SMS 2.0 Behind the Scenes
There's no substitute for hands-on experience with SMS. Plan on spending lots of lab time to prepare.
Microsoft Systems Management Server
has never been an easy product. SMS 2.0 has made many
improvements to the interface to reduce the learning curve
of commonly used features like software distribution.
On the other hand, you need to know more than ever about
what’s going on behind the scenes. While you can’t expect
an easy exam, you can anticipate a fair test that will
assess your skill in implementing and administering SMS.
The Nature of the Test
The questions on my version of the
beta exam were all multiple choice or multiple multiple
choice. That’s right—the dreaded “choose all that apply”
answer lives! In these questions you’re presented with
several answers and told to check the boxes for all that
apply instead of just choosing the best answer. How many
apply? Usually at least two. In earlier Microsoft exams,
there was speculation that for some of these questions,
none of the answers applied and you were supposed to leave
it blank. This caused a nasty reaction from the testing
software, which told you if you left it blank it’d be
scored as wrong. If you really feel like there’s no right
answer for a question, you probably need to reread the
The version of the test I took (a beta)
offered no simulations or fill-in-the-blank questions.
Also absent: scenario questions, in which you’re given
a scenario, a list of required objectives, a list of desired
objectives, and a list of actions taken. You’re supposed
to say if the actions produced all of the objectives,
all of the required but none of the desired objectives,
all required and some desired, or none of the objectives.
Instead, you may come across a related question style
that gives you several objectives and a list of actions.
You’re required to say which objectives are achieved as
the result of these actions. These are some of the tougher
“choose all that apply” types of questions.
“This exam is a well-balanced test of
how well you know your fundamental SMS
installation, configuration, and operation.”
Implementing and Supporting Microsoft
Systems Management Server 2.0
Number of questions
in reviewed version of exam:
98 on beta; fewer on actual exam.
3 hours for beta; expect around 90 minutes
for the live exam.
Live as of June 1999.
Who should take
While this counts as an elective for
the MCSE, only people who really plan
on working with SMS should take this
What classes prepare
- 827, Administering SMS (3 days).
- 828, Implementing and Supporting
SMS (5 days).
(There’s almost no overlap between
the two classes. 827 is the prerequisite
for 828 and must be taken first.)
- A self-paced training kit (1241)
may be available from Microsoft Press
by the time you read this.
The beta test wasn’t adaptive for obvious
reasons. In order to create a proper adaptive exam, the
questions must be tested and analyzed for their level
of difficulty. The live exam will probably be out a little
while before it changes to an adaptive format (if it changes)
so Microsoft’s exam experts can gather data on how the
As with any Microsoft exam, you should
look over the preparation guide and familiarize yourself
with the list of objectives covered. The main areas are
planning, installation and configuration, configuring
and managing resources, integration and interoperability,
monitoring and optimization, and troubleshooting.
If you’re going to attend an instructor-led training
class, plan on spending eight days in the classroom. The
official Microsoft curriculum consists of two classes:
a three-day admin class and a five-day support class.
(You can read my brief
rundown on these classes in the June 1999 issue.)
If you’re serious about the exam, plan on attending all
eight days. When you look at the preparation guide, pay
attention to the skills matrix showing which exam objectives
are covered in which classes.
One of the biggest benefits of an instructor-led
class is having a classroom lab to experiment in. If you
plan on prepping on your own, you’ll really need to dig
up two or three computers capable of running SMS. There’s
just no substitute for hands on experience with this product.
Plan on spending lots of lab time to prepare.
Installation and Configuration
SMS 2.0 offers two installation modes,
Express and Custom. Express seems designed primarily for
reviewers; it automatically enables several features and
services. For working in a production environment, you’ll
usually want to use Custom mode. There are many distinct
differences between the two installations. Knowing those
differences can help you avoid costly mistakes, both on
the exam and on your network.
I was a little surprised to see several questions about
SMS licensing on the test. I guess there’s been some confusion
about how many licenses are required for SMS servers,
SQL servers, and SMS clients. (“Additional Information,”
below, provides a couple of resources to educate you on
Microsoft would never ask anything
as trite and simple as, “What are the basic hardware requirements
to install SMS?” Its exams use more sophisticated forms
that test your synthesis of several facts. Be sure you
know the required hardware, software, and file system
configuration; they may be part of answering a bigger
question about SMS installation.
Even though SMS 2.0 can minimize the
amount of information you need to know about SQL, you
need to know enough to get and keep the product running.
What are some of the considerations if you install SQL
on the same box as your SMS Site Server? How will that
affect your installation? What if you need to move SQL
Server to another box? These are all questions you should
know before you begin your installation.
Microsoft has found that a lot of SMS administrators
either incorrectly configure or are unaware of the site
boundaries. If you don’t know what happens when you aren’t
assigned to a site’s boundaries, you’d better find out.
Tip: Practice drawing a
diagram of your network or a fictitious network and decide
on different boundaries. Figure out which clients would
be discovered and which ones would be installed.
Sites and Site Hierarchy
One of the few areas where previous
SMS 1.2 experience will help you is site and site hierarchy
issues. The difference between a primary and secondary
site is still determined by whether or not it has a SQL
database. Be sure you know the advantages and disadvantages
of choosing one or the other. Parent and child relationships
still function pretty much the same way; the child initiates
the relationship with the parent site. As in the SMS 1.2
exam, you’ll find plenty of questions dealing with how
to rearrange your SMS family tree. Know the procedures
for moving a primary site and secondary site and for removing
a site from the site hierarchy.
Senders are still the cornerstone of
site-to-site communication. The mechanisms for changing
the percent of bandwidth used and the available hours
of the sender have changed a little, but you still need
to know how and when to make these adjustments. SMS 2.0
adds a new sender called the courier sender. This sender
can be used to send large packages on removable media
(like a tape or CD) to reduce traffic across slow WAN
links. Practice sending a few parcels through the courier
sender and study up on how you’d use this new tool.
Integration and Interoperability
One area that straddles the site topic
and interoperability topic is how to deal with 1.2 sites.
If you’ve been keeping up on the changes to 2.0, you know
that SMS has dropped some formerly supported client platforms;
if you didn’t know, you need to find out which ones. You
may need to retain a 1.2 site to support these retro clients.
Be sure you understand how 1.2 sites will fit into your
site hierarchy. Do some research on how 2.0 primary sites
relate to 1.2 secondary sites. Don’t forget to learn about
the different administration requirements for 1.2 and
The exam could include questions on how to upgrade from
a 1.2 site to 2.0. Although the Microsoft Official Curriculum
(MOC) doesn’t cover this topic, yet, there are two white
papers from Microsoft that should fill you in on the details.
Check out “Microsoft Systems Management Server Version
1.2 and 2.0 Interoperability” and “Systems Management
Server Version 1.2 to 2.0 Upgrade,” both available from
the Microsoft Web site. Microsoft has an upgrade course
in the works.
You may not have any 16-bit clients
anymore, but Windows 3.x is still out there, and you still
need to know a bit about how to support those clients.
Get a basic understanding of what features they can run,
how to discover and install them, and how their inventory
Configuring and Managing Resources
From the objectives Microsoft lists
under “Configuring and Managing Resources,” it looks like
you could also call that, “How to do all the SMS basics.”
You’ll have to show you know how to work with inventory,
software distribution, and software metering/licensing.
Remote tools are covered elsewhere.
In addition to knowing how to configure hardware and
software inventory, you’ll need to know how to optimize
the processes. How do you take more hardware inventory?
Less? What happens if you scan your hard drive for every
.DOC file during software inventory? What would that do
to your network traffic? How would that affect your Software
Inventory Processor? What files should you be collecting
and which ones should you definitely not collect? Aspiring
minds should want to know these things. Once you have
your inventory, what can you do with it? How do you look
at it? What would you do if you wanted to customize your
Tip: You can use custom
MIF files to add information to your SMS database. NOIDMIFs
let you add attributes to your existing computer information,
while IDMIFs let you add completely new “architectures”
or tables to your SQL database.
Software distribution is a major feature of SMS 2.0,
so you need to know how to make it work. The process really
starts with collections, so make sure you know what they
are, how they work, and how they’re updated. Of course,
queries are what make collections really tick, so you
have to understand the query mechanisms.
Tip: Don’t worry. You don’t
need to understand the cryptic WBEM Query Language (WBEM
= Web-Based Enterprise Management) for the exam.
The best way to prepare for the software
distribution questions is to make some sample packages
and deploy them to a sample client. Try different package
definitions, create some custom programs, and experiment
with the options on your advertisements. Try making a
package with no source files, just a program. If it doesn’t
work, that’s even better! You’ll be able to practice your
troubleshooting skills by looking at log files and status
information. When you’re done, practice removing the software
from your distribution points. See what happens to your
advertisements when you do!
Another component of software distribution is SMS Installer.
You don’t have to know how to write scripts in the Script
Editor, but you should be familiar with how to make a
package, install it, uninstall it, and roll it back. Roll
up your sleeves and start practicing. [Read Bill Heldman’s
Software with SMS Installer,” in this issue.—Ed.]
Software metering is a new feature
in SMS 2.0, so you’ll need to spend some extra time getting
to know it. There’s no substitute for actually running
through the steps of setting up the entire process. Set
up the servers and clients. Set up some licenses. Set
up some exclusions. And, of course, do all the troubleshooting
if, or when, it doesn’t work for you.
Reporting has been included under the
heading of “managing resources.” If you’re practicing
with this one, I should let you know there’s a problem
with one of the services you need. The InfoAPS service
is supposed to start automatically, but it doesn’t. It’s
the reason you get that “one or more services failed to
start” message when you reboot your site server. InfoAPS
is part of the Crystal Info reporting product included
with SMS 2.0. (It’s an SMS-specific version of Seagate
Crystal Info version 6.0.) You won’t be able to open the
reporting tool without it. Just go into the Control Panel
and start it manually. If it doesn’t respond the first
time, start it again. Persistence should eventually pay
Persistence will also help in untangling
the report designer. You should, at the very least, know
how to schedule a report to run. While you won’t be tested
on how to design a report, it’s to your advantage to read
the Microsoft white paper on SMS and Crystal Reports and
run through the report tutorial. Check ou the online help
that comes with Crystal Info, too.
Monitoring and Optimization
Optimization is an important concern for SMS administrators.
From the depths of SQL through hardware inventory through
the detailed configurations of remote control, make sure
you always know how to squeeze the best performance out
of your SMS site.
Tip: An easy way to learn
some SQL optimization for SMS is in the SMS Administrator’s
Guide. There are whole sections devoted to this topic.
Read them all. Don’t skip the sections on backing things
The exam matrix lists configuring the SNMP Event to Trap
Translator under the Integration and Interoperability
section. To me it seems like monitoring and optimization.
I guess that’s just one more example of how one question
can address several exam objectives. I’m sure it goes
without saying, if you don’t know what SNMP is or what
a trap is, you should find out before you take the test.
This is one of the many areas of SMS where some TCP/IP
knowledge is worthwhile. You don’t need to memorize any
MIB variables or Object ID numbers for NT events. Just
be sure you know how to install SNMP, especially when
service packs are involved.
Tip: A good way to practice
SNMP event-to-trap translation is to install it on a client
computer, configure a few simple traps, and watch for
them with Network Monitor. If you can do that much, you’ll
ace the test questions on this subject. It won’t hurt
your NetMon skills either.
While you’re practicing, it would be
a good idea to set up Health Monitor agent on a server
and run it through its paces. Practice monitoring all
the critical areas of a server like network adapter, hard
drive, and processor utilization. Find out what common
failures would look like on this tool.
A lot of SMS administrative energy
goes toward monitoring the services. Pay attention to
which services are installed on the site server, distribution
servers, software metering servers, and logon points.
SMS has a service manager program you can use to start
and stop services on your various site systems. You can
also use this utility to enable logging for all the server
components. If you haven’t met the SMS Trace utility,
what are you waiting for?
SMS 2.0 provides status messages to get system feedback
without the overhead of logging. This has an incredibly
rich but potentially baffling array of choices to manage
your status messages.
Tip: A good way to understand
the status system is by studying the flowcharts in the
SMS Administrator’s Guide; an online version is
included with your SMS installation. Appendix D is filled
with charts that trace the complex systems of SMS through
the services, directories, and files. Generate some sort
of event on a client system. Install a package or uninstall
a component of the SMS client and watch the status messages
flow up the system. When they get to the site server,
they’re evaluated by the Status Filter Rules. Try creating
a new rule and setting different actions for SMS to take
when that status message arrives. After the message is
filtered, one of the rules may have it written to the
status database. Go into the Status Summarizer and practice
querying the database for your status message. Experiment
with setting different thresholds for the status summarizer
in the Site Settings. Just be careful with your status
settings—don’t experiment with anything on a production
The sneaky thing about troubleshooting
is it can show up as part of many other questions. If
your primary site installation failed, you have to know
many requirements for setting up a primary site to diagnose
and fix the problem. All but one of the troubleshooting
topics starts off with “Diagnose and resolve problems
involving…” (insert SMS topic here). If it sounds like
every other topic is fair game for a troubleshooting question,
The one exception under troubleshooting
deals with restoring an SMS site. You need to know how
to restore all of the site systems, from the SQL server
on down to distribution points. And it’s definitely a
skill that’s better practiced now, in a lab, than in your
production environment after your site has gone down in
Sure, There Are Easier Electives…
I bet you’re probably shaking your
head and saying, “Do I really want to do this?” True,
there are easier electives. And easier products to manage.
Your bosses probably won’t understand the complicated
services you must lovingly care for. Your users won’t
respect your product as vital to their daily lives, like
they do email. It’s always been tough to find study guides
for SMS. Heck, there isn’t even a specialized MSCE waiting
for you when you pass! So why bother with all this?
I think the best SMS analogy I ever
heard was from my friend Craig. He said, “SMS is like
a washing machine. Without one, laundry is miserable.
With one, laundry is less miserable.” Or something like
that. The point is, these tasks need to happen on your
network anyway. SMS can’t make them easy, but it can help
make them much easier. Putting in some time to study for
this test won’t be easy, but it should make running your
SMS site much, much easier. If you really plan to work
with the product, you may as well study as hard as you
can and be one of the few who can say they really understand
SMS. Passing this test will be just your first step on
that long road.