Another new SP1 feature is the integration of System Center's Configuration Manager module with Windows Intune, its system for managing end-user devices. With this release, Configuration Manager has been extended to recognize and manage Windows 8 tablets, PCs and smartphones, as well as Apple iOS iPads and iPhones and Android smartphones.
Through the System Center console, an IT manager can supervise the creation of Hyper-V virtual servers, assign them virtual networking and virtual storage, or set templates that mass produce similar virtual servers on a larger scale.
In addition, Microsoft has added Global Service Monitor, a new online monitoring service built up in its Windows Azure cloud data centers around the world. Microsoft maintains 15 points of presence -- active servers ready to act as end users querying a website -- to launch automated queries at a customer's website and report the website's response times to its owner. That gives users an "outside-in view" of how their website is performing to customers, said Schutz.
This type of global service is just emerging. CA Technologies offers its own service with 77 points, while Compuware (after its Gomez purchase) offers a monitoring service with thousands of points. The more the better, because website users come from around the world and response times can vary widely, depending on where the user is located. More points offer more accurate feedback.
Schutz conceded the service was still young but said Microsoft's advantage in launching it is that it is integrated with the System Center management console, as opposed to a point solution's separate console.
Schutz and Park staged a Webcast Tuesday to announce the added features. It included Alan Bourassa, CIO of Empire CLS, a ground freight transport firm with a presence in 650 cities. Bourassa said Empire runs three data centers around the world that are each 90% virtualized through System Center. It extends its freight system as a service to local haulers, augmenting its core business with a growing software-as-a-service business.
Bourassa said his IT staff has been able to offer "seven nines (99.99999%) of uptime, unheard of before in our industry," through its reliance on System Center. He said his firm considered VMware as it built out its virtualized data centers but found it could more easily capitalize on its Windows Server administrator experience through Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager.
"VMware was a hypervisor virtualization play only. It didn't have the end-to-end solution that we needed for our purposes," he said.
VMware is anything but a hypervisor-only company. Its software-defined data center concepts and advanced work on virtualized networking are the footsteps Microsoft is following in launching System Center 2012 with Service Pack 1. But it's clear also that Microsoft is matching important features of the VMware environment as it keeps improving its core Windows Server and System Center platform -- the so-called cloud OS.