The Future of Windows Management

Manageability Summit highlights new and improved Windows management products

Last week, Microsoft held its first Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas—an event of great significance for administrators interested in the future of Windows manageability. The show's big announcements included Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 (formerly code-named Topaz) and two far-out projects: Server Manager and Client Manager. The company also revealed the future of its Windows Update Corporate Site, which I discussed 2 weeks ago, and I think many administrators will be excited to know that Microsoft will support its Windows Server users with a quality management tool that doesn't require them to purchase a new server product. I spoke with David Hamilton, director of the Microsoft Management Business Group, about the company's short-term and long-term plans.

Software Update Services
The Windows Update Corporate Site, which the company will rename Software Update Services, will require a downloadable software component that runs inside a corporate firewall and will let administrators manage the process of applying desktop and server patches throughout an enterprise. Hamilton said that Software Update Services will be available in early summer.

SMS 2.0 Value Pack
Also available in early summer will be another free update, the SMS 2.0 Value Pack. This add-on package works similar to Software Update Services, but integrates with SMS and is more sophisticated. "We realized that many people were using SMS to apply security patches," Hamilton said. "In fact, patching of clients and servers is the most common usage scenario for SMS 2.0. Administrators are comfortable with Windows Update at home, and like the way it works. They asked us if they could get a combination of Windows Update and SMS, and we were able to do this in a sophisticated fashion \[with the SMS Value Pack\]."

SMS 2003
Microsoft also announced the next major version of SMS, SMS 2003, which will ship later this year, although we can expect a beta version this summer. The biggest change with this release is better support for laptop and Pocket PC users. "More and more mobile users are happening out there," Hamilton said. "Our average customer says that 30 percent of their workforce is now mobile, so the needs are different \[than they were when we developed SMS 2.0\]. Deploying an update to client applications is a disaster across a slow link today. It should pick up where it left off. SMS 2003 has intelligent code to do things in the background so users can continue to use the system, and restart downloads if the connection goes down and is reestablished."

Support for Pocket PC devices was a major customer request, and one that surprised the Management Business Group at first. "Not only are Pocket PC devices out there in the workforce, but they are the way many people do business," said Hamilton. "They contain mission-critical data and need to be secure. We never intended to support the Pocket PC in this release, but decided it was a critical feature, so we've added it into our development effort. Because we added \[Pocket PC support\] at the end of the development cycle, however, this feature won't make the RTM \[release to manufacturing\] date. Instead, we'll ship it as an add-on 2 to 3 months later."

SMS 2003 also integrates tightly with Active Directory (AD), but it works fine as a standalone server in non-AD environments as well. "We decided not to go the Exchange Server route," Hamilton said, which is a reference to the fact that Exchange Server requires AD. The product also includes a new reporting engine and major scalability improvements.

The Future: Server Manager and Client Manager
At the end of the Microsoft Management Summit, Microsoft Senior Vice President Brian Valentine revealed more far-reaching plans for the company's management tools during a keynote address that closed the show. Valentine discussed the Client Manager project, a future suite of client management tools that builds on SMS 2003's Change and Configuration Management (CCM) functionality, and the Server Manager project, which combines the core functionality of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2000, SMS 2.0, and Microsoft Application Center 2000 into a future suite of server-side tools for managing servers and distributed applications and services.

"With today's growing enterprise environments, customers demand a solution that enables effective management of everything from the data center to the desktop to devices," Valentine said in his keynote address. "As we move into a Microsoft .NET world of Web services, customers require advanced service management and scenarios that map to business needs. The next generation of management solutions from Microsoft will deliver leadership and vision in this critical area for customers."

Server Manager and Client Manager are still a while off, and Valentine said that the company will deliver interim tools that tackle the so-called "scenario-based solutions" that these projects will also target. The Microsoft Web site will identify these solutions as Solution Offerings, and they will offer prescriptive guidance, documentation, and wizards for a variety of Microsoft products, including the Windows Server line, SMS, MOM, and BizTalk. The company will roll out most of these solutions over the summer, Hamilton told me. "We're not adding features, but are focusing on the processes, and making common tasks easier," he said. The Windows Server team, for example, is working on Win2K Server-based Solution Offerings that create secure and reliable network infrastructures.

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