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|Evaluating System Center 2012|
|Wednesday, 20 June 2012|
Microsoft's System Center line of products provides a wide variety of management tools for Windows and other computers. Some products deploy and update software, monitor systems, and manage virtual environments, while others provide backup and restore, help desk management, and process automation. The products are generally intended for enterprise use and integrate with other Microsoft software for management and, in some cases, Microsoft-hosted online services. (For example, an online service can watch for configuration errors or system performance degradation.) System Center products are generally sold in license suites.
For 2012, Microsoft has updated all System Center products and made major improvements to features that manage applications, cloud computing, and mobile devices, giving customers more flexibility in allocating computing resources and controlling smartphones and tablets. System Center 2012, released in Apr. 2012, also introduces major changes to the way Microsoft licenses the products. The changes make licensing simpler and more consistent but eliminate individual product licenses, requiring customers to buy a suite instead. However, some existing customers can take advantage of attractive transition offers.
This report provides an overview of the System Center 2012 products, explaining the primary benefits and requirements of each product, and briefly summarizes the products' licensing and pricing.
System Center products provide a wide range of systems management functions, such as deploying and updating software, monitoring operations, managing virtualized environments, providing backup and restore, keeping track of help desk tasks, and automating IT processes. System Center 2012 comprises the latest versions of these products, packaged in various license suites for managing data centers, PCs, and other clients.
Systems Management and Security on the Microsoft Platform
The System Center brand was originally applied to a few products that were developed by Microsoft, but it has since been expanded to encompass other products that Microsoft developed in-house or acquired elsewhere. (For details of the System Center product lineup, see the sidebar "System Center Product Names".)
The System Center products discussed in this report perform the following functions:
Two Microsoft-hosted online services, Advisor and Windows Intune, provide some management capabilities without requiring dedicated on-premises infrastructure. These services can be particularly helpful for small and medium businesses without a dedicated management infrastructure.
System Center products integrate with other Microsoft products—for example, many of the products use SQL Server for database storage and/or reporting, and status dashboards or reports can be published through SharePoint. This benefits customers with the supporting products in place. However, for customers without them, deploying SQL Server and/or SharePoint (for example) to run System Center products may be a major task.
System Center products are often updated in conjunction with OS or application server updates. For example, Virtual Machine Manager 2008 was updated to R2 when Windows Server 2008 R2 was released with new virtualization features. Many of the products in System Center 2012 will get updated with the release of Windows Server 2012, expected in late 2012 or early 2013. A Community Technology Preview of System Center 2012 SP1was released in June 2012, allowing customers to begin testing System Center products with the upcoming Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. Some of the early versions of System Center products are nearing the end of support; companies should consider upgrading to System Center 2012 to take advantage of the features described in this report. (See the chart "Important Dates for System Center".)
System Center 2012 Improves Application, Mobile, and Cloud Management
With System Center 2012, Microsoft has made major improvements in several key areas, including the following:
Devices and applications. Major updates to Configuration Manager and Operations Manager target the delivery of applications to users and include other changes to improve administration and extend capabilities to managing applications, security, and mobile devices. Changed architectures for the management server hierarchies in both products remove some single points of failure and could enable organizations to eliminate some servers or simplify their deployment. Together, the improvements will help organizations manage systems where users routinely employ multiple devices and need a consistent set of corporate applications across them.
Virtual environments. Virtual Machine Manager and App Controller help customers manage the infrastructure needed to support on-premises or hosted services, or a combination of both, and can manage multi-hypervisor environments from Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware. Virtual Machine Manager 2012 can use server application virtualization to allow existing Windows applications to be directly deployed to Windows Azure, the Microsoft-hosted application platform. Microsoft's virtualization tools now support service modeling and configuration to manage an application or service life-cycle (not just data center infrastructure or virtual machines) either on-premises, hosted on Azure, or both. The improvements will benefit organizations creating internal data centers where business units can deploy and manage their own applications, sometimes called "private clouds." They will also aid service providers who offer such data centers on the Microsoft platform to their customers.
Automation. Service Manager and Orchestrator help customers create and manage standard IT processes such as release management and reporting, and automate IT processes to save staff, prevent human errors, and achieve faster remediation of problems. Integration packs allow the products to work with other systems management products (such as other System Center components or non-Microsoft tools) and manage heterogeneous systems in a data center.
Heterogeneous environments. System Center products can increasingly be used to manage other vendors' products. Operations Manager, for example, can monitor systems running several non-Microsoft server OSs (including AIX, HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Sun Solaris, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server), and Virtual Machine Manager can manage virtual machines running on multiple hypervisors, including Citrix XenServer VMware ESX, and vSphere 4.1, in addition to Windows Server Hyper-V. The improvements will help organizations create standard, automated procedures that cut across systems from multiple vendors. They will particularly interest organizations with large investments in Microsoft technology that have nevertheless brought in non-Microsoft technology for specific roles, such as VMware for hosting virtual machines or Linux servers for hosting Web sites.
Stronger Contender, but Complexity Still a Barrier
System Center products continue to increase in importance because organizations have been using Microsoft systems for more and more critical tasks, so the stakes are getting higher. In addition, maintaining compliance with legal regulations or industry standards is leading many companies to automate compliance, and continuing pressure to lower IT costs while reducing staff means providing more automated systems management.
Microsoft has some unique strengths in the systems management software space that could help it displace entrenched vendors, such as BMC, HP, and IBM, and encourage customers to trust Microsoft management solutions. The company has an edge in creating software for its own products because Microsoft has unique insight into how its products are constructed and how new versions differ from past versions. In addition, Microsoft uses its own System Center products to manage the company's large worldwide IT infrastructure and so gains experience in creating, deploying, and maintaining large-scale system management tools.
However, System Center products can be complex to set up, especially for coordination between all the pieces: Microsoft partners have an opportunity to help customers plan installations and can sell the Microsoft infrastructure components required. New licensing models and suites for System Center 2012 make licensing simpler and more consistent but eliminate individual product offerings; customers who want to use only one System Center product will find it substantially more expensive to do so.
This report provides an overview of Microsoft's System Center 2012 line of systems management products, explains the primary benefits and requirements of each, and briefly summarizes the product line's licensing and pricing.
Several products with the System Center branding (Capacity Planner, Mobile Device Manager, and Reporting Manager) have been discontinued and, while they may still be eligible for some form of support from Microsoft, they are not discussed here. In addition, this report does not cover System Center Essentials, a software distribution, system-health monitoring, and virtualization management product designed for small and midsize businesses; Essentials has not been updated for 2012.
This report is organized into the following chapters:
"Configuration Manager Tackles Applications, Security, Mobile" discusses the primary Microsoft product that provides software deployment and updating and manages malware protection.
The sidebar "What Is Intune?" describes an online subscription service to allow management of customers' Windows client PCs.
"Endpoint Protection Joins System Center" explains the software for protecting systems from malware and how it is deployed and managed.
"Operations Manager Enters Second Decade" details Microsoft's tool for monitoring operations and coordinating with other System Center software.
"System Center Advisor Watches Servers" presents the online service which administrators can use to centrally check server configuration and performance.
"Virtual Machine Manager Manages Clouds, Services" discusses the product that manages a virtualized infrastructure, both on-premises and in the cloud.
"App Controller Management Portal" summarizes the self-service portal that lets organizations delegate management of virtualized resources.
"Preparing for System Center Orchestrator" gives background on Microsoft's latest update to the Opalis IT process automation software acquired in 2009.
"Service Manager Aids IT Process Standardization" provides details of a relatively new help desk solution developed by Microsoft.
"Backup Tool Gets Update for 2012" gives details of what's new in Microsoft's Data Protection Manager backup tool.
"Resources" provides an extensive list of reference material for all of the System Center products discussed in this report.
This 28-Page Report Contains [19,476 words]