iPhone, Android, Windows and Linux: Microsoft now manages them all

Adding support for non-Windows phones will make it easier for IT managers to set policies on passwords and wipe phones when they're lost, although Microsoft still doesn't have the ability to manage personal and corporate data separately on the same phone

Microsoft hates when customers buy products that weren't built in Redmond, but Steve Ballmer and crew aren't going to miss a moneymaking opportunity, even if that means managing iPhones, iPads, Androids and, yes, even Linux computers.

"When are you going to manage devices other than Windows?" is one of the most frequent questions Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate vice president for management and security, gets from customers, he said at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas Wednesday.

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That's why Microsoft said it has added support for iPhones, iPads, Android and Symbian devices (in addition to Windows Phone 7) to the second beta of System Center Configuration Manager 2012, which was made available online Wednesday. There was no mention of BlackBerry, with Microsoft perhaps figuring that Research in Motion has the market cornered in managing its own mobile platform.

Adding support for non-Windows phones will make it easier for IT managers to set policies on passwords and wipe phones when they're lost, although Microsoft still doesn't have the ability to manage personal and corporate data separately on the same phone. (See also: "At Microsoft, don't forget your password or your phone gets wiped.")

To be sure, Microsoft doesn't extend all of its management capabilities to non-Microsoft devices and software. Microsoft's Windows Intune Web-based desktop management system went live on Wednesday, but seems to be focused on Windows PCs only. The System Center management suite, additionally, can manage the Windows Azure cloud service but not competing clouds such as Amazon EC2.

But System Center is extensible enough that Microsoft can manage Amazon EC2 later on if it chooses, and the on-premises management suite already can handle both Windows and Linux. In an interview, Anderson said Microsoft works with Novell to ensure support of Novell's enterprise SUSE Linux distribution. Microsoft is also able to manage Red Hat Linux, even though it doesn't cooperate with Red Hat itself. "Several partners" have helped Microsoft add support for Red Hat servers and clients into System Center, Anderson said. System Center's supported platforms also include Solaris, HP-UX and IBM AIX, according to Microsoft. Debian is not on the list.

On the virtualization front, System Center has been able to manage VMware's hypervisor for several years, even though VMware is a competitor to Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform. Just this week, Microsoft announced System Center Virtual Machine Manager support for Citrix's XenServer, making the product capable of managing all three major hypervisors, Hyper-V, VMware and XenServer.

On the other hand, a new ability to virtualize server applications, while it works with multiple hypervisors, only applies to Windows Server applications, and not Linux. (See also: "Next level of virtualization unlocks Server OS, applications.")

Anderson acknowledges there are limits to Microsoft's management of competing products, but says Redmond genuinely wants to provide parity between Microsoft and non-Microsoft software.

In the case of Hyper-V, "there are certain things we build inside System Center that are specific to Hyper-V, just like VMware builds vSphere that manages their underlying hypervisor," Anderson said. But "if you believe most customers are going to be hybrid in using multiple clouds and using multiple hypervisors, your strategy has to be that they're all first class citizens," he said.

Anderson boasts that two-thirds of enterprises with at least 500 PCs use System Center, and says Microsoft manages more Windows servers than any other vendor, even the ones in the Big Four.

But he also says nearly 20 per cent of customers who use System Center Operations Manager to oversee Windows implementations are also using it to manage non-Windows servers, predominantly Linux.

"If we're going to come in and were going to deliver value on a platform, we want to deliver the same amount of value on that platform as we do on Windows," he said.

Target, a Microsoft customer that uses Hyper-V to virtualize Windows and also has a small SUSE Linux deployment, says it's relieved that Microsoft is ramping up support for multiple operating systems.

"They now seem to really understand that their customers have very heterogeneous implementations, different operating systems, and they are changing System Center to be able to manage endpoints that are running non-Windows operating systems," said Target's Brad Thompson, director of IT infrastructure engineering. "It's nice to know that over time, as our footprint of devices in the stores evolve and there's the potential to have non-Windows operating systems, that our management suite is extensible enough to manage those as well."

But while Anderson noted that customers are using "multiple clouds," so far System Center manages only Azure, although it does so in a way that lets customers manage internal Windows Server deployments side by side with cloud-based Azure deployments.

Anderson says Microsoft is "not seeing the demand" for support of Amazon EC2, but System Center, however, is "architected in a way that we can literally plug in a provider for any cloud. It's just a matter of prioritization."

Clouds that use VMware on the back end can easily slide into System Center, he also said. "VMware's working with Google and Salesforce on public clouds," Anderson notes. "The majority of the work we've done to incorporate VMware into System Center will be applicable to those environments."

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