SMS Beta Falls Short, Some Testers Say

Microsoft will finally release the first general beta of its next-generation Systems Management Server in late April, but some users who've seen early versions of the code are unimpressed with its evolution.

Microsoft Corp. is finally preparing to release the first general beta of its long-awaited next-generation Systems Management Server in late April, but some users whove seen early versions of the code are unimpressed with its evolution.

For more than a year, Microsoft has promised users of SMS 2.0 a host of improvements, including enhanced support for mobile users. The general beta for the new SMS—code-named Topaz—will be released at Microsofts Management Summit in Las Vegas next month.

But to some early testers of the software, not much has been added.

"It looks to me pretty much like SMS 2.0 with a couple of tweaks and some better reporting," said one SMS user, who requested anonymity. "I cant see the significant change in the management model that Microsoft has been promising."

David Hamilton, a director in Microsofts Management Business Group, said the Redmond, Wash., software maker held off releasing a widespread Topaz beta until it had received extensive feedback from users of Version 2.0 and was able to follow that up with rigorous testing internally and among its corporate testers.

The product is expected to be ready for release to manufacturing in the second half of this year, Hamilton said, adding that the primary focus areas for Topaz have been greater mobile and Active Directory support and a significant redesign of the reporting and metering components.

"We will be releasing a separate mobile client with Topaz that works with Windows 2000 and above. It can be used as a general-purpose client or specifically as the mobile client," Hamilton said.

Another enterprise user who recently received a preview version of the code welcomed the improvements for managing remote clients. "[Thats] my biggest incentive for reviewing and deploying the product," said the user, who requested anonymity.

"We have some 900 remote users dialing in to the company using [virtual private networks], so we need the tools that allow me to leverage and support them," he said. "Hopefully, Topaz will provide [that]."

Microsofts Hamilton said that while the mobile client has the same functionality as the standard client, there is "a lot more intelligence built into it to understand the mobile environment and allow users to do inventory, software distribution and diagnostics functions.

"It will also have the intelligence to drizzle software down across slow links."

But, Hamilton pointed out, the feature set and functionality the early users are seeing are pre-beta and could still change.

One pre-beta tester said Microsoft has added Checkpoint Restarting capabilities for dial-up users, which means that if there is a failure during a transmission, it no longer starts over from the beginning but rather from the point where the distribution failed.

Topaz also offers tight integration with the core capabilities in Active Directory, part of the Windows 2000 network architecture that allows companies to share and manage information about network resources and users, Hamilton said.

By exploiting Active Directory, Topaz will provide richer options for distributing software and managing IT resources, he said.

Hamilton added that while Topaz is not dependent on Active Directory, "the overall solution is better and is incredibly seamless when they work together."

But some users are displeased that it appears the product will be most efficient and functional only when working with other expensive Microsoft solutions.

"We have not yet implemented Active Directory. I need to know that Topaz will meet my needs until we do. I do not want to spend more than $50,000 on a second tool to do that," one user said.