In recent weeks Microsoft achieved the general availability (GA) release of Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows 8.1, and System Center 2012 R2. This is the fourth major release of a System Center suite since Microsoft took up that product family name in 2007.

Preview and pre-GA releases, like the Released-to-Manufacturing (RTM) version of these products, have been in the field for some months.  This final GA release means Microsoft is fully “open for business” on the platforms. Product support teams, documentation, community forums, and licensing resources are all in place, and you are clear to deploy and use the products in production when business and technical requirements make sense.

Of the seven main software components in System Center, all receive some updating in the 2012 R2 release, some more than others.

  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) is perhaps the most changed, because VMM is the engine that drives the private cloud fabric where rapid industry changes in storage and networking are taking place. Figure A shows the Fabric | Hosts dashboard in SCVMM 2012 R2.
  • Least changed are System Center Service Manager (SCSM), Orchestrator and App Controller, which mainly just gain support for the new Windows operating systems (Server 2012 R2 and client, Windows 8.1).

Here is a list of ten things that are new in Microsoft System Center 2012 R2:

1. Windows Azure Pack and cloud tools

In addition to the familiar SCOM, SCVMM, and other System Center components, the 2012 R2 lineup includes new tools for duty in the private data center: Service Management Automation (SMA), Service Bus Clouds, Windows Azure Pack (WAP), and Service Reporting. These are portal, data center automation, and multi-tenancy features so important in the service provider and hosting scenarios. This portfolio (which brings proven, cost-effective Windows Azure public cloud technologies to the private cloud), extends the CloudOS and represents a strategic asset for Microsoft.

2. Server support

System Center 2012 R2 server-side components prefer the latest server operating system (OS), Windows Server 2012 R2. The major System Center component that requires Windows Server 2012 R2 is SCVMM. Windows Server 2012 is a second choice, and as a third choice, Windows Server 2008 R2 will host most components as well. Orchestrator and DPM servers can still run even on Windows Server 2008. (Users of the SharePoint-based Service Manager Self-Service Portal (SSP) must use Windows Server 2008 or 2008 R2.)

3. Highly available backup and recovery service

The Data Protection Manager (DPM) component of System Center 2012 R2 now supports the use of clustered SQL Server nodes for its database. This removes the standalone limitation that previously existed, and provides for higher reliability by mitigating the single point of failure when a standalone SQL server is used. DPM can now also be installed on a virtual machine, and backup to storage using .VHD (virtual hard drive) storage pool disks that are shared through the VMM library.

4. Backup Linux Virtual Machines

DPM now provides support for the protection and backup of Linux virtual machines when they are guests in a Hyper-V environment. These backups take the form of file-consistent snapshots. (Linux application-consistent snapshots are not yet available.)

5. Support for monitoring IPv6

In System Center 2012 R2 Operations Manager (SCOM) the Operations console can take IPv6 addresses as input for Network Discovery and display IPv6 addresses in the network- related views. IPv6 information was previously collected and displayed in the SCOM console, but the only way to index network information was using IPv4. This makes SCOM a leader in network management for enterprises using IPv6 in production roles.

6. System Center Advisor integrated with Operations Manager

System Center Advisor is a Microsoft online service that analyzes uploaded configuration and performance data from selected Microsoft server software. Advisor returns information in the form of alerts. Previously these alerts were only available for push notification in a weekly email dump from Microsoft. New is the ability to view Advisor alerts in the Operations Manager Operations console. This makes it a lot easier to assess the importance and relevance of Advisor alerts in the overall context of the operations environment.

7. Service Management Automation for cloud-based workflow orchestration

You can install the Service Management Automation (SMA) web service from System Center 2012 R2 Orchestrator setup program. SMA can be used as part of the Windows Azure Pack (WAP), or to enable you to execute runbooks and perform other automation tasks using PowerShell.

8. Create an extended network spanning on-premises site(s) and a service provider cloud

Leverage service provider-hosted private clouds as extensions of your network just as Azure Virtual Network functions with the Azure public cloud. New site-to-site NVGRE gateway network virtualization management in Virtual Machine Manger (VMM) allows you to create your own virtualized network on top of the service provider network infrastructure. You can utilize your own private IP numbering plan within the virtualized network, connect it to your on-premises network, and route into the private cloud as if it were co-located on your wide area network (WAN).

9. Manage the latest high-value Hyper-V features

You can now create generation 2 virtual machines and VM templates that are based on these VMs. Generation 2 VMs provide new functionality such as a faster boot, and boot from virtual SCSI controllers. Gain support for live cloning, where virtual machines are exported without downtime, and for online VHDX resize, which allows for online resizing of virtual hard disks while the disks are in use. Another nice feature: enhanced support for Hyper-V Dynamic Memory modification, which can now be changed and applied to a running virtual machine.

10. Out-of-band VM management, even from IOS and Android

Remote Console provides the ability to access the console of a VM in scenarios when other remote tools (such as Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP) are unavailable. Note that remote console clients need a computer that supports Remote Desktop Protocol 8.1, which means Windows 8.1 and now even IOS and Android. Remote Console works like the keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) connection that is used by physical computers.

Important: Upgrade Sequencing

If you will be upgrading to System Center 2012 R2, the important upgrade sequence documentation has been posted to TechNet at this link: