Microsoft and Dell have announced plans to integrate their management products as part of a long-term partnership to combine hardware and software admin onto a single platform.

The two said they would ship a free add-on to Microsoft's System Management Server (SMS) 2003 at the start of next year called SMS 2003 Inventory Tool for Dell Updates. It combines the inventory and updating capabilities of Dell's OpenManage 4 systems management software with SMS 2003.

Today, users must use both products to complete inventory and update tasks. Last November, Dell introduced Dell Update Packages with Microsoft Systems Management Server, a manual tool that was somewhat of a proof-of-concept for the SMS add-on. The new tool is fully automated and gives a single view of Microsoft software and Dell PowerEdge servers on a network and any upgrades that are needed.

The SMS add-on automates downloads of BIOS, firmware and drivers from Dell's website, as well as updates from Microsoft's patching and other update sites. "This release is meant to hit the No. 1 pain point today, which is managing the updates to my existing systems," says Eric Berg, group product manager for Windows Server.

Berg says the relationship with Dell is not exclusive and may eventually involve other hardware manufacturers. Dell and Microsoft, however, do have a long-range plan to simplify management across their platforms, including the use of two standards specifications they are committed to today: the Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware (Smash) specification from the Distributed Management Task Force, and WS-Management, a Web services specification that provides a common way for systems to access and exchange management information.

SMS 2003 Inventory Tool for Dell Updates will be available as a free download from Microsoft's website in January.