SCE Aims for the Middle

System Center Essentials is the answer for your customers driving a small to midsize business.

Ask your customers what their most important day-to-day tasks are and they're likely to respond with a list including things like network monitoring, network management and software and update deployment. These bread-and-butter tasks define the role of most network managers. No one would ever question the importance of these tasks, any more than they'd question how essential it is to have the right tool to get the job done.

That's where it gets tricky. There are quite a few network management and monitoring tools out there from Microsoft and third-party vendors. Meanwhile, each of your customers is going to have different needs. How do you match them up? You don't want them to be swatting at mosquitoes with an anti-aircraft gun, any more than you'd have them go up against a grizzly with a pocket knife.

Your customers need the right tool for their environment.

Microsoft recognizes this and is revamping and repositioning its entire series of system management tools. The company has established a hierarchy of management tools and recommended combinations of these tools, suitable for different sized organizations and different requirements. Systems Center Essentials (SCE), Microsoft's monitoring and management solution for the small to midsized business, will be part of this new series coming over the course of this year from Microsoft. SCE fits in with the following forthcoming developments:

  • System Center Operations Manager 2007 will succeed Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005, and helps your customers monitor and manage distributed systems.
  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007 will succeed Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003, and helps your customers automate software installation and system configuration management.
  • System Center Data Protection Manager 2006 will provide data backup and restore for Windows file servers.
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager will help consolidate applications onto virtualized servers.
  • System Center Capacity Planner 2006 will help determine hardware resources that your customers will need to run applications and meet specific performance requirements.
  • Code-named "Service Desk," the final System Center component is a new product that will support the IT service management processes -- including incident management, problem management and change management.

While there's a plethora of management tools configured for every size and scope of network, SCE is targeted at your customers in small to midsize organizations. Its two primary functional areas are monitoring distributed systems and automating software installation.

Spotlight Highlights

Key Features

  • Monitoring and management templates
  • Automated inventory monitoring
  • Unified management console

Competition

  • Altiris Client Management Suite
  • Argent Guardian
  • CiscoWorks LAN Management Solution
  • HP OpenView
  • IBM Tivoli NetView
  • Microsoft Systems Management Server
  • Microsoft Windows Update Services
  • RES PowerFuse
  • SolarWinds Network Management Software
  • Vector Networks PC-Duo Enterprise Suite

Opportunity Assessment

  • Promote with other System Center products
  • Position SCE within framework of other System Center products
  • Help customers configure management templates

Your customers can configure SCE to monitor their systems using any of the templates that come with the product, or by customizing one to suit their specific purposes. For example, there are wizards to configure SCE to monitor a group of files or storage devices, SQL database files or even a Web site or group of sites. Besides monitoring specific aspects of their environment, your customers can also set up SCE to monitor entire business units, different locations or specific functional areas. Helping your customers configure SCE for their unique needs is another area of opportunity for you.

The Computer and Device Management Wizard will help you and your customers choose which computers and devices they want to manage. They can also easily add or change systems as their environment evolves. Gathering inventory data with SCE is automated. Your customers can search and report on software and hardware inventory for monitoring purposes or to satisfy any compliance and inventory review obligations.

The unified management console is SCE's primary view. This presents your customers with summary data on system status across their network, including common tasks, alerts and reports. From these summary pages, customers can drill down to get specific details and seek out potential problems. Upon drilling down, they'll find specific areas providing detailed data on computers, monitoring and updates. Your customers can also customize these views.

The system status details are particularly helpful for troubleshooting efforts. SCE helps your customers identify and resolve issues with their clients, servers and services like Exchange Server. They can set up SCE to deliver problem reports via e-mail, pager or an SMS text message. SCE provides comprehensive diagnostic information for Windows Server and Client operating systems, Active Directory, Office, Exchange, SQL, IIS, DPM and CRM 3.0.

The console data helps your customers isolate and resolve any problem areas. It also facilitates remote control support for managed client and server computers. SCE automatically checks for new updates, notifies your customers of their ability and reports on the progress of rolling out updates. This will help them further troubleshoot any deployment issues.

Once SCE has helped your customers gather all this system data, it can also run any of a number of customized report formats. SCE's unified reporting works with SQL 2005. SCE has more than 30 report formats that cover categories like inventory, general status reports, capacity planning, deployment and update status. Your customers can have SCE send them a comprehensive status report first thing every morning.

Get It Out There
Besides monitoring and reporting, automating software deployment is another of SCE's primary functions. Using the same central console from which your customers monitor their IT environment, they can also configure and distribute updates or direct SCE to install software to specific groups and computers.

The SCE configuration wizard will help you and your customers establish patch update processes for their clients and servers. They can define which products to patch and which types of updates to push out, or simply install patches as they become available. They can set up SCE for automatic update deployment for their OSes, hardware updates, drivers and applications -- both Microsoft and non-Microsoft. SCE checks for new updates that apply to your customer's environment and notifies them so they can decide how to proceed.

There's another wizard included with SCE that can help you and your customers get set up to package and deploy software on whichever clients and servers you select. Deployment packages can include MSI and non-MSI applications and drivers. Your customers can target specific groups of computers for installation.

They can also define command-line configurations prior to deployment. They won't have to create a snapshot of an install image on a separate computer or enter command-line syntax to designate a silent install. Your customers can use the wizard to browse to an .MSI or .EXE package, walk through a three-step process and deploy it to clients and servers. The deployment wizard takes care of the behind-the-scenes complexity and lets your customers focus on specifying where the software should be installed, set an installation deadline, tracking progress and troubleshoot the process.

Sales and Marketing
There will be quite a bit of support from Microsoft as the System Center products are released over the course of this year. Most of the online support consists of white papers, demos, webcasts, and support blogs -- many run by the product managers and developers themselves.

Currently on the SCE Web site, you can download the Essentials 2007 Overview white paper, see a demo of SCE and view webcasts on specific aspects of SCE (and share these with your customers). As an example, one recent webcast was entitled "Learn How to Manage the IT Environment of Your Midsized Business More Efficiently with System Center Essentials 2007." There's also a Virtual Lab that offers an introduction to SCE, and an online Partner Solution for Remote IT Managed Services.

There's already a burgeoning community around the System Center family and SCE specifically. For support during and immediately after an SCE sale, check out the Tips and Tricks and Managed Services blogs. These are often excellent resources for undocumented tips and ideas or other approaches to certain issues. There's also an Essentials 2007 wiki site that's sure to grow livelier once SCE is released to general availability and gains a broader user base.

For your early adopter customers that have followed the beta program and may have release candidate 1 (RC1), there's currently full access to support and newsgroups on the Microsoft site. There are also archived Release Notes that describe important details and known issues in SCE RC1. As SCE is based on Microsoft Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), it would also be a good idea to check out the Release Notes for WSUS 3.0 on the Microsoft Connect Web site.

For your customers who are currently using WSUS 2.0 or 3.0, you can easily upgrade them to Essentials 2007 during setup. This upgrade will preserve most of their existing

settings. They won't have to reconfigure Group Policy, reinstall databases or reset security protocols. Customers currently running MOM 2005 or the MOM 2005 Workgroup Edition can also migrate to SCE. These customers may also choose to run SCE and MOM simultaneously to preserve mission-critical data.

SCE RC1 Hits the Streets

As this issue went to press, Microsoft had just released System Center Essentials (SCE) Release Candidate 1 (RC1). Some of the improvements and updates to RC1 over the public beta 2 include:

  • Support for upgrading from WSUS 2.0 and 3.0
  • Can now e-mail a daily health report
  • Automatic scheduled discovery of computers from Active Directory
  • Enhanced network monitoring of SNMP-enabled network devices, including a network topology diagram view
  • Remote control support for managing client and server computers
  • Ability to import update catalogs from third-party vendors
  • SQL Services-based reporting on monitoring and asset inventory
  • Setup experience improvements for SQL Server selection and file locations
  • Additional management packs for Exchange 2003, Dynamics CRM 3.0 and AD
  • Support for other languages
  • Support for x64 servers
  • Support for managing Windows Vista and x64 systems
  • Support for managing systems in multiple domains in a single AD forest

-L.L.

Competitive Landscape
The network monitoring and management space is a crowded one. Most of the higher end tools are configured for larger enterprises. There are plenty that play in the space intended for SCE, though.

The Altiris Management Suite was just acquired by Symantec Corp., so there may be some changes afoot for this suite. Still, it's a popular selection and certain to be part of the conversation as you're speaking with your small- to medium-sized business customers about a network management package.

Argent Guardian has always positioned itself against MOM. While this feisty, agile company is still likely to be taking potshots at MOM, it's sure to lob a couple of volleys at SCE as well. Argent Guardian is frequently updated, so you'll have to keep an eye on this moving target.

Microsoft Systems Management Server and Windows Update Services are probably the closest "competitors" within the Microsoft ranks. Some customers may be hesitant to upgrade from these platforms, but you can emphasize the ease of migration and preservation of data and settings during the process to put their minds at ease.

Some other competitors you may run up against include RES PowerFuse, SolarWinds Network Management Software and the Vector Networks PC-Duo Enterprise Suite. These are aimed at the same size organizations targeted by SCE.

The big three -- CiscoWorks LAN Management Solution, HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli NetView -- are all generally aimed at larger corporations. These would typically compete more with System Center Operations Manager 2007 (formerly known as MOM). Still, you may encounter some customers who are interested in these solutions, if for no other reason than their lineage. That being the case, you'd do well to familiarize yourself with these solutions to be better able to steer your customers in another direction, if appropriate.

Microsoft Corp.
  • Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007
  • Release Date: Second quarter 2007
  • Price: Final pricing will be determined at release date
The Final Word
SCE should be a big draw for your customers running a small- to medium-sized organization. Microsoft has parsed its management tools and capabilities so that there's a relatively equivalent management package for companies across the entire spectrum of business.

There will be some explaining to do with the revamped System Center family and where the renamed and repositioned products fit into the Microsoft hierarchy. You should be able to capitalize on the extent to which Microsoft has gone to configure management tools for certain size companies, though. You're now better able to make sure your customers are getting the solution that fits them best -- not too much, not too little.