I'm a big fan of Microsoft's System Center products, which include:
- Configuration Manager. Assesses, deploys, and updates servers, client computers, and devices—across physical, virtual, distributed, and mobile environments. Optimized for Windows and extensible, it is the best choice for gaining enhanced insight into and control over IT systems.
- Operations Manager. This tool is the end-to-end service-management product that is the best choice for Windows because it works seamlessly with Microsoft software and applications, helping organizations increase efficiency while enabling greater control of the IT environment.
- Virtual Machine Manager. Provides a management solution for today’s virtualized data center, affording centralized management of the IT infrastructure, increased server utilization capability, and dynamic resource optimization across multiple virtualization and physical platforms.
- Data Protection Manager. Delivers enterprise-class data protection and scalability; provides unified data protection for Windows servers such as SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, Virtualization and file servers, in addition to Windows desktops and laptops.
- Service Manager. A new participant in the Microsoft System Center product line, Service Manager is intended to be a tool for the IT help desk. Service Manager provides support for incident, problem, asset, and change management.
I’m particularly excited about what I see coming down the line in new releases of each of these products and wanted to share with you information that I’ve culled from a number of sources regarding roadmaps for each product.
As a starting point, here’s a look at a Microsoft-provided graphic that gives you a high-level look at the System Center line along with targeted release dates for each update.
Very recently, Microsoft released Configuration Manager 2007 R3, which adds power management capability to the SCCM product. In my observations, it’s also provided the console with a massive speed boost. R3 is not a service pack; it’s actually an add-on to SCCM 2007 SP2 that adds new functionality. In fact, the overall SCCM build number doesn’t change with the addition of R3 to the mix, although the new client agent does carry a new build number. Under the hood, R3 also marks the true end of life for SCCM’s traditional “reporting point” since all new R3 reports are “Reporting Services point” reports only; that is; they require the use of SQL Server Reporting Services.
While R3 has added some new features, it’s Microsoft’s SCCM roadmap showing a late 2011 release of System Center Configuration Manager 2012. This release marks one of Microsoft’s forays toward a more “user centric” environment enabled by the System Center products. SCCM 2012 brings a brand new GUI that looks much more like the other products in the System Center line (most notably, SCOM), as well as a number of enhancements to software deliver, OS deployment and a lot more. However, don’t take my word for it. Instead, listen to the “SCCM Godfather” Wally Mead describe the really cool new stuff coming in SCCM 2012.
Here are some of the features coming to SCCM 2012:
- Flexible delivery of applications. Using a capability known as Conditional Delivery, SCCM 2012, will be able to deploy applications to users in ways that are the most appropriate to their situation. Application delivery options include traditional installation, delivery via presentation servers, virtual applications and mobile.
- In SCCM 2012, the Desired Configuration Management feature has been renamed Settings Management
- ForefrontEndPoint Protection will be integrated into SCCM 2012.
- A lot of new terminology. SCCM 2012 eschews some of the terminology to which we’ve become accustomed in favor of new ones. For example, an advertisement is now a deployment and a package is now an application.
- Software Updates will now support auto deployment rules enabling administrators to automatically deploy updates that meet specified criteria.
- If you’ve missed the Remote Control feature from SMS 2003, it’s back in SCCM 2012.
Currently sitting at System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, Microsoft has also slated Operations Manager vNext for a 2011 release. For more than you ever wanted to know about what’s coming in vNext, take a look at this video starring SCOM Guru VladJoanovic. In it, Vlad describes new console features, performance enhancements, and ways that Microsoft is attempting to make SCOM easier to use. For beginners, SCOM is a big, scary beast. It’s only once you discover that SCOM is nothing more than a framework that the product begins to make sense. Through the use of add-ins (management packs), additional functionality is enabled. For example, out of the box, SCOM will do some basic monitoring, but if you want to monitor DNS servers in depth, add the management pack and make the necessary adjustments (overrides) to monitor in a way that makes sense for your organization.
The most significant change is that SCOM 2012 does away with the Root Management Service which simplifies the environment and adds a level of redundancy that is currently missing.
I’m not going to go into a feature-depth analysis of SCOM vNext (Operations Manager 2012), except that say that Microsoft is currently shooting for a late 2011 release.
Here are a couple of the features coming to SCOM 2012:
- The Root Management Server role is gone! All management servers in the SCOM 2012 are peers. This eliminates a major single point of failure.
- Device discovery has been enhanced by allowing the process to consult a device’s ARP cache to see what else is out on the network.
- There’s a lot more to come on this front.
Virtual Machine Manager
Virtual Machine Manager – the current version is Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 – provides organizations with centralized management of their virtual infrastructures which includes centralized creation of virtual machines and consolidation of
Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 brings a number of new features to the table:
- Live Migration—for moving virtual machines between hosts with no downtime
- Additional enhanced migration support for SAN migration in and out of clusters
- Multiple virtual machines per LUN using Clustered Share Volumes
- Hot add of virtual machine storage
- Additional features:
- Functionality to migrate storage for running VMs
- iSCSI target and SAN-based migration across clusters
- Template-based rapid provisioning
- Maintenance mode to automate the evacuation of VMs off host machines
- Live Migration host compatibility checks
VMM 2012 is going to add a number of new features to the product that will bring it more on par with VMware’s current offerings.
- VMware ESX 4.1 support
- Support for newer versions of XenServer
- Remote deployment on bare-metal for Hyper-V servers. VMM 2012 will allow a new server to boot to the network, get its own image from the network, join an Active Directory domain and install the Hyper-V role all without ongoing administrative intervention.
- Dynamic optimization. Dynamic optimization is a feature that will balance workloads across clustered Hyper-V nodes. For VMware aficionados, this feature is similar to Distributed Resource Scheduler
- Enhanced placement. VMM 2012 adds capability to decide based on dozens of factors the ideal host on which a workload should run. Again, for VMware pros liken this feature to DRS affinity.
- VMware has had power management capabilities for a while; this feature is called Distributed Power Management. In VMM 2012, this feature will keep an eye on Hyper-V hosts and shut down hosts during periods of low utilization.
Microsoft is slating VMM 2012 for a mid- to late 2011 release.
Data Protection Manager
Data Protection Manager 2010 has been out for a bit now and includes a number of new features, including auto protection for new SQL and SharePoint databases, easier bare metal recovery options, single item SharePoint recovery and a lot more. As far as I can see right now, there are no major 2011 plans for DPM, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a service pack of some kind. Although there are no 2011 plans for DPM, Microsoft’s roadmap does call for a 2012 vNext release.
Data Protection Manager 2010 brings a whole lot of new functionality to the table, including:
- Volume grow and shrink
o DPM 2010 volumes automatically grow as required to meet the needs of protected data sources
o DPM 2010 allows you to shrink volumes if you've overprovisioned space
- Support for newer systems
o Windows Server 2008 and R2
o Exchange Server 2010 databases now appear within the Database Availability Group (DAG) after creating a new protection group
- Offline client computers can be protected
- End users can recover their own files via End User Recovery
- Support for Exchange 2010 Database Availability Groups
- New SharePoint protection capabilities
o It is now possible to restore individual SharePoint list items… without the need for a recovery farm
o DPM can be configured to automatically protect new content databases
o SharePoint list item search recovery allows you to perform a search based on the title of the list item
- New SQL server protection capabilities
o All new databases within a protected instance are automatically protected
o The new SQL Self Service Recovery tool allows database administrators to handle their own recovery activities
- New tape functionality
- The DPM administration tool shows the amount of data that has been written to available tapes
o Protects virtual machines running under both Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2
o Protect both standalone and highly available Hyper-V systems
o Supports Hyper-V clustering mechanisms that enable high availability, including
§ Failover clusters
§ Cluster Shared Volumes
o Perform item-level recovery from virtual machines
o Restore virtual machines to different Hyper-V hosts
o Virtual machines can be protected during Live Migration
Microsoft’s newest significant System Center product, Service Manager is the tool used by the Service/Help desk to ensure that support tickets are handled and that the IT department is meeting agreed upon support service levels.
This initial full release of Service Manager can hook into Operations Manager so that as alerts are raised in Operations Manager, tickets can be automatically opened in Service Manager.
Service Manager also includes a self-service portal that end users can used to help them provide their own support. Using the portal, users can create incident and service request tickets and view their status, reset passwords (as long as you’ve also deployed Identity Lifecycle Manager), request or install software with minimal or no IT involvement and more. This self-service portal is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of Microsoft’s renewed focus on user-centricity that will be inherent in all new System Center products.
In 2011, Microsoft intends to release an R2 update for Service Manager that will add additional capabilities to this product but details at this point are pretty slim.
As you can tell, Microsoft is hardly asleep at the switch when it comes to developing new versions of products in the System Center line. For those most part, the company is staying ahead of the management curve with its products, with the primary exception being VMM, where the company is playing catch up with VMware. Service Manager is very new, so the jury is still out on that product, but this v1 iteration looks very promising.