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Microsoft's big SUS plans

Expect Redmond to have plenty to say about the patching and management of its products at next week's Microsoft Management Summit 2004. People close to the software maker have already provided some key details.

Microsoft is expected to reveal a new patch management strategy at next week's Microsoft Management Summit 2004 in Las Vegas. The plans include introducing new versions of Software Update Services and a timetable for their release.

Microsoft has previously said that plans for the upgraded SUS utility include a free version for the home user, as well as versions for small and medium-sized businesses and enterprises. The SMB version will be available this summer, and the enterprise version will be released sometime late in the third quarter, said one source familiar with the company's plans.

Microsoft has postponed the trial of SUS 2.0 at least twice. E-mails inviting customers to participate in the SUS 2.0 beta were sent out only a week ago. However, Microsoft now hopes to begin a limited beta under its technology adoption program sometime in April, another source said.

Where SUS fits with SMS

What remains unclear to some customers is how the new versions of SUS will fit in with Systems Management Server (SMS), Microsoft's main management and software distribution platform. SUS 2.0 will have the ability to store data in a SQL Server database, so it's looking more like SMS, said one consultant, who declined to be identified.

"SUS was a free product, and if it's tied into a SQL Server database, you will have to pay for that database license," he said. "If you don't use the database, you can still use SUS, but then the reporting may not work as well."

Many vendors already make money managing Microsoft patches, but the consultant said that he thinks it is disturbing that Microsoft might try cash in, too. "I don't think it's a good idea for a company to make money off of patching their own products," he said.

Analysts said that, next week, Microsoft is likely to provide the industry with a clear road map for patch management. "It's my goal to come away from this conference with an understanding of patch management and software distribution," said Peter Pawlak, a senior consultant at Directions on Microsoft, of Kirkland, Wash.

"I don't get what they are trying to do with SUS and SMS," he said. "Seems to me that you can work to get SUS to do all the things it should be able to do and, when you're done, you've basically rebuilt SMS."

Customer sees conflict

And some customers would appreciate more clarity, too. "Right now, SUS and SMS appear to be competing products," said John Brunelle, an IT administrator at Smith & Nephew Inc., an Andover, Mass.-based medical equipment manufacturer. "SUS was the answer to SMS' drawbacks. If SUS and SMS can work together, it's not a bad way to go."

Microsoft has talked about making its patch management program more uniform but, so far, not much has happened. It is something that customers are asking for, said Brett Hill, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and president of IIS Training, in Boulder, Colo.

"Right now, customers have to go to Windows Update, or run [Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer] or have SUS," Hill said. "There are multiple methods for getting things done, and different experiences based on each method. It causes people not to trust any of them.

"It's a pain that customers live with every day," Hill said. But Hill said that he would rather that Microsoft take its time and come out with something right than deliver a product today that doesn't work.

And then there were two

The software maker is also reducing the number of installers it uses, from four to two. Microsoft Installer for Windows is in beta and is expected to be released at the same time as SUS 2.0, said Steve Anderson, a director in Windows Server marketing, last fall.

At the MMS conference, Microsoft is expected to offer more information about how its Dynamic Systems Initiative will appear in its manageability products, such as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004, due out this summer.

Redmond will also reveal partnerships with Altiris Inc., Bindview Corp. and Configuresoft Inc. to link some of their products to the SMS platform. Separately, a handful of companies will introduce the SMS Alliance, an organization of independent software vendors that hope to extend SMS functionality within their own products.


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