Microsoft issues SMS 2003 beta

Attempting to deliver systems management that spans from the data centre to mobile devices, Microsoft Corp. on Monday issued the first beta of Systems Management Server 2003.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant also detailed forthcoming Feature Packs that will bring some of the technologies to emerge in SMS 2003 to current customers before the final release of SMS 2003.

In SMS 2003, Microsoft focused on three key areas of improvement: support for mobile devices, integration with Active Directory, and enhancements to the metering and reporting functions.

“We’ve done some small things along these lines in the past, but this time the changes are dramatic,” said David Hamilton, director the of management business group within Microsoft.

To that end, Microsoft is working to enable SMS 2003 to manage a broader array of computing devices, including Windows CE, XP embedded, and Pocket PC.

“The number one pain point we hear about from our customers is managing all the different mobile devices,” Hamilton said.

In addition to supporting more devices, Microsoft is equipping SMS 2003 to track road warriors as they move from site to site and to distribute software in a fashion that accommodates mobile workers better, such as via slow connections and background-style installs.

Microsoft is also tying SMS closer to Active Directory, which will help administrators track users, both mobile and those that work primarily in the office.

“We don’t require Active Directory,” Hamilton said. He added that companies with Active Directory can use it in conjunction with SMS to discover information about a PC, such as who is logged on and where they are located. Further, administrators can use that information to distribute necessary software.

The company also upgraded SMS’ metering and reporting capabilities to help customers look at what applications people are using and checking those to ensure that they are properly licensed.

Hamilton would not commit to a specific date for general availability of SMS 2003, but he did say, “We definitely want to get it out in the first half of next year.”

More immediately, existing SMS customers will be able to get their hands on some of the pending technologies that will be available in SMS 2003 by way of what Microsoft is calling feature packs.

One of the packs is designed to help customers more easily keep up to speed with and roll out software patches for programs such as Internet Explorer, Windows, and Outlook.

The other pack includes administrator tools to ease the process of setting up SMS in large companies.

The feature packs are currently in the final Release Candidate stage, Hamilton said, and will be available in approximately one month.