Perhaps the least understood, and certainly the youngest member of the System Center 2012 suite, App Controller could have the word cloud in its name. However Microsoft chose to keep the focus on the application and named this cloud management product App Controller. In its initial release, this product is for Microsoft customers that are using the Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) product, or use VMM to deploy private clouds. It is also for people with subscriptions to resources in the Microsoft Azure public cloud.

App Controller is especially for VMM customers that also have subscriptions in the Azure public cloud, because this product can move workloads between Microsoft private and public clouds. App Controller is strategically positioned as the framework for development of self-service automation. In other words, the stand-alone web-based Self Service Portal of previous versions of VMM, while supported in the System Center 2012 release of VMM, is not being developed further. App Controller is where a common self-service experience is going to take place, both for on-premise private clouds (of VMware, Hyper-V or Xen virtualization hosts managed by VMM) and for public clouds like Azure.
App Controller is a little bit of an exotic animal, having no previous commercial version of the product, as well as new licensing program that delivers all eight System Center applications in one license. Current owners of any System Center product with Software Assurance (SA) will be “grandfathered” into the entire suite, at least until their next Microsoft license renewals. Many organizations do have SA on their existing Management Licenses (MLs) for Operations Manager or Configuration Manager, so there is a broad opportunity to try App Controller as a safe first step towards cloud co-existence. A goal is to eventually achieve agile application migration across clouds as future, dynamic business conditions direct.

Getting started with System Center 2012 App Controller

The App Controller application is available to evaluate in Beta release. The final release is expected in the next months as general availability of System Center 2012 is announced. The application itself is a lightweight compared to other System Center products; App Controller is just a 10-MB download! However it does have some steep prerequisites, for example, that you have already deployed System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager. You at least need to have pre-installed the SC 2012 VMM console on the computer to run App Controller. You will also need access to a pre-existing SQL server the for App Controller database.

App Controller installs a program group to the Start menu, and the Portal local web application is the main App Controller interface. The first thing you will want to do is connect App Controller to your on-premise VMM instance, and then to your public cloud-based applications in Azure. After supplying both public and private cloud information to App Controller, check out the streamlined interface seen in Figure A.

Figure A – System Center 2012 App Controller managing public and private clouds

Clicking on the Common Task links in the Next Steps area provides simple one-screen inputs to connect a private cloud (managed by VMM) and a public cloud (in this example, two Windows Azure subscriptions).

  • Connect a Virtual Machine Manager requires the server name of the existing, pre-deployed VMM server that will be managed by App Controller. App Controller uses TCP port 8100 to exchange configuration information with VMM, and will automatically import SSL certificates from VMM.
  • Connect to a Windows Azure subscription requires the Subscription ID and physical copy (.PFX file) of the management certificate with password. This .PFX file may already exist on your Azure management computer, verify the correct certificate in the Azure management console and use the same certificate with App Controller.

Looks like one of the next things to do, is going to be to create service templates, which will form the basis of our self-service and provisioning automation. Windows Azure also operates on a template model, combining an Application Package with an associated Configuration.