System Center 2016 Tech Preview 2 Released

Microsoft released its second Technical Preview of System Center 2016 today, and it announced coming service packs for System Center 2012.

This System Center 2016 Technial Preview 2 release, available here, seems to have come a bit earlier than previously forecasted by Microsoft. The first release, available back in the fall, lacked a lot of components and features, and that's still the case with this release. For instance, Technical Preview 2 just includes the Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Endpoint Protection components. Microsoft explained that "many features and scenarios are still in development."

The full System Center 2016 suite of applications is expected to be commercially released sometime next year, but Microsoft has previously indicated that the Configuration Manager component of the suite would appear with the release of Windows 10, which is expected to arrive sometime this summer.

SCCM 2016 Tech Preview 2 Capabilities
In announcing Technical Preview 2, Microsoft noted a few of its "favorite new features." It supports "mixed mode cluster upgrades" and permits "enhanced scale-out file server management." Microsoft also added Desired State Configuration support for managing Linux devices, which is a PowerShell-enabled scheme for setting an optimal configuration state via push/pull technology. It has "native" support for Linux Secure Shell (SSH). Microsoft improved the monitoring of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stacks.

Microsoft is also saying that the SCCM Tech Preview 2 "complements Microsoft Operations Management Suite" (OMS). Microsoft introduced OMS during its Ignite event this week. It's conceived as a standalone solution or a complementary one for organizations with "hybrid" (premises plus cloud) environments to manage. Here's how a Microsoft spokesperson described OMS:

OMS is a set of cloud-based services that customers can start using right away to simplify hybrid cloud management. Customers can either use OMS directly, or to complement their existing System Center management solutions with cross-cloud management capabilities, cloud-based log analytics, and additional core management capabilities such as protection, automation and security. As a cloud service, OMS offers customers rapid time to value without the complexity of deploying and integrating the various services.

While those may be Microsoft's favorite features of Tech Preview 2, a Microsoft TechNet article just specified a few elements that can be tested now. Testers of can use it to try out Windows 10 in-place upgrades. The upgrades can be performed from Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 client versions.

Technical Preview 2 can also be used now to try out mobile application management for devices running Android 4 and later versions, plus iOS 7 and older versions. It's possible to restrict copy and paste operations between managed apps and personal apps via SCCM configuration settings, for instance.

SCCM Technical Preview 2 also works with Microsoft Intune to protect data accessed via mobile devices. This preview lets users test a passcode reset capability as well as a remote lock control feature.

The preview has a new option called "preferred management points" that lets IT pros configure how mobile clients connect. There's also an option for managing devices that don't connect to the Internet, such as devices used for retail or banking transactions.

The preview also works with Azure virtual machines. That sort of setup can be used to "manage clients installed in other Microsoft Azure virtual machines" or clients "not running in Microsoft Azure," according to Microsoft's TechNet library article description.

Microsoft described other System Center 2016 details during an Ignite session on Monday. For instance, the new SCCM Technical Preview was described as the first iteration of the product to enable Windows 10 mobile device management for devices that stay on premises. This sort of scenario applies to embedded devices or "Internet of things" types of devices, as well as "highly regulated customers," according to a slide presented by Mark Florida, a principal program manager on the System Center team. This capability will arrive in Q4 2015, he added in the Ignite talk, "What's New and Upcoming with Microsoft Intune and System Center Configuration Manager," which is available on demand here.

Microsoft's mobile device management scenarios typically align with its Intune cloud-based service for managing Windows PCs, as well as Android, iOS and Mac OS X devices. Intune can be used as a standalone tool or it can be integrated with SCCM via a connector solution. The integrated solution can be used for things like "conditional access," where only managed devices are permitted to connect to premises-based Exchange Server. It can be used to set configuration policies for devices as well. Microsoft is supporting device platform approaches such as the Apple Device Enrollment Program and the Samsung Knox standard for Android devices.

New System Center 2012 Service Packs Coming
In addition to the System Center 2016 products coming next year, Microsoft is planning to release new service packs for its 2012 System Center products. Florida said these new service packs will help with managing Windows 10. There also will be a hotfix for SCCM 2007 that will permit Windows 10 management, but not deployment.

Microsoft is planning to release SCCM 2012 Service Pack 2 and SCCM 2012 R2 Service Pack 1. The release timelines seem to be "May 14," according to this "Overview" slide presented by Florida:

[Click on image for larger view.] Release milestones for Windows 10 management using SCCM and Intune. Source: Ignite presentation of May 4, 2015.

The slide also shows that particular Windows 10 servicing branch models are supported. Microsoft recently described a Windows 10 update model that will have a Windows Update for Business option, as well as a "Long Term Servicing Branches" option. The latter option, which is designed for Internet of things types of scenarios, delivers security fixes only, and no feature updates.

Microsoft is promising a number of benefits with the coming System Center 2012 service packs. The benefits, according to the Ignite presentation, will include:

  • "Faster virtual app (App-V) publishing at first logon for non-persistent VDI environments"
  • "Improved scale and performance for pull distribution points"
  • "Improved data transfer reliability for slow and latent" connections
  • "Native support for SQL Server 2014"

Of course, the service packs also will support Windows 10 app deployments using SCCM 2012.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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