The lure of dynamic computing is quite strong. This new paradigm is supposed to help IT organisations more rapidly respond to business needs in real time. Not only should it improve an organisation's agility, but it should also do so in a much more efficient and optimised fashion than today's IT systems can support. Dynamic systems should improve service levels, since these systems should proactively manage themselves -- and in some cases, fix problems before they occur.

Microsoft has certainly been giving thought to this potential and has come up with its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) to lay the groundwork for organisations to begin automating the management of their IT systems. Behind the scenes, Microsoft is developing products, tools and guidance intended to help customers implement self-managing systems to encapsulate operating knowledge necessary for IT automation ... all of which ultimately should result in reduced management complexity and costs.

What is DSI?

Here's how we understand it will work. The foundation of the DSI initiative is Microsoft's System Definition Model (SDM), which will describe computing system components and their relationships to one another, as well as their operational and environmental needs. To manage systems in a DSI-enabled environment, Microsoft will provide an integrated suite of management products called Systems Center, which includes Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) v3 and Systems Management Server (SMS) v4.

MOM, rebranded as Operations Center, will provide the monitoring platform for systems and applications, and SMS, rebranded as Configuration Manager, will provide deployment capability. In addition, Virtual Server will allow consolidation of multiple servers onto a single physical device, optimising device utilisation. Finally, Power Shell (also known as Monad) will give IT organisations a platform to develop scripts for automating IT procedures.

The thinking behind this approach is that system state would be stored in metadata models, not in the heads of IT managers. This knowledge would be readily available to everyone in the organisation, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel. IT pros no longer would have to spend time analysing and researching the best method to implement new systems.

Operating policies built into systems and management tools would allow the systems themselves to determine whether they are operating at highest efficiency, and if not, correct the issue or improve efficiency. In addition, virtualisation would allow companies to make better use of their physical assets by consolidating multiple workloads. Systems management, configuration and deployment could be automated through the use of Power Shell and Configuration Manager.

Preparing for automated management

While many of the benefits of DSI can't be fully recognised immediately -- the initiative will roll out over time -- there are several things you can do now that are good practices. These will get your organisation ready if you decide to start the journey toward dynamic IT.

Start with a deep analysis and audit to understand the utilisation, performance and cost of running your systems. Often, this will help you see ways that you can reduce costs by addressing underused or underperforming systems. Once these inefficiencies are identified, take the necessary steps to fix them.

Next, build a comprehensive list of all your IT assets. Without this list, you will never know how best to optimise your environment. Where possible, standardise on fewer platforms and configurations.

Begin reducing the number of systems you have by consolidating business applications through the use of virtualisation. Studies have shown that Windows systems typically are significantly under-utilised. Combining applications on a single platform can dramatically increase the utilisation of these servers, resulting in significantly reduced hardware, software and management costs. As virtualisation technology becomes more common, companies that don't embrace it will likely spend more on hardware, software, management labour and data centre space in the future.

Finally, streamline your operations and improve the monitoring of your systems. This will allow you to more effectively monitor the health and performance of your environment, so that administrators can more rapidly and effectively deal with potential issues before they affect the performance of the business. Identify daily administration tasks and think about how they can be automated through scripts.

By getting a better understanding of your systems, consolidating and standardising them, and using greater rigor in your operating processes, you'll be starting on the path toward DSI and most likely generate sizeable cost savings to boot.

Christopher Burry is technology infrastructure practice director and a fellow at Avanade, a Microsoft integrator that's a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft. Pat Cimprich is chief architect, infrastructure and security solutions, and Noel Wilson is director, infrastructure solutions global market development, at Avanade. Comments or questions can be sent to [email protected].