SMS Gains Handheld Support

The long-awaited Topaz version of Microsoft Corp.'s Systems Management Server is due to officially enter beta testing this summer with better support for mobile users.

The long-awaited Topaz version of Microsoft Corp.s Systems Management Server is due to officially enter beta testing this summer with better support for mobile users.

The Systems Management Server 2003 release of the software deployment and inventory tool will have an added bonus that was not in the original plans: support for Windows CE, Pocket PC and Windows XP Embedded devices.

That news, announced Tuesday at the Microsoft Management Summit, should be greeted with relief by IT managers trying to get a handle on managing the growing legion of handheld devices carrying in some cases mission-critical corporate data.

David Hamilton, director of the management business group at Microsoft, announced the new details in his keynote address at the first Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas.

The decision to incorporate support beyond traveling laptops came as a result of feedback from "early adopters" of the Topaz version of SMS, who have had an early release of Topaz since December, Hamilton said.

Its clearly the case that Pocket PCs are appearing on an ad hoc basis--bought by users and then brought into the organization. But they are also being deployed from a top-down perspective as business-critical devices. In the case of PocketPC, we were able late in the cycle to add this functionality into SMS 2003," he said.

Because it was added late in the development cycle, that support will follow the release of SMS 2003 by about three months, he added.

Mobile users will be better supported in software updates and deployments through a new mechanism called Background Intelligence Transfer Services. As users dial in over slow-speed links, over VPNs or on high-speed LANs, "it ensures that in the background, processes are ongoing to install code while the user in the foreground continues to be productive," Hamilton said. It also includes a checkpoint restart capability that allows an update to pick up where it left off in the event that a link goes down.

In addition, SMS 2003 exploits features of Active Directory, although it does not require it. For customers that have Active Directory installed, SMS 2003 will use ADs metaphor for organizational units and security groups to ensure the appropriate software is installed for defined groups, and that users wont have access to resources theyre not permitted to use.

Microsoft will address the complexity issue around deploying security patches before SMS 2003 is released in a free, downloadable SMS 2.0 Value Pack due early this summer. The Value Pack is a series of programs that "will interrogate the Microsoft Download Center and find out the latest security patches available for Windows, Microsoft Office any other applications that register themselves" with the Download Center," Hamilton said. The software will then pull the patches down and then allow the SMS administrator to decide which are relevant, perform testing on the relevant patches, and "then deploy them as if they were doing a regular software update," he said.

For non-SMS users, Microsoft early this summer will release the Software Update Services, which retrieves the latest patches and puts them on a Windows 2000 server and then gives the administrator a simple tool for deploying security patches. It is based on technology from Windows Update, a consumer technology for keeping systems up to date.