Back on the SCE slope

I’ve been beta testing Microsoft System Center Essentials Beta 2, SCE (pronounced “ski”), and back in issue 150 I promised to report on how SCE fared once I’d overcome initial problems, like it being unable to install its agent on my client systems. I’d have to say that the process went fairly smoothly, but there were a number of problems with the beta (as you’d expect) and I didn’t want to devote too many column inches to problems that were being fixed. The appearance of Release Candidate 1 prompts me to break the silence, though, as SCE RC1 sees some notable improvements in overall capabilities and much improved platform support, not least being the relaxation of the rule that SCE could only be installed on systems using US settings. Support is also now included for x64 servers, for managing Vista and x64 systems, and, importantly, for managing systems across multiple domains.

Back on the SCE slope

Some more of the new capabilities include an emailed daily health report and automatic discovery of systems (you set the schedule) via Active Directory. Improved network monitoring includes: a network topology diagram view; remote control for managed client and server systems; the ability to import third-party update catalogues; SQL Services-based reporting on monitoring and hardware and software inventory; better setup for SQL Server selection and file locations; and more management packs, including Exchange 2003, Dynamics CRM 3 and Active Directory.

I’ve left one new item off this list quite deliberately, because that’s where my story will begin this month. This final new “capability”, as Microsoft terms it, enables SCE RC1 to support upgrading from Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) 2 and 3. This was bound to feature eventually, but to give it a thorough workout Microsoft decided it should be the first scenario to put before the testers, and so I set about downloading and installing WSUS 2 as per the scenario instructions. There were no detailed instructions for installing WSUS 2, just a link to the download and a line in the documentation that read “Install WSUS 2.0 on a server”. I decided the best thing to do in this instance would be to accept the default settings suggested by the WSUS installation wizard, so I set off following them to the letter.

The first choice you get is whether or not you want to install updates locally. With WSUS, this doesn’t mean the contents of the Microsoft Update website will be instantly plastered all over your server, but rather that you’ll be presented with a list of updates, and only the ones you choose to accept will be downloaded. That would be ideal, except that the default setting is to download the updates you select in all languages, so that’s one default you’d want to change as soon as the installation had completed if you were a single-language operation. I accepted the default and then accepted the default again, which was to install the SQL Server Desktop Engine on my server. Obviously, if you have a full SQL Server installation already in place you’d point the WSUS wizard to that instead. I then took the default setting to use port 80 and the existing default Internet Information Services (IIS) website, and skipped the next screen, which involved stuff you’d need to do if you already had WSUS servers in place. (Actually, I’ve had both SUS and WSUS installed before, but I’d removed them both before starting the SCE beta.)

The WSUS 2 setup then started, kicking off by installing ASP.NET 1.1 and then the remainder of the components I’d specified. All went well, and after five minutes or so I was staring at the WSUS web management page. From Options, I selected Synchronisation Options and then scrolled to the bottom of the page and clicked on the Advanced… button in the”Update Files and Languages” pane to set the server to only download updates that match the server locale. While you’re at this screen, you can also select the products and updates you want to be affected by WSUS, and I left the default settings of “All Windows Products and Critical and Security Updates” and ran the initial synchronisation. Since the SCE RC1 scenario I was performing was to update an existing WSUS 2 installation, I reasoned it would be pointless to have a blank installation to run this test against.

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