Three Microsoft management offerings give you a stronger grip on your network

It's 4:57 p.m. on Friday. As you're walking out the door, heading for a weekend ski trip, a user pops his head over his cubicle wall and asks, "Is everything all right with the systems?" Uh-oh. You should have been monitoring your systems more closely. A user has caught you by surprise with a problem you didn't know about. The ski trip will have to wait.

Microsoft has three systems management offerings—Systems Management Server (SMS), IntelliMirror, and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM)—that can help you keep a close eye on your systems and keep your life on schedule. Table 1, page 28, shows the current versions of these products and which systems they manage.

SMS has always offered a host of compelling features. Both SMS 1.0 and the much more usable and stable SMS 2.0 have features that help you bring the desktops in your environment into a managed state. When your environment is in a managed state, you know what hardware and software you have and you can deploy additional software from a central location. Not all systems must have exactly the same hardware or software, but you can categorize similar systems into collections. The current version of SMS assists with the following tasks.

Hardware and software inventory. SMS can scour your Windows clients and servers to determine what hardware is present on them. You can figure out what processor and how much memory a system has and how large the hard disks are. You can even obtain more esoteric information, such as IRQ and memory mappings. Figure 1, page 28, shows SMS's Resource Explorer, which lets you examine desktop attributes. To perform a software inventory, SMS scans a system's hard disk for .exe files. When it finds such a file, it strips off the header and reads in the package name and version number that the header typically contains. SMS can also inventory other files, such as .dll files.

Software deployment. SMS simplifies the job of deploying software from a central location to dispersed desktop machines. After you've inventoried systems' hardware and software, you can create collections of systems based on similarities in hardware, software, or job function (e.g., Windows NT security groups). SMS can deploy software to any 32-bit Windows system—a handy feature in mixed environments.

Remote control. The SMS Remote Control feature lets you take control of an ailing desktop as if you're sitting at the user's keyboard. SMS's Remote Control works with all versions of 32-bit Windows. (Windows XP offers similar functionality.)

Software metering. The Software Metering feature is new in SMS 2.0. However, this feature hasn't really caught on because of poor performance over WAN links and the additional database components it requires.

In Windows 2000, Microsoft introduced the Change and Configuration Management (CCM) initiative to reduce the costs of installing and maintaining desktop machines. IntelliMirror encompasses a subset of Win2K technologies that you can use to implement CCM. Table 2 shows CCM's and IntelliMirror's features, benefits, and technologies.

User-data management and user-settings management. Two Win2K features are key to user-data management and user-settings management: Redirected Folders and Roaming Profiles, respectively. Redirected Folders ensures that folders containing crucial user settings and data, such as My Documents folders, are stored on the server for safety. (Another Win2K feature, Offline Files, ensures that users can use files offline as if they were online.) Roaming Profiles lets users bounce from machine to machine and have the same settings on each system.

Software installation and maintenance. Win2K, like SMS, has a method for deploying software to computers. However, Win2K's software-deployment mechanisms (which use Group Policy Objects—GPOs) work only with XP Professional Edition and Win2K clients.

Microsoft Remote Installation Services. RIS is a CCM rather than an IntelliMirror feature. RIS's goal is to bring an entire XP or Win2K machine up and running as quickly as possible. If a machine is damaged or becomes unstable, you can use RIS to deploy a fresh image of the OS (with or without additional applications). After the user logs on to the freshly installed machine, the previously setup IntelliMirror features kick in to ensure the same consistent and stable environment the user is accustomed to.

SMS vs. IntelliMirror
SMS and IntelliMirror overlap in one area: software deployment. IntelliMirror's software-deployment features come with Win2K, so you don't need to pay any more for them. IntelliMirror also has a straightforward architecture: You put users or computers in Win2K organizational units (OUs), and clients simply pull software from share points that you set up on servers.

However, IntelliMirror has some deployment limitations. First, IntelliMirror works only from Windows .NET Server (formerly code-named Whistler) and Win2K Server systems to XP and Win2K clients. Second, IntelliMirror works best when you repackage applications as .msi files, which can be a major undertaking. Third, IntelliMirror offers no realtime tracking of a targeted deployment. After you send a package to a desktop, you can't easily tell whether the package has been installed and is running.

You must purchase SMS separately, but it can deploy any type of file—from an executable to a virus-scanning .dat update. SMS can also deploy to Windows machines that predate Win2K, such as NT Server 4.0 systems and Windows 9x workstations. Additionally, SMS can leverage its hardware and software inventory information and can target machines that meet specific criteria. For example, you could deploy DogFoodMaker 7.0 only to Win98 machines that have a 266MHz Pentium II or better chip and exactly 256MB of RAM. After SMS delivers the software, the target machine notifies the SMS console of the success or failure of the delivery.

You can use both SMS and IntelliMirror in Win2K environments. One strategy is to use SMS for software that you can't easily deploy with IntelliMirror (e.g., .dat files) and for applications (e.g., Microsoft Office 2000) that you want to deploy only on specific machines that have the resources to run them. You can use IntelliMirror to send less crucial applications (e.g., Adobe Systems' Adobe Acrobat Reader) to Win2K machines in the .msi format.

MOM picks up where the other Microsoft management offerings leave off. Whereas SMS's focus is on Windows desktop- and server-configuration management and IntelliMirror's focus is strictly on Win2K desktop deployments, MOM provides overall centralized monitoring and reporting. MOM doesn't help you deploy software or ensure that your desktops are orderly; rather, MOM's job is to ensure that all your systems are humming along smoothly. Figure 2 shows the MOM Administrator Console.

MOM, which Microsoft sells as a standalone product, provides centralized tracking and trend analysis for crucial systems. MOM can maintain all your Win2K and NT event logs in one central place so that searching for a specific event on one server or on all monitored servers is easy. MOM can also produce detailed reports about server activity over a long period of time.

Out of the box, MOM monitors and reports on the following systems and services: XP Pro, Win2K Server, Win2K Professional, the upcoming .NET Server, Active Directory (AD), Microsoft IIS, Win2K Server Terminal Services, Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator (MS DTC), WINS, DHCP, DNS, RRAS, Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), Microsoft Message Queue Services (MSMQ), and SMS. It even knows how to monitor and report its own events. The MOM Applications Management Pack, which Microsoft sells separately, adds the ability to monitor Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Proxy Server, Site Server, SNA Server, and other IIS items. Note that MOM doesn't yet manage Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 or Host Integration Server 2000, although Microsoft says it will add management packs as its product lines grow.

MOM comes with a set of default rules that tell MOM how to react to an event or a set of events that occur in a specific order or pattern. Events can be in SNMP or Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) format. Thus, if you're already tracking SNMP or WMI events in your environment, MOM will fit right in.

You can extend MOM's default rules to enforce your current "paper-based" policies. For example, if you have a policy that you contact a certain administrator when a domain controller's (DC's) C drive is 85 percent full, you can set a MOM rule to make that contact automatic. MOM calls these automatic notifications alerts.

Alerts can take multiple forms, including email notifications, SNMP trap events, and scripts and batch files that perform actions such as restarting a failed service. After generating an alert, MOM can help you diagnose the problem. Simply look at the rules that triggered the alert, and MOM shows you related Microsoft articles. If a certain problem occurs frequently in your environment, you can generate your own articles that augment the Microsoft articles. MOM's alerts are smart. If the same event occurs repeatedly in succession (e.g., if the DHCP server is down), MOM sends just one alert.

MOM shines when monitoring an all-Win2K-server environment, but plugins called Extended Management Packs (XMPs) are available from NetIQ to extend MOM's monitoring capabilities. NetIQ's management packs let MOM manage NT servers, Novell NetWare, UNIX, Lotus Notes, and other systems and services. Microsoft is also encouraging other vendors to write XMPs. For more information about MOM, see Ed Roth, "MOM 2000," November 15, 2001, InstantDoc ID 22771.

Some confusion exists about SMS and MOM's similarities and differences. SMS 2.0 includes a small add-in program called HealthMon that lets SMS know when some Performance Monitor counters reach a certain threshold. However, MOM is far more capable than HealthMon.

SMS and MOM also share some similarities in architecture. Both use SQL Server and a central data repository. Both automatically deploy agents to target systems to control and monitor them. Both SMS and MOM clients always talk to intermediary computers in a parent-child hierarchy and never directly talk to their respective central data repositories. SMS and MOM agents peacefully coexist on systems. The difference is that SMS is geared toward maintaining a computer-equipment inventory and deploying software to clients, and MOM is geared toward monitoring system performance and helping you react when things go wrong.

SMS, IntelliMirror, and MOM all have a place in an all-Windows environment. If you extend MOM with XMPs, it can also function in Windows environments that include some non-Microsoft equipment.

The dirty business of managing your environment never ends; if it did, you'd be out of a job. But with SMS, IntelliMirror, and MOM, your work is a little easier. You might even be able to take that ski trip after all.

Editor's Note: Portions of this article were adapted from The Definitive Guide to Enterprise Manageability (