Enhancing Microsoft System Center to Drive the Benefits of Windows Vista to Customers
June 13, 2006
Q&A: Microsoft’s ongoing investments in the System Center family, including key enhancements to Systems Management Server 2003, aim to help customers take faster, easier advantage of new operating system capabilities.

BOSTON, June 13, 2006 – Today at the Tech•Ed 2006 Conference, Microsoft announced new capabilities in its Microsoft System Management Server 2003 product designed to help simplify deployment scenarios for the Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows XP 64-bit operating systems. To provide context for that and other System Center news, PressPass sat down with Felicity McGourty, director of product marketing in the Windows and Enterprise Management Division at Microsoft. McGourty, accompanied by Robert Taylor, chief information officer at Fulton County (Ga.) Government, explains how today’s announcements are part of Microsoft’s concerted effort to make new capabilities and technologies available to customers more quickly.

PressPass: What enhancements to the System Center family did Microsoft announce today at Tech•Ed?

Felicity McGourty: We’re making three key management announcements today. First, we announced beta availability of our Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack update, which includes support for the 64-bit version of Windows XP and the Windows Vista operating systems. With this update, we hope to accelerate customers’ deployment of both operating systems so they can more quickly benefit from new performance and productivity enhancements.

Our second piece of news was that SMS 2003 R2 has been released to manufacturing. SMS 2003 R2 is designed to greatly simplify the way customers keep third-party and line-of-business (LOB) applications up to date and secure. We’ve also included a new vulnerability assessment capability in this product to help our customers increase the security of devices in their internal infrastructure.

Third, we announced the beta availability of System Center Operations Manager 2007, the new version of our Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 product. Operations Manager 2007 is our first System Center product to capitalize on the System Definition Model (SDM) and deliver powerful new service-oriented management for business-critical services such as Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SharePoint technologies, Active Directory and LOB applications built on Microsoft SQL Server 2005. We’re also extending this product beyond server management to provide our customers with proactive monitoring of Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows XP client environments.

PressPass: How does support for Windows Vista in the SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack help enhance the customer’s experience?

McGourty: Our goal in adding Windows Vista support to the SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack is to simplify Vista deployment scenarios for customers and reduce their costs. Specifically, SMS 2003 and the updated OS Deployment Feature Pack will allow administrators to capture images in the new Microsoft Windows Imaging (WIM) format; integrate with the User State Migration Tool (USMT) 2.6 and 3.0 to preserve user profiles; customize and manage the settings for individual deployments, including notifications, distribution settings and network settings while using the existing SMS infrastructure and functionality for deployments; and report on deployment status and success.

PressPass: What benefits can customers expect to derive from using SMS 2003 to deploy Windows Vista?

McGourty: SMS 2003 lets IT professionals use tools they’re already familiar with to lower their deployment costs and accelerate provisioning of new software throughout their organizations. We’re providing IT professionals with the ability to deploy new technologies using a familiar interface, while access to new capabilities within Windows Vista, such as the WIM format, is provided from within SMS itself. We believe this will greatly reduce the learning cycle for getting familiar with how to deploy and use these new tools and capabilities, which in turn helps sustain the IT staff’s productivity levels. Simplifying the deployment of Windows Vista also has productivity benefits on the end user side. By accelerating the rate at which the new Windows Vista images can be rolled out into organizations, we’re helping end users to start deriving the benefits delivered through the new capabilities and enhancements more quickly.

PressPass: Robert, can you speak to the advantages of using SMS 2003 as a deployment tool from a customer perspective?

Robert Taylor [CIO of Fulton County Government]: Deployment costs are often a barrier for municipalities in providing their users with the latest productivity tools. With SMS 2003, we know that we can deploy Windows Vista and Microsoft 2007 Office system quickly, inexpensively and with the least possible disruption to our users.

PressPass: Back to you, Felicity. What will customers see that’s new in SMS 2003 R2?

McGourty: We’ve designed SMS 2003 R2 with three key new capabilities to benefit customers – the Inventory Tool for Custom Updates (ITCU), the Custom Updates Publishing Tool and the Scan Tool for Vulnerability Assessment. Our ITCU tool helps enable customers to consume vendor-created catalogs that contain the definitions for their application updates – which they can download from the vendor’s Web sites – obtained in the same format as Microsoft-provided updates, and in the same way they obtain Microsoft updates. Using the same format and tool eliminates the need for administrators to deal with different update formats. They can now use a single tool to apply updates across the Microsoft operating system and applications, as well as independent software vendor (ISV) and line-of-business applications. Today, both Adobe Systems Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. provide updates published to our ITCU schema for two of their flagship products, Adobe Flash Professional 8.0 and Citrix Presentation Server 4.0. In addition, 1E Ltd. has adopted this approach for its NightWatchman and SMSWakeup products. We expect to continue seeing more of our industry partners add their names to this growing list.

The second new capability in SMS 2003 R2, the Custom Updates Publishing Tool, is designed to help ISVs and developers of customer LOB applications create software update catalogs that can be imported into SMS. The native SMS 2003 Software Updates Management (SUM) functionality can then use those catalogs to determine applicability and automatically remediate these systems as needed. We’re making the Custom Updates Publishing Tool available with SMS 2003 R2 and also separately as part of an MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network] subscription.

Our third new tool, the Enterprise Scan Tool for Vulnerability Assessment, allows IT administrators to scan their infrastructure and identify configuration settings and systems that don’t meet their internal security and configuration policies and requirements. This tool checks for approximately 100 of the most common configuration settings that lead to potential vulnerabilities, plus it allows the administrator to proactively discover potential exposures without the need to access and interrogate individual devices.

PressPass: How can customers determine which ISVs have published catalogs that can be consumed by the ITCU, and how will they know when new updates are available?

McGourty: We plan to release a "catalog of catalogs" that lists ISVs that have published their updates to ITCU and the locations of those catalogs. Further, we’re automating the process by which customers can check for updates. SMS 2003 R2 has a configurable option that allows you to check for updates on startup of the administration console.

PressPass: What about Operations Manager 2007? What benefits can customers expect to derive from using that product to monitor Windows Vista?

McGourty: With the new Windows Vista management pack for Operations Manager 2007, we’ll enable IT professionals to monitor and report on resource utilization, hardware and software reliability, and event information across large numbers of desktop systems. This combination will capitalize on the increased number of diagnostic events that Windows Vista components generate, allowing for better troubleshooting, as well as the fact that the event subsystem captures events in an extensible XML schema. When IT administrators use Operations Manager 2007 and Windows Vista together, we believe that they’ll be able to reduce the number of calls to the help desk, lower their overall cost of ownership and increase end user productivity.

PressPass: How does today’s Tech•Ed news fit into the overall System Center strategy, and how does it relate to the recent announcements you made at the Microsoft Management Summit?

McGourty: Today’s announcements represent the next step in fulfilling the management promise we made a little over a year ago. At our Microsoft Management Summit in April 2005, we committed to filling out our family of systems-management offerings as a way to advance our Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). By investing steadily in System Center solutions, we continue to make headway toward the DSI vision, which entails delivering self-managing dynamic systems that can help customers achieve higher business value through automation, flexible resource utilization and knowledge-based processes. Our investments in System Center range from developing an entirely new product code-named "Service Desk," which we announced at this year’s Microsoft Management Summit in April, to rounding out the family with next-generation solutions, such as our flagship SMS 2003 offering, which is aimed at providing IT professionals with the tools and knowledge to help better manage their IT infrastructure. By embedding knowledge into System Center, we can eliminate a large number of repetitive and reactive activities, which frees up valuable IT staff to focus on more complex issues.

PressPass: When will the three management solutions you announced today at Tech•Ed be available?

McGourty: Customers can download the beta version of the SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack update from our Web site now. The final version is expected to be available in August. SMS 2003 R2, which we just released to manufacturing, is due to be available in August, with an evaluation version available for download today. Customers can also download the beta version of System Center Operations Manager 2007 from our Web site effective immediately. We expect Operations Manager 2007 to release to manufacturing in the fourth quarter of this year.

PressPass: What is the next version of SMS, and when will it be available?

McGourty: The next version of SMS, System Center Configuration Manager 2007, which supports clients, servers and mobile devices, represents a leap in systems management operational simplicity by providing more secure and scalable operating and application deployment, configuration management, system quarantine, asset management and corporate compliance management functionality. We’ve added new capabilities that help ensure systems are checked and updated before joining the network, operating system and application deployment is greatly simplified for both new and existing systems, and configuration changes and system updates are more effectively managed regardless of location or device type. All of this will help IT managers take control of their environment like never before. Building on the success of SMS 2003, the enhancements that we have planned for System Center Configuration Manager will continue to help reduce day-to-day support costs and increase service availability. We’re targeting mid-2007 for a System Center Configuration Manager 2007 release date.

PressPass: Are you advising customers to hold off on deploying Windows Vista until this new version of SMS is available?

McGourty: No, customers don’t need to wait. We’re releasing the update to the SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature pack specifically to provide the Windows Vista deployment capabilities with SMS 2003. We’re delivering the incremental capabilities to our SMS 2003 customers so they can deploy Windows Vista as soon as they’re ready and start benefiting from the new capabilities and productivity enhancements as quickly as possible.

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