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Microsoft puts final touches on System Center roadmap

IT managers look forward to more standard features in SCCM 2007 and less need for third-party tools.

Microsoft's desire to become a first-tier player in systems management will be helped along by its ability to deliver the ever-growing number of tools that are filling out its System Center product pipeline.

The product roadmap for Microsoft's System Center systems management product family is starting to come together as the software vendor gears up for the company's annual Microsoft Management Summit 2007 in San Diego in March.

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The marketing blitz has already begun with a product road show for partners that will spell out the company's software schedule. System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007, which is the next version of Systems Management Server 2003, will be released to manufacturing during the third quarter of this year; and System Center Operations Manager, the next version of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005, will be released to manufacturing during the second quarter of this year.

A new beta for SCCM will be out in March, followed by a second beta for System Center Data Protection Manager 2008. The first public beta of a new product code-named Service Desk will be available the first half of this year, with an RTM date set for early 2008.

Current testers of SCCM 2007, which is in its second beta trial, are quick to point out how such new capabilities as Wake-On-LAN, Network Access Protection and a revamped software updates section will be a boost for IT managers.

Tasks such as software application updates on the client have been cut down from seven steps to about three in SCCM 2007, said Josh MacNeil, assistant director of technology services and network operations for the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District in Whitman, Mass.

"Overall, IT managers are looking for three functions in one product rather than having to buy seven products," MacNeil said.

New software update functionality is part of a one-two-three punch that MacNeil has found so far while beta testing SCCM 2007. The other two are remote management capabilities that now run behind the scenes in SCCM and support for mobile devices.

"In SMS 2003, there were only a couple of add-ins for mobile devices and no support for them really," MacNeil said. "In SCCM 2007, you can see what mobile devices are out there, take inventory and make changes to the mobile devices remotely."

Send patches over the Internet in SCCM

IT managers will also see a console in SCCM 2007 similar to the IIS in WSUS that will let them send patches over the network, said Brian Tucker, service line architect for systems integrator Intrinsic Technologies, based in Lisle, Ill.

"A nice feature is patch management in SCCM where a user can be at his house and you can patch his laptop before he accesses the corporate network," said Tucker, who is testing SCCM Beta 2.

Tucker said that the System Center product timeline has been a slow one but that Microsoft is making it clear that it wants to eliminate the need for third-party systems management applications. "[Microsoft is] putting everything together so that there are so many flavors and features with the base [SCCM] package," Tucker said. "I think [Microsoft] is trying to blow the market away by saying 'Here is your one-stop solution for systems management. Don't bother with third-party products.' "

In current versions of SMS, for example, IT managers are using third-party applications to send out software updates. That capability will be built right into SCCM, Tucker said. But there will still be a need for third-party applications, he added.

Microsoft also expects to release the next "System Center Wave" beginning with SCCM 2009, code-named V5, and SoftGrid, also code-named V5, in late 2009 or early 2010. Application-streaming capabilities, such as the ones found in SoftGrid via Microsoft's acquisition of Softricity, will give IT managers the ability to serve up bits of an application on an as-needed basis to users. This would essentially virtualize the application and eliminate the need to install a client and save network bandwidth.

SCCM's V5 and SoftGrid are expected to support further integration and application virtualization directly from the configuration manager, versus having to use connectors as are needed in current versions of SMS.

System Center Online Services, dubbed Asset Management for SCCM 2007, is also expected to make an appearance in fourth-quarter 2007 or early 2008. The product is based on technology from AssetMetrix, which Microsoft acquired in April 2006.

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