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New Beta Of Microsoft's Mid-Range Management Server

Microsoft has begun the second public beta test for its new System Center Essentials 2007, a central management console targeted at small- to medium-sized businesses.

Microsoft  has had a centralized desktop management offering for some time, Systems Management Server (SMS). However, SMS, which is being renamed to System Center Configuration Manager 2007, is geared at large enterprises with thousands of machines, and there was no mid-range product.

Enter System Center Essentials 2007 aimed at companies with 50 to 500 desktops. Rather than take the high-end product and dumb it down, Microsoft said it wrote System Center Essentials new from the ground up.

"In doing research in the mid-market as to what IT pros use, we've noticed a few things," said David Mills, senior product manager in the Windows enterprise group. "Some [IT shops] are using repackaged enterprise tools that tend to be more complex than they need, but they are tough to ramp up on and not priced for the IT budget of a mid-sized company."

System Center Essentials 2007 provides a single console for managing servers, clients, hardware, software, and IT services. New software can be pushed out to clients via a three-step wizard, and it can also do asset management and distribute patches.

The software will come with a series of generic management packs that can be added onto the server and add new functionality. Microsoft sees a whole new ecosystem of management packs for SCE to handle specific applications, middleware and hardware.

"There's an opportunity here to build a business on extending the functionality of this product, just like there is with Operations Manager," said Mills, referring to the enterprise-level IT management server Microsoft is currently developing.

"Management solutions are somewhat more limited for smaller businesses than enterprises. So, Microsoft is going after the right market," said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst with JupiterKagan.

But while the management packs do allow for managing things like a Linux system, he adds that this is meant for Microsoft shops.

"With the product, Microsoft hopes to court smaller businesses that need a software/asset management tool," said Wilcox. "The solution is really designed for Microsoft shops, meaning businesses largely using the company's software."

Microsoft is shooting to have a release candidate out by the end of the year and officially launch in the first half of 2007. Mills said Microsoft has not determined a pricing structure for Systems Center Essentials 2007 yet, but it will be priced appropriately for its market.