If you've been watching Microsoft's evolution of products that is coinciding with the release of Windows Server 2008, you have probably noticed some changes in the company's server products. You won't find Systems Management Server 4.0 (SMS) or a new version of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). Instead you'll find a new group of products under the System Center product suite.
Microsoft provides a nice marketing description of System Center with a listing of the new products in the suite. Unfortunately, like most marketing descriptions, by the time you sort through the buzzwords, it's difficult to understand exactly what these products do. This article will put System Center in technical terms that administrators can relate to, with future articles drilling down into each product.
System Center is an umbrella term for a collection of individual products that Microsoft has combined into a more logical grouping for enterprise server products. It really does make sense, but keep in mind that you don't buy "System Center" -- you buy the individual products.
A good way to start is to take a brief tour of the System Center product line to not only understand what the new products are, but to also see the new features that have been added to familiar products you may already be using.
For starters, the two major components of System Center are System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM).
System Center Configuration Manager
SCCM was formerly known as Microsoft Systems Management Server. Originally intended to be SMS 4.0, the product was renamed System Center Configuration Manager to fit under the System Center umbrella. If you currently have SMS 3.0 deployed, you'll need to get up to speed on a lot of things.
Think of SCCM as a new product, similar to the way Exchange Server 2007 is a different product from Exchange Server 2003. There are new hardware and software requirements, and SCCM uses the new Microsoft Management Console 3.0 snap-in that so many Windows Server 2008 vintage applications use now. This console has some cool new drag-and-drop and multi-select features that SMS didn't have, and while SMS had a few wizards, SCCM has a lot more.
There are four major subdivisions of SCCM features. You will recognize most of them as old SMS functions, but nearly all have additional functionality built in.
- Operating System Deployment (now with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 capability).
Software Updates -- New here is added integration with Network Access Protection (NAP) that is built into Vista and Windows Server 2008. This feature also integrates with the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), more evidence that Microsoft is merging server products into System Center offerings.
Management of Physical and Virtual Environments -- This subdivision includes the inventory and software distribution tasks that have been key components of SMS for years, but adds integration with Microsoft's SoftGrid product. Essentially, it separates an application from OS dependency and allows it to be deployed in a virtual environment. It also works with the new System Center Virtual Machine Manager.
Asset Intelligence -- The goal for the latest version of Asset Intelligence (version 1.5 due for beta in February) is to allow you to manage hardware and software assets and compare them to purchased licenses. This could be a great tool for a large organization trying to keep up with licensing requirements.
System Center Operations Manager
Formerly known as Microsoft Operations Manager, SCOM uses MMC 3.0 for the administrator console and thus merges the old operator and administration consoles into a single management tool. SCOM supports PowerShell (including an SDK) for scripting SCOM functions and has richer reports. Microsoft has an evaluation copy of SCOM on its site.
SCOM has tighter integration with Active Directory in that the custom user roles defined in SCOM are mapped to AD groups for access rights. In addition, you can enable an OU -- such as a Workstations OU -- so that when you add a new workstation, SCOM will deploy the agent and configure it. There are also audit collection features that store security logs in a database and it has some sample reports to help you get started on data extraction, an attractive feature for those interested in SOX compliance.
Currently, the first release candidate for SCOM Service Pack 1 is available, and upgrading from RC1 to RTM of the service pack is supported.
More System Center products
Obviously System Center is more than just SCCM and SCOM. Let's take a look at some of the other important products:
- System Center Data Protection Manager -- This was formerly known as simply Data Protection Manager, or DPM. DPM should be a familiar tool to those who are using OEM storage products with the Windows Storage Server operating system installed. It's a backup/restore tool that uses Virtual Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and virtual disk technology to back up snapshots for very quick backup and recovery operations, thus eliminating the old, generally unreliable tape technology. For a detailed overview of System Center DPM, check out this webcast from Microsoft TechNet
- System Center Essentials -- Microsoft designed this new product for midsized companies. It adds a variety of SCOM and SCCM features such as software distribution, update deployment (including third-party updates), software distribution and deployment, discovering and managing computers, and the monitoring of computers and distributed applications. Microsoft provides plenty of webcasts and other information for each of these functions as well as a link to download an evaluation copy
- System Center Virtual Machine Manager -- This management utility for Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 instances appears to be Microsoft's initial attempt to do what VMware has done with its VirtualCenter software. It provides a single administration console, built on MMC 3.0, which allows management of all your Virtual Server hosts. It supports PowerShell, and you can manipulate resource settings (memory allocation, network, etc.) on virtual machines without shutting them down. It also allows migration of virtual machines from one host to another. If you have a large Virtual Server environment deployed, this tool will be a great addition to your management repertoire.
It definitely has some promise in the current virtualization race, and you can download an eval copy of Virtual Machine Manager at Microsoft's Web site.
- System Center Capacity Planner -- For pre-deployment guidelines on deploying hardware for something like Exchange Server, this product is also included with SCOM Note that many hardware vendors also provide free tools, such as HP's ActiveAnswers for Microsoft Exchange Server capacity planning. Look around for more free tools. The System Center Capacity Planner is currently in beta and can be downloaded via Microsoft's Web site.
Obviously, a lot of details could be added to this list, and future articles will drill down into some of these products. I'd advise administrators to take a look at these products and get familiar with them -- not only to get up to speed on enhancements for products you are currently using, but to discover how new ones might help you, too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Global Solutions Engineering. He authored Windows 2000: Active Directory Design and Deployment and co-authored Windows Server 2003 on HP ProLiant Servers. Gary is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and formerly for Windows File Systems.