SCCM 2007 release candidate one was made available for download on TechNet.
A new wizard-based user interface replaces the look and feel of the Windows interface found in Systems Management Server, the name of the previous version of SCCM.
Automation, like that found in SCCM 2007, is a theme throughout Microsoft's System Center product family, stemming from Microsoft's ever-evolving vision for self-healing machines under its Dynamic Systems Initiative.
"Part of what [SCCM] does is enable Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, the idea of provisioning at a greater level of automation to make life a lot easier for IT and to make IT more strategic," said Andi Mann, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, a consulting firm in Boulder, Colo.
SCCM plays a key role in Microsoft's quest to become a more strategic management option for enterprise customers as well, said Mann pointing to other products, such as Service Desk, Virtual Server Manager and the content management database that round out the vendor's System Center line.
"It's not just about managing Windows," Mann said. "System Center and the partnerships built in like Cisco's for networking and EMC's for storage devices makes it a broader management play. They are getting serious about managing the enterprise."
Beyond automation, Microsoft is introducing capabilities that help IT shops build in workflow, processes and best practices such as ITIL on top of System Center, Mann said.
SCCM 2007 is expected to be released to manufacturing by early September. will also integrate with Network Access Protection, which is a quarantine feature in Windows Server 2008 that updates a PC before it is allowed to connect to the network.
Microsoft also plans to release SCCM 2007 R2 in mid-2008.