Product Reviews

Roll 'Em Out

Microsoft’s BackOffice solution to software deployment, Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0, includes a great deal of functionality beyond simply installing applications, so we can’t ignore it. SMS 2.0 is the only product reviewed that performs hardware and software inventory—a feature that many administrators don’t realize they need until they actually use it. Inventory and licensing information is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage; while SQL Server makes the information easily accessible, it’s costly and not all organizations have a database administrator on staff.

SMS also includes a powerful version of Network Monitor that can record packets as they cross your network. If you understand how to use a protocol analyzer, this “sniffer” is an incredibly valuable tool for troubleshooting network applications. Network Monitor is included with NT 4.0 and Windows 2000, but that version has functionality removed to stop users from watching each other’s traffic.

One of the most challenging aspects of managing thousands of computers on a network is physically moving from system to system. SMS includes a remote control utility that allows a systems administrator to control the graphical user interface of Windows-based clients. This makes it simple to change settings on systems in remote offices, interactively troubleshoot problems with users over the phone, or manage servers that are isolated in a data center.

However, for all of its functionality, SMS doesn’t completely replace Ghost nor Express. You’ll still need one of these tools if you wish to automate the installation of a disk image. Ghost is an excellent compliment to SMS 2.0, because very little functionality is duplicated between the two application suites.

About the Author

Tony Northrup, MCSE, Compaq ASE, lives in the Boston area and is currently a systems architect at Genuity. He’s the author of Introducing Windows 2000 Server (Microsoft Press) and NT Network Plumbing (IDG Books), and co-author of Networking Essentials Unleashed (SAMS Publishing).

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