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SMS to the max: Use Systems Management Server to juice up Windows

Creative administrator tips for using SMS to juice up the performance and speed of your users' desktops.

Make everyone happy by fine-tuning their systems using the bulk capabilities of SMS

Expert: Feature packs for SMS ready by mid-November
Microsoft's SMS may get a boost in the next few weeks. A Microsoft watcher says a pair of feature packs will be out within two or three weeks, bringing some important management features with them.

Microsoft releases improved, complex SMS 2003 beta
The SMS 2003 beta is out. The good news? SMS 2003 covers more bases than its predecessors. The bad news? Get out the elbow grease. In order to take advantage of all the good stuff, you have to be willing to work.

Check out our Best Web Links on Systems Management Server.

Microsoft's SMS (Systems Management Server) product is one of its less-ballyhooed offerings. That's something of a shame because there are many ways a creative administrator can use SMS to enhance the performance and speed of people's desktops -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.

Push registry changes to existing systems to enhance network performance.
The default network settings in Windows 2000 and XP are not the fastest; tweaking them to perform better over fast LAN connections doesn't require more than adding or changing a few registry entries. Said registry changes can be compiled into a package and pushed to the whole organization, speeding up everyone at once. For instance, the TCP receive window size can be increased enormously from its default settings in a LAN environment.

Also, some network adapters may have tweakable options to increase performance depending on the manufacturer. For instance, some adapters may benefit from a little tweaking to get the best possible performance on 100-megabit networks. If not everyone is using the same brand of network adapter, though, you'll need to determine who can get what changes by using asset tracking.

Send pre-configured software packages.
If you have third-party programs that can be similarly enhanced -- via registry hacks or configuration changes -- you can create either post-install packages that make the needed changes or a package that deploys the app with modified setup parameters. This way both old and new users will get the same things.

How you do this will depend largely on how the program itself can be deployed. Some programs don't allow their install parameters to be modified before installation and will need to be edited once installed by changing registry entries or .INI file entries. Many major programs like Office can be deployed with various internal changes, but you'll have to post-configure smaller programs that come with their own installers.

Use SMS asset tracking to push newly-issued hardware drivers only to the systems that need them.
SMS can work with late-model PCs automatically to build an inventory of all the installed hardware in a given set of systems. If you have newer drivers for video cards or disk controllers (newer versions of these drivers usually mean better performance), they can be pushed through SMS to only the systems that need it. The same goes for network card tweaks as described above.

Use Software Metering to find out what apps are or aren't being used.
If you have some applications that take up a great deal of disk space or processor power, people may avoid using them in favor of other apps. SMS's Software Metering, which logs the use of programs on desktops, can determine which apps are used least. Said apps could be run remotely on Terminal Services to provide less of a drain on local resources, or might even be removed entirely to free up disk space and computing power that could be used better somewhere else. This is also a useful way to inspect machines to see if people are running applications that should not be run under any circumstances, such as games, file-sharing programs or other software -- such as an unauthorized mail client -- which, while not directly harmful, hasn't been cleared for use by the staff.

Use the Courier Sender function to avoid network congestion.
Courier Sender automatically compiles pushed material to a CD-R rather than transmitting it over the network. Use this to distribute really big packages like OS installs, instead of jamming your LAN with them. Another option is Fan-Out packaging, which progressively distributes changes from multiple servers -- a good idea for slow links or remote hosts, such as telecommuters. Either way, you're freeing up the network for the rest of the users.

Clean up duplicate computer IDs automatically.
If you've used cloning or disk imaging to create multiple workstations, some of them may have duplicate system identifiers. This can create problems, not only for SMS but also for many other programs that rely on a unique SID. SMS can fix this problem automatically; the instructions are in a KnowledgeBase article Q254735. This technique can either produce a simple manifest of machines with duplicate IDs, or allow you to prepare a package via automated software distribution to do the reassignment.

Use automatic discovery of elevated privileges to let users install their own software.
Through Active Directory, SMS 2.0 can verify whether a currently logged-on user has the proper privileges to install software. If you know that a specific team of users is qualified to install software on their systems (for instance, your technical staff), then you can give them the freedom to do so without having to go through the administrator.

Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter.

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