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Is there a System Center evaluation period?

Planning to test a System Center technical preview? Check the release notes before investing too much time.

For systems administrators who want to learn how to manage Windows Server 2016, Microsoft has the preview version of its management platform available for download. There is a System Center evaluation period of 180 days from Microsoft's TechNet Evaluation Center. Visitors will need to sign in to the site before downloading the latest technical preview of System Center 2016, due out sometime in the third quarter of 2016.

Remember that System Center technical preview versions still represent software in development. Some of the features are incomplete or absent, and there can be bugs that result in unexpected and unwanted behaviors. Microsoft has already identified and documented numerous issues -- and possible workarounds -- in release notes for System Center 2016 Technical Preview 4.

For example, stipulating a SQL Server while setting up System Center 2016 Data Protection Manager (DPM) may cause an error, but using the fully qualified domain name for the SQL Server host system should work. Similarly, DPM does not yet back up Nano Server in Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 4; this should be fixed in future releases.

With these caveats in mind, it may not be possible to examine or evaluate every feature of this System Center 2016 release. It's a good idea to check the release notes before planning a System Center evaluation and verify the features you want to check are available. And this evaluation version should never be connected to a production environment or even a secondary environment, such as software test and development.

Taking all of this into consideration, any evaluation of a System Center technical preview should be considered a "first look" rather than a comprehensive upgrade decision. Any organization planning an eventual move to Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 should plan and implement a thorough evaluation of the final OS and management software release versions before going forward with any migration initiative for production.

System Center 2016 is coming, and it should complement the latest release of Windows Server 2016 with new management features and functionality -- both within the data center and the public cloud. But major management software upgrades should be approached with caution. Checking a technical preview now is fine, but you'll need to wait for a later preview -- or even the final release -- to perform the kind of real-life testing and evaluation that would be needed for a production environment.

System Center 2016 Technical Preview 4 is available at the TechNet Evaluation Center.

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