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5 System Center IT Integration Case Studies

Here's some examples of how to get the most out of System Center in your environment.

Much has been said about Microsoft System Center's individual components over the years. Search the Internet and you'll find a lifetime's worth of articles, blog posts, and how-to guides on the functions of each component.

But look for the System Center integration story and you'll find far less community support. Whether by quirk of search algorithm or sheer complexity in the writing, it's surprisingly difficult to find good examples of System Center automation implemented across its entirety.

Filling that gap with some compelling "integration" use cases is a recent task handed to me by my new employer. You might have heard fellow Redmond columnist Don Jones and I have joined forces with the online training company PluralSight. A forward-thinking group, PluralSight is becoming known for IT training that goes beyond your prototypical certification exam prep.

Four nifty use cases highlighting System Center integration prowess almost immediately came to mind. Each combines the functions of multiple System Center components into a complete solution that's greater than the sum of its parts.

The Constrained, Automated Development Environment. Developers and IT testers keep our world spinning on its axis, but their never-ending requests for rebuilt equipment can strain the overworked virtual administrator. Rapid deployment combined with smartly designed VM templates and a self-service portal are an easy fix for offloading an otherwise-manual activity. You can solve the problem by implementing a Virtual Machine Manager cloud to constrain resource utilization. Then, offer a menu of tightly controlled actions -- such as "rebuild my environment," et al. -- to your developers via an App Controller Web site.

The Scalable, Automated Remote Desktop Services Infrastructure. Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is another area of significant automation potential, particularly when you consider how remote application demands wax and wane over time. With a little thinking, though, it's possible to build an RDS infrastructure as a Virtual Machine Manager Service Template. Now, here's the cool part: Use System Center Orchestrator runbooks to scale in, scale out, and even completely redeploy that service when necessary. You can add further workflow by integrating service requests in Service Manager to invoke these activities only after they're approved by management.

The Approved, Automated Software Installation. Thanks to its application catalog and software center roles, self-service is a key tenet of today's Configuration Manager. Yet Configuration Manager by itself suffers from a curious limitation: There's no good way to handle manager approvals for self-service requests. Solving that problem can involve integrating Orchestrator runbooks and Service Manager service requests. Use the runbooks to monitor requested software and notify managers when requests appear. Then, use Service Manager to approve each request, routing responses back to Configuration Manager through Orchestrator for the actual software installation.

A few shrink-wrapped solutions to accomplish this now exist, including a Microsoft Solution Accelerator called the Application Approval Workflow. Given what's available, building your own with the Microsoft and other examples as a guide offers a great opportunity to appreciate just how connected System Center can get.

The Intelligent, Automated Cloud Service. The last of these is only now becoming reality thanks to the System Center Management Pack for Windows Azure and the Windows PowerShell-based runbooks in Service Management Automation (SMA). These offer the nuts and bolts necessary for recognizing when a Microsoft Azure-based cloud service is overloaded, and then automatically provisioning additional resources to handle the load. Scaling back that service to reduce resources and save on cost can be similarly as trivial -- if you've got the Windows PowerShell chops to build a few good SMA runbooks.

System Center Synergies. With a hat tip to the workflow automation brought about by Orchestrator and SMA, System Center as a whole is becoming greater than the sum of its parts. But these "integration" stories aren't something you get right out of the box. In most cases, you've got to build them yourself, which can be altogether overwhelming until you get the hang of it.

I'm in the process of building them for my new employer. Do you plan to do the same in the months to come?

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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