Windows management technologies

At the Best of the Microsoft Management Summit 2005 event a few weeks back, Vlad Joanavic gave an overview of some of the “free” Windows Management technologies that are available (in addition to the “paid” products under the System Center brand).

These basically break down into:

  • Windows Software Update Services (WSUS).
  • Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and WS-Management.
  • Group Policy Management Console (GPMC).
  • Microsoft Management Console (MMC) v3.0.
  • Windows Installer v3.1
  • Microsoft Scripting Host (codenamed Monad).

The rest of this post discusses each of these in turn.

WSUS

WSUS is Microsoft’s update management offering for corporate customers, effectively allowing customers to host a local copy of Microsoft Update and to manage update approval accordingly. Free to licensed users of Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 (with appropriate Windows Server/core client access licenses) it is a core component of Microsoft’s patch and update management roadmap.

Unlike its predecessor, Software Update Services (SUS), WSUS supports more than just Windows updates, and allows selective targeting of computers based on group membership and automatic approval of updates (if required). It also uses a database rather than flat file storage for its configuration data (storage of the actual updates is still file-based) and offers a much richer user experience. At the time of writing, WSUS supports 8 types of update for a number of products (with more to be added over time). WSUS is also localised to provide for international support and has multi-language user interface (MUI) support.

WSUS does not require a new client component to be installed as the automatic updates client within Windows XP is self-updating. Most client functionality is implemented via a Win32 service with an extensible architecture for MSI, update.exe and driver handling and automatic updates can also be controlled via group policy.

WSUS servers uses the background intelligent transfer service (BITS) to ensure that the network is utilised effectively during the transfer of updates. Microsoft recognises a number of WSUS deployment options:

  • Single server – for small organisations or simple networks.
  • Multiple servers – for a large organisations or a complex network, allowing a hierarchy of WSUS servers to be created.
  • Disconnected network (e.g. on a ship), whereby updates are downloaded to one WSUS server and then exported for transfer via removable media (e.g. DVD) to a disconnected WSUS server which validates the Microsoft certificates on the content and services clients on the remote network.

WMI and WS-Management

WMI is the Microsoft implementation of web based enterprise management (WBEM)/common interface model (CIM), allowing access to over 600 WMI classes and 3000 properties. Provided as a standard Windows component since Windows 2000 (and downloadable for Windows NT 4.0), the number of WMI providers has grown from 15 in Windows NT to 29 in Windows 2000 and 80 in Windows Server 2003. WMI supports a variety of clients including the Windows Script Host (WSH), native C++ and managed code using any language supported by the Microsoft.NET Framework. It also supports command line operations (WMIC) and DCOM-based remoting.

The goal of WMI is to provide a single API for access to large volumes of system data. WMI providers expose data from content sources; this information is placed into a repository, and WMI consumers (e.g. applications and scripts) consume this data.

I previously blogged about web services (WS-*) and WS-Management is a joint effort to provide a WS-* protocol for interoperable management. Implemented as a web service, WS-Management is XML/SOAP-based and runs over HTTPS to access most existing WMI objects. WS-Management also allows for out of band access (i.e. when there is no operating system installed, or the operating system has crashed) to service processors (e.g. remote management hardware). In-band access provides a richer set of capabilities, specifically for software management.

The first version of WS-Management will ship as part of Windows Server 2003 R2, with access to hardware instrumentation, HTTPS access to Windows instrumentation and a command line functionality (WSMAN).

GPMC

I’ve blogged previously about the GPMC but even though it has been available for a couple of years now, it seems that many administrators still do not use it. I’m not sure why (I guess it’s because it is a separate download), but GPMC represents a huge step forward in the management of group policies and I find the ability to create XML/HTML-based group policy object (GPO) reports a significant advantage in documenting group policy (much better than trying to capture it in a set of Excel spreadsheets).

Many of the GPMC tasks are scriptable, including:

  • Creating/deleting/renaming GPOs.
  • Linking GPOs and WMI filters.
  • Delegation of:
    • Security on WMI filters.
    • GPO-related security on sites, domains and organizational units (OUs).
    • Creation rights for GPOs and WMI filters.
  • Generating reports of GPO settings and resultant set of policy (RSOP) data.
  • GPO backup/restoration/import/export/copy/paste/search.

MMC v3.0

MMC v3.0 (previously known as MMC v2.1) is intended to offer a number of benefits:

  • More reliable (recognising the issues related to loading third party code such as MMC snap-ins into a core process) through improved detection and reporting of snap-in problems and an ability to isolate hung snap-ins from the console (new snap-ins only).
  • Improved usability with an asynchronous UI model, simpler console customisation and discoverability of actions (including sub-panes providing actions for a selected tree node and item, along with a helpful description).
  • Richer snap-ins with simplified customisation, template-base snap-in design, and functionally rich views.

Windows Installer v3.1

Windows Installer (.MSI) v3.0 shipped with Windows XP service pack 2 (and v3.1 is the latest version, as described in Microsoft knowledge base article 893803). Whilst it does not support Windows 95, 98, ME or NT, Windows Installer offers:

  • Improved logging.
  • Scripting objects.
  • Sourcelist API enhancements.
  • Enhanced inventory API.
  • Command line switches.
  • Enhanced patching.
  • New software development kit (SDK) tools and documentation updates.

Microsoft Scripting Host/Monad

Monad is a new command shell for Windows, designed to address some of the problems associated with the existing Windows shell, i.e. a weak “language” and sporadic command line coverage, combined with a GUI that is difficult to automate. Monad provides command-oriented scripting capabilities for administrators and systems integrators, including an integrated shell, “commandlets”, new utilities and a scripting language. Wikipedia has a good description the MSH shell including links to additional resources.

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