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System Center Technical Preview: What's New and What's Missing

Given the hubbub surrounding the Windows 10 announcements, it can be easy to miss the other two arguably more important releases in this wave: the Windows Server and System Center vNext Technical Previews.

Ignoring for a minute whatever's new in Windows Server, it's the System Center update that appears to me most curious. Dig around the Web for details on what's new in the System Center Technical Preview, and more often than not you'll instead find details of what's missing.

That early focus on what's not in vNext should be concerning for those who've drank the System Center Kool-Aid. Considering the scope of what won't be around in this next release, smart IT shops might start preparing now for a reasonable amount of management platform retooling.

First on the chopping block is App Controller. This tiny Silverlight application has always seemed to be more promise than delivery throughout its short lifecycle. I've often suggested, only partially in jest, "Pay careful attention to App Controller, because there's less there than you'd think."

With App Controller, I found myself routinely seeking self-service functional­ity that simply didn't exist. It could indeed deploy System Center Virtual Machine Manager Service Templates and manage Microsoft Azure virtual machines (VMs), but I rarely found the advanced functionality I desired to elevate that experience into real-world applicability.

App Controller in the System Center vNext Technical Preview is replaced by Windows Azure Pack, which is at the same time more fully featured and far more complex in both installation and management. I suspect my old buddies Yung Chou and Keith Mayer, both Microsoft evangelists on this technology, have their work cut out for them in socializing the impending preeminence of Azure Pack.

Also eliminated is a technology I've routinely referred to as "The Worst-Named Product in Microsoft History": Server App-V.

Server App-V is and was tough to get excited about. Imagine an app virtualization solution -- without any app virtualization -- that required a different packager and only delivered its goods through Virtual Machine Manager Service Template deployments. As a trainer I've had a hard time convincing people to use Virtual Machine Manager Service Templates; I've rarely succeeded in adding Server App-V packages over the top.

Server App-V suffered also from a bit of naming schizophrenia. Just try entering the string "server app-v" in your favorite search engine. You'll find thousands of near-misses related to App-V: similar name, similar functionality, but a functionally dissimilar product. It can make you want to bang your head on a table.

One bit of good news, if I understood the Microsoft "Features Removed" document, is that Microsoft has replaced Server App-V with something called "Migrate workloads to virtualized platforms using templates." I believe (hope) this refers to improvements in the creation and use of Virtual Machine Manager Service Templates.

The Virtual Machine Manager Service Template Designer and Application Profile wizards get better with each release, but they still suffer from much-needed functionality. I can only hope this release investment goes into plugging those holes, because just a little work here can make the Virtual Machine Manager Service Template experience truly outstanding.

For the other retired products, I breathe a sigh of relief. I'd feared their previous inclusion signaled Microsoft investment in areas best left for third par­ties. These are things such as management pack creation with Microsoft Visio, governance support in Service Manager, and the Cloud Services Process Pack, the last of these being a ridiculously complex System Center overlay that few people implemented, yet somehow became part of Microsoft Official Curriculum.

Most notable among the missing, however, is a System Center Configuration Manager Technical Preview. The next Configuration Manager update is currently scheduled for early 2015 and, according to the System Center Configuration Manager Team Blog, "will deliver full support for client deployment, upgrade, and management of Windows 10 and associated updates." That same blog further reports Configuration Manager vNext "will also support the evolving servicing model covered [in the next] Windows Server."

The good news is that Configuration Manager appears to stay for another release wave. Its extra time in the oven suggests some possible grander changes over the longer term. I'll be keeping an eye on it, and most particularly how it and Microsoft Intune are positioned. You should, too.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, 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 @concentratedgreg.


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