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
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.