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Configuration Manager 2012 Frees Up IT with Do-It-Yourself User Features

The Software Center and Application Catalog features of Configuration Manager 2012 have the potential to fundamentally change the relationship between IT and users.

Are the days of the IT field technician numbered? That's the question I asked myself recently while teaching a System Center Configuration Manager 2012 Master Class to a roomful of wide-eyed IT pros.

They were impressed by the new Software Center and Application Catalog features of Configuration Manager, and that got me wondering. These two client-side components offer to fundamentally evolve the relationship between IT and its users. These features deliver the potential to grant users more control over their computing experiences, enabling each user to install (and remove) whatever applications the user needs, whenever he needs it.

But offering choice in applications is only the beginning for the new user-centric approach of Configuration Manager 2012. Things get even more exciting when you realize these tools can also deliver a complete desktop refresh -- all completely automated, and all without the need for IT supervision.

Troubleshooting never had it so easy.

Layer the OS, Manage the Layers
The notion of a self-service OS refresh might seem ludicrous until you consider deconstructing the layers in the average Windows desktop. I discussed those layers in a 2009 Geek of All Trades column written for TechNet Magazine titled, "A Case for a Layered Approach to Deploying Windows Desktops".

In that column I argued that desktop deployment can no longer be an all-or-nothing activity. The superior approach involves independently managing the delivery of each layer's content: the core OS, drivers, OS updates, applications, configuration changes and user personality.

While that article focused on free Microsoft tools such as Windows Deployment Services and Group Policy for managing each layer, an experienced IT pro should easily see Configuration Manager capabilities that accomplish the same goals. The Configuration Manager OS Deployment feature in combination with the User State Migration Toolkit can archive user data and provision a fresh OS complete with the correct drivers. Configuration Manager Software Updates ensure that each OS is fully patched at the point of provisioning. Configurations can be enforced with the help of Compliance Settings in Configuration Manager.

And now, thanks to the new Software Center and Application Catalog, a refreshed computer's user need only click to reinstall all of the applications his job requires. Suddenly, the old phrase "Have you tried rebooting?" becomes "Have you tried rebuilding?"

Complete Automation, Up-Front Cost
Software Center and the Application Catalog are only responsible for half of my class's wide-eyed amazement. The other half is a realization of how much up-front work will be required to recognize this vision. Configuration Manager might provide the tools, but it's the IT pro who supplies the labor.

Notably, some activities in Configuration Manager are easier than they might look. Software Updates get streamlined with Automatic Deployment Rules. Drivers get automatically deployed via the combination of Driver Packages and Plug-and-Play. Offloading user data becomes a mostly set-it-and-forget-it activity thanks to Microsoft's ongoing investments in its User State Migration Tool.

Applications, however, are where IT's efforts will require the greatest amount of focus. Packaging those applications for Configuration Manager delivery still remains a bit of an art form, although the Microsoft App-V Sequencer along with the variety of third-party solutions is easing this pain. The challenge with applications most often lies in their sheer volume. Businesses today have a lot of apps, and each requires effort to prepare for Configuration Manager delivery. That effort only increases when the Configuration Manager Application Catalog gets involved.

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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