Microsoft on Feb. 21 will release the public beta of its Systems Management Server 2003 Release 2 in a bid to make the software distribution and inventory tool more open to third-party applications.
Microsoft in SMS 2003 R2 seeks to simplify SMSs inventory capability with a new tool for custom updates. It addresses the requirement for desktop and server administrators to have to go to different Web sites to download updates for third-party software and then have to repackage those for deployment.
"Were adding a tool that allows ISVs, third parties and customers to package their updates and create a catalog of updates for their third-party applications using the same packaging we use for Microsoft [software]," said Felicity McGourty, director of product management in the Windows Enterprise Management Division in Redmond, Wash.
"So within the SMS administrator console the administrator can go to the vendors Web site, download their catalog into SMS for third-party updates, click on it, and import it the same way they would for Microsoft updates," she added.
Microsoft believes that ISVs and third-party software providers would want to use Microsofts format and catalog because the simplicity of using a single method for both Microsoft and third-party updates will encourage customers to "be more disciplined in doing updates," said McGourty.
"Packaging their updates in the same format and using the same tool makes it much more natural for [customers] to update third-party applications at the same time they do Microsoft software upgrades," she added.
Citrix is one of the first to step up. It pledged to use the ITCU (Inventory Tool for Custom Upgrades) for its Presentation Server.
A second major feature added to SMS 2003 R2 is a scan tool for vulnerability assessment. It targets likely configuration setting errors that most attacks exploit to breach an organizations security measures.
"There are about 100 specific configuration settings that are the most common places where vulnerabilities can be introduced," McGourty said.
Those include users disabling firewalls, guest users or too many users with administrators rights. The scan tool recognizes those settings and allows users to set internal policies.
The tool then checks every system against those policies and reports what settings are not in compliance.
General availability for SMS 2003 R 2, which requires SMS 2003 Service Pack 2, is in May.
Microsoft is extending a 30 percent license discount for any customers who buy the SMS 2003 R 2 license beginning April 1.
Microsoft also announced that SMS 2.0 has reached the end of its mainstream support.