Microsoft Systems Management Server's (SMS's) feature list is impressive. Out of the box, SMS can inventory software and hardware, deploy software, and provide remote control capabilities. However, SMS's built-in tools leave room for improvement, and in the best free-market tradition, many vendors offer products that fill some of those gaps. The products listed in this issue's Buyer's Guide integrate with SMS to enhance its functionality and provide new capabilities to SMS installations.
One popular enhancement that some of the listed products provide is better mobile-client support. Several products let you use SMS to manage LAN-connected laptops and handheld devices that run either Microsoft or Palm OSs. Other products go further by extending the reach of SMS through a corporate firewall to let you also manage devices outside the company.
Some products attempt to improve the software deployment process in SMS through highly customizable, intelligent package-creation features that provide conflict-checking and rollback capabilities. To enhance the OS deployment process, other products let you deploy an OS to any system, even one with a bare hard disk.
If remote control capabilities are important to you, you'll appreciate add-ons that support more client OSs than SMS does and that provide more-granular access levels (e.g., observe, send, change, control). Also look for peer-to-peer remote control capability, which lets you support users and open a remote session from any participating client.
SMS collects extensive hardware and software inventory data, but the collected data isn't very descriptive and the volume can be overwhelming. Products that maintain a database of known signatures to compare with inventoried hardware and software signatures can make this data much more meaningful and useful. Such an add-on minimizes the amount of garbage SMS collects during the inventory process and saves you the countless hours you would otherwise spend to create useful reports from voluminous data.
Many of the tools in this Buyer's Guide concentrate on improving one or more functional components of SMS, but others increase the value of SMS as a whole. Some tools enhance client manageability through Wake on LAN (WOL) support, let you manage UNIX clients within an SMS environment, provide more robust scheduling options, or present the SMS console as a Web-based interface. Altiris's Helpdesk for SMS leverages your SMS investment in the Help desk arena; other tools monitor and manage your SMS infrastructure to make it more reliable. Some add-ons can even operate alone without requiring SMS; these products might be of interest to organizations that are preparing for an SMS implementation or that use SMS for only one task that the tools might instead be able to do in standalone mode.
As you consider a purchase, make sure that the product embraces industry standards where applicable. Look for support for Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Active Directory (AD), Group Policy, and Windows Installer technology. To evaluate how well a product embraces SMS, look at how well the add-on's interface integrates with the SMS console and at how SMS-friendly the client deployment is. Verify that the product adheres to standard SMS and Windows event-logging standards for troubleshooting and auditing purposes. And ensure that the add-on will scale with your SMS implementation as your organization grows.