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A good example of Microsoft's new tools is the System Centre Capacity Planner 2006, based on academic research conducted at Microsoft's Cambridge facility, implemented for the MSN environment internally and now being developed as a general product. This is a simulation tool, which lets you model your systems and “what if” scenarios, visually, out into the future.

It looks like a wonderful tool, although it doesn't yet seem to complete the feedback loop with automatic collection of “actuals” as the organisation moves into the simulated scenarios in real life; neither does it feed back “analysis of variance”, to let you identify assumptions or inputs which have a critical impact on the model outcomes.

Remember that the risk with simulation is that it only reruns past scenarios with different parameters, rather than accommodating radically different approaches and genuinely predicting the future &#8211. But it is early days for this tool, and any form of formal capacity planning will be an improvement on what many organisations manage now.

Part of Microsoft's common engineering criteria approach is providing standardised “management packs” for all of its products, including the tools themselves (although actually implementing these is an ongoing task – don't expect to find them all there yet). These include health indicators, critical event alerts, built-in knowledge (“how to” guides), state monitoring, built in investigatory and repair options and analysis views and reported metrics derived from the product's operational data.

Automatic discovery and deployment seem to feature in this approach, together with role-based management – and third-party, even non-Windows, management packs are on the road map (some are available now), so we are expecting real Enterprise management solutions, not just management of the Windows platform.

Bill Anderson did a very good job of convincing us that Microsoft takes Enterprise systems management seriously and that any past problems with the scalability or usability of, say, Systems Management Server (SMS) are now fixed. However, this implies that there were real issues once, so if you didn't like Microsoft management tools before, now might be the time to take another look (but don't forget that the competition could have improved in the meantime too).

The most interesting presentation came at the end of the day, from Michel Emmanuel, who communicated his systems management vision in a Dynamic Systems Initiative technical drilldown – contrasting “ought-ness” (aspiration) with is-ness (actuals) and applying corrective feedback from “was-ness” (a historical database) and "could-ness" (what-if scenarios).

So, in Systems Theory terms, we seem to have a dynamic (feedback-controlled) equilibrium where a desired operational state can be maintained or moved to a new desired state, in a controlled way. If Microsoft really can deliver on this vision, then it might well become the systems management company of choice. We shall see...®

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