IT managers can now test out some long-awaited features promised in the upcoming version of Microsoft's desktop manager.
Systems Management Server version 4 beta 2, which will be known as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 when it is formally launched this summer, was released into public beta last week with Wake-On-LAN capabilities and a revamped console.
The Wake-On-LAN feature lets IT managers remotely turn a PC on or off from a central console and make changes or send software updates to that machine.
Wake-On-LAN is but one way this release tackles software update management. The Internet-based client management feature allows IT managers to monitor roaming users over the Internet.
In order to use this feature, which allows downloads of the latest software updates to roaming users before they hit the corporate network, a Public Key Infrastructure needs to be put in place, said Rebecca Dias, senior product planner with Microsoft's System Center group.
SMS v4 also integrates with Network Access Protection, which is a quarantine feature in Longhorn Server that updates a PC before it is allowed to connect to the network.
Also making an appearance in this version is Desired Configuration Management, which lets IT managers build standard configurations for groups of users and checks to make sure those configurations remain in check.
Desired Configuration will be the building block for a community exchange of best practices and standard configurations, Dias said. "It will be a knowledge base of best practices for what a Windows box looks like or for Exchange -- how to build up manageable models for your environment," she said. "This is going to be a huge ecosystem based on input from Microsoft, third-party vendors and users."
Dias said she could not say at this time when this community knowledge base will start to come together or in what form.
You can view full SMS v4 capabilities and download the beta from Microsoft TechNet.
The beta has its complete set of features, but much more testing will be done, Dias said. Microsoft will prioritize and address issues that testers find before the release of the product this summer, she added.
One such issue centers on getting SMS v4 beta 2 to run in native mode, said Brian Tucker, service line architect for systems integrator Intrinsic Technologies based in Lisle, Ill.
"Native mode is more secure versus mixed-mode, but you need certificates from the certificate authority server to run in native mode," Tucker said. "The documentation in beta 2 doesn't easily explain how to set that up. It's very vague, and I think people are going to have a problem."
Setting up the certificate authority server is quite a task, but experienced SMS users will be able to figure out how to get up and running in native mode, said Josh MacNeil, assistant director of technology services and network operations for the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District in Whitman, Mass.
"We've had a lot of experience setting up certificate servers, so getting [SMS v4] up in native mode wasn't a problem." MacNeil said. "If you don't have that experience, I can see why it would be difficult unless the documentation explains it in detail," he said. "Less experienced people may have to bring in a third party."
Other beta testers said to expect a few changes in the look and feel of the SMS v4 console, which is now wizard-based as opposed to Windows-based. In addition, there is a change in how software updates are delivered. SMS 2003 used Inventory Tool for Microsoft Updates. SMS v4 requires the use of Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) 3.0.
"It has to be WSUS 3.0 -- you'll get an error message with version 2," said Tucker, adding that there are issues with getting WSUS 3.0 to sync with SMS v4.
Microsoft has made other enhancements to this desktop management software including Pre-boot Execution Environment-initiated deployment and integration with Windows Deployment Services, upgrade assessment capabilities including integration with Windows Application Compatibility Toolkit, and BitLocker integration.