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Microsoft's System Center 2012 designed to ease data center management

Microsoft's System Center 2012 Configuration Manager and Virtual Machine Manager 2012 aims to please system administrators.

Managing a data center server environment is a daunting task. Patches, updates, software rollouts, orchestration methodologies and other processes take up a lot of time if you don’t have the right tools.

Virtualization, heterogeneous operating systems and the cloud further complicate matters. And your employees are going to want to use their own devices to get their work done.

Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (SCCM 2012) and Virtual Machine Manager 2012 (VMM 2012), part of the System Center 2012 suite, promises to make life easier for IT and introduce a whole new way to manage and control data centers.

Simplified virtual machine management  in System Center 2012
When SCCM 2012 was announced, details poured in regarding the advancements  Microsoft had made in managing a diversified physical and virtual environment. As hardware consolidation ratios increased, more virtual machines (VMs) were placed on top a physical server, resulting in more server density with fewer physical servers. These VMs still needed to be managed, controlled and secured. There are five core tools in SCCM 2012 to help manage and control your virtual environment.

  • Application delivery: One of the biggest benefits of SCCM 2012 is the new “user-centric” approach to application management and delivery. The new UI makes management easier with visibility into device and network capabilities. The engine works with the administrator to determine the best method of deployment: local installs, App-V or even a presentation server. The latest integration with Citrix’s XenApp allows administrators to manage and give access to numerous published and virtual applications on a variety of different endpoint devices.
  • Mobile device management: This is where the power of bring your own device (BYOD) policies can be utilized. SCCM 2012 can manage numerous devices to allow the end-user to be more productive on their own hardware. Windows Phones, Symbian, iOS and Android-based devices can be managed with a single administrative console capable of managing policies, security settings and even compliance standards.
  • Virtual desktop management: One idea behind SCCM 2012 was to unify important virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) management features into one single pane of glass, reducing complexity and creating a unified tool capable of managing desktops, thin clients, mobile devices and virtual desktops. SCCM 2012 and VDI management extend the capabilities to allow inventorying, updating and orchestrating application delivery down to a virtual desktop without all the physical components.
  • Endpoint protection: With security a major concern for many environments, SCCM 2012’s unified security management interface features simplicity and easy manageability. The new solution creates a single environment capable of protecting against malware, malicious content identification, vulnerability remediation and even providing visibility into potentially non-compliant systems.
  • Software Update Management: As in previous versions, SCCM 2012 aims to make updating and patching easier. With virtualization and BYOD in mind, SCCM 2012 delivers the capability to update Microsoft products, third-party applications, hardware drivers and even the BIOS on a variety of devices including laptops, desktops, servers and mobile devices.

When we discuss virtualization, it’s not just about a VM or even VDI. The conversation revolves around IT consumerization. SCCM 2012 helps administrators break the common management mold and free themselves from worrying about endpoint management. This means BYOD becomes simpler to control even as users use a larger variety of their own equipment, such as iPads and Android smartphones.

Virtual Machine Manager 2012, another System Center 2012 advance
Another major addition to the System Center 2012 suite is the long-awaited Virtual Machine Manager 2012. Cloud computing and virtualization go together when drawing out and implementing a design. Using VMM 2012, administrators can manage individual servers as well as shared resources. This means controlling core resources such as storage and network components becomes much easier.

According to Microsoft, when an administrator configures and utilizes VMM 2012 to manage private cloud deployment on top of a virtual infrastructure, they will see numerous benefits:

  • Opacity: Self-service users will require no knowledge of the underlying physical resources.
  • Elasticity: Administrators can add resources to a private cloud to increase the capacity.
  • Optimization: Resource usage is optimized continually 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 – storage and networking resources, perhaps. Resource usage is limited by the capacity of the private cloud and by user role quotas.

VMM 2012 has many powerful administrative tools and features – PowerShell 2.0 scripting, self-service role assignments and others – to make managing a private cloud and virtual environment easier. They make the administrative and management process simpler within a virtual infrastructure.

SCCM 2012 in a heterogeneous environment
In the System Center 2012 suite, Microsoft took a proactive approach to the management of a heterogeneous environment. The official announcement states SCCM 2012 will support the management of UNIX and Linux systems.

This is great news for many administrators hosting a variety of operating systems within their data centers, but there are some things to keep in mind. The goal of managing a UNIX and Linux environment was not all-encompassing when Microsoft announced SCCM 2012, so this management feature specifically targets:

  • Environments where Windows clients and servers are predominant.
  • Enterprises where UNIX/Linux management is important due to security and regulatory requirements.
  • Organizations with both simplification and cost driver demands pushing the environment towards a SCCM’s unified management solution.

One more caveat is that UNIX and Linux management is geared toward the server infrastructure and not toward desktop deployments. While administrators are working with a truly comprehensive management platform, they must be aware that the reach is limited to the server infrastructure.

For the UNIX and Linux administrator, there are several key features to look out for:

  • Discovery focusing on Active Directory and network components
  • Push install of native clients
  • UNIX and Linux hardware inventory capabilities
  • Installed software inventory
  • Software distribution and patch installation
  • Mixed as well as native-mode security management

Although not officially announced, administrators are also hoping for software and file inventory features as well as OS deployment with native tool manageability.

There are at least 21 platforms planned for support within the new suite:

  • AIX
    • Version 7.1 (Power)
    • Version 6.1 (Power)
    • Version 5.3 (Power)
  • HP-UX
    • Version 11iv3 (IA64 and PA-RISC)
    • Version 11iv2 (IA64 and PA-RISC)
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    • Version 6 (x86 and x64)
    • Version 5 (x86 and x64)
    • Version 4 (x86 and x64)
  • Solaris
    • Version 11 (x86 and SPARC)
    • Version 10 (x86 and SPARC)
    • Version 9 (SPARC)
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server
    • Version 11 (x86 and x64)
    • Version 10 (x86 and x64)
    • Version 9 (x86)

When System Center 2012 becomes available,  take the time to plan the deployment around its powerful tools by understanding the features, knowing how to administer the product suite and deploying it with best practices in mind. Now an administrator can empower users to be more productive. This new breed of tools consolidates what would have otherwise been a dispersed effort when it comes to server and data center management and gives the IT environment a unified infrastructure that delivers and manages user experiences across corporate environments, consumer devices and heterogeneous data centers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Kleyman, MBA, MISM, is an avid technologist with experience in network infrastructure management. His engineering work includes large virtualization deployments as well as business network design and implementation. Currently, he is the Virtualization Architect at MTM Technologies Inc. He previously worked as Director of Technology at World Wide Fittings Inc.

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