SMSE – pronounced (in the UK at least) as ‘Smuzzy’, short for Server Management Suite Enterprise – is a licensing package from Microsoft, which can be an amazingly effective way to buy systems management software for your Windows server estate.

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If you’re planning to virtualise your Windows server world, then SMSE is something of a no-brainer, since buying a single SMSE license for the host machine allows you to use System Center to manage not just the host but any number of guest (or child) VMs running on it.

Combine that with the license for Windows Server 2008 Datacenter Edition, which allows unlimited licensing for Windows Server running as guests, and you’ve got a platform for running & managing as many Windows-based applications servers as you can squeeze onto the box, running on any virtualisation platform.

System Center is the umbrella name given to systems management technologies, broadly encompassing:

  • Configuration Manager (as-was SMS, though totally re-engineered), which can be used for software distribution and “desired configuration state” management … so in a server example, you might want to know if someone has “tweaked” the configuration of a server, and either be alerted to the fact or maybe even reverse the change.
  • Operations Manager (or MOM, as it was known before this version), performs systems monitoring and reporting, so can monitor the health and performance of a whole array of systems, combined with “management packs” (or "knowledge modules” as some would think of them) which tell Ops Mgr how a given application should behave. Ops Mgr can tell an administrator of an impending problem with their server application, before it becomes a problem.
  • Data Protection Manager – a new application, now in 2nd release, which can be used either on its own or in conjunction with some other enterprise backup solution, to perform point in time snap shots of running applications and keep the data available. DPM lets the administrator deliver a nearer RTO and more up to date RPO, at very low cost.
  • Virtual Machine Manager – a new server, also in 2nd release, which manages the nuts & bolts of a virtual infrastructure, either based on Microsoft’s Hyper-V or VMWare’s ESX with Virtual Center. If you have a mixture of Hyper-V and VMWare, using VMM lets you manage the whole thing from a single console.

It’s easy to overlook managing of guests in a virtualised environment – the effort in doing such a project typically goes into moving the physical machines into the virtual world, but it’s equally important to make sure that you’re managing the operations of what happens inside the guest VMs, as much as you’re managing the mechanics of the virtual environment.

I’ve used a line which I think sums up the proposition nicely, and I’ve seen others quote the same logic:

If you have a mess of physical servers and you virtualise them, all you’re left with is a virtual mess.

Applying the idea of SMSE to a virtual environment, for one cost (at US estimated retail price, $1500), you get management licenses for Ops Manager, Config Manager, VMM and DPM, for the host machine and all of its guests.

Think of a virtualised Exchange environment, for example – that $1500 would cover Ops Manager telling you that Exchange was working well, Config Manager keeping the servers up to date and patched properly (even offline VMs), VMM managing the operation of the virtual infrastructure, and DPM keeping backups of the data within the Exchange servers (and maybe even the running VMs).

Isn’t that a bargain?

See the FAQ for SMSE for more information.