Microsoft spills the beans on SMS 4.0

Microsoft execs said Systems Management Server 4.0 software boosts security and will be easier to use. It also adds a Wake-On LAN feature, to help admins manage desktops during off hours.

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A feature that lets Windows administrators switch desktops on or off from a central console for the purposes of adding upgrades, making changes or simply to save energy is one of the goodies slated for the next version of Microsoft's desktop management software, SMS 4.0.

In addition to the feature, known as Wake-On LAN, Microsoft outlined the contents of the next version of Systems Management Server v. 4.0 (SMS) during an Internet chat on Thursday with Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, and members of the SMS product development team.

The software is in its initial trial run through the Technology Adoption Program and a public beta is expected in the first quarter of 2006. SMS 4.0 is on track to be released to manufacturing in the first half of 2007. SMS customers are also awaiting Service Pack 2 (SP) for SMS 2003, which is now expected to come in the first quarter of 2006, team members said.

Security and an improved interface are some of the main new attractions. The desktop management software will be Microsoft's premier method for deploying Vista in the enterprise. It will integrate with Network Access Protection (NAP), a quarantine feature in Longhorn Server and Vista. SMS will be able to tell NAP to quarantine and remediate a device based on the presence of any software upgrade.

NAP will check to see if a PC or device that a user tries to connect on the network conforms to policies stated within the enterprise. NAP can then quarantine a PC and apply the necessary remedial action. "The integration with NAP is essential," said Neil Macehiter, a principal analyst at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, a Cambridge, U.K., consultancy.

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SMS has a reputation for being a complex product. The new version will offer a setup and admin user interface that is template driven and offers improved configuration management. The Microsoft product managers explained that an SMS administrator can define a configuration model and be notified of any drift or deviation from that desired configuration.

"It's always a challenge to define how SMS should be operating, so improving the configuration management interface addresses this concern," Macehiter said.

Microsoft said the client will be architecturally similar to SMS 2003 but enhanced to support new SMS 4.0 features such as operating system deployment, Desired Configuration Monitoring and the ability to take SMS actions such as software distribution, software updates and inventory across the Internet without being connected through a VPN.

The ability to work without a VPN also exploits the capabilities of Vista, which has application-level firewalls. Administrators wanting to connect to an application through the Internet have historically needed a VPN tunnel to access the network. With application-level firewalls, the administrator can set up tunnels to connect to the application, Macehiter said.

"It' looks like SMS will behave in the same way as Vista," he said. "If you have 1,000 employees you don't want a VPN connection to all of them. By tunneling out with SMS it can reduce your overhead." SMS administers will need their clients to be running Windows 2000 SP4 for SMS 4.0.

Microsoft product managers made these additional notable points:

  • Active Directory Security Group Discovery will be added to SMS 2003 SP2 as well as SMS 4.0.
  • The ability to use System Center Capacity Planner to plan and manage SMS implementations will come in version 2.0 of Capacity Planner.
  • SMS has two security modes – an SMS compatible mode and a V. 4.0 security mode which lets administrators manage clients on the Internet. To use the Internet facing functions of SMS 4.0, certificates are required on all SMS servers and clients, which then require public key infrastructure. Servers in the perimeter need a method to validate trust of certificates from clients requesting access, Microsoft said.
  • Reporting will be nearly identical to what administrators have in SMS 2003.

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