Microsoft System Center

Beginning with MOM 2005, Operations Manager has been aligned with System Center. System Center is an umbrella or brand name for Microsoft's system management family of products, and as such will have new products and components added over time. System Center is not a single integrated product; it represents a means to integrate system management tools and technologies to help you with systems operations, troubleshooting, and planning.

Differing from releases of another Microsoft product family, Microsoft Office, Microsoft is releasing System Center in "waves." The first wave included SMS 2003, MOM 2005, and System Center Data Protection Manager 2006; 2006 additions included System Center Reporting Manager 2005 and System Center Capacity Planner 2006. The second wave includes Operations Manager 2007, Configuration Manager 2007, System Center Essentials 2007, System Center Service Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, and new releases of Data Protection Manager and System Center Capacity Planner. There are also products such as Remote Operations Mangaer as part of this wave. And if that's not enough, there are already discussions of Wave 3! Microsoft's System Center products share the following DSI-based chracteristics:

  • Ease of use and deployment
  • Based on industry and customer knowledge
  • Scalability - both up to the largest enterprises and down to the smallest organizations

Operations Manager 2007

Operations Manager, this year's upgrade to MOM 2005, provides the following capabilities:

  • End-to-end service monitoring - using the Distributed Application Designer, OpsMgr provides a new design surface to define relationships between components and assemble them together, giving you proactive management of your IT services.
  • Best of Breed for Windows - OpsMgr reduces your time to problem resolution. Microsoft's management packs include Microsoft expertise for Windows applications, servers, and clients.
  • Increased efficiency and control - Operatoins Manager 2007 simplified managing your IT environment and improves its time-to-value. The newest version of this product includes role-based security, a self-montioring infrastrucutre, and improved scalability.

The data collected by OpsMgr 2007 is collected in a self-maintaining data warehouse, enabling numerous reports to be viewable using the Operations console. OpsMgr 2007 reports are interactive and can launch other reports, console views, and tasks. Reports can also be exported to a Report Server file share; using the Web Archive format retains links. You can configure OpsMgr to schedule and email reports, enabling users to open these reports without accessing the Operatoins console.

Reporting in MOM 2005 used the System Center Reporting Manager released with Wave 1; with Wave 2 the Reporting Manager capability moves under the System Center Service Manager product and is no longer a separate product.

Change and Configuration Management

Microsoft rebranded its SMS v4 product as System Center Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr), Microsoft's renamed and revamped systems management solution for change and configuration management. Like OpsMgr, the product is completely rewritten. Microsoft focuses ConfigMgr on addressing simplicity, deployment, security, and configuration. Features in ConfigMgr 2007 include:

  • Network Access Protection (NAP) is a policy enforcement platform built into the Vista and Windows Server 2008 operating systems. NAP helps protect network assets by enforcing compliance with system health requirements including enforcement across most common network access scenarios. NAP extends the Quarantine Access Control solution, previously only applicable in Microsoft VPN scenarios, to wired and wireless systems on your LAN including clients using DHCP for TCP/IP address assignment.
  • Operating system deployment with Windows Imaging (.WIM file format), as used with Vista. This technology is based on the Operating System Deployment (OSD) feature pack available with SMS 2003 (note the OSD piece is also completely rewritten).
  • Simplified UI, including enhanced multiple selection and drag-and-drop operations, based on version 3 of the MMC.
  • Software updates no longer use legacy SMS software distribution components (packages, programs, advertisements) when distributing software updates to clients. ConfigMgr now creates software update packages using simpler native technologies, and incorporates WSUS 3.0 for software distribution.
  • A maintenance mode, based on computer collections.
  • For software distribution, branch distribution points allow small office locations to host software packages on workstation computers, no longer requiring the equivalent of a secondary SMS site. Package transfers to branch distribution points trickle across the corporate WAN/VPN according to bandwidth-controlled settings, and incorporate BITS.

System Center Essentials

Also just called "Essentials," this is a System Center applicaiotn for the small-to-medium business that combines the monitoring features of OpsMgr with the inventory and software distribution found in ConfigMgr. The monitoring function takes the form of a simplified OpsMgr 2007 engine that can use OpsMgr 2007 managment packs; while the software distribution fucntion is pefromed with the WSUS 3.0 engine. Essentials is a wrap-around shell and user interface for these functionalities in a small business network, including the essential features for monitoring, managing, change and configuration management, and reporting. Using Essentials, you can centrally manage Microsoft Windows-based servers and PCs, as well as network devices, by performing the following tasks:

  • Monitor health of computers and network devices, and view summary reports of computer health.
  • Centrally distribute software updates, track installation progress, and troubleshoot problems using the update management feature.
  • Centrally deploy software, track progess, and troubleshoot problems with the software deployment feature.
  • Collect and examine computer hardware and software inventory with the inventory feature.

Essentials provides a small subset of OpsMgr 2007 functionality when it comes to monitoring and managing infrastructures. The flip-side of this reduced functionality is that Essentials greatly simplifies many functions when compared to its OpsMgr 2007 counterparts. For example, by default the Essentials Discovery Wizard automatically searches for both Windows computers and SNMP-based network devices in the Essential server's domain and local subnet, without requiring the user to enter any networking information. Customization and connectivity options for Essentials are limited, however. You can only have a single management server, and all manged devices must be in the same Active Directory forest. Reporting functionality is included, although it is not as robust as that included with OpsMgr 2007.

Essentials also limits the number of managed objects to 30 Windows server-based computers and 500 Windows non-server-based computers. There is no limit to the number of network devices.

Service Manager: A Self Service Desk

Using System Center Service Manager implements a single point of contact for all service requests, knowledge, and workflow. The Service Manager (previously code-named "Service Desk") incorporates processes such as incident, problem, change, and asset management. The Service Manager is Microsoft's new help desk product and fills a gap in Operations Manager: What do we do when OpsMgr detects a condition that requires human intervention and tracking to resolution? Until Service Manager, the answer was to create a ticket or incident in one's help desk application. Now, within the System Center framework, OpsMgr can hand off incident management to Service Manager. Design goals of Service Manager include:

  • Utilizing Microsoft technologies that people already use or are familiar with: for example, Service Manager uses the SharePoint and InfoPath products for web porrtal and knowledge base functions.
  • Incoproating Self Service Portal technologies to help organizations reduce support costs, including providing the administrator with visibility into the overall performance of the IT environment using reports and dashboards.
  • Read-to-use process-automated workflows based on the Microsoft Operations Framework and using DSI models.
  • A Service Manager Solution Pack framework, similar to the Operations Manager management packs, enables customers and partners to develop additional functionality for the Service Manager.
  • A Configuration Management Database (CMDB) based on SML and XML schema. Microsoft is positioning the CMDB as the foundation of their asset and change-management capability.

Service Manager utilizes a Winforms console, giving an appearance similar to Outlook and Operations Manager. It uses the OpsMgr agent, and the console will have the ability to run OpsMgr tasks. Service manager brings the "designed for operations" moniker full circle by providing a means to feed production and user data back into the development process using Visual Studio.

Protecting Data

System Center's Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007 provides continuous data protection supporting Microsoft Windows Servers. It provides byte-level changes as backups occur, ultizing Microsoft's Virtual Disk Service and Shadow Copy technologies. Microsoft describes DPM 2007 as a "best of breed" prudct, adding support for tape media and native protection for Window applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, Exchange, and SharePoint Portal Server, plus bare metal. Using online snapshots, disk-based recovery can maintain backup points up to a 15-minute window.

Capacity Planning

System Center Capacity Planner is designed to provide tools and guidance to determine an optimal architecture for successful deployments, while also incorporating hardware and architecture "what-if" analyses for future planning. The Capacity Planner assists with planning deployments of Operations Manager and Exchange Server.

In conjunction with the second "wave" of System Center, the newest version of Capacity Planner is planned to include OpsMgr support for ACS, modeling gateway servers, backup servers for tte Operations database, RMS, and data warehouse, 64-bit hardware support, support for background loads; trusted and untrustred agents, and an enhanced pre-deployment wizard. Planing is expected to be more granular to include different branch office configurations and be component-based.

The Capacity Planner creates models with informatoin on topology, hardware, software, and usage profiles. It also allows you to run iterative simulations on the models for performance information.

Virtual Machine Management

System Center Virtual Marhcine Manager is a standalone server application, providing centralized management of your Windows Virtual machines. It currently supports Virtual Server 2005 R2, and Windows Server virtualization will be supported when it is available with the Windows server operating system. Virtual Machine Manager enables increased physical server utilizatoin, centralized management of a vritual infrastructure, and rapid provisioning of new virtual machines by system administrators and users via a self-service portal.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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