Takeaway: For some time, Microsoft has focused on large enterprises and small business, as evidenced by products such as Small Business Server. The midmarket (500 PCs, a couple dozen servers) has very similar needs as smaller and larger enterprises, but faces unique challenges. Whereas Microsoft provides some specific products for smaller organizations—including the aforementioned Small Business Server—midmarket organizations have had to utilize full-fledged enterprise tools often without the benefit of large IT staffs or significant server infrastructures to do so.
Enter the "Essentials" line, which is targeted at midmarket IT organizations. I'm not sure if all of Microsoft's mid-market focused endeavors will use the word "Essentials" but so far, this has been the case. For the monitoring, system management, and software deployment side of the house, Microsoft has released System Center Essentials 2007. In this article, I'll explain the purpose and features of this product, outline its system requirements and limitations and walk through a sample installation.
What is it?
SCE 2007 is a client-limited version of System Center Operations Manager 2007 combined with some of the software deployment features found in SMS. SCE 2007 uses SQL Server 2005 as its information repository and also replaces your current WSUS server.
Requirements and limitations
There are a number of requirements and limitations inherent in System Center Essentials 2007. First and foremost, realize that you can have only one System Center Essentials 2007 installation in each domain. If you try to deploy a second instance of the product, the installation process will fail with an error message letting you know that you can't do this.
In addition to the single-instance limitation, SCE 2007 has the following limits:
- SCE 2007 can manage up to 30 servers.
- SCE 2007 can manage up to 500 client computers.
- SCE 2007 can manage up to 50 network devices.
- All managed clients need to be in the same AD forest as the SCE 2007 server.
SCE 2007 has the following software prerequisites:
- SCE 2007 server itself
- Microsoft Windows Server 2003 SP1 or R2, Standard or Enterprise
- The SCE 2007 server must be a part of an Active Directory domain
- The Application Server (IIS) role must be installed on the SCE 2007 server
- Either .NET Framework 2.0 or 3.0 must be installed (this component is installed as a part of the Application Server role in Windows Server 2008. For Windows Server 2003, install manually before proceeding.)
- Managed clients
- Windows 2000 Pro/Server SP4, Windows XP SP2 (x86, x64, Tablet), Windows Server 2003 SP1/R2 (x86 and x64) or Windows Vista (x86 and x64)
- Virtual PC 2004 or Virtual Server 2005
- SCE 2007 requires the use of SQL Server 2005. If you do not have a SQL Server, you can buy SCE 2007 with a run-time SQL license or you can use SQL Express.
And, on the hardware side, the SCE server requires:
12 GB of disk space, but 20 GB is recommended if you plan to store Windows Updates on the SCE server
A server with a 2.0 GHz processor
1 GB of RAM, but more is better
As you can see, the requirements for SCE 2007 aren't exactly overwhelming. In my organization, I've deployed SCE 2007 on a virtual machine running under VMware ESX.
Microsoft has priced SCE 2007 as follows (list price):
- SCE 2007 (without SQL): $2,000 (you can use the includes SQL Express for smaller installations)
- With a run-time SQL 2005 license: $2,929 (for larger installations)
Client management licenses:
- For servers: $100 each
- For desktops: $20 each, or $400 for a 20-pack
My lab setup
For my installation, I'm installing System Center Essentials 2007 to Windows Server 2003 domain controller. In production at my office, I have installed the product onto a Windows Server 2003 R2 system that is part of a native Windows Server 2003 domain. I am planning to use the SQL Express database for this installation and not a full-fledged SQL installation.
There are a number of steps involved in the overall SCE 2007 installation. Before you get started, do the following:
- Make sure your server is joined to a domain.
- Make sure that the Application Server (IIS) role is installed. If you decide to give SCE 2007 a shot on Windows Server 2008, when you install the Application and Web Server roles on Windows Server 2008, make sure you add the IIS 6 compatibility feature. SCE 2007 does not yet support IIS 7, so IIS 6 compatibility is required.
- Install .NET Framework 3.0.
- Create a domain account that has rights to install and uninstall software on and gather information from on all of the computers in the domain. I've named my account sceadmin.
System Center Essentials 2007
The installer for SCE 2007 acts like a lot of Microsoft's new products and tries to walk you through the overall installation process. To get started, insert the SCE 2007 CD into your server to get the screen shown below in Figure A. I'm using the SCE 2007 w/ SQL Server 2005 run-time installation media, but will not be installing the full SQL Server 2005. Rather, I'll just move into the SCE 2007 installation and use SQL Express. Choose the "Launch System Center Essentials 2007 setup" option to continue. Once you do, you'll be greeted with the screen from Figure B from which you should choose Full Setup.
The first screen of the main installation process of SCE 2007 is a welcome screen. Click the Next button to proceed with the installation.
Early on, the SCE 2007 installer checks to make sure that your system meets the needs of the product. If you have installed the .NET Framework and IIS in the wrong order, ASP.NET 2.0 may not be installed and working. If this is the case, look at the Note section below and also review the prerequisites. Note in Figure c below that my SCE 2007 installation returned a warning indicating that it would prefer 2GB of RAM. My lab machine has only 1GB, but this will not prevent the installation from proceeding.
Note: If you are informed that ASP.NET 2.0 is not installed even though you've installed both IIS and the .NET Framework, do the following:
- Open a command prompt.
- Type "CD C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.xxxxx" (where xxxxx is the build of the .NET Framework you have installed.) Likely this is 50727.
- Type "aspnet_regiis.exe -iru -enable"
ASP.net 2.0 will then be installed.
- Go to Start > Administrative Tools > Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager
- Expand your server name and choose Web Services Extensions.
- Make sure that ASP.NET 2.0.xxxxx is allowed.
As you might imagine, Microsoft includes an End User License Agreement with SCE 2007. Read through the agreement, select the check box indicating that you agree to the license and click the Next button to continue.
Next, provide your registration information and click the Next button. When the installer gets to the Installation Location screen, shown in Figure D, decide to which directory you'd like to install SCE 2007. Also, tell SCE 2007 how updates should be handled. Do you want clients to obtain updates from your SCE 2007 server or do you want clients to download them from the Microsoft web site? Remember, if you configure SCE so that clients get their updates from Microsoft, your Internet connection will take a hit.
The options you select on the database type screen are dependent on what you want to accomplish and what you already have installed in your infrastructure. If you're going to use a full SQL Server installation, whether it's local or remote, you still need a local instance of SQL Server Reporting Services running on the SCE 2007 machine. For my installation, I'm using SQL Server 2005 Express as you can see in Figure E. You also need to specify the location to which SQL Server 2005 Express should be installed.
Decide how you want to handle SCE 2007's database requirements.
Next, specify the user account and password that you will use to perform tasks on the managed client computers on your network. Make sure that this account has sufficient rights to gather WMI data and install software on your clients.
In most Microsoft products these days, Microsoft asks you if you're willing to submit automated error reports to help them identify and correct problems. SCE 2007 follows this trend and asks you the same questions.
Once you've made your selections, the SCE 2007 installer summarizes your selections and shows them to you on the screen so you can make sure all is well. Click Next. Finally, the SCE 2007 installer completes!
This completes the installation of SCE 2007. Once the installation is complete, you will need to perform a couple of initial configuration tasks after which your SCE 2007 system can start monitoring your infrastructure. In the next part of this series, I'll go over these tasks and show you how to start monitoring.