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IT pro offers insider tips on Systems Management Server 2.0

Get insider advice and troubleshooting tips on Microsoft's Systems Management Server from IT engineer Dana Daugherty. Daugherty was one of the early adopters of SMS 2.0 and now uses it to manage and distribute software to Windows desktops in 12 worldwide locations.

As a senior systems engineer with Pharmaceutical Research Associates International, Dana Daugherty oversees the installation of Microsoft Corp.'s System Management Server (SMS) to PRA's 12 worldwide locations. McLean, Va.-based PRA is using SMS 2.0 at all of its facilities, to manage and distribute software to Windows desktops. The desktops today run about 80 percent Windows 98 and 20 percent Windows 2000. About 80 percent of servers run Windows NT with the remaining 20 percent on Windows 2000. Daugherty is also author of the fortcoming book, "SMS Software Distribution A to Z." In this SearchWindowsManageability interview, Daugherty describes the lessons he's learned from working with SMS.

SWM: How much experience do you have with SMS?

We started working with version 2.0 as soon as it started shipping. It was frustrating in the beginning because there was little documentation. The initial release had multiple issues to be ironed out, as proof its fourth service pack has recently been released and contains 90 fixes. The main obstacle was understanding how the product worked. But since that time we've had better documentation, and [with the help of] the online SMS community, we have had better results than we had opening support tickets with Microsoft.

SWM: How much exposure have you had to early SMS 2003 code?

I've seen it but I've mainly looked at [the elements of the software that] focus on software distribution. Software distribution is the most requested feature but it's hard for most folks to use. There are a lot of issues to consider. The most common is the application has to properly install itself, and not hang up with DLLs. In SMS 2003, Microsoft has revisited the mobile architecture which is important to us because our organization is about 50 percent laptops. These people are traveling to other locations. Maybe two or three percent are always home. It's virtually impossible to install a client over a phone line [until SMS 2003].

SWM: What do customers need to consider for using distributing software?

Applications need to be fully tested and in some cases, validated prior to distribution. Find out how the software will interact with all existing applications. After testing in the lab, a cross section of the end-user population needs to test it.

SMS distribution needs to be tested at each site prior to the beginning of the production push. Communicate with end users about what they will experience during the distribution and develop a method of tracking successful installations.

I can see a [return on investment] on software distribution alone. [We no longer have to] walk to 1,500 machines, rather we distribute software electronically.

SWM: Where should you check if failures occur during the installation process?

Failures can occur for multiple reasons ? lack of disk space on the client or the server, improper code, syntax errors, a user's rights on the PC receiving the installation. Failures also occur after the installation due to incompatibilities and incomplete installations.

SWM: What advice can you give to other IT managers who are thinking about installing SMS 2003?

SMS takes advantage of Active Directory and Windows 2000 machines so the closer you are to these platforms the better. It will still work fine on NT 4.0 and Windows 9x clients, though just better on Active Directory and Win2K. SMS 2003 requires Windows 2000 servers for SMS site servers. For the new mobile client, an SMS site will need to use IIS for a new SMS server role, called management points. The mobile client installation requires Windows 2000 Pro or above. [I would advise customers] to get involved in the beta program, beginning early summer. Microsoft is receptive to customer input at this point.

SWM: Why aren't you using any other vendor's management software?

We installed SMS first for a few reasons. Mainly, it's Microsoft and one vendor should be able to manage its own products better than a third party. And from stories I've heard about [IBM's] Tivoli and [Computer Associates] Unicenter, they are more expensive and more difficult to use.



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