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System Center 2012 Preview: What to Expect

Microsoft plans to consolidate many moving parts in its System Center 2012 products this year -- here's your guide to it all.

Microsoft previewed its upcoming System Center 2012 product family at the Microsoft Management Summit in late March, showing off some new capabilities and enhancements.

Microsoft didn't provide any firm release dates at the Summit, but Don Retallack, an analyst with the consultancy Directions on Microsoft, says that most of the System Center 2012 products will be released by Microsoft in the second half of this year.

The new product family succeeds System Center 2007, and includes solutions such as System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012, which is available as a beta release. Other new products to come include System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2012, System Center Service Manager (SCSM) 2012 and System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2012.

Microsoft also released a second beta of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 in late March, which will have expanded management capabilities for mobile devices and cross-platform server support (see "SCCM 2012 Features" for details on the beta release).

Microsoft's visionary guidance at the Summit event was mostly about enabling private cloud computing. Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Management and Security Division, noted that IT is moving on from just consolidating servers through virtualization into a "new computing paradigm" that focuses more on managing applications and tapping cloud-computing resources.

New Capabilities
Microsoft announced some new capabilities in the System Center 2012 family. One of the new capabilities is called System Center Orchestrator, an IT process-automation solution for datacenter management that coordinates services. The solution is based on the Microsoft Opalis acquisition in December 2009, and is available to customers who purchased the Microsoft Server Management Suite Enterprise license or Server Management Suite Datacenter license with Software Assurance (SA).

Microsoft updated Opalis to version 6.3 in November, but there's also an ongoing Technology Adoption Program for those who are interested in testing Microsoft's next-generation Opalis release.

Another new capability is System Center Advisor, which is the service originally code-named "Atlanta" that can be used to actively detect server-configuration problems. Atlanta was first announced at last year's SQL PASS event, but it's not just for SQL Server, according to Microsoft officials. It essentially hooks servers up to Microsoft's cloud for a check, delivering advisories on any misconfiguration or update issues. A release candidate version of System Center Advisor was available in March for testing.

The third and last new capability is System Center Project, code-named "Concero." Concero is the successor to the VMM Self-Service Portal, according to Amy Barzdukas, general manager of Microsoft Server and Tools Business Communications. It allows workflows to be created, such as assigning a cloud to the finance department within an organization, even while IT administrators maintain overall control.

Concero is part of a general self-service trend that Microsoft has been projecting. Microsoft is enabling self-service portals that will allow service owners to configure, manage and deploy services "without having to deal with things like Virtual Machine Manager and spinning up virtual machines," Retallack explains. He adds that while Concero is part of this effort, VMM 2012 will also enable that capability.

Enhancements
As for the enhanced capabilities, SCOM 2012 now fully integrates the Microsoft AVIcode acquisition, which helps pinpoint flaws in applications built on Microsoft .NET and J2EE platforms. SCSM 2012 also can tap into self-service requests from business managers to request cloud resources. Microsoft improved its DPM 2012 product by adding "enterprise-class" centralized backup and protection, de-duplication support and SharePoint integration functionality.

New in VMM 2012 is its enhanced hypervisor support. It currently works with Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere 4.1 solutions, and it now includes support for Citrix XenServer. IT pros can manage multiple clouds running different hypervisors, explained Kenon Owens, technical product manager for Microsoft Integrated Virtualization, during a press demo in March. Owens generally noted that Microsoft has done a lot of work to meet its customer requirements for managing private clouds with this release of VMM 2012.

Another new feature in VMM 2012 described by Owens is called "dynamic optimization." It allows IT pros to allocate VM workloads on the fly. He said that this capability allows IT pros to set how the workload is balanced, and they can also manage capabilities such as power optimization with it. Users can create collections of VMs in a new "service template." Owens said that the nice thing about using service templates is that versions can be set for them, which can be useful for IT pros when they update services. Microsoft also added storage capability based on the Storage Management Initiative - Specification (SMI-S) storage protocol.

Microsoft will also make it easier for organizations to port their applications to the Windows Azure cloud through a capability called Server Application Virtualization, or Server App-V, which is being added to VMM 2012. Server App-V is planned for final release by the end of the year, but Microsoft released a community technology preview in March (see "Server App-V Added to VMM 2012 Beta" for more details on the new capability).



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