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Evaluating Microsoft System Center 2012 Service Pack 1

The release of the System Center 2012 SP1 beta supports Windows Server 2012 and does more with Hyper-V, the cloud and PowerShell. Here's what's new.

In September, Microsoft released a preview of its first service pack beta for the company's integrated systems management and configuration suite, System Center 2012. In this tip, I'll take a look at what's new in the service pack and what areas you should examine as you evaluate whether to update your current configuration or to switch over to System Center from a competing management product.

Main features and capabilities

There are several hotspots in this service pack beta, which is more than service packs have traditionally been in terms of features and update coverage.

You can start, stop and restore backups from the online service right from within Data Protection Manager from an integrated single pane of glass.

The main attraction of System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 is its ability to target Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 machines for management and administration tasks. While the current version of System Center 2012 only supports Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier versions, the beta adds support for managing the latest OS releases, including the release-to-manufacturing editions of both, not just the various consumer previews that have been released.

There is also a renewed focus on cloud integration capabilities in SP1, including integration with the Windows Intune cloud-based management service. Windows Intune is the only way to centrally manage Windows-RT-based devices, including the Microsoft Services. Many organizations expressed concern about running one management framework, presumably System Center, for their traditional domain member machines and a separate system to administer Windows RT devices. This service pack allows for a single view of devices in System Center and allows the administrator to set up reports, assign security policies and perform more functions to a variety of machines, regardless of whether they are actually managed by System Center or Windows Intune.

System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager adds the ability to move existing Hyper-V virtual machines running on your corporate network up to Windows Azure and back again, offering good fallback options for maintenance windows and continuous availability for disaster recovery purposes in a pinch. For further protection, System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) in SP1 adds support for the Windows Azure Online Backup Service. You can start, stop and restore backups from the online service right from within Data Protection Manager from an integrated single pane of glass, which subscribers to both the service and to DPM will find useful.

System Center 2012 SP1 also features an expansion of System Center Configuration Manager to use PowerShell to perform administrative tasks on remote machines and to export the generated scripts.

System Center 2012 SP1 can be downloaded in beta form from Microsoft's System Center website. The final version is expected to release to manufacturing alongside the next revision Windows Intune sometime early next year.

Big benefits for early adopters

SP1 is a comprehensive update that solves some acute, immediate problems for early adopters.

For any IT department already using System Center with plans to deploy Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 soon, looking at the preview version of this service pack makes sense.

Organizations in the same boat with early adopters of Windows RT devices need some way to manage these machines because they are personal devices and can't join the domain. System Center's integration with Windows Intune is currently the only way to do that.

Organizations sticking with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 for a while should be in no rush to update. Waiting for the final release will be just fine.

About the author:
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant, and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003, and Learning Windows Server 2003. Jonathan also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is president of 82 Ventures based in North Carolina, and is currently an editor for Apress, a publishing company that specializes in books for programmers and IT professionals.

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There is no upgrade path from SP1 Beta to the full release of SP1, do not use the beta in any production environment. The process for upgrade, when I checked it 2 weeks ago, was uninstall and reinstall.
System Center 2012 SP1 RTM release possibly 12/14 - info received from a MS partner.