Microsoft spills the beans on Topaz

On Tuesday Microsoft Corp. plans to detail a major overhaul to its Systems Management Server, featuring improved support for remote systems, integration with Active Directory, and planned support for Windows CE devices.

The forthcoming release, formerly code-named Topaz, will be christened SMS 2003 at the company’s Management Summit 2002 in Las Vegas.

Large enterprises use SMS primarily as a means to inventory systems and servers, to roll out new software, and to deploy security patches. The current 2.0 version of SMS has been out for three years.

Surveying its SMS customers, approximately 30 percent of the PCs supported are in remote locations, according to David Hamilton, Microsoft’s director of product management in the management business group, who will give the opening keynote address at the conference.

Addressing the challenges with supporting a geographically distributed organization, the new remote client support in SMS 2003 will allow administrators to support PCs and systems with intermittent or slow connections, whether it is a slow RAS link or an intermittent VPN link, Hamilton said.

“It is fundamentally designed so administrators can have the same experience for remote or in-house workers,” Hamilton said.

The new client technology, dubbed Background Intelligence Transfer Services, is capable of understanding the transfer of packets at a sophisticated level. Based on HTTP, the agent can detect what kind of network connection exists and make adjustments in the background, Hamilton added.

“It is a relatively sophisticated, standards-based agent that understands what is going on in the network and on the client itself. The administrator just treats it like any old PC, and the system is intelligent enough to work out whether it is a well-connected agent or a poorly connected agent,” Hamilton said.

SMS 2003 also will include integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory, a move designed to deepen the value of SMS for Active Directory users.

“SMS 2003 is not dependent on Active Directory, but when Active Directory is there it gets better,” Hamilton said.

For example, Active Directory scoping mechanisms — such as organizational units and security groups — can be used to improve SMS actions, including deploying upgrades to particular organizational units or user security groups, and to look at desktops in a consistent way, according to Hamilton.

Support for Windows CE handheld devices is a late addition to the development cycle and will be made available a few months after the full beta of SMS 2003 is released in the summer.

The new Win CE support will allow users to manage non-PC Windows devices, including Pocket PCs and other types of embedded OS devices, such as Windows XP embedded for point-of-sale applications, according to Hamilton.

In talking to customers, Microsoft found that “not only are employees using pockets PCs, but the Pocket PCs are actually being used to run the company. There is mission-critical data on the Pocket PCs that has to be up-to-date, has to be secure, and is what people use to do their jobs,” he said.

On Friday, conference attendees will receive a pre-beta version of SMS 2003. The final beta will be available this summer, with Windows CE support to follow several months later as a free download.