It will let products from Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates and other suppliers managing servers and software that conform to its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI).
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Like efforts under way at Sun, HP and IBM, DSI aims to make it easier to deploy and manage software across large groups of servers and storage equipment.
The idea is that CPU power and storage will be assigned to applications automatically as demand dictates, using resources more efficiently. Microsoft first discussed its efforts in March, saying the various components would be rolled out over three to five years.
While Sun, HP and IBM are addressing the deployment and management of software, Microsoft is taking a "holistic" approach that starts with software development, said Eric Berg, a technical product manager with the Windows Server Group.
Visual Studio developers will be able to write applications that include information about their operational characteristics and resource requirements, which will be buried within the application in the form of XML documents, he said.
Microsoft called the architecture the System Definition Model (SDM). Applications built using the SDM should be easier to manage because of the information they include about their operational characteristics, Berg said.
Microsoft is evolving the Microsoft Operations Manager and other tools to take advantage of SDM, but also expected that HP OpenView, CA Unicentre and other popular management products will be adapted to support it.
Berg said the information about SDM applications will be presented as a "runtime service", an XML web service that can be consumed by management tools from Microsoft and other suppliers.
The management task is complex since applications often are deployed across multiple servers, each with its own storage system and network characteristics, and "a new generation of management tools" must evolve for the task, he added.
It was unclear whether the major tools companies would buy into Microsoft's plan, since the decision to extend its own tools would put it in competition with those suppliers.
Berg acknowledged the potential problems but said that HP, for example, was one of Microsoft's closest partners and the companies are working together on aspects of DSI. He expressed confidence that HP and other management tools companies would support the effort.
Microsoft's DSI is expected to take years to fully evolve. The company also is on relatively unfamiliar territory as its products are not nearly as prevalent in data centres as those of HP, Sun and IBM.
Microsoft positioned Windows Server 2003, launched last week, as the first deliverable of DSI and its "key foundation."
In the second half of the year comes Automated Deployment Services, an add-on to Windows Server 2003 for deploying hundreds of Windows server images simultaneously. Later this year Microsoft will release products based on technologies it acquired from Connectix, including a server virtualisation product for managing groups of servers as if they were a single machine, Berg said.
After that, in what Berg called the "second wave" of deliverables, comes the version of Visual Studio that supports DSM, as well as versions of SQL Server, Exchange and other Microsoft applications.
In the "third wave," Microsoft will add support for third-party products such as databases from Oracle and IBM and applications from SAP and other partners, he said.