Microsoft Unveils Latest Iterations Of System Center

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The Redmond, Wash., software giant also unveiled the first release candidate (RC1) of the much-anticipated Windows Server Update Services 3.0, its patch management software for Windows products.

The announcements, which come roughly a month before Microsoft's annual management summit in San Diego, are an apparent gesture to reassure customers and partners that the company is making steady progress on its next-gen suite of management products, most of which are now branded as System Center.

System Center Configuration Manager 2007, formerly known as Systems Management Server (SMS), is scheduled to ship this summer. The product is designed to support the release and configuration management of Microsoft's "Longhorn" wave of products.

In the interim, Microsoft advises customers and partners to use SMS 2003 Service Pack 3, due out this quarter, to help them prepare for their Windows Vista and Office 2007 migrations, assess their current software inventory and determine which systems can't run its new fleet of software.

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Microsoft also announced progress on System Center Essentials. Aimed squarely at partners, the integrated solution will enable IT administrators in smaller companies to manage clients, servers, hardware, software and IT services from a single console.

System Center Essentials RC1 offers significant improvements from the Beta 2 version, including enhanced network monitoring of SNMP-based devices, remote control support for managing clients and servers remotely, and 64-bit and Vista support. RC1 also brings automated discovery of computers from Active Directory, the ability to update catalogs from third-party ISVs, support for managing systems in multiple domains in one Active Directory forest, and integration with SQL Server.

Microsoft said last year it plans to release System Center Essentials to manufacturing in the first half of 2007, but the company gave no additional guidance Tuesday.

One East Coast Microsoft VAR said the software maker has been talking up System Center Essentials (SCE) to its partner community and plans to ship it in late summer. He said he views that offering and Microsoft's upcoming security products as critical to partners like himself who host and manage some customers' infrastructure.

"It will let partners use an all-Microsoft stack in a NOC [network operations center] at their office and get an SCE license for each managed client site," said the VAR, who requested anonymity. "It will tie tightly into Microsoft's Forefront security, so you can get rid of Trend Micro and Norton. Face it, the Microsoft stack marches on."

Microsoft also said it plans to release Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) 3.0 to manufacturing in June. The first WSUS 3.0 release candidate, made available Tuesday, provides improved performance, scalability and reliability for downloading patches and updates from the Microsoft Update site. It will be required for use with System Center Configuration Manager 2007, Microsoft said.

The product, which will be offered as a free download, will bring a new, easy-to-use graphical user interface, remote management features, improved reporting, in-place upgrades for current WSUS 2.0 servers, support for 64-bit hardware and better monitoring features, according to Microsoft. It will also support Windows Server 2003, Windows XP and Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4.

Microsoft previously rolled out RC2 of System Center Operations Manager 2007, a major upgrade of the former Microsoft Operations Manager, and said it plans to to ship a new virtualization management product, called System Center Virtual Machine Manager, in the second half of the year.

BARBARA DARROW contributed to this story.