Microsoft System Center 2012: Taking Systems Management to the Cloud

The System Center 2012 suite will take a comprehensive, integrated approach to infrastructure management, monitoring and optimization.

Joshua Hoffman

Highly optimized IT organizations have always taken a thoughtful approach to systems management. This approach can help give you direct insight into your infrastructure in real time to facilitate intelligent decision making and help you control and manage your systems.

This in turn simplifies administration, reduces support costs and enhances security.

The landscape of systems management is changing, though. Network boundaries are blurred. More remote users require access to corporate resources. And many of those corporate resources have migrated to the cloud.

The proliferation of mobile devices has reached a fever pitch, and the “consumerization” of IT has led to devices traditionally meant for personal use being given access to business-critical data. Economic pressures have created more heterogeneous environments than ever as IT managers look for the best possible deals on hardware, software and services.

Fortunately, systems management solutions are keeping pace. The forthcoming Microsoft System Center 2012 suite provides a comprehensive, integrated approach to infrastructure management, monitoring, and optimization. I’ll discuss some of the major components of the suite, how they address the evolving systems management challenges and how they help bring best-of-breed management to a cloud-based world.

Configuration Manager 2012

The boundaries between work and life have blurred. Your users expect constant access to corporate services from wherever they are on whichever device they’re using—desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices. To support a rich user experience across an expanding range of mobile devices, you need to adopt new processes, new physical infrastructure and virtualization technology. You must also ensure those changes meet corporate control and compliance requirements. You have to manage and secure these enabling technologies without driving up operational costs or increasing administrative complexity.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 can address these challenges in myriad ways. SCCM 2012 enables the device freedom that users have come to expect, while ensuring that you can still exert an appropriate level of control. SCCM 2012 introduces multivendor platform support, with native support for all devices that leverage Exchange ActiveSync technology. This includes Windows Phone-, Apple iOS-, Symbian- and Android-based devices. You can manage multiple mobile device platforms, complete with asset tracking and policy enforcement. You can even manage mobile devices that connect to public cloud-hosted e-mail infrastructure, like Office 365.

SCCM 2012 also introduces an intelligent application delivery model that leverages delivery and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies including Hyper-V, App-V and Citrix XenDesktop. You can have applications delivered directly, whether they’re connected to the corporate network or remotely through the cloud.

Using this intelligent application delivery model, you can create and manage a software catalog that defines the applications to which a particular user or group of users should have access. You can also let your users choose the most appropriate way to access those applications, whether a local client-side installation or through a virtualized desktop from the road.

There are many ways SCCM 2012 can help you achieve greater resource and cost efficiency. SCCM 2012 makes it easier and faster for you to perform day-to-day tasks by introducing a new UI. This lets you organize administrative tasks by business roles, ensuring that only relevant features are visible to any given role. SCCM 2012 also reduces the complexity and cost of implementing virtual environments by providing a single, unified tool to manage all your client desktops, thin clients, mobile devices and virtual desktops.

SCCM 2012 provides a single, integrated platform for desktop security and compliance management. Along with Forefront Endpoint Protection 2012, it delivers a single solution for malware protection, identification and remediation of vulnerabilities. It also provides visibility into non-compliant systems, including those in pooled VDI environments. The continuous settings enforcement automatically identifies and remediates non-compliant physical or virtual desktops, limiting non-compliance and minimizing downtime.

Operations Manager 2012

Having insight into the current state of your IT infrastructure is critical to providing high-quality IT services to your business in both an operational and cost-effective way. System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2012 provides this critical insight, along with built-in knowledge and best practices, empowering administrators to make smart decisions based on real-time data.

SCOM 2012 will expand on the solid foundation of the SCOM 2007 R2 release by improving performance and availability. It will also expand the lens of operational insight beyond individual servers to include the network backbone applications in the cloud.

One of the most obvious and sought-after changes is the deprecation of Root Management Server (RMS). In previous versions, RMS was the first management server installed in the environment. It acted as the single host for a number of unique services, including the SDK Service and the Config Service. It also hosted a number of unique workflows run by the Health Service.

These services are obviously critical to SCOM operations. In previous versions, however, the only way to prevent the RMS from being a potential single point of failure was to install it in a cluster, which required special hardware. In SCOM 2012, the RMS is deprecated, and you can now install individual management servers on commodity hardware or virtualized platforms, which provides high availability out of the box.

Additionally, in SCOM 2007 R2, you had to designate a single management server to manage any cross-platform or network devices. SCOM 2012 introduces the concept of management server pools. You can add multiple management servers to a management server pool, which  adds both scale and resiliency. You can also assign cross-platform and network devices to a management server pool, once again reducing any potential single point of failure.

Perhaps the most significant change in SCOM 2012 is the cloud-based orientation that now permeates much of the System Center suite. In the past, it took a relatively server-centric approach, focusing on each individual server component of the infrastructure. SCOM 2012 incorporates the cloud-oriented “fabric” notion of infrastructure topology. This expands the lens to include the underlying network and storage layers, as well as the overarching application layer.

For example, SCOM 2012 dramatically increases its view into the network layer with support for multiplatform, multiprotocol network-device monitoring. SCOM 2012 lets you specify community strings for authentication, and then leverages the Simple Network Management Protocol and Internet Control Message Protocol to discover network devices throughout the environment.

You can dive into each individual network device for detailed information on the health of that device, how it’s performing and how it has been performing over time. SCOM 2012 also introduces the “Vicinity View.” This displays every asset with two network hops, providing a network map that includes all servers, how they’re connected to the network and how they’re connected to each other. You can see performance data for those network connections and how that might impact various service or application performance.

SCOM 2012 gives you operational insight into the application layer that runs atop individual servers and the underlying infrastructure. There’s application monitoring support for Microsoft .NET Framework-based applications running on Windows servers (thanks to Microsoft’s acquisition of AviCode, which is available for existing customers), and for Java applications running on WebSphere, WebLogic, JBOSS and Tomcat.

The integrated application monitoring management packs in SCOM 2012 give you direct connections into distributed applications, without any special instrumentation required on the part of the application itself. As a result, you can monitor application availability and performance throughout your corporate environment, or even across cloud-based resources. For more on what’s new in SCOM 2012, be sure to view the Tech·Ed session “Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2012: Overview.”

Virtual Machine Manager 2012

Virtualization unlocks the potential of cloud computing. By leveraging shared physical resources and abstracting hardware from computing power, virtualization helps you create a flexible, scalable and elastic computing platform for distributed applications and services.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012 focuses on delivering private cloud solutions. It moves beyond provisioning and managing individual servers. It helps you manage “Fabric” resources as well—not just servers, but shared resources like storage and networks.

With Fabric resources configured, you can build and manage private clouds incorporating a combination of distributed resources. A private cloud managed with VMM 2012 provides the following benefits:

  • Opacity: Self-service users have no knowledge of the underlying physical resources.
  • **Elasticity:**You can add resources to a private cloud to increase the capacity.
  • **Optimization:**Resource usage is continually optimized without affecting the overall private cloud user experience.
  • **Self service:**You can delegate management and usage of the private cloud while retaining the opaque usage mode. Self-service users need not ask the private cloud provider for administrative changes beyond increasing capacity and quotas as their needs change.
  • Resource pooling: Through the private cloud, you can collect and present an aggregate set of resources, such as storage and networking resources. Resource usage is limited by the capacity of the private cloud and by user role quotas.

You can also leverage the new VMM 2012 Service Designer to create service templates. Service templates define the resource requirements for a given service, including operating system and hardware requirements, roles, features, applications and so on. You can deploy these templates to the most appropriate or available resources when they’re required. You can find more information in the blog post, “Creating Service Templates Using the VMM 2012 Service Template Designer.”

VMM 2012 adds a litany of additional features, including highly available VMM hosts, Windows PowerShell 2.0 scripting capabilities, self-service user roles and more. For additional information, be sure to visit the System Center Virtual Machine Manager blog.

Other New Additions

System Center 2012 will also see the addition of a number of new products and technologies, including a System Center project code-named “Concero.” The initial release of Concero will enable customers to deploy, manage, and control applications and services deployed on private clouds built using VMM 2012 and in the public cloud offering of Windows Azure. This provides a consistent and simple user experience for service management across these clouds.

Concero is still in the development phase, but more information is available in the Tech·Ed presentation, “Hybrid Cloud Management with Microsoft System Center Code-Named ‘Concero.’

For more information on all the upgrades coming in the System Center 2012 suite, be sure to visit the System Center homepage, as well as the System Center TechCenter.

Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is the former editor in chief of TechNet Magazine*. He’s now an independent author and consultant, advising clients on technology and audience-oriented marketing. Hoffman also serves as editor in chief of, a site devoted to growing and enriching the market research community. He lives in New York City.*