This is post one of a two post series. In this post, I’ll look at what Microsoft are doing well in the System Center 2012 product set, and in part two I’ll take a look at what needs to be improved. I’ll try to take into account some of the improvements that are coming in the SP1 release, which is due early 2013. Some of the products will appear in both categories as they have some both good and bad.
DISCLAIMER: I worked for Microsoft for nearly five years in a technical sales role, selling System Center & Windows Server. I was never privy to long-term strategy or roadmap when I was there, and what I am going to talk about here is all based on publically available information, and my own thoughts. The intent of these blog posts is to stimulate discussion, and certainly not to belittle the hard work that I know the System Center teams do.
Microsoft have made relatively few acquisitions in the System Center space (for more on this, see part two), with Opalis in 2009 and AVICode in 2010 being the only ones I can think of. What they have done really successfully is to integrate those products well into the family. Some organisations seem to struggle a bit getting acquisitions integrated (VMware seem to have challenges in this area, but that may be to do with how many things they’ve acquired), but Microsoft seem to have a good model here.
The AVICode acquisition in 2010 was a nice move by Microsoft to take the monitoring of .NET applications deeper and get right inside the application. This has been well integrated into the Operations Manager component of System Center as the Application Performance Monitoring (APM) feature. The value that APM adds for anyone who is building and deploying .NET web applications is massive, and is worth deploying System Center to get. The additional capability that SP1 brings to the APM suite (including Windows Services, and SharePoint) extends that value further. If you’re running .NET applications and you’re not using System Center 2012 Application Performance Monitoring, you should be.
The Opalis acquisition in 2009 was probably the biggest surprise by Microsoft, and added real value to the System Center suite. The release of System Center 2012 Orchestrator was the first full Microsoft release of the Opalis IP, and it was done well. Orchestrator works very well, is very stable, and is well integrated into System Center and into other products as well (see Cross Platform below). The challenge Microsoft has in this space is to inspire it’s OEM’s and partners to increase the pace of integration pack releases for Orchestrator. For instance, the Cisco UCS integration pack is still at version 0.1, and we are now 8 months past the release of System Center 2012. Also, a bit more clarity around using the SDK to build code based integration packs would be helpful.
The great thing about Orchestrator is that for a person who is familiar with the Microsoft toolset it’s probably a much quicker learning curve than tools like Chef or Puppet. They could probably learn a thing or two about building a community from those tools though.
In addition to integrating the acquisitions, Microsoft has clearly also focussed on making sure the System Center stack is more tightly integrated. When you look at the disparate pieces that existed before the System Center 2012 release, you can see how much work they’ve done. There is still some work to do here, but you can see the fruits of this in Orchestrator & Service Manager. I’m looking forward to seeing
Configuration Manager & Windows Intune integration
The Service Pack 1 release of Configuration Manager adds some integration with the Windows Intune cloud management platform. This is a smart move, as the Configuration Manager team are just not fast enough at delivering support for new operating systems (or new features in general), whereas the Intune team can. The Intune team are already shipping support for delivering software to Android & iOS, but do not have a complete MAM/MDM strategy. However if you’re a customer who is currently using System Center Configuration Manager, this integration will probably be a really welcome addition.
There’s good and bad to talk about in cross-platform. What’s good is that components like Operations Manager lead the way for the Microsoft stack, and have for quite a while. Their cross platform story has had several years to mature, and their support for multiple operating systems gets better with each release, and extending out into non-OS focussed areas like Java in the 2012 release. It’s nice to see Microsoft start to extend the cross platform support into Configuration Manager (even if they are 10 years behind the competition, and more limited in their range). It’s also great to see Microsoft continuing to ship cross platform integration packs for Orchestrator, or even Virtual Machine Manager adding support for other hypervisors (even though I’ve written about this before). As I said in the Marketing Features post, you have to be serious about cross platform – and in general Microsoft are demonstrating that they are.
Scripting & Automation
One thing Microsoft have clearly had a mandate about is to ensure that not only are the tools useful, but also usable at the command line. It’s great to see PowerShell across just about the entire System Center family (Configuration Manager & Orchestrator are missing, but it appears SP1 remedies at least Configuration Manager). This means that driving the tools on an automated basis is much easier, and allows for greater scale and hands off management. And having lots of pre-built integration packs for Orchestrator helps.
Service Based Thinking
The service based model that Microsoft introduced in Operations Manager, and has now extended through to the deployment model in Virtual Machine Manager. I think people are still getting their heads around what it means to really deploy at a service level – management is kind of there already – but deployment seems to be still at a “we need this many VM’s, and then we’ll stack our app and it’s various components on it”. Cloud based applications running on things like Azure or CloudFoundry are kind of the model here. Microsoft have enabled the ability for internal organisations to start to use this way of thinking, the question is how long will it take to adopt it?
System Center & Windows Server have basically lead the way for virtualisation friendly licensing models (in contrast to their competition who have had a few stumbles in this area). It’s really a shame some of the other teams haven chosen to make such crazy licensing decisions (seriously SQL – you don’t compete with Oracle by making your licensing as stupid as theirs).
Overall there’s a lot to like in System Center, what I’ve covered is some of the bits that I think Microsoft are doing really well outside of the overall product functionality. In part two I’ll take a look at some of the places they need to improve.