Weekly quickTIP

SCE: Rollin' Out Software

System Center Essentials -- makes software deployment easier to swallow.

Last time we touched on only the surface of System Center Essentials' capabilities for inventorying the small network environment. We also talked about how running client tasks from the management interface means less roaming the halls for harried administrators.

This time, let's look at how SCE enables software deployment of all kinds. Administrators who are used to WSUS in their network sometimes think they're doing the very best they can to keep their environment secure.

But WSUS alone only patches Microsoft technologies. If you need a patch for or upgrade to WinZip, Acrobat, or ACT! software, you're back to the manual method using WSUS alone.

Different from WSUS, SCE can perform any software installation, update or patch to your machines. What's interesting about SCE is that it actually uses your WSUS infrastructure as the mechanism for deployment. The Windows Update Agent that's likely already installed onto your computers is leveraged by SCE to perform automated software distributions.

In order to do this, you'll first need to create what we call a "silent installation." If your software media is an .MSI file, then that's an easy process.

From the Software node click the link for Create and deploy a new software package. You'll be asked to provide a name and description of the software to be installed as well as the location of its .MSI file. SCE will automatically interrogate the .MSI file for its silent installation information.

If you have additional installation properties you want to include, you can additionally do that within the interface. These properties are specific to each installation and allow for customization of the installation right from the installation command line.

SCE will repackage your installation into one that will function as an automated installation. Once complete, you'll be given options for how and when you want to deploy the software. Select the computer groups to approve for installation, as well as the deadline for that installation to occur.

If your software installation is an .EXE instead of an .MSI, the process is nearly the same. For an .EXE, though, you will need to locate the command-line switches required for a silent installation rather than SCE doing it for you. One Web site where many can be found is http://www.appdeploy.com.

As SCE installations occur on the same timeline as is configured for WSUS, by default each agent will check for new software every 22 hours. If a deadline is not set, the software will install at the next deployment interval for each client. Any reboots required for the software will occur based on the restart policy configured for that computer via WSUS' Group Policy.

If a deadline is set, the software is automatically installed at the deadline. If the box for "Publish package to Add/Remove Programs" is checked, then users can choose to install the software from Add/Remove Programs at their leisure.

As you can see, with SCE even the smallest organizations now have the rich power of automated software deployments formerly enjoyed only by enterprises. With only a little effort, installing software to servers and workstations all across your SMB network can be as easy as pushing patches with WSUS.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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