Microsoft System Center 2012 - More than the sum of its parts







By Toby DeChant

For many years now Microsoft has offered various tools designed for systems maintenance and management. However these tools tended to be isolated islands of functionality with little to no intercommunication or functionality. As industry needs and goals have changed over the years, the need for a more capable and interconnected management system became greatly increased.


Starting in 2007 Microsoft began the initiative to bring all of their management systems under one umbrella. This brought us the Microsoft System Center family of products. At the time this shift appeared to be little more than a rebranding of a couple of the Microsoft management products including the shift from Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Management server into System Center Configuration Management Server and System Center Operations Management Server respectively. Also of note at that time was the issue that all of these products were being released, at times, many years apart which made the products feel like isolated islands of management.


Fast forward to 2012 and the release of System Center 2012 which now includes several management products like its predecessor, but unlike its predecessor this time around all of the products in the suite and a couple of relative newcomers finally has a truly cohesive feel and structure.


The key to System Center 2012 Suite of products is in the way they work together to provide a powerful system for complete end to end management of an IT department’s Private and Public cloud systems. In 2012 the System Center Suite is comprised of 8 core services.


The first of these services is the cornerstone of the System Center product line: Configuration Manager. This service is responsible for the management of Overall system configuration tasks like OS deployment, Software deployment, and reporting and management of Workstation and User settings. Next up is Operations Manager. This service is responsible for monitoring the health and availability of servers and services. There is also the Virtual Machine Manager. This service is designed to manage libraries of machine deployments that can facilitate simple VDI system and service deployment. The Endpoint Protection server is designed to manage compliance settings for endpoint configuration including the enforcement of Anti-malware protection and firewall deployment. The Data Protection Manager, as its name implies, is a Microsoft designed Backup and Data Recovery system. The Service Manager will act as a change management and trouble ticket management system. There is also the App Controller acts as a self service portal to connect users and IT departments with the tools they need to quickly and easily deploy systems to either the Private or Public clouds to facilitate everything from deploying a lab environment to fully deploying entire LOB applications and services. And finally there is the Orchestrator service that is designed to act as a go between for all the other Servers in the suite through an extremely powerful and extensible run book system.


Taken as single programs all of these tools with the exception of the App Controller and Orchestrator can and will provide many advantages to managing an IT environment. However as the name of the platform implies, this is a System. When used in conjunction with each other you can perform very powerful automated management tasks. This shift towards the Dynamic Infrastructure will both empower the IT department to enable self service portals to the users as well as giving the IT department the tools and time they need to much more rapidly adjust an environment to ever changing business needs.


For example, let’s say you have the Operations Manager monitoring the performance of an Exchange Server. If the Operations Manager detects that performance or reliability of the Exchange server falls below an administrator defined acceptable threshold, then it can automatically open a trouble ticket on the Service Manager. Upon receiving the ticket request the Service Manager can proceed through an automatic escalation process whereby it will access the Orchestrator server to call a run book. The run book as its name implies is designed to carry out a set of predefined instructions to complete any number of tasks. In this case perhaps that task would include calling on the Virtual Machine Manager to deploy an additional Exchange Server from an administrator defined library of systems and services. Now the defined service on the Virtual Machine Manager would in all likelihood call upon the systems configuration data managed by the Configuration Manager in order to ensure a consistent and reliable deployment of the Exchange Server. Once the new Exchange Server finishes deploying via the run book commands it would fall under the management capabilities of the Management Server and would then bring the previously identified services back to an acceptable level of performance. From that point either from the run book, or simply via the Management Server itself the open ticket on the Service Manager could be closed and a notification would be sent to the appropriate IT management teams notifying them about the averted problem.


Other uses of the System Center would be in self service portal access to servers and services. For instance let’s say you want to enable department managers to provision SharePoint deployments to manage projects within their department. You could deploy the App Controller server connected to either an internal Virtual Machine Manager or even an Azure Cloud subscription that would allow you to store templates for an entire cloud solution based LOB application. In this case that may allow the department manager to simply log onto the App Controller web site and select a predetermined template for SharePoint. This would automatically run through the process of calling the Virtual Machine Manager to begin deploying all of the servers and services, under the watchful eye of the Configuration Manager and Operations Manager servers, which are needed to fully configure a new SharePoint service for that department manager.


As you can see, the deployment of any number of these System Center servers can bring a level of automation and management advantage to an organization. If you deploy the entire suite of services from the System Center you will gain access to a whole new level of automation and management that was previously unattainable or very difficult to configure and manage.


Toby DeChant is a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) with 12 years of experience in the computer industry as a lead networking administrator and certified trainer. Specialist in designing, implementing and supporting computer networks for corporate environments.