RealTime IT News

Microsoft Spruces Up System Management Tool

Microsoft has taken its System Management Server 2003 software into its second release as a beta, adding new features that check for configuration blunders and improve its ability to track down security exploits.

SMS 2003 R2 is a software distribution and computer asset management tool designed to help medium to large-sized businesses update third-party and in-house applications on the fly, without manual intervention.

Such software has become more popular among enterprises who have small or busy IT staffs and need their technical people to focus on other important computer tasks. This traditionally helps customers cut costs associated with keeping up IT systems.

Felicity McGourty, director of product management in the Windows Enterprise Management division at Microsoft, said SMS 2003 R2 features an inventory tool for custom updates and a scan tool for vulnerability assessment.

McGourty said the inventory tool is a key improvement, noting that while SMS 2003 helps IT staffers manage updates to all Windows-based applications and other Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Office, it has been much more challenging and time consuming to update other vendors' applications.

Software vendors can use the inventory tool to create a catalog containing the definitions for their application updates. Customers can then download updates from the vendor's Web site in the same format and in the same way they download Microsoft patches and deploy the updates using SMS.

SMS 2003 R2 has been improved to pinpoint system configuration errors that might lead to security risks. This is in keeping with customer requests for software to plug up as many security exploits as possible, she said.

"For many administrators, staying current with security patches and updates is no longer an option; it's a requirement," McGourty said. "Managing patches for every single machine, whether a desktop or a server, and for all applications residing on each system can be a time consuming task."

Microsoft today also unveiled Service Pack (SP) 2 for SMS 2003, which includes more bug fixes, virtualization support and allows Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 to be the backend database engine for SMS.

The pack also allows IT managers to use qualified domain names, eliminating SMS' dependency on NetBios and WINS and boosting performance for software inventory processing.

McGourty said the finished SMS 2003 R2 will be released to manufacturing in the next several months.

However, the executive said it is important for customers to get a taste of the software now because businesses that are still using SMS 2.0 Standard Edition can avoid any additional costs associated with the end of mainstream support for SMS 2.0 on March 31.

After March 31, SMS 2.0 will enter the extended phase of its product lifecycle, and customers will need to pay for any non-security related support.

To smooth the move from SMS 2.0 to SMS 2003, McGourty said Microsoft is offering a 30 percent discount starting in April on all SMS Server licenses and SMS Configuration Management Licenses (CMLs) obtained with software assurance.