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4 Common System Center Installation Mistakes

Even the most experienced System Center pros can fall victim to these common installation goofs.

System Center is an installation consultant's gold mine. It's big, complicated, overwhelming and radically interconnected. System Center can completely change how your IT organization manages Windows.

There's one caveat: You have to remember to use it. That's the lesson I've learned among countless System Center implementations. The real work starts the moment the consultants walk out the door. If you lose motivation as they depart, the odds are good you'll be calling them back to reinstall what they just reinstalled.

Experienced System Center pros know that when it's fully-implemented, it's merely an empty framework. It sits there patiently awaiting the automations you carefully insert. Implementing System Center is a fun project, ripe with success metrics and project completion fanfare. Subsequently, using it is an everyday activity that enjoys gradual successes among occasional earthshattering errors.

System Center in full use is an extraordinary sight to see. It almost completely defines the IT culture that embraces it. Applications deploy automatically, problems get noticed before they become problems, activities are orchestrated among widespread teams and virtual machines perform exactly as expected. If you've ever complained that Windows should be able to do something, odds are you aren't a System Center expert.

Yet this solution's most challenging phase exists just past its very first step. How does one fail in reaping recognizable operational benefit from a fully-implemented System Center? Consider these four tasks as your "do not do list:"

Mistake #1: Install without expert assistance. IT consultants often get a bad rap for burning time on hourly contracts. Experienced consultants enjoy a key advantage, though: Experience. Implementing System Center requires skillfully laying down a complex weave of component interconnections. What results is powerful automation. Fail just one step though, and troubleshooting quickly becomes a project-killing nightmare. Avoid that first-step misstep and lean on the ridiculously skilled for your installation effort.

Mistake #2: Assume training actually trains. Implementing System Center is a science. Using it successfully is an art. It is unbelievably challenging to teach someone the art of System Center automation. You can only learn it.

This fact is borne out in most System Center training on the market today. It teaches only the science. By no means should you ignore formal training, but you should absolutely augment it with community wisdom.

Mistake #3: Involve everyone; designate no one. Implementation consultants can smell it walking out the door: "We'll be back." A client gets excited about automation. Perhaps they recently attended an IT conference or training class. They want System Center, but they aren't culturally ready to dedicate someone to its daily care-and-feeding. "We're making this a team project," they state. When they go this route, they fail.

You will fail with System Center if you don't designate an individual responsible for its care-and-feeding. You will also fail if that person is responsible for anything else. The desktop technician who will still handle work orders, the administrator who will continue to manage Exchange and file servers, the project team member who will shift onto the next project -- these are the consultant's gold mine.

Be prepared to lock your System Center admin away for at least six months. You won't see much at first, almost nothing at all. Keep waiting. The right person eventually pays for this time many times over. System Center success requires playing the long game.

Mistake #4: Ignore the cultural change. System Center's greatest success stories involve wholesale IT culture change. Choose to "Automate First" every action you're asked to accomplish. For some, the process will take more time -- for others, far less. The "Automate First" mindset quickly begins to build a quiver of clever solutions to routine problems, each of which can be combined and reused for the next problem and the next problem after that.

So how do you truly and completely fail your System Center installation? That's easy -- don't use it.

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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