Goodbye SCE – I never liked you anyway

Last summer, I started using Microsoft System Center Essentials 2010, primarily for its software distribution functions. Aimed at small- to medium-sized networks, it’s ideally placed for use in school. Like almost every System Center product I’ve used, it wasn’t the simplest thing in the world to set up, but once working, it works reasonably well.

Well, except for…

  • … taking sodding ages just to load the console.
  • … not being able to accurately target x64 .msi packages to only install on x64 clients.
  • … .exe install packages that won’t reinstall if you manually remove them from the client (.msi packages do).
  • … the various times I investigated errors from System Center in the Event log on the server, only to find the error was bogus and had been in the product for years without being fixed.
  • … all the times I’d look in the console and see a report that half my computers weren’t up to date on updates, only to check them and find they were.
  • … every time I tried to remotely trigger Windows Update on a group of machines, only to be told that it couldn’t be triggered on any of them because a single machine was offline (when often it was, but SCE doesn’t perform any realtime checking of client machines, it just waits for the remote agent to report in).
  • … that I recently found out that when you delete software packages, it doesn’t actually remove the files from your WSUS server. When I tracked down all the undeleted files that had been left on my WSUS server, I freed up nearly 8GB spread over more than 70 deleted packages.
  • … the article from Microsoft I read a few weeks ago in which they stated that the Virtual Machine Manager components of SCE 2010 will not be updated to support RemoteFX or Dynamic Memory Management.
  • … the fact that on top of everything above, even my end users had been noticing some odd performance issues with the older machines, which when I investigated them, were down to the MOMAgent.exe consuming 50%+ of the CPU time for around 10 mins at a time.

Eventually, I’d had enough. So when I heard about Local Update Publisher recently, I saw my chance. Local Update Publisher is a simple, lightweight tool that essentially replaces the software install functionality in SCE that adds custom install packages to WSUS. It’s a lot like System Center Update Publisher, except you can actually approve the updates instead of just publishing them for later approval in SCCM. What’s more, it does a better job of it. The package detection rules are superior to SCE, even for .exe installs, and if you remove a package, it actually removes it. Best of all, its free.

LUP doesn’t replace all of SCE’s functionality, but it replaces the bit I actually care about. SCE’s time had come, and over the Easter break, I removed all the client agents, and uninstalled it from the server. I haven’t looked back since.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

8 responses to “Goodbye SCE – I never liked you anyway”

  1. sparkeh says :

    What is it with System Centre stuff? The main requirement for any SC product seems to be that you know it inside out before you even put the CD in.

    Config Manager is simultaneously software from Heaven and Hell. When it works you could propose to it and move to a little cottage with a white picket fence and raise little Config Managers. But when it goes wrong, the divorce papers are out!

    • TheCrust says :

      Although I’ve personally never had a problem with SCCM (and use it heavily – the ability to re-deploy whole suites of computers automatically and to a schedule is akin to manna from heaven for a school IT department!) I do know colleagues who have had lots of issues setting both it and other SC family products up.

      For some of the issues that arise, the perception I have is that you either need to be a master of the dark arts – or psychic.

  2. Daniel says :

    I tried SCE some time ago for the same reasons and was also disappointed. I also didn’t like the way it handled Group Policy, and how it dumbs everything down. That might be ok in a brand new environment, but not when plugging into an existing one that has developed over years.

    I’m thinking of maybe looking at the GFI patch management software and possibly also the stuff from Kace.

  3. ScottishTech says :

    Interestingly enough, this is pretty much how I felt about when we used Altiris NS for pretty much anything.

  4. Russell Dyas says :

    The main thing with SC products it just takes a long time to setup took me nearly a day to install on our test network and we missed steps out as we did not need a working system..

    Russell

  5. JD says :

    So in terms of improvements of using LUP over Group Policy software installation .. is it a) you get the BITS download ability for the packages b) it will install the packages in the background c) you can install exes d) has reporting through WSUS e) better logging f) all of the above plus some?

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Pretty much all of the above, though the reporting is done through the LUP program itself. The data is indeed in WSUS, but the WSUS console doesn’t expose any reporting for updates that don’t come from Microsoft Update. LUP pulls the data from WSUS and can build a few tables. It’s not as pretty as the WSUS console but I’ve not been left wanting by it.

      Perhaps more important than the “installing in the background” behaviour is the fact that it install some other time than at system boot, which is what you get with GPO deployment. This means you don’t have to rely on a scheduled nightly reboot to stay current, and if the machine gets shut down the day before, the user is not waiting for stuff to happen before they can even log on.

      Worth noting also that it’s not just .exes you can deploy, but combined with a bootstrap program called RunIt, you can deploy pretty much anything – including .msu hotifxes. Even SCE doesn’t let you deploy those.

  6. Duke5A says :

    Just wanted to say thanks. I stumbled onto your blog from Edugeek and after some tinkering I got LUP working with little issue. I’m now using it site wide (1500 machines) and it is working flawlessly with WSUS on a 2008R2 box. This is by far the most reliable way to push Java updates I’ve found to date and it handles Chrome and Flash flawlessly. Thanks again!