Decision Maker

Predicting the Future of System Center

As Microsoft shifts everything to a "cloud cadence," it's important to consider what impact it will have on the company's older products, especially those that have a large existing enterprise base.

Even as Microsoft is showing key products such as Exchange Server the door in favor of Office 365 and Azure, enterprises will continue to run and manage large datacenters for many years. As such, that begs the question: What does that mean for the core Microsoft enterprise system management platform -- System Center and its respective family members?

Microsoft hasn't given much insight on its plans for System Center, but here's my own no-inside-information perspective on where I believe they'll go.

Configuration Manager
I don't think we'll see Configuration Manager as a product go away, but the current iteration clearly doesn't fit into the Microsoft Software-as-a-Service philosophy. That said, Configuration Manager is also deeply embedded in a huge number of environments. What Microsoft does have is Intune, a Configuration Manager-like product that does live almost entirely in the cloud. I believe, over time, you'll see a closer relationship between those products.

I predict Configuration Manager will eventually become a hybrid product. Much of your management console stuff will live in the cloud, a la Intune, but much of the passing-out-of-bits will remain on-premises. Think "Distribution Points that are told what to do by a cloud-based management service," and that's probably close to what Configuration Manager will evolve into. It means you'll have local resources for the stuff that needs it -- software and OS distributions -- but the management database and whatnot will live in a Microsoft datacenter, as it does for Intune today. That'll be backed up by cloud delivery of services when that makes sense, such as to mobile or out-of-office clients, branch offices and the like.

I suspect a number of people inside Microsoft regret the company's purchase of Opalis, and System Center Orchestrator Service Management Automation (SMA) is the clear result of that dissatisfaction. I think, over time, you're going to see the Opalis-y Orchestrator phased out, and the Windows PowerShell workflow-based SMA stuff woven in. Over time, Orchestrator will be entirely SMA. So your future investments should focus on the SMA side of things.

Operations Manager
This would be one of the easiest of the major System Center components to cloud-ify: Keep your on-premises data collectors, but instead of feeding a local database, have them aggregate that information into a cloud-based management and reporting console. This approach would make it easier to include Azure-based resources in your overall operations management picture, provide manage-from-anywhere capabilities, and reduce your on-premises footprint.

Service Manager
Today, Service Manager is the hub of the "System Center as a family" strategy, meaning the various other System Center products don't really connect to each other except through Service Manager. This would also, be the easiest System Center product to cloud-ify. The problem is most folks already have a ticketing system, and they're reluctant to migrate to another product because products in this space are notorious for long deployment times and high maintenance requirements.

Data Protection Manager
We're already seeing cloud connections in Data Protection Manager, with the Azure-based backup and recovery services that are already available. I predict you'll see even more of that going forward, as the cloud becomes a viable place to keep tier 2 backups as a hedge against total facility loss.

A Long Road Ahead
In Microsoft's perfect world, we'd buy everything as a cloud service. Few companies are ready to commit to that vision except in specific, limited circumstances. But that's today, and keep in mind that, less than five years ago, Azure and Office 365 barley existed. It's proof that Microsoft can manage long-term vision, and that it can create products and services incredibly quickly when it's driven to do so. System Center in particular, with its strong role in on-premises deployments and equally compelling feature set from a cloud perspective, will be a product family to watch closely.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.


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