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Understanding System Center Essentials

System Center Essentials is a standalone product focused on midsized organizations with fewer than 500 users and 50 servers. Rather than setting up a full-blown version of System Center Configuration Manager to patch and update systems, a full-blown version of System Center Operations Manager to monitor systems, and a full-blown version of Virtual Machine Manager to manage virtual guest sessions, System Center Essentials includes all of the major features in a single package.

The System Center Essentials 2010 console, shown in Figure 1.18, provides the main menu for all of the features and functions in Essentials 2010.

Figure 1.18

Figure 1.18 System Center Essentials console.

Business Solutions Addressed by System Center Essentials

For midsized organizations with limited personnel, the thought of setting up three or four management tools and then managing the management tools places the organization in the challenging situation of having management tools take more to manage than supporting the actual servers and systems themselves. Effectively, System Center Essentials helps organizations focus on managing the applications and not on managing the management tool.

System Center Essentials 2010 allows the administrator to complete business-critical tasks. One such task is tracking servers and system assets, as well as administering and managing systems. To shorten the time from deployment to simplified management, System Center Essentials has built-in wizards that help an administer set up and perform key tasks faster and easier. With a limited set of features, IT personnel can focus on key management factors, not become loaded down with a lot of large, enterprise-focused features not used by smaller businesses.

Major Features of System Center Essentials

System Center Essentials 2010 is an incredible tool that required Microsoft to make hard choices on what features to include that are valuable to administrators of small and midsized enterprises, but not overwhelm the administrators with too many features and functions that take away from the simplistic goals of the product. Some of the major features in the product are as follows:

  • Asset tracking—All organizations, large or small, need to know what assets the organization has as well as keep track of the assets. System Center Essentials inventories systems in the environment and tracks the inventory so that when systems are added or inventory is removed, the administrator is notified.
  • Patching and updating—Any organization hit with a virus or worm knows that patching and updating systems on a regular basis is critical. System Center Essentials provides an automatic mechanism to identify systems and keeps those systems patched and updated.
  • Software distribution—The ability to push out new software or even push out service packs or updates is a core component of SCE. Although patches and updates are typically small file updates, software distribution involves scheduling and managing larger updates, such as 80MB service pack updates or 300MB product upgrades. SCE has the ability to package up applications and automatically push them to managed systems in the environment.
  • Remote support—When a user has a problem with their system, the last thing an IT staff member needs to do is get up, track the user down, and provide face-to-face support when all the user does is sit and look over the IT personnel's shoulder. Instead, SCE provides remote-support capabilities so that the IT help desk or support individual merely launches a remote-control agent and takes control of the user's system to provide remote support and assistance.
  • Proactive monitoring and alerting—Essentials 2010 monitors servers and generates alerts and proactively resolves system problems based on actual user experience. The monitoring notifies the IT administrator when problems occur. The monitoring screen is shown in Figure 1.19.
    Figure 1.19

    Figure 1.19 Server monitoring in System Center Essentials.

  • Virtual host management—As organizations of all sizes are virtualizing their servers, SCE has the virtual host management capabilities of Virtual Machine Manager built in. This feature in SCE allows an administrator to manage and support virtual guest sessions right from the SCE console.
  • Physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversions—One of the most commonly used features in the full-blown System Center Virtual Machine Manager product is the P2V function. P2V converts a physical server in an environment to a virtual guest session.
  • Reporting—Lastly, SCE has critical reporting capabilities built in so that reports can be generated and printed on network assets, the patch and update status of systems, service-level agreement uptime reports, access and password violation tracking reports, and the like. These reports are necessary for an organization to understand the status of systems and security in the environment, and when required by auditors or regulators, to have the information immediately available to share with the proper authorities.

Background on System Center Essentials

System Center Essentials is a relative newcomer to the System Center family of products with the initial release coming out only in 2007. The product has not drastically changed since the 2007 release, other than the update and addition of more components into the product to have the current version of the product. System Center Essentials 2010 supports the capabilities of the 2007 edition plus the addition of virtualization management.

The whole premise of the product was to make a simplified set of tools an administrator could leverage to help them manage servers and client systems in the enterprise. The core components that provide system inventory, patching, updating, monitoring, and alerting are the core components in Essentials 2007 and are carried over to Essentials 2010.

The biggest improvements in the product have been the addition of new wizards and automated process controls that continue to simplify the use and administration of the product.

What to Expect in the System Center Essentials Chapter

In this book, a single chapter is dedicated to the System Center Essentials 2010 product. Chapter 19, "Using System Center Essentials for Midsized Organizations," covers everything from how to install and configure SCE to the use of SCE 2010 for patching, updating, distributing software, monitoring, alerting, and managing virtual systems.

System Center Essentials 2010 is an excellent tool for organizations with fewer than 500 users and 50 servers to get all of the key benefits found in the other Microsoft System Center products, but from a single server installation and console. Jump to Chapter 19 of this book for specific information and deployment and configuration guidance on how SCE can be best leveraged in your enterprise.

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