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Desktop Admins Can Shine with Private Clouds via VMM 2012

IT pros tend to fall into two camps: server admins and desktop admins. It's easy to confuse the second group with the first. Peek through the desktop admin's toolset and you'll find plenty of Windows Servers: System Center Configuration Manager, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), among others. These tools might exist on servers, but desktops are the reason they exist.

Desktop IT pros have long lived in the shadow of their server-centric brethren, even as they've quietly automated most every task in desktop administration. But signs are pointing to a change. The techniques desktop admins have honed over years of service are beginning to see relevance in the world of servers.

Leading that change is the Microsoft vision of a System Center-driven private cloud. At its forefront is the System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM 2012) embrace of services and service templates, an altogether new concept in the provisioning and management of server VMs.

Oddly enough, operating your Microsoft private cloud has a lot more to do with the activities of a desktop admin than any server administrator.

Memories of Ghost
Take a spin through VMM 2012 and you'll see parallels to the desktop admin's line of work. In fact, compare VMM 2012 to versions before it and you'll find an uncanny similarity to how desktop deployment has evolved.

Don't see it? Think back to the early days of Norton Ghost.

Just about everyone in IT has a Norton Ghost story. This tool is credited as one of the first major automations in desktop deployment. Prior to Ghost, desktops were deployed by hand. Ghost revolutionized the process by automating the delivery of "golden images" or "reference images" onto desktops and laptops. These images served as templates that enabled you to trivially replicate your desktop's configuration to another.

Today, savvy desktop admins have evolved past the monolithic Ghost deployment methodology. Aided by solutions such as the MDT and Configuration Manager 2012, the new best practice involves a layered approach that composes desktops out of individually configurable building blocks. These building blocks -- drivers, apps, configurations, updates and others -- offer near-unlimited granularity without the need to constantly adjust a growing fleet of device-specific images.

MDT for Servers
It's for these reasons and more why IT desktop admins might be better prepared for managing a System Center private cloud. To me, the parallels seem glaringly obvious:

  • Building VMM service templates requires the same kind of automations you find in an MDT deployment share or Configuration Manager hierarchy.
  • VMM guest OS profiles can be customized via the same unattend.xml files that desktop admins have built with Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) and the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for years.
  • Automating app installation requires the same silencing and sequencing experience you earn only after years of packaging software for desktop delivery.

It's almost as if VMM 2012 is a bit like the MDT, but for servers. Indeed, you can right-click a template and select Deploy VM from Template. But doing so feels a lot like Ghost -- little up-front effort, but little automation.

Admittedly, constructing usable VMM service templates isn't a task to be taken lightly -- you must invest effort in constructing smartly designed and reusable building blocks. But those building blocks pay dividends time and time again.

Desktop admins, it seems your time in the server limelight has come. Thanks to private cloud, the skills you've honed over the years managing hundreds of machines might change how IT manages mere dozens. That's a recipe for guaranteed job security. Just don't forget: It's not the number of machines that matters -- it's how you manage them.

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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