Tech Industry

Microsoft server tools go beta

Microsoft ships to beta testers SMS 2.0, an update to the management component of the software giant's BackOffice suite of server applications.

Microsoft (MSFT) has released an initial beta of the next version of its systems management software, offering the latest twist in the company's strategy to make machines based on its software more manageable.

Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0, previously code-named Opal, is the management component of the software giant's BackOffice suite of server applications for businesses and is available either as part of the bundle or as a separate product for management of Windows-based desktops and server systems.

The latest release of the software is essentially the next stage in a management strategy dubbed Zero Administration for Windows, or ZAW, according to Microsoft executives.

The thrust of that effort was to respond to growing sentiment within corporations that administration of their far flung PCs and server machines was costing too much and was too time consuming.

As a result, several new features--including long-awaited software metering functionality--will be included in the new version of the software, adding to existing inventory, remote control, and software distribution capabilities. Kevin Kean, group product manager at Microsoft, said the initial release will be a "fairly long beta" followed by a second beta period. No time table is set on a final release of SMS 2.0.

The beta software, which can be ordered on CD ROM through the company's Web site, was previously scheduled to be released this past summer, but Kean said: "It was a complex product so we wanted to make sure we got it right."

Microsoft's management has sometimes been thought of as an afterthought, according to analysts, but with increasing attention to cost-of-ownership issues, the company has turned to SMS to help round out its strategy.

"What they've done is not a radical step forward, but it's a more well-articulated direction than they've had in the past," said Richard Ptak, director of systems management research at D.H. Brown Associates.

Included in the offering is a new setup function that combines SMS installation with Microsoft's SQL Server database program; support for the Common Information Model (CIM) floated by a Web-based management consortium that allows a wider variety of management data to be collected and fed into status reports; and more flexibility to distribute software to users' computers through a variety of policy-based schemes.

In conjunction with ongoing development of the next version of the Windows NT operating system, called 5.0, SMS 2.0 will offer integration with Microsoft's component-based Management Console (MMC), the forthcoming Active Directory, and an IntelliMirror feature that will allow desktop "states" to be stored on an NT 5.0 server.

Kean admitted that the company has sometimes sent confusing messages concerning its various management initiatives, but he said it should be cleared up with the new release.

As Microsoft sees it, the SMS tools will interact with the company's MMC interface by providing information that can be viewed through the MMC, which Microsoft hopes will provide administrators with a consistent view of management applications--whether it's their own or those of third parties.

"Customers and the world in general are confused, and it's going to take some time for them to hone their message effectively," Ptak noted.

SMS 2.0 will also include support for Windows 3.x machines, Apple Computer Macintosh machines, as well as Novell's Directory software. The new tool will also recognize more network elements, allowing administrators to view activity on devices such as routers and hubs.