Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003 R2 Enters Beta

Systems Management Server

On Monday, Microsoft released SMS 2003 R2 into beta testing, and the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to release the software update and deployment platform upgrade around May, said Felicity McGourty, director of product management in Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Management Division.

The R2 version will feature a new Inventory Tool for Custom Updates (ITCU), which will allow businesses and partners to automate the deployment of updates for third-party ISV applications and corporate line-of-business applications. For example, ISVs and partners could use the tool to create and publish software update catalogs that could be imported directly into the SMS console.

Currently, it's possible to package updates in SMS format, but it's cumbersome, Microsoft said. Giving customers access to numerous catalogs from within the SMS console will slash the time it takes to find updates, repackage them and then deploy and manage them, the company said.

"The news that SMS will support non-Microsoft products is long overdue," said Paul Freeman, CEO of Coast Solutions Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider. "This has always been a major selling point against SMS. Customers will be very interested in this, as will [ISV competitor] Altiris, since [heterogeneous support] is something that they have used to differentiate themselves from SMS in the market."

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SMS 2003 R2 also includes an Enterprise Scan Tool for Vulnerability Assessment, which checks desktops and servers for software configuration errors and other vulnerabilities, Microsoft said.

Also on Monday, Microsoft announced that it released SMS 2003 Service Pack 2 earlier this month. SP2 offers enhanced virtualization support and enables Microsoft SQL Server 2005 to function as the database engine for SMS.

Microsoft also kicked off a promotion that enables SMS 2.0 customers to upgrade to SMS 2003 at a 30 percent discount on the license price if purchased with Software Assurance. The support life cycle for SMS 2.0 ends in March.

Many partners are focused on the SMS 2003 R2 release and its ITCU tool, which will enable IT administrators and partners to simply point and click to bring important patches and updates from ISVs and partners into the SMS console. Citrix Systems, for instance, has pledged to support ITCU.

"Many customers do not just use Windows. They have other platforms--thousands of Windows systems and just as many Unix or derivatives of Unix like Linux. They want to streamline administration and want the same administrators to manage all platforms," said Bob Tedesco, CTO of Resolute, a Microsoft partner in Bellevue, Wash. "So having the same Microsoft tools do it all is in line with that."