Beta Available for SMS 2003

Microsoft this week released the beta code for Systems Management Server 2003, a follow-up product to the aging Systems Management Server 2.0. Little has changed in terms of features since this spring when Microsoft formally unveiled the SMS 2003 name for the product formerly known by the code-name "Topaz".

Systems Management Server consists of tools for software distribution, asset management and remote troubleshooting of Windows-based systems. The main focus area of the SMS 2003 upgrade remains mobile support for laptop users and, later for non-PC Windows devices. SMS 2003 is expected to ship in the first half of 2003, says David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's management business group. Support for the non-PC Windows devices will follow after about a quarter with a the functionality provided in a free download.

Early adopters, including Marathon Oil Co., have been using SMS 2003 for months, but this week's beta represents the first volume testing of the software.

"We believe we'll have over 10,000 customers using this beta," Hamilton says. The code is feature complete and has been since the spring. "It's more been a refinement [since then]," Hamilton says. "Early adopters indicated some areas where we needed to think harder."

The product was originally slotted for a 2001 release. An upside to the delay is that SMS 2003 got a Trustworthy Computing-related code scrub prior to its final beta cycle. "We found many areas that we could tighten up. We spent a lot of time looking at the way we use user accounts. SMS 2.0 uses a broad number of user accounts. We felt there was a specific way that we could tighten up user accounts, the way we gave user accounts authority," Hamilton says. "It was a fair amount of work."

Other major features coming in SMS 2003, which Microsoft has discussed before, include integration with Active Directory and more scalable software metering and reporting.

The integration with Active Directory means SMS 2003 can use an existing Active Directory hierarchy as a mechanism to build the SMS hierarchy -- a time savings for organizations that have already implemented Active Directory. Following that route also allows administrators to target security groups and Organizational Units created in Active Directory with SMS tools. Customers who aren't running Active Directory can still use the old SMS scheme of sites and domains to define an SMS hierarchy for SMS 2003.

In SMS 2.0, Microsoft relied on licensed code from third parties for software metering and reporting. For SMS 2003, Microsoft wrote the code itself based on customer feedback. "Bells and whistles" that proved a major drain on network bandwidth have been removed in favor of a functional feature set that scales better, Hamilton says.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.