Beta 1 of Systems Management Server 2003 shows that Microsoft Corp. will likely deliver scalable management for desktops and laptops when it releases the product. (SMS 2003 is slated to ship in the first half of next year.)
eWeek Labs got a sneak preview of the SMS 2003 beta, announced earlier this month, and tests revealed that its mobile management features—such as bandwidth sensing and checkpoint/restart for software download, along with greater integration with Active Directory—make this a much more tempting offer than past versions of the product.
That said, the biggest drawback for IT managers who are considering SMS 2003 is that it is still a Windows-only product, in that it works only with desktops equipped with Windows 98 and above. (Microsoft and nearly every other PC management vendor are curtailing support of Windows 95 systems.)
Another notable improvement in the SMS 2003 beta is a change to the much-maligned software license metering module. In previous releases, the module had a hard time scaling because it attempted to ration the use of licensed software. SMS 2003 takes a "let er rip" approach to metering by tracking only the number of instances a software package is used and not stopping users even if use means that a company will violate its license agreement. Obviously, Microsoft is counting on the reports to show IT managers when they need to buy more licenses.
In fairness, Microsoft officials rightly pointed out that the metering tool will quickly highlight products that are over-provisioned, thus allowing IT managers to control costs.
Microsoft planners have improved several areas of SMS 2003 by taking steps in the beta to more effectively use Active Directory (although not requiring it) while also streamlining reporting. For example, we were able to define the boundary of our SMS domain to match it with our Active Directory domain. This made it much easier to conceptualize and centralize management of PCs by requiring us to make changes to group membership in only one place.
In this beta release of SMS, Crystal Decisions Inc.s Crystal Reports has been replaced by Web-based reporting and extensive built-in reports. This will likely make it a little easier for IT managers to distribute inventory and other reports based on data collected by SMS 2003.
However, we have found Crystal Reports to be a very usable tool and one that many IT staffers know how to use, so this is one area to watch as the beta cycle continues.