Microsoft delivers powerful tools for multi-platform virtualization management

System Center App Controller and Virtual Machine Manager modules work in concert to control virtualized environments

The System Center 2012 modules that we previously tested -- Orchestrator and Configuration Manager -- require forklift upgrades. But the modules we tested this time around - App Controller, Virtual Machine Manager and Data Protection Manager -- are more graceful and, in some cases, more powerful.

The most interesting combination is the new App Controller coupled with Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012. These two modules are peas in a pod. App Controller deploys VMs into fabrics, which can live in private clouds, plain old hypervised locations or public clouds, especially Windows Azure.

Although VMM doesn't deliver the depth of control that you can achieve with the tools that Citrix and VMware provide for their own platforms, you can successfully manage a mixed environment of Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and VMware vSphere with the Microsoft management tools.

The final module, Data Protection Manager, is the least exciting, yet a mainstay of all systems everywhere. Data Protection Manager is comprised of a set of monitored backup components for Microsoft applications and servers. While it was boring, we were thrilled to find that one new feature, a bare-metal restore, not only worked the first time, but presented no adrenaline moments at all.

We installed these and the other modules via the Unified Installer; readers are cautioned not to attempt discrete deployment of these modules. Like other System Center 2012 apps, they require Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server, which is recommended to be placed on alternate instances.

The most tempting and overarching feature we wanted to test was the ability to have VMM control over Citrix XenServer and VMware vSphere ESXi infrastructures. We have Hyper-V, but also both of Hyper-V's strongest commercial competitors in the lab and one hefty server instance of all three (See How we did it). We also pestered Microsoft for an Azure account, which the company supplied to us to test cloud control.

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