Microsoft System Center 2012 Focuses On Private Cloud

Microsoft expands its role in the data center with private cloud management tools, new cross-hypervisor management capabilities.
Microsoft System Center 2012 is now generally available as a reorganized systems management system with separate provider and consumer management consoles. The addition of a consumer console allows a company's employees to provision themselves with virtual machines.

Systems Center 2012 has been restructured, not only to help IT and operations managers handle large sets of Windows Server systems, but also to give System Center a more private-cloud-like approach to data center management, said Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate VP of security and management.

Allowing end users to self provision is one of four distinguishing characteristics of how private cloud computing is different from simply establishing banks of virtualized servers in the data center. In addition to self service, Anderson offered three tests of whether you've implemented a cloud model: Do think about your resources (servers, storage, networking) in a pooled fashion rather than as individual entities? Can you provide elasticity in services and applications, so that they can expand with demand and contract when it goes away? Can you track usage so that you can show back or charge back to users, or user departments, the compute power they are using?

"If you can answer yes to those four questions, then you're in a cloud computing model," Anderson told attendees in a keynote address April 17 at Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) in Las Vegas, where the updated product's availability was announced.

The role of IT is changing from being a supplier of devices to becoming a supplier of pooled compute resources, Anderson said. "Cloud computing enables you to deploy continuous services that are always on, always available, and delivered ... down to a set of connected devices," he told MMS attendees.

Anderson provided a demonstration during his presentation of how System Center has changed from being a manager of Windows Server boxes to a system "where you can start to think about your storage, your compute, and your network as one. And, as new capacity [e.g., servers] comes into your organization ... how easily and how simply you can deploy that new capacity for it to be consumed." In addition to Windows, Microsoft statistics indicate about 20% of System Center users also manage Linux servers through the product.

[ Microsoft cut back System Center licenses from over 100 different price points down to just two SKUs. See Microsoft Simplifies System Center License Fees. ]

System Center 2012 consists of eight components, including one new application, App Controller, which provides a single management console for managing virtualized applications across a private cloud or Windows Azure. Two components have been renamed: Endpoint Protection was previously known as Forefront Endpoint Protection, built on top of the Configuration Manager component; and Orchestrator was previously known as the Opalis app. Service Manager, Operations Manager, Data Protection Manager, and Virtual Machine Manager are pre-existing components, Microsoft spokesmen said.

The Virtual Machine Manager component will take on a larger cross-hypervisor capability, handling virtual machines generated by Citrix Systems XenServer, in addition to the previously available VMware ESX Server and Microsoft Hyper-V VM management.

In other words, Microsoft officials say System Center 2012 recognizes that a data center isn't a Microsoft-only facility, and it is a suitable platform from which to manage all the x86 instruction set servers as they evolve into a private cloud.

"And so this shift is going to happen as we increasingly add automation, orchestration, and more and more management, and we'll shift from a highly virtualized world into a cloud world," Anderson said in his keynote. System Center will be able to manage workloads, regardless of where they are running, either in the enterprise data center or in a public cloud, such as Microsoft's Windows Azure, he added.

In its Technical Adoption Program (TAP), Microsoft commissioned 200 customers to run pre-release versions of System Center to test its readiness for the general market. "We had over 100,000 servers that were being managed worldwide by the pre-release bits, and incidentally only 10,000 of those were inside Microsoft," Anderson said. The TAP program served as a final customer-based test of the code before System Center 2012 became generally available.

Both Microsoft and VMware have come to view virtualization as a key management point for reorganizing the enterprise data center. VMware lead the charge into systems management through virtualization with its vCenter Operations product.

VMware announced vCenter Operations in March 2011 as a virtual machine configuration, performance management, and capacity planning software. With it, configuration for deployment could be governed by existing capacity on servers and storage, or it could invoke pre-determined limits of compute, storage, and networking, as long as those resources were available.

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