Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007

Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007

Summary: By combining its most commonly used systems monitoring and management tools, Microsoft has delivered a comprehensive and easy-to-deploy management suite with clear appeal to the smaller enterprise looking for an off-the-shelf solution.

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  • Intuitive management console
  • Dashboard summary views plus drill-down to detailed information and associated management tools
  • WSUS integration for patch management
  • Bundled management packs


  • Limited scalability
  • No support for non-Windows servers and desktops
  • Could be expensive for smaller companies to deploy

Over the past year Microsoft has been busy re-jigging its systems management offerings, all of which are now marketed under the umbrella System Center brand. A number of new and enhanced products have been released, among them System Center Essentials 2007, aimed at companies with up to 500 users looking for an integrated suite of system monitoring and management tools.

System Center Essentials 2007 effectively joins together three older products. The basis for the package is Microsoft’s server monitoring tool, MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager), now known as System Center Operations Manager 2007, to which have been added System Management Server (SMS) — similarly rebranded as System Center Configuration Manager 2007 — plus version 3.0 of the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

The end result is an integrated set of tools to manage all of your Windows servers and desktops from a single console. That includes facilities to monitor server availability and to automatically identify and fix problems when they arise. You can also collect hardware and software inventories and use that information to centrally manage the distribution of new software and updates, as well remotely troubleshoot problems. Tools to manage SNMP devices such as network switches and routers are also included.

A unified console with summary dashboard views makes System Center Essentials 2007 a powerful yet usable management tool.

The core components are installed on a server running Windows Server 2003 or later. A fast processor is required and at least 1GB of RAM plus plenty of disk space (8-10GB) to download and store the Windows and Office updates that will be distributed by WSUS. SQL Server is also required, although on a small deployment this can be the free Express implementation as the storage requirements are relatively small.

Installation is a wizard-driven process, which starts by checking that all the pre-requisites are in place. This includes things like the appropriate .NET Framework software, as well SQL Server and the WSUS component — which a lot of companies will be running already. Most of these can also be installed or updated during setup, although not all, so you need to set aside a reasonable amount of time to get everything up and running. It’s not particularly difficult, but technical expertise is required and some companies may prefer to employ a specialist to do this.

Manageable systems can be discovered, monitored and managed from the System Center Essentials 2007 console.

For our evaluation we installed everything onto one server — a typical small business configuration; on larger networks, the workload can be spread by putting the WSUS and SQL Server components on different servers. However, this is very much a small business product, limited to just the one core System Center Essentials 2007 server per LAN, which limits the scalability of the solution.

On the plus side, the various tools are managed via a unified and much-enhanced console, which we found to be a big improvement over previous efforts. This has an Outlook-like interface that's easy to get to grips with; we particularly like the dashboard displays that provide at-a-glance information about the overall health of the network, with facilities to drill down for more information as required. You also get extensive alerting and reporting facilities, including the ability to generate email, pager or SMS text alerts when problems arise.

Bundled management packs provide the knowledge to monitor a range of applications, including SQL Server and Exchange.

Templates allow custom management packs to be created.

Another key selling point is the bundling of management packs containing the rules and intelligence needed to quickly start monitoring not just Windows servers and desktops, but also common applications such as Exchange and SQL Server. A network device management pack is also provided to manage SNMP-enabled routers, switches and so on. You can build management packs of your own, too — for monitoring the availability of specific web sites and applications, for example.

Any PC or server running Windows 2000 or later can be managed from the Essentials 2007 console, with tools to retrieve basic inventory information without the need for any client software. Client agents are required to gather more detailed data and provide support for remote monitoring, software distribution and other management features. However, we found these easy to push out over the wire using the wizard-driven tool provided.

WSUS integration enables Windows updates and patches to be distributed and managed.

Similarly, we had few problems distributing and installing applications and upgrades from the console, with yet another easy-to-use wizard available to download security and other patches from the Microsoft web site and distribute them using WSUS. Links to remote desktop and other tools are also provided to help troubleshoot and resolve issues remotely.

Hardware and software inventory information can be collected for both Windows servers and desktops.

The combination of tools provided in System Center Essentials 2007 will certainly cover most of the things small businesses want to do. However, it’s not cheap and it's Windows-only, with no support for Linux desktops or servers, for example. Handheld devices and virtual machines are also invisible to SCE 2007 — functionality is available, but only in separate System Center products. Still, it’s got a lot going for it and is well worth considering if integrated systems management is what you're after.



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Topic: Reviews

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