Microsoft’s System Center product line consists of a number of products designed around meeting requirements from the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), which is an extension and adaptation of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). MOF and ITIL are sets of principles that dictate how organizations frame processes and use best practices for the use of technology in the organization.

Over the years, Microsoft has developed a number of infrastructure and service management tools. More recently, Microsoft has re-branded these tools into the System Center product line. While each tool remains separate, there is some limited integration between the products, and all the products are designed to help ease the IT administrative burden. I’ll briefly describe each of the core System Center products.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R2. Previously known as Systems Management Server (SMS), SCCM provides insight and management services for desktops, servers, and devices in your organization. SCCM leverages other existing tools, such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) to perform some of its duties, but when these outside tools are integrated with SCCM, administrators are presented with unified, single-pane management, removing the need to use separate management utilities to manage the computing environment. SCCM provides powerful reporting, asset intelligence, software and update installation and management, operating system deployment, and much more. In short, SCCM is the utility to use when you need to manage inventory and the software side of the house while tracking the hardware side. SCCM maintains a historical database for each of your computers, too. With the R2 release of SCCM, Microsoft has added the capability to support virtualized applications.

System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2007 R2. In a former life, SCOM was known as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), a product responsible for gaining detailed insight into system and application performance and for locating bottlenecks that could affect service levels. SCOM maintains this tradition and allows IT organizations to centralize event and performance monitoring for a number of products, including Exchange Server, SQL Server, and Active Directory. In addition, there are many third-party extensions called management packs that can be used to monitor other services. There are other add-ins available that connect with SCOM to present availability metrics in useful ways, too. One such add-in is the Service Level Dashboard 2.0 for System Center Operations Manager, which is a SharePoint application that connects with SCOM to monitor business-critical services. SCOM is an improvement in a number of areas, including client monitoring, power usage monitoring, and service level reporting.

System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007. You can never have too much backup, and this is where DPM, formerly known as Data Protection Server, enters the equation. DPM is intended to protect a number of business critical workloads, including workloads running under Windows Server, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server, and Microsoft Virtual Server. With DPM SP1 installed, the product will also protect Hyper-V-based workloads. DPM uses disk-to-disk, Volume Shadow Copy, and other continuous data protection techniques to accomplish its recovery goals. To increase efficiency, DPM watches for file changes and updates and backed up data at the byte level. The intent is that DPM operates at the layer between no backup and a tape backup. Microsoft indicates that DPM can be used to completely replace third-party backup solutions in some cases, too.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008. No data center is complete without some kind of server virtualization solution in place. VMM is intended to provide single-pane management for virtualized infrastructures and can be used to manage virtual hosts running Hyper-V, Virtual Server, and even ESX server, as well as the individual virtual machines running on each host. In addition to general management tasks, VMM provides a number of other high-level services, including physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration and what Microsoft calls Intelligent Placement, which analyzes available resources against host needs before recommending a virtual host. As is the case with other System Center products, the beauty of VMM lies in the centralized management inherent in its use. Also available is VMM 2008 R2, which is an update to VMM that adds a number of powerful new features, including Live Migration, hot addition and removal or storage, and more support for iSCSI-based SANs.

System Center Essentials (SCE). Recently, Microsoft has begun targeting midsize businesses with its Essentials line of products, which are generally available for companies using anywhere from about 50 to a few hundred computers. The logic is that, in these businesses, full-blown software can often carry with it too much complexity and too many features that may not be of interest to the midmarket. SCE is a part of this line and is capable of managing up to 30 Windows servers (any combination of physical and virtual servers) and 500 desktop computers. SCE combines many elements from SCOM and SCCM into a single, scaled down, targeted management application that provides comprehensive monitoring, software deployment, update management, inventory capabilities, and powerful reporting to smaller businesses.

There you have it! (There are other System Center products that are NOT core products that I will discuss in a future post.) With the core products, Microsoft provides a change management solution in the form of SCCM, a monitoring, reporting, and SLA adherence solution in the form of SCOM, data protection/business continuity in the form of DPM, and virtual machine management in the form of VMM. For medium businesses, Microsoft has made SCE available. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the features in VMM someday integrated into SCCM and SCOM, which would actually significantly extend the capabilities of those tools to better manage ever-growing virtual infrastructure.

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