Feature Packs Coming for SMS 2.0

Microsoft has two free "feature packs" in the release candidate stage for Systems Management Server 2.0.

"The idea behind the feature packs is just to provide ongoing value to existing customers, but also to provide features earlier that will come in SMS 2003," says David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's management business group. The packs are called the SMS 2.0 Software Update Services Feature Pack and the SMS 2.0 Administration Feature Pack. Both should be available later this month, Hamilton says.

The Software Update Services Feature Pack is designed to add new SMS 2003 features and leverage the inventory and software distribution features of SMS 2.0 to bring critical Windows and Microsoft Office updates inside the firewall, determine which machines need the patches and deploy them across the enterprise.

The Administration Feature Pack will deliver new tools for using SMS in a multisite configuration and new reporting features that allow administrators to better track their enterprise software licensing.

If the packs sound familiar, they are. Microsoft discussed some of the functionality in the context of an SMS 2.0 Value Pack that was supposed to be imminent back in April. The Value Pack was billed as a suite of add-ons that would be a scaled-back version of the Web-based reporting to come in SMS 2003 (which went into beta testing this week. See story).

The group of reports in the Value Pack were supposed to tell administrators the state of service packs and hotfixes on Windows and Office applications. The reports would have then connected to the SMS 2.0 console to guide administrators through downloading necessary fixes and packaging updates in an SMS job targeted against vulnerable systems identified in the original reports.

According to Hamilton, the Value Pack morphed into the feature packs based on customer feedback. "Customers asked us to be a little more modular about it. Hence we ended up splitting out two feature packs," Hamilton says.

There is no minimum size of SMS installation that the feature packs should appeal to. Although the packs originally grew out of needs expressed by customers in very large organizations, many of the components, such as a backup and restore tool, are useful across customer sizes, Hamilton says.

The idea of a feature pack isn't new at Microsoft, which used the device to provide an Option Pack that shipped simultaneously with Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4. Although Microsoft is generally averse to adding features in service packs these days, the idea of optional, free feature packs had fallen out of fashion in Redmond, as well.

"The [SMS Feature Packs] are also an indication that we're going to do more of this feature pack approach on a more regular basis to customers," Hamilton says. Asked whether that will extend beyond the management business group, Hamilton says somewhat cryptically, "We're having interesting conversations internally."

The latest service pack for SMS 2.0 is Service Pack 4, which was released late last year.

Hamilton says additional feature packs for SMS 2.0 are unlikely, but the approach is being explored for SMS 2003 feature updates. For example, support for non-PC, Windows devices in SMS 2003 will follow the general release of SMS 2003 by about a quarter and could come in the form of a feature pack, Hamilton says.

About the Author

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