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What SCCM collections should I use for Linux?

SCCM 2012 collections allow admins to organize Linux systems as well as Windows systems. How should admins approach it?

The ability to organize servers or users into managed groups -- or collections -- is a powerful feature of SCCM 2012. Systems can be organized based on operating systems in order to help facilitate operating system updates or patches. Systems might be organized based on hardware characteristics to improve physical maintenance or track systems in need of hardware upgrades. Systems might also be collected into groups based on applications to speed software, patch deployment and so on. Collections can be directly applied to desired systems (a type of permanent grouping), but collections can also be applied dynamically in response to queries. This allows administrators to find and organize systems with desired hardware or software characteristics as needed.

SCCM provides clients that support Linux and UNIX systems as well as native Windows servers. Linux and UNIX systems are included in the "All Systems" collection by default. This is fine for overarching, enterprise-wide inventories, and there is no technical need to create specific collections to accommodate Linux or UNIX systems. However, the "All Systems" collection has little value in focused inventory assessments, and it can even cause unexpected errors during common management tasks. For example, if Windows and Linux systems are mixed in the same collection and a Linux patch is applied to the mixed collection, the patch process may only report a partial success -- even though all of the Linux systems in the mixed collection might have updated properly.

Administrators can apply a series of membership rules when creating more granular collections of systems. From the Configuration Manager console, select Assets and Compliance, click Device Collections, find the Create group on the Home tab and click Create Device collection. This starts a device collection wizard. Once the wizard starts, administrators can name and describe the collection on the General page, and then add members and rules to the collection on the Membership Rules page. There are no "preferred" rules for Linux or UNIX system collections -- rules simply apply up to four logical filters to members of the collection.

The Direct rule expressly stipulates users or systems as part of the collection. The Query rule allows dynamic memberships to the collection based on the results of regularly scheduled queries. For example, administrators could create a collection of Finance users. This collection would automatically be updated as users are added or removed from the Finance group. Similar query-based collections could also be crafted from system hardware and software characteristics. The Include collection rule allows one collection to be included within another. The Exclude collection rule lets administrators prevent the members of selected collections from being included in the new collection. If the included or excluded collection is updated, the new collection is also updated accordingly. Multiple include and exclude rules can be added to the new collection.

Data centers are paying more attention to Linux-based servers which have grown more attractive in virtualized environments for the stability and efficiency that Linux provides -- especially when working with a new generation of containers like Docker, LXC, lmctfy and others using operating system-level virtualization. Tools like System Center 2012 Configuration Manager can certainly help to organize and manage Linux systems along with UNIX and Windows systems. But it takes careful attention to integrate and organize Linux platforms in a way that makes sense for the data center.

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