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Microsoft dusts off SMS

Microsoft may appear to have forgotten about SMS, but not so. The company is working on an upgrade that will make the app relevant again.

Microsoft's (MSFT) Systems Management Server is a part of BackOffice that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

With Microsoft busy thinking about everything Internet, the once-vaunted BackOffice application has been pushed into the background. But that doesn't mean that Microsoft has forgotten about it. In fact, the company is working on a new version right now that will put SMS back in the forefront of its server strategy.

How? By hooking it up to the Web, of course.

The current SMS 1.2 includes software and hardware asset management, software distribution, and remote control capabilities. This means that network administrators can sit at their desks and find out the location of every desktop, server, and software application attached to the network, distribute new software over the network instead of visiting each machine, and modify server set-ups at remote locations.

When SMS was introduced in November 1994, this seemed quite advanced for a workgroup server application. But it was gradually eclipsed as the big management vendors in the Unix world--most notably Computer Associates and Tivoli Systems--started to pay attention to client-server networks and adopt their software to suit the same constituency as SMS.

Instead of throwing in the management towel, Microsoft is now trying to make SMS relevant again by tying it in with intranets and the rest of the company's Web strategy.

An upgrade code-named Opal will be beta-tested this summer. It will add a Web-based interface modeled after the Web-based Enterprise Management work announced by a series of vendors last summer. The upgrade may add management tools for routers and hubs from major vendors, networking equipment the current version doesn't account for.

"To manage the Windows environment, I have to know what is going on with the network," said Victor Raisys, lead product manager for systems management marketing at Microsoft. He didn't want to talk about details of Microsoft's plans for networking gear support, such as which vendors the company will work with.

But he did say that SMS will end up as a snap-in set of utilities for the Microsoft Management Console, previously known as Slate, which is due to ship this year.

MMC is designed to free up managers to address the big network policy issues instead of routine tasks. It lets administrators customize management utilities by using an OLE-based "snap-in" model.

The idea is that instead of having to perform each specific function step by step, a manager can create a single application with built-in workflow to accomplish entire tasks, such as distributing an application to all the users on a network. This is, for example, a task that a snap-in version of Opal could accomplish.

Hoping that other management application vendors will repackage their tools as MMC utilities as well, Microsoft plans to set the example with the Opal upgrade. The company may also serve up the Wolfpack programming interfaces for clustering as MMC snap-ins.

In an ideal world, a single MMC console will include software snap-ins from all of the major networking vendors so that, for example, Cisco Systems gear could be managed with a CiscoWorks network management software snap-in.

For users who want to go this route, Opal should also offer an easy migration path to MMC.