Microsoft's Systems Management Server is a tool for centrally managing updates, patches, and software packages on individual workstations. We are now testing SMS, and in April 2004 will begin a pilot project to practice automated computer updates using SMS on live systems.
Lincoln owns approximately 800 workstations and laptops, physically dispersed across its 400-acre main campus and in its building at 3020 Market Street in Philadelphia. Keeping these computers up to date is a major challenge for the IT department. Until the summer of 2003 all computer installations and updates were performed by hand. The installation of software on a new computer can take as much as three hours when done by hand, and in a typical year the university replaces or rebuilds perhaps 400 computers.
All computer lab computers are rebuilt or replaced at least once each year. Since they are configured consistently in large groups, we have been able to take advantage of an imaging software package called Ghost. Ghost allows us to replace the entire configuration of a machine and get it back in service in less than 20 minutes. In the process though, all previous information on the computer is destroyed. This works well for lab computers, since no personal information is stored on them. Clearly this would not work well for faculty and staff computers that have personal creative work, email messages, bookmarks, etc. stored on them, sometimes for more than one person.
SMS is our solution for these individualized machines. SMS allows us to deploy new software, patches, and feature updates from a central location. No information is lost in the process, and IT staff do not have to visit the machines, in most cases, to effect the changes. SMS should help us save time that can then be spent on directly assisting users.