: Microsoft) […]

  4. […] Platform Extensions, ? ????? ? ?????????? ?????? ? ??????? ?? ??????????? ???????.    Operations Manager with Barry […]

  5. […] I asked Novell if they had plans to open source Managed Objects, to which they said, plainly, no. They are, they said, big on open standards, protocols, and connections, per their involvement with WS-Man, Microsoft, and friends. […]