SMS Conference Attendees Get Glimpse of Topaz

Microsoft Corp. publicly demonstrated several features of the next version of Systems Management Server, code-named Topaz, for the first time Tuesday at an SMS user conference in Las Vegas.

The next version of Microsoft’s enterprise system inventory, configuration and software deployment tool will include enhanced remote user support, tighter Active Directory integration, and improved software usage metering and reporting. The public beta is scheduled for the second half of 2001.

“We’re doing a substantial piece of work in Topaz to provide a much better experience in remote user settings,” David Hamilton, director of Microsoft’s management technologies group, told ENT in an interview after his keynote Tuesday.

The improvements come at the request of customers who were satisfied with SMS’ management of constantly connected clients, but ran into problems with mobile sales employees’ laptops, WAN clients and occasionally connected users, Hamilton said.

While SMS 2.0, the current version of the product, can be used in Windows 2000 deployments, it does not take advantage of many of the capabilities of Microsoft’s Active Directory. Microsoft aims to fix that in Topaz.

“In no way is Topaz dependant on the Active Directory. But when Active Directory is there, when people have invested the time and effort to deploy Active Directory, SMS should be better,” Hamilton says.

One of the most important Active Directory-focused enhancements of Topaz is making it easier to target sites or Organizational Units. SMS is currently an inventory-centric tool – it is designed to distribute software to clients that match a certain profile such as sufficient RAM or CPU.

Microsoft is also tuning software metering, which allows an administrator to monitor the applications that are running at a given time across a network. With Topaz, Microsoft is re-engineering the metering technology it introduced in SMS 2.0.

“We put a lot of bells and whistles in 2.0,” Hamilton says. Topaz scales back on metering a little. “We specifically looked at the common things [customers] do day to day,” he says.

Microsoft is also scrapping the old SMS reporting system for a new one that adds browser-based reporting and provides a broader range of reporting capabilities.

The graveyard of clients once supported in SMS but since discontinued includes 16-bit Windows, Macintosh and OS/2. Windows 95 may be the next casualty.

“We’re talking to a lot of customers about Windows 95,” Hamilton says. “We don’t make those decisions for certain until beta.”

SMS 2.0 was just updated last month with the release of Service Pack 3, which is not a required upgrade. SP2, released over the summer, was a required upgrade and was slipstreamed into new copies of SMS 2.0. – Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.


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