SCCM 2007 Offers One of Many Vista Deployment Paths

Review: The successor to SMS 2003 gets the job done but requires much upfront planning and testing.

Microsoft claims it has the tool for deploying Vista: System Center Configuration Manager 2007. eWEEK Labs tests show that its indeed a tool for deploying Vista, but not the only one that should be considered.

Now in its second beta, SCCM 2007 is the successor to Microsofts Systems Management Server and slated to be released at the end of this summer.

Most of SCCM 2007s competitors, including Symantec (now with Ghost and Altiris imaging, deployment and inventory components) and LANDesk, have been offering integrated Vista deployment options for several months. To keep pace when Vista shipped late last year, Microsoft added a feature pack to SMS 2003.

Make no mistake: SCCM 2007 is a significant face lift, and in no areas is the platform more improved than in OS image creation, deployment workflow and inventory assessment. That said, we couldnt shake the feeling that with SCCM 2007—as well as with versions of SMS going back to the late 1990s—Microsoft is just dabbling in IT management, taking only those steps necessary to keep up with the competition.

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For example, many of the new features in SCCM 2007 are simply echoes of services that competitors have offered for some time. These include SCCM 2007s Task Sequence and integrated OS deployment features, along with many of the platforms new server roles. In addition, SCCM 2007s improved image handling has more to do with changes in Vista than with fundamental changes in the Microsoft management platform.

While the SCCM 2007 installation process may take several hours to complete, depending on the installation settings, planning for SCCM 2007 will likely take several weeks. Select Microsoft beta users currently get between two and three weeks of special assistance to ensure that they install and configure SCCM 2007 correctly. Thats good, because the SCCM 2007 code base is twice as big as SMS 2003s.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTake Labs advice: Slow and steady wins a smooth Vista deployment. Click here to read more.

Indeed, in addition to OS deployment and desired state configuration management capabilities, SCCM 2007 offers software update (patching), application distribution and asset management tools. Our tests show that Microsoft has a shot at expanding the role of SCCM 2007 beyond the more modest tasks performed by its predecessors, but until IT managers—and Microsoft—get OS deployment fully worked out, those other jobs will have to wait.

For organizations that cant wait for SCCM 2007, Microsoft is planning to release SMS 2003 Service Pack 3 at the end of April. SP3 will include many improvements for handling Vistas image-based deployment—again, as an add-on.

Next Page: Major face lift.