Unified System Center: Great for Microsoft, Tough for ISVs
It appears Microsoft System Center 2012 will be hot...but that's not a good thing for everyone.
Many pundits have predicted that 2012 will be a big year for Microsoft System Center, and barely a few months into the year those predictions appear to becoming reality.
One big surprise for some was Microsoft's January announcement of a new and unified licensing model for System Center 2012. With its 2012 release, Microsoft now combines all six of the original System Center products with two new ones to create a unified management platform beneath a simplified, processor-based licensing model.
Good for IT
That unification spells good news for IT. The suite's individual products (now called "components") have long been useful for the range of activities in Windows administration. Armed with those components and the organizational maturity to use them correctly (see my February 2012 column, "System Center: Get Mature"), IT shops can benefit from a single-source solution for configuration management, monitoring, data protection, virtual machine (VM) management and work-order tracking. To that mix, 2012 adds orchestration, endpoint protection, and a new App Controller that consolidates private and public cloud resources into a single view.
Great for Microsoft
Simplifying things for IT professionals grants an obvious boon to the activities in Windows systems administration. Consolidating those activities beneath the banner of a single source gives the IT pro one phone number to call when things go wrong. It also delivers one mindset to the entire experience of managing Windows, reducing costs for training and eliminating the potential for overlapping toolsets.
As you might expect, Microsoft itself stands to benefit from the change. Its benefit arrives via the further incentive to drive customers onto Software Assurance (SA). Like any software company's policy, Microsoft's SA represents annuity income, which is a kind of income stream growing ever more important as the IT industry matures and "good enough" products advance in age.
It's in Microsoft's vested interest to see customers move off aging products for a variety of reasons, not all of which are revenue-selfish. All things equal, its aging products are less secure, less manageable and, in a growing number of cases, less compatible with today's evolving datacenter. These liabilities mean Microsoft often takes the blame when problems occur in IT shops that won't upgrade.
Tough for ISVs
On the losing side of this new unified reality are the ISVs, particularly those among the waning set of Windows management software providers. There's a quote I often use that fits perfectly into this, their newest challenge: "When Microsoft makes things hard, we make money."
With System Center 2012, that quote's inverse is likely to become equally as valid.
Their problem is economies of scale. A world where IT's Windows management activities can be facilitated via a single platform is also a world driven by price. The rules of economics make that world a tough place for competition. Price sensitivity delivers reduced revenues for ISVs to improve their products, so the cycle goes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the impact this unification will have on Microsoft's greatest competitor in this space, VMware. Indeed, the capabilities of System Center 2012 are intended to line up with those from the other big vendors: IBM, HP, BMC and CA. That said, you needn't read too much between the lines to see a very big target now painted specifically on VMware's chest.
While VMware enjoyed an early advantage purely out of the strength of its virtualization platform, that advantage wanes as one aligns the functions exposed across the entirety of each company's suite. Simply put, while VMware might have superiority in managing the VM, Microsoft's strengths lie in managing what's inside.
And, at the end of the day, isn't it what's inside that matters most.
Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.