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Review: Microsoft System Center targets cloud, virtualization

New management suite delivers orchestration tools for large-scale, multi-vendor environments

By Tom Henderson, Network World
July 16, 2012 12:09 AM ET

Network World - With the revamped System Center 2012 suite of management tools, Microsoft has launched a powerful new weapon in the battle to control the virtualized data center and the cloud, both private and public.

Although it's a totally gruesome/forklift installation (yet better than before), for the first time in recent memory, all of the modules that comprise System Center are in nominal revision sync, and have increased their coverage to include the competition.

Private cloud is well covered in System Center 2012, although the focus is poised more towards Windows Azure, Microsoft's public cloud platform. Virtualization is also heavily covered, and although the emphasis is on Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, there is also support for many heavily used, but not all, features of Citrix XenServer and VMware ESXi/vSphere.

Systems Center 2012's coverage includes plenty of other non-Windows devices. You can deal with Windows Phone, Apple's iPad/iPhone's iOS 5, and perhaps that pesky department with the Android phones, too -- if there's a link to Microsoft Exchange Server controls. Microsoft is trying to change its Windows-only stripes. It's the most egalitarian coverage we've seen from Microsoft, and while the added coverage is welcome, it does add to the complexity level.

We divide our review into two parts. One roughly covers SC 2012:Orchestrator, the upgraded workflow tool that Microsoft bought and presented as Opalis vNext, along with SC 2012: Configuration Manager. (See our test methodology.)

ALSO FROM MICROSOFT: Microsoft raises the bar with SQL Server 2012

The second part of the review covers SC 2012:Service Manager, AppController, Virtual Machine Manager, and Data Protection Manager. Microsoft Endpoint Protection Manager is excluded-- we have insufficient resources to pound it.

Net results

Infrastructure You'll Need

We needed a lot of hardware in the form of VMs to make the full installation of all modules work. At minimum, a server/VM instance with 40GB of disk and reasonable memory is needed for each module. Underneath System Center 2012 activity is commonly SQL Server 2008 R2 as an engine. (See our review of SQL Server 2012.) Many modules also seem to need their own hefty hardware (or healthy VM instances).

None of the modules are recommended to be run on Active Directory Domain controllers, necessitating additional instances. Microsoft wants to play a dominant role in the enterprise, and we feel that for many Microsoft-centric organizations, System Center could be a good, if non-trivial choice.

Each module needs planning prior to installation. Modules cannot be reasonably expected to be installed without the Unified Installer, which also presumes you've done your homework. Homework includes understanding the prerequisites of each module (they're all slightly different) and having prerequisites installed, like the aforementioned SQLServer, and in most cases, IIS with various mandated tunings/settings. We found this the hard way. Use the Unified Installer after homework is done.

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