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PowerShell vs. Configuration Manager: Evolve or Die

Will Configuration Manager slowly disappear into obsolete or will it change with the times? The answer could still go either way.

I've spent the last month debating my stance in last month's column ("Are DSC + OneGet the Future of Configuration Manager?"). In it, I explained how a combination of future Windows PowerShell capabilities, specifically Desired State Configuration (DSC) and OneGet, could portend the end of the System Center Config­uration Manager era.

My conclusion, "Feels like a command-line replacement for System Center Configuration Manager, doesn't it?" is now haunting me. I have since pondered more deeply the role Configuration Manager plays, not to mention the je ne sais quoi a Configuration Manager-like solution offers over and above a command-line alternative.

Here's a window into my personal debate. Does Configuration Manager evolve or die? I've argued both sides.

Dies: Configuration Manager has long been a heavyweight solution for desktop management. Its client is cumbersome, using it smartly requires experience, and its original deployment logic was designed for a less user-centric era. Moreover, you can argue that the Configuration Manager Application Catalog and Software Center are perfectly designed for redirection to a OneGet repository.

Evolves: It's hard to argue that the Configuration Manager client isn't overweight. That argument grows even more difficult when its client functionalities can be offered in native Windows PowerShell. However, Configuration Manager software deployment is more than merely deploying software. Just as important is tracking that software, approving its installation and managing where it is and in what form. OneGet's current vision offers to improve only the software repository aspect. Much of the value of Configuration Manager lies in its database.

Dies: While not everyone will embrace a bring your own device (BYOD) approach, you can't dismiss that traditional office LANs are becoming an artifact of a time gone past. Microsoft today supports two independent desktop management products: Configuration Manager for on-premises and Intune for distributed environments. While today each solution offers different feature sets, the features of Configuration Manager might be better served by a hosted solution such as Intune -- even for traditional office LANs. The architectures of DSC and OneGet pair well with that hosted approach.

Evolves: The future of Intune is indeed one to watch, even as many IT pros have given it a pass due to cloud security disillusionment. However, two movements in the industry suggest that an Intune-like approach might be the future of IT. Take, for example, the new Citrix Workspace Services Cloud, a solution I like to call Citrix as a Service. Workspace Services Cloud takes the management of Citrix itself off your task list, just like an evolved Intune aka Configuration Manager as a Service might for desktop management. Further, Microsoft Azure Pack offers another parallel for organizations that must maintain local control. Those orgs could simply manage a local installation of a future Configuration Manager cloud-based service. Two solutions become one.

Dies: What about configuration control? Configuration Manager compliance settings in practice are painful to construct and limited in scope. Once fully implemented, a task that Microsoft needs time to complete, the native DSC will offer a far superior solution for controlling desktop configurations.

Evolves: To that point, there is no doubt. However, one facet of desktop management is hard to ignore: When you're working with thousands of machines, sometimes a GUI is just easier. For this, the Configuration Manager of the future could serve as "a skin" over the native functionality Windows PowerShell provides.

Replace What Needs Replacing
Perhaps the impending new features of Windows PowerShell aren't a wholesale replacement for Configuration Manager, but instead a one-for-one swap for some of the less-savory underpinnings of Configuration Manager. In a future where the Configuration Manager client evolves to become Windows itself, many of the "heavyweight" issues get a lot easier to work with.

The result could be a best of all worlds where activities that favor a graphical approach can be accomplished in a GUI. For everything else, there's always the command line.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author / Evangelist with www.PluralSight.com, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @ConcentratdGreg.

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