In the first part of this two part series, I looked at what Microsoft are doing well in System Center. In this second part, I’ll take a look at some of the things that need improvement.
DISCLAIMER: I worked for Microsoft for nearly five years in a technical sales role, selling System Center & Windows Server. I was never privy to long-term strategy or roadmap when I was there, and what I am going to talk about here is all based on publically available information, and my own thoughts. The intent of these blog posts is to stimulate discussion, and certainly not to belittle the hard work that I know the System Center teams do.
Microsoft needs to up the pace of introducing new features, they simply can’t afford to stick with a 2/4 year release cycle any more. There are still a lot of things that they need to do, and they need to do them faster. There are positive signs with the SP1 release, which actually adds a lot of new functionality, and even though it didn’t ship simultaneously with Win8/Server 2012 the release timeframe is less than a year after the initial release. If Microsoft can keep that pace up then that will work. The risk they run since System Center 2012 is now one “product” is that they’ll always be waiting for the slowest component to finish developing. I’d suggest a six monthly “feature release” to go along with their quarterly rollup releases.
I talked about the awesome APM functionality that got wrapped into Operations Manager in the first part of this series, which makes Operations Manager really useful to .NET application owners. There were some minor changes around the fringes in the rest of the main product, but effectively Microsoft delivered the same product as last time, with the addition of an acquisition (AVIcode), a component they licensed (Networking monitoring – at least I believe this is licensed from EMC) and two they built from scratch (Java monitoring, basic dashboarding). So in the three years since the last release, we’ve seen very little progress in the main product.
I still can’t believe that in what is effectively the fifth release of the product we still don’t have decent root cause analysis, we don’t have alert suppression for dependent components, we don’t have a decent capacity analysis, and we’re still stuck with the broken reporting system that they’ve built. It’s just too hard to get decent data out of the product – dashboards are a help, but they are limited in the widgets they support, and only support short term data. And the resource requirements keep going up and up, and console performance seems to go down.
If Microsoft want to build a cloud management stack, they should start looking at some of the competition a bit closer, VMware are well positioned with vCenter Operations if they can integrate the suite bit tighter, and extend the reach out. Also see the section below on acquisitions.
I’m glad the Configuration Manager team made the changes they did in the 2012 release, because prior to that they had basically delivered the same product for 6 or 7 years (fundamentally was SMS 2003 that different from 2007 or 2007 R2/R3?). The pace of change in Configuration Manager is glacial, and when you look at the what 2012 ships that is fundamentally different, it’s basically the admin UI (great improvement) and AppModel (also a great addition). That’s it. They couldn’t even manage to ship the cross platform support until SP1. And is it still possible that in seventeen years of shipping the product, Microsoft still don’t have a native asset management solution?
I’m glad to see them tying to Intune a bit more, as this might make them able to introduce new functionality faster. It’s lucky for them that the licensing terms for customers in Enterprise Agreements make it a easy choice, and also lucky for them that their traditional competitor Altiris has been ruined by Symantec.
Microsoft’s strategy with client licensing appears to be to win with Configuration Manager, and lose everything else. By tying products like Service Manager & Orchestrator to either the Enterprise CAL suite, or the System Center Client Management Suite, they are basically dooming the additional components of System Center to obscurity on the desktop. The area where they could, and should be competing is with Service Manager, but the licensing model is the complete opposite of just about every other Service Management vendor out there, where Microsoft license per managed device, not on a per analyst logon. I’ve worked on a few deals where the price to license on this basis was double or triple the cost of the nearest (and more capable) competitor. And then we would have had to add on a third party solution for Asset Management, which the competitor did natively. If Microsoft really want those products to succeed, they need to fix client licensing. I’d fix it by just moving the entire System Center suite in the Core CAL.
Microsoft needs to get their cheque book out and start making some acquisitions to fill the gaps in the product suite. I’d start with Provance to fill their asset management gap, and probably pick up one of the analytics vendors like Bay Dynamics to help with some of the reporting and analysis.
There’s also the problems of missed acquisitions – Microsoft really should have picked up vKernel before Quest got them (and if missing that was a problem, maybe they should have picked up Quest before Dell got them and got a complete VDI stack with third party clients as well). They should also never have let Odyssey software go to Symantec – why would you let your competitor pick up an important product add-on?
Microsoft has too much of a “we’ll build it ourselves” focus, and they need to get out of this way of thinking. They can be much faster if they acquire some new capability rather than having to build it.
Everyone else in the industry seems to see the trend for moving a lot of IT operations to managed service providers (and you would think Microsoft would get this with all their cloud messaging), but Microsoft persist in building solutions that aren’t multi-tenantable, and are designed to pretty much solely on a customers premises. The only concession they seem to have made is the Service Provider Foundation feature in Orchestrator SP1. If Microsoft want to truly be a cloud tools provider, they need multi-tenancy.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that the console performance of just about all the System Center products are not the best. The exceptions would be Orchestrator (light and fast), and surprisingly Configuration Manager. Everything else is like wading through treacle. If you want IT pros to enjoy using your products, make sure the consoles are light and fast and snappy.
The private cloud story from Microsoft is good, but when you look at some of the components it’s also frustrating. For instance, why should I implement an additional Service Management solution to deal with self service when I already have a service management solution in place? Why do I need Operations Manager in place to discover information about my fabric? Surely VMM already knows all that? Sometimes it feels like the private cloud stack has too much complexity, or it’s complexity for complexities sake. And the marketing message needs some work – what does “Foundation for the future” mean? If I’m building private cloud who cares about “Cloud on your terms”?. I’ve talked about the marketing feature that is “Cross Platform from the metal up” in my Marketing Features post.
I mentioned cross platform in the first part of the series, what I would really like Microsoft to do is commit publically to dates when they are going to support the newest versions of the products they manage, be it vSphere, RedHat, HP-UX, whatever. Rather than leave customers guessing as to when, the date should be made explicit for them to give some predictability – customers like that.
They also need to ensure that the cross platform story is consistent. If I can manage an OS with Operations Manager, I should probably be able to manage it with Configuration Manager, and also deploy it with Virtual Machine Manager. If an OS is supported on Hyper-V, it should be supported in System Center, and vice versa.
As I mentioned in part one, there’s a lot to like in System Center, but there are also areas where there are challenges. I believe Microsoft have the resources & talent to fix the areas where there are challenges, the question is do they see the customer value in doing so?