Microsoft's TechNet magazine discusses the new features of System Center Configuration Manager 2007, the successor of SMS 2003. Some of it sounds really interesting.
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You may know that SCCM 2007 RC1 is available for public download on TechNet for some days. I wanted to test Configuration Manager 2007 already for quite some time, but I am still busy exploring Windows Server 2008. After I read the TechNet article, I got even more curious about SCCM. These are the most important new features:
New User Interface
The new user interface is now based on MMC 3. So there is an Action Pane and a Preview Pane. More important are features like multiple item selection and drag & drop. Nothing revolutionary, but it was definitely something I missed in SMS 2003. The screenshot in the TechNet article shows that the structure didn't change much. So the learning curve won't be too steep, I suppose.
Server Roles and Distribution Points
It seems like Microsoft is going to make use of the "role paradigm" not only for Windows Server and Exchange. SCCM 2007 also has several new roles which allow you to host SCCM functions on different servers. There is a new interesting distribution point type, the Branch Office DP. It can be installed on Vista and Windows XP. I am always a bit skeptical about running server software on workstations. But in some environments this might make sense.
Operating System Deployment
We used the OS deployment feature pack for SMS 2003 since its availability and are quite content with it. Configuration Manager comes with a couple of new features here. Most noteworthy is "binary delta replication". If you add something to an image, you don't have to distribute the complete WIM package. For example, if you add a new patch, only the new data will be replicated to the distribution points. Another new feature is the Task Sequencer allowing you automate such tasks as user state migration or driver installation during the OS deployment process. It will reduce the need to work with scripts which is good news.
The article states that SCCM enables you to manage mobile devices such as Windows Mobile, smartphones and Pocket PC like desktops and servers. We don't have mobile devices. So I can't say anything about that.
This is one of the new features I like. It is now possible to restrict installations to a certain time window. If some of the computers in the collection are not online during this period, SCCM will try it again next day. This way, you can make sure that users are not interrupted during their work time.
Software Update Management
Patch management is tightly integrated now with WSUS. This is good news, too. When it comes to Windows and Office patch management, I always prefer WSUS over the Software Update feature of SMS 2003. Another new feature is the deployment templates. This will allow you to configure software updates faster than before.
Desired Configuration Management
With so-called baseline scans, you can now make sure that a collection of computers is compliant to several predefined configuration aspects. Using configuration items (CIs) you can gather information from quite a few different sources such as WMI, registry values, software update data and many more. This also seems to be a very interesting feature, although I guess it might cost some time to figure out what "compliant" means in your environment.
Other new features
Internet-Based Client Management allows you to manage computers using the HTTPS protocol. Configuration Manager finally comes with Wake-on-LAN capability. I always wondered why SMS 2003 needed third-party add-ons for this feature. SCCM 2007 supports integration with Network Access Protection (NAP) of Windows Server 2008. I wonder if this has something to do with the new Desired Configuration Management feature of Configuration Manager. This could be very interesting.
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I hope I'll find some time soon to play with SCCM 2007. The list of new features already convinced me to upgrade our SMS 2003 as soon as the RTM comes out.