Trying to describe what you can accomplish with Microsoft System Center 2012 is akin to defining what a carpenter can build when he opens his toolbox. The possibilities are virtually limitless. When all of the System Center 2012 management components are deployed, administrators and decision makers have access to a truly integrated lifecycle management platform. The seven core applications can each be deployed independently to provide specific capabilities to an organization, but are also tightly integrated with each other to form a comprehensive set of tools.
System Center 2012 is offered in two editions, Standard and Datacenter, with virtualization rights being the only difference. The simplified licensing structure is identical to that of Windows Server 2012. Further simplifying the licensing, SQL Server Standard is included and no longer needs to be licensed separately. The applications that make up the System Center 2012 suite, however, cannot be licensed individually, so it makes sense to have an idea of what each application can do, and how it fits into your environment.
(There are additional Client Management Licenses which are required for client OSs. Licensing may be more complicated when upgrading from previous System Center or Forefront products. Consult a licensing specialist.)
Virtual Machine Manager
As its name implies, Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), manages Virtual Machines, but also so much more. It is arguably the most important component of System Center 2012 for creating and managing a private cloud. With its support of multiple hypervisors (including Hyper-V, VMWare vSphere and Citrix XenServer), it effectively consolidates all of your VMs, hypervisors, data storage pools and virtual networks into a single management interface. Role-based access allows you to then delegate access to managed pools of compute, network and storage resources across your enterprise.
“Self service” is the aim of App Controller, a web portal that offers consumers the ability to deploy and manage their own virtual machines and applications transparently across the private cloud, and within Azure from a single location. Applications and Virtual Machines can be moved to and from Azure. Behind the portal interface, lay the compute, storage and network capacity quotas, plus the application and VM templates used to enforce standardization and policy compliance.
Configuration Manager, like its predecessor SMS, is a workhorse capable of managing and deploying base OS images, then layering custom baseline configurations and deploying software and updates. Hardware and software inventory and configurations can be monitored for changes, enforcing your change management process, and ensuring asset and license inventory is kept up to date. Patches and software updates, as well as the applications themselves, can be pushed to systems and users, or just published to an enterprise Software Library for them to consume as needed. The strength of Configuration Manager is in its flexibility.
For 2012, Endpoint Protection has been integrated in to Configuration Manager, expanding its management capabilities to deploy anti-malware updates, and client firewall policies, as well as monitor and report on client protection status and identified threats to the enterprise.
Monitoring the overall health of your enterprises systems is Operations Manager’s job. Its Windows agent collects event log, security and performance data for each system, but is also capable of in-depth monitoring of UNIX, Linux and various network devices and applications in order to provide a complete monitoring solution. Operations Manager is able to deliver notifications of any state changes or other events, and when integrated with Service Manager, can automatically create new incidents. The Data Warehouse automatically aggregates and stores the collected data for historical reporting and trend analysis.
You could call this one the brains of the operation. Integrating tightly with Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, Virtual Machine Manager and Orchestrator, is System Center’s incident management and change control system: Service Manager. Its job is managing the process behind your IT operations, controlling change, and ensuring both are well documented. Inventory information can be pulled directly into the Service Manager Change Management Database from Configuration Manager, Active Directory and Virtual Machine Manager. It’s capable using workflows to automatically take action on service requests, eliminating user interaction of common tasks, and the risk of user error. While the other System Center applications are busy collecting information and performing IT tasks, Service Manager is quietly running behind the scenes, ensuring intelligent IT decisions can be made.
Orchestrator is all about process automation, and bridging the gap in heterogeneous environments. It is a runbook automation tool that allows routine tasks to be standardized and automated. Its graphical interface allows for drag-and-drop creation of process workflows, which in many cases eliminates the need to write lengthy scripts. (Although text-based script creation is also fully supported.) Orchestrated workflows can be launched manually, as a scheduled job or by using any variety of triggers, and can perform virtually any conceivable function, even reaching out to Office 365 and Azure, and other vendor platforms such as VMWare, Dell, HP and BMC…just to name a few. For enterprises that rely on non-Microsoft tools, or who need to integrate other business operations (such as HR) into their IT processes, Orchestrator provides a simple but powerful means.
Data Protection Manager
Backups are essential, yet centralized backup systems can be quite costly. Since Server 2008 introduced image-based backups, the practice of scripting backups to remote storage has become impractical, at least without a third-party solution. However, since Data Protection Manager is now included in the System Center license, you can automatically backup all of your windows servers and applications, including SharePoint, Exchange and SQL Server, as well as desktops: all managed from one central location. Block level backups significantly reduce the amount of network traffic and time to complete backup cycles, enabling backups to occur more regularly, to protect critical data. Backups can be stored on disk, tape or to the cloud using Azure storage. They can even be replicated to offsite locations. Continuing the theme of integration with other System Center applications, Data Protection Manager can be monitored with Operations Manager, and tickets opened in Service Manager, ensuring any issues with backup jobs are not overlooked.