On the SCE slope

Microsoft has a huge variety of server products now available, and many more on the way, either in the shape of new products, or updated versions of old ones. One that’s been interesting me for some time is System Center Essentials (SCE) 2007. I’m a long-term user of Microsoft’s Software Update Services (SUS) – more latterly Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) – and I’d always looked on the heavy-duty servers such as Systems Management Server (SMS) as completely over the top for my requirements. I needed something smaller that would deliver at least some of the abilities of SMS without breaking the bank, and which would be significantly easier to learn.

On the SCE slope

At first glance, SCE (pronounced “ski”) seems to fit that bill, but as we all know there’s a wealth of difference between “seems to” and “actually does”. The only way to find out was by trying it out for myself, so I set off to Microsoft Connect (http://connect.microsoft.com) and enrolled in its Beta 2 program. Enrolling for Microsoft Connect is simplicity itself – which is refreshing, given the extreme hassle that used to accompany attempts to join just about any beta program. Check out the site to find out what’s available – a huge list – and then decide whether you’re prepared to participate fully by submitting error reports and so on, or you’ll be removed from the program. Once enrolled, I downloaded the software and its accompanying scenarios document. You’re expected to complete as many tasks from the scenarios document as possible, supply feedback via the Microsoft Connect website within three weeks, and you’re requested not to deploy SCE Beta 2 onto any mission-critical systems.

The first task was to prepare a server for SCE installation, so eyes-down for the server requirements, which are as follows:

Pentium-compatible 2GHz processor (or faster)

1GB RAM

Active Directory

32-bit Windows Server 2003 Standard or Enterprise SP1/R2 (64-bit not currently supported)

Internet Information Server (IIS) 6

Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) 2

WinHTTP 5.1 Windows Server 2003

Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2 Redistributable Package (x86)

Microsoft .NET Framework 3 July CTP Redistributable Package (x86).

The installation partition for SCE must be formatted as NTFS with 2.25GB free space for the SCE volume and a minimum of 6GB free space to store Microsoft Updates locally, preferably on a different volume. The recommended database requirements are a separate installation of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 SP1 (Workgroup, Standard, or Enterprise Edition) installed on a remote system, but you could use a local one if necessary. You also require SQL Server 2005 (Standard or Enterprise Edition) SP1 Reporting Services to be installed, failing which SCE will install a local copy of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with Advanced Services, which requires a further 2.75GB of free disk space.

SCE itself can be installed onto one or more machines, and you can choose to place both Management and Database servers on the same or separate systems. I decided to do a fresh installation of everything onto one server, partly because I didn’t have two available and partly because I’d just bought a rather nice Dell PowerEdge SC1425 with a 2.8GHz Xeon (using HyperThreading to look like two processors to the OS) populated with 2.5GB RAM and a fast 150GB hard disk.

Installing Windows Server 2003 R2 went flawlessly (I left it as “English-US” locale, the only one supported by Beta 2), as did various bits and pieces for Gigabit Ethernet from Dell’s drivers disc. I ran Microsoft Update to patch the system and then, flushed with success, used the Manage Your Server wizard to install Active Directory. That, of course, failed because I’d neglected to run adprep/forestprep on a Windows 2000 Enterprise Server that formed part of the domain, along with an earlier Windows Server 2003 SP1 Standard Edition server. The schema for Windows Server 2003 has changed between SP1 and R2, so I should have run adprep as a matter of course: slapped wrist. On running adprep from the Server 2003 R2 i386 folder the results were, let’s just say, surprising (read what happened and how I resolved it in this month’s In Depth Technical Support column).

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