Microsoft: Third Time's the Charm?

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-02-05 Print this article Print

Microsoft redesigned its Systems Management Software for a third time, addressing complaints that earlier versions were slow and complex.

Sometimes Microsoft needs at least three trips to the plate to bang out a solid hit. The first two versions of its Systems Management Server (SMS) prompted a litany of gripes, including that the software was bulky and its reporting features were inaccurate.

With SMS 2003, customers say, Microsoft has finally delivered a first-class package for managing Windows desktops—although the product wasn't officially released until October 2003, about two years later than first promised.

Marathon Oil was so stymied by SMS 2.0 that last year it jumped at the chance to check out an early version of the next release. "We had a lot of issues with the 2.0 client software being kind of flaky," says Michael Niehaus, who until recently was a technology consultant at the Houston oil company, which is using SMS to manage about 11,000 desktop PCs.

One big problem Marathon encountered with SMS 2.0: It was extraordinarily slow. The system would take between two and four hours to install a software package because the SMS servers had to scan through the company's 1,800 applications one at a time. "SMS 2.0 was never, ever considered a fast software package," Niehaus says. And it was a network hog, eating up to 10% of Marathon's network capacity.

In SMS 2003, Microsoft redesigned the Windows-based software agent, dubbed the Advanced Client, which Niehaus says is much more reliable. SMS 2003, he says, also produces less than 1% of the network traffic that the 2.0 agent did.

The Advanced Client uses Microsoft's Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS), based on code developed for WindowsUpdate.com, which delivers operating- system updates. Using BITS, PCs automatically adjust the download rate according to connection speed. By contrast, using SMS 2.0 to distribute software over slow network links is "like trying to pull a boat with a Volkswagen," says Brian Steele, workstations manager at Citgo, an oil refining and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla. "It would never work."

Another plus: SMS 2003 is much less complicated. "There's a learning curve with SMS 2.0 that has definitely been reduced with SMS 2003," says Michael Schorr, a network analyst at Ace Hardware.

1 Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
(425) 882-8080

Ticker: MSFT
Exchange: NASDAQ
Employees: 55,000
Kirill Tatarinov
VP, Enterprise Management Division
Leads development and marketing efforts for Windows' management technologies and products, including Systems Management Server. Previously, he was chief technology officer of BMC Software.

David Hamilton
Director of Product Management, Enterprise Management Division
Responsible for defining the product strategy for managing the Windows operating system. Joined Microsoft in 1995 after the company acquired Network Managers of the U.K.


Systems Management Server 2003 provides automated software distribution, hardware- and software-inventory information, desktop configuration, remote control and security-patch updating for Windows PCs over local-area networks and low-speed connections. Requires Windows 2000 Server or later and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 or 7.0.

Reference Checks

Roger Wilding
Senior Technical Engineer
Project: Logistics and shipping firm uses 16 SMS 2003 servers to manage 4,000 PCs in its four business units.

Central Technology Services
Donnie Taylor
Network Administrator
donnie_taylor@central technology.net
Project: Service provider to Central Bancompany, a 14-bank holding company in Jefferson City, Mo., installed SMS 2003 last year to support 2,700 PCs in 110 facilities.

Brian Steele
Workstations Manager
Project: Oil refiner uses SMS 2.0 to manage 4,000 PCs; migrating to SMS 2003 because of its improved handling of low-speed links.

Richard Threlkeld
SMS Administrator
Project: Wireless-technology firm automates software distribution and patch management for more than 10,000 PCs worldwide with SMS 2.0.

Ace Hardware
Michael Schorr
Network Analyst
Project: With SMS 2.0, the hardware-supplies retailer supports 1,500 desktop PCs at its Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters and five distribution warehouses across the U.S.

Andy Ray
Systems Administrator
Project: Atlanta-based energy company maintains 3,000 PCs nationwide with SMS 2.0. Planning to adopt SMS 2003 by end of March for its patch-management features.

Executives listed here are all users of Microsoft's products. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.