Overview of Microsoft System Center product line and how it can help you

by [Published on 11 Nov. 2010 / Last Updated on 11 Nov. 2010]

This article shows what the Microsoft System Center product line encompasses and how it can help you manage your IT Infrastructure better.

As a Windows Admin it is hard to NOT use a product in the Microsoft System Center product line. These products have a wide breadth and integrate well with Windows Server. Plus, Microsoft will many times offer these products at low discounts when signing volume license agreements. So let's learn what this product line encompasses and how it can help you manage your IT Infrastructure better.

Microsoft System Center is Microsoft's management product line. It is a large lineup of products that are so large, in fact, there is even a yearly conference devoted to them. That conference, the Microsoft Management Summit 2010 is going on right now, as I write this article, in Las Vegas. You might have heard of Microsoft products line SMS or MOM, these products are all renamed and are part of the MS System Center Suite. So what makes up this suite of management products and how can they help you manage your IT infrastructure better.

What is Microsoft System Center?

Microsoft says that System Center manages everything from a desktop computer to the entire datacenter and they are right. With 6+ different MAJOR applications being part of the suite, there is an application to manage all the IT infrastructure and related applications (yes, apps to manage apps). Not only does "SC" manage apps, client devices, servers, virtual machines (and more), it's goal is to automate these management tasks ("Dynamic IT Management", as Microsoft calls it) and  do it in such a way as to standardize policies and apply best practices.

The pieces that make up System Center are:

  • System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)
  • System Center Operations Manager (SCOM)
  • System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM)
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM)
  • System Center Essentials
  • System Center Service Manager (beta)

I will cover each piece in more detail below but let me first point out the following:

  • System Center is not marketed toward small businesses. In fact, Microsoft says that SC is for mid-sized and large businesses.
  • The ideal time to implement the pieces of SC is when your IT infrastructure is just starting out, before it grows to enormity.
  • Even if you don't work for the ideal business who needs System Center, you may be interested in learning more about the System Center products as you may want to get a job at a company that uses these popular products or you may be a consultant that needs to understand these products in order to manage a customer's infrastructure. For more information on learning about System Center see my article How to get certified on Microsoft System Center.
  • Many of the System Center products are currently labeled as a 2007 version but I expect that 2010 versions will soon be many will come out with a 2010 version  will soon come out in a 2010 version and, in most cases, a beta or RTM version is already available.
  • These System Center products are available as trails from Microsoft and if you have a Microsoft TechNet subscription, you can download the System Center products and use them indefinitely, within the TechNet rules of evaluation for internal testing.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)

Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (or SCCM) was formerly called SMS or Systems Management Server. Likely, most people still recognize the name "SMS" more than they do "SCCM". According to Microsoft, the role of SCCM is to "assess, deploy and update servers, clients and devices across physical, virtual, distributed and mobile environments".  Here are some examples of real-world tasks that you might perform with SCCM:

  • Take an inventory of all PCs and servers over the network, identifying hardware and software in use.
  • Rollout a new application package to a group of PCs
  • Upgrading operating systems or patching operating systems across groups of PCs

As these types of tasks are so critical to the IT organizations of mid and large businesses, I would venture to say that SCCM is the most critical product in the System Center lineup.

Microsoft says that 70% of a company's IT costs are from maintaining their IT infrastructure and that SCCM is the right tool to help IT admins control that cost by proper and efficient maintenance.

Currently, the latest version of SCCM is 2007 R2 but there is a SCCM R3 beta that you can download and try for yourself. SCCM R3 is going to offer the ability to centrally manage and control power of Windows PCs including the new power management features of Windows  7. Also with SCCM R3, System Center Mobile Device Manager will now be included, allowing administrators to inventory, deploy software, manage settings, and enforce password policies on Windows Mobile Devices.

System Center Operations Manager (SCOM)

Formerly known as MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager), SCOM 2007 R2 focuses in on  physical server, virtual server, and operating system health, availability, performance, configuration, security, and workloads over time across the entire enterprise. Besides monitoring SCOM also alerts when specifically monitored conditions occur. In the real-world, SCOM is used to:

  • Identify resource bottlenecks causing performance and application issues
  • Determine if applications or servers are meeting service level agreements (SLA)
  • Prevent downtime before it occurs by alerting when resources meet specific thresholds

Currently, SCOM is in version "2007 R2", it's available as a trial, and there is a Service Level Dashboard (SLD) 2.0 now available.

System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM)

System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010 is now available and it offers backup protection for Windows server, laptops, desktop, Sharepoint, SQL Server, Exchange, and virtualized servers (using Hyper-V). Here are some of the new features in the 2010 edition:

  • Ability for roaming laptops to have centrally managed backup policies
  • Site-to-site replication for Disaster Recovery to either another DPM server or an off-site cloud provider
  • Centrally managed System State and Bare Metal Recovery for backup clients.

Personally, I am excited about how DPM now has the ability to use cloud-based providers for backup storage. It will be cool to see how this pans out and if cloud backup storage can become an accepted new standard for backup protection.

Download a trial of DPM 2010 at the link above to try it for yourself.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM)

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 (or SCVMM or just VMM) is used to provide centralized management of Hyper-V servers and their virtual machines. With VMM, a number of features of Hyper-V become available such as performance resource optimization (PRO) across the entire virtual infrastructure. Besides managing Hyper-V, VMM can also perform centralized management of VMware ESX Server and Microsoft Virtual Server. Additional advanced features available with VMM are:

  • P2V and V2V consolidation with intelligent placement
  • Centralized resource optimization
  • Library of VM templates
  • Quick storage migration

You can download a trial of VMM as a VHD to allow you to quickly get it up and running or you can license it in two editions Enterprise ($869 plus $40 per client OS or user not using a server OS) or Workgroup ($505 for up to 5 host servers).

System Center Essentials

System Center Essentials (SCE) 2010 is now available. The job of SCE or "Essentials" is to provide mid-size businesses the features of the System Center suite that they need at a price they can afford. With the new 2010 edition you can:

  • Manage up to 50 Windows Servers from a unified solution that includes not only physical servers but also virtual server, clients, software, and IT services.
  • Proactive management and automation of common infrastructure management tasks.
  • Mange Hyper-V servers with built in VMM 2008 R2 features including features like P2V.

You can download the trial of Essentials 2010 now and pricing will be made available in June 2010 when Essentials 2010 moves into general availability (GA).

Essentials 2010 is something I personally want to try to because I like the idea of a single physical and virtual infrastructure application for the mid-size enterprise.

System Center Service Manager (beta)

The most recent addition to the System Center suite is Service Manager 2010 (currently in beta). You can think of Service Manager as a helpdesk for your enterprise - a way to keep track of problems and resolutions. However, SM does more than that. It also provides:

  • Change control
  • Asset management
  • CMDB compatibility
  • and automatic connection to other System Center products to share information

The business goals of Service Manager are to reduce cost by lowering the time to resolution of problems and helping to align IT to business.

A free trial of Service Manager 2010 is now available.

Summary

In this article we covered the six major pieces of the Microsoft System Center management suite. This is a large suite of products that cover software and OS management, configuration management, performance monitoring and alerting, data backup and recovery, virtual host & machine management, help desk management, and a smaller suite that covers many of these functions in reduced scope. All products have trials available (some in VHD format for quick deployment). Some products are already available in 2010 versions and others will be out soon. Overall, I think that this suite has great promise and time will tell if the user community decides to standardize on Microsoft management products over 3rd party management products for their Windows infrastructure.

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