Microsoft is readying an unprecedented wave of systems management products for servers, clients, applications, and security for release in 2012. There looks to be a strategic alignment underway that includes some or all System Center products and some Forefront products into a new System Center 2012-branded group. Microsoft has crafted a bundled download site (Figure A) that lets you step back and take in a single view of the scope of this proposition.

Figure A – Select up to eight new pre-release System Center 2012 products for download and evaluation.

Manage the private cloud like a service provider

Microsoft is clearly seeking to provide the enterprise with a one-stop shop to provision the private cloud and manage every aspect of the IT lifecycle. Language at the bundle website indicates Microsoft is positioning the IT department of every organization to adopt a service provider approach. System Center is the tool suite that can introduce service provider best practices into the IT shop for all organizations.

If you are familiar with ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) Service Management Functions (SMFs), you may notice that Microsoft is able to map System Center technologies to the activities and workflows that make up and interconnect the SMFs (like security management and incident management).

IT pros have struggled for decades to implement real-world ITIL workflow in their shops. The seeming vastness of ITIL and even its technology-agnostic language are legitimate barriers to its easy adoption in the workplace. But what if your tools enabled ITIL transparently and by design, through time-saving workflow automations, and best practice management techniques?

In its most complete implementation — that is, the eight products you can download in this pre-release bundle — System Center 2012 can be a framework to achieve the economic efficiencies and peace of mind that come with an ITIL-compliant environment. Because IT service delivery is their primary business, service providers have been incented to develop ITIL-based automation processes. Modeling service provider practices in the new era of private clouds has been identified by Microsoft as a valid architecture for IT shops of all industries.

Here’s a run-down of these pre-release software titles and key service enablers in the System Center 2012 products.

SC 2012 Configuration Manager RC and SC 2012 Endpoint Protection RC

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is your asset management and software/update delivery mechanism. It ties in with Service Manager to populate tickets with hardware inventory information. SCCM is peerless at deployment of Microsoft Updates to Windows computers across a distributed enterprise. SCCM remains the vehicle for distribution and management of endpoint security software.

Actually in System Center 2012, two formerly distinct products are bundled and branded into a client management and endpoint security stack. System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection is the successor to Forefront Endpoint Protection (FEP) 2010 and heralds a significant rebranding of a Forefront product as a new member of the System Center family.

SC Virtual Machine Manager 2012 RC

The lifecycle of virtual machines from concept, to provisioning, deployment, and production is the lifeblood of the dynamic data center. The data center provides a ‘fabric’ of storage, networking, memory and CPU cores that VMs are deployed into on demand. System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) does the heavy lifting to define and manage your private cloud using as many resources, like storage area networks (SANs) and virtualization hosts, as you can give it.

New in the 2012 release of SCVMM is a cloud-centric approach that is shown off in Figure B. This concept abstracts the cloud owner from the virtualization hosts, host clusters, SANs, load balancers, and other components of the cloud fabric. Also new: Out of Band (OOB) management options that automate the process to add physical virtualization hosts. Bare metal servers can be discovered and provisioned as cloud resources to achieve true hands-off and on-demand scaling.

Figure B – Specify cloud capacity in the Create Cloud Wizard of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM)

SC Operations Manager 2012 Beta

From the moment your cloud is in production, there can be great risk of business loss in case of problems. System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) is your eyes in the cloud; a risk-reduction tool that lets you safely bet that you will detect developing service-impacting issues before they become user-impacting outages.

New in SCOM 2012 are live network topology maps that automatically identify and add monitoring for switch and router interfaces directly connected to monitored computers. Fault-isolation of events at the network layer is made a simpler task. Also new in SCOM 2012 is a web console with dashboard elements that can be embedded in SharePoint 2010 ‘Web Parts’ for custom portal solutions that look great.

SC Data Protection Manager 2012 Beta

Backup takes on a new meaning in the private cloud, because you are often talking about backup of virtual machines. Data Protection Manager (DPM) does a fantastic job at backing up and restoring Hyper-V guest VMs at the host level. The virtual hard drive (VHD) images can then be copied by a second instance of DPM in an off-site location for a simple, effective disaster tolerance solution. DPM keeps getting better, new with the 2012 release is support for certificate-based operation in untrusted networks , and support for DPM running inside a VM.

SC Orchestrator 2012 RC

You might already be wondering how you could use intelligence from one System Center product to manage workflows across other products? Think of Orchestrator as a “macro language” for the operating system (OS) and the System Center products. Runbooks are Orchestrator activities that accomplish specified automation objectives. For example, a custom runbook could detect (by SNMP trap) a hardware failure in a device that DPM depends on and automatically provision an alternative backup device so the scheduled backup completed in its required window.

SC Service Manager 2012 Beta

Who can deny that the human element is not the most common breakdown point in the root cause analysis that follows a service outage? System Center Service Manager (SCSM) is the hub where people and human workflows interact with the machine. Management of incidents, problems, and changes via a ticketing system tied to SCOM and SCCM is what SCSM offers. For example, a SCOM alert becomes a SCSM ticket. The ticket creates a change request, which after approval, becomes a work order.

Powerful synergy is created when SCSM tickets are automatically created from SCOM alerts, the tickets pre-populated with asset inventory and hardware/software configuration information from SCCM. SCSM hosts the Knowledge Base that reduces support costs over time. SCSM also leverages Microsoft SharePoint 2010 webparts for ad-hoc portal development.

SC App Controller 2012 Beta

App Controller enables self-service provisioning of applications across both private and public clouds. App Controller lets you manage your on-premise VM deployment and your Windows Azure deployments in the same manner, within the same tool. App Controller lets you view, manage, and deploy services to both a private cloud (via SCVMM) and the public Windows Azure Cloud in a consistent template-driven manner.