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Overview of Microsoft System Center

Beginning with SMS 2003, Configuration Manager has been a component of Microsoft's System Center strategy. System Center is the brand name for Microsoft's product suite focused on IT service delivery, support, and management. As time passes (and Microsoft's management strategy progresses), expect new products and components added over time. System Center is not a single product; the name represents a suite of products designed to address all major aspects of IT service support and delivery.

As part of a multiyear strategy, System Center is being released in "waves." The first wave included SMS 2003, MOM 2005, and System Center Data Protection Manager 2006. In 2006, additions included System Center Reporting Manager 2006 and System Center Capacity Planner 2006. The second wave includes Operations Manager 2007, Configuration Manager 2007, System Center Essentials 2007, System Center Service Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, and new releases of Data Protection Manager and System Center Capacity Planner. Presentations at popular Microsoft conferences in 2008 included discussions of a third wave, expected to begin around 2010-2011.

Microsoft System Center products share the following DSI-based characteristics:

  • Ease of use and deployment
  • Based on industry and customer knowledge
  • Scalability (from the mid-market to the large enterprise)

Reporting in System Center

The data gathered by Configuration Manager 2007 is collected in a self-maintaining SQL Server database and comes with numerous reports viewable using the Configuration Manager console. ConfigMgr delivers more than 300 reports out of the box for categories including asset intelligence, agent health and status, hardware and software inventory, and several others. Using the native functionality in SQL Reporting Services (SRS) in ConfigMgr 2007 R2, reports can also be exported to a variety of formats, including a Report Server file share, web archive format, Excel, and PDF. You can configure ConfigMgr to schedule and email reports, enabling users to open these reports without accessing the Configuration Manager console.

Together with the reporting available in Operations Manager 2007, administrators will find a very complete picture of present system configuration and health, as well as a detailed history of changes in these characteristics over time.

Ultimately, the integrated reporting feature for System Center is moving under the to-be-released System Center Service Manager product and then will no longer be a separate product.

Operations Management

Microsoft rearchitected MOM 2005 to create System Center Operations Manager 2007, its operations management solution for service-oriented monitoring. Currently in its third release, the product is completely rewritten. The design pillars in Operations Manager (OpsMgr) include a focus on end-to-end service monitoring, best-of-breed manager of Windows, reliability and security, and operational efficiency. Features in OpsMgr 2007 include the following:

  • Active Directory Integration—Management group information and agent configuration settings can be written to Active Directory, where they can be read by the OpsMgr agent at startup.
  • SNMP-enabled device management—OpsMgr can be employed to discover and perform up/down monitoring on any SNMP-enabled server or network device.
  • Audit Collection Services (ACS)—ACS provides centralized collection and storage of Windows Security Event Log events for use by auditors in assessment and reporting of an organization's compliance with internal or external regulatory policies.
  • Reporting enhancements—Reporting has been retooled to support reporting targeted to common business requirements such as availability reporting. Data is automatically aggregated to facilitate faster reporting and longer data retention.
  • Command shell—Based on PowerShell, the OpsMgr Shell provides rich command-line functionality for performing bulk administration and other tasks not available through the Operations console UI.
  • Console enhancements—The console interfaces of MOM 2005 have been consolidated into a single Operations console to support all operational and administrative activities. The new console has an Outlook-like look and feel to minimize the need for training users how to navigate the interface. (A separate console is provided for in-depth management pack authoring.)
  • Network-Aware Service Management (NASM) and cross-platform monitoring—In Operations Manager 2007 R2, Microsoft delivers network-aware service management using technology acquired from EMC Smarts, along with native cross-platform monitoring for a number of common Linux and Unix platforms.

System Center Essentials

System Center Essentials 2007 (Essentials for short) is a System Center application, targeted to the medium-sized business, that combines the monitoring features of OpsMgr with the inventory and software distribution functionality found in ConfigMgr into a single, easy-to-use interface. The monitoring function utilizes the form of the OpsMgr 2007 engine that utilizes OpsMgr 2007 management packs, and Essentials brings additional network device discovery and monitoring out of the box. The platform goes beyond service-oriented monitoring to provide systems management functionality, software distribution, update management, as well as hardware and software inventory, all performed using the native Automatic Updates client and WSUS 3.0. Using Essentials, you can centrally manage Windows-based servers and PCs, as well as network devices, by performing the following tasks:

  • Discovering and monitoring the health of computers and network devices and viewing summary reports of computer health
  • Centrally distributing software updates, tracking installation progress, and troubleshooting problems using the update management feature
  • Centrally deploying software, tracking progress, and troubleshooting problems with the software deployment feature
  • Collecting and examining computer hardware and software inventory using the inventory feature

Although Essentials 2007 provides many of the same monitoring features as OpsMgr (and ConfigMgr to some degree), the product lacks the granularity of control and extensibility required to support distributed environments, as well as enterprise scalability. The flip side of this reduced functionality is that Essentials greatly simplifies many functions compared to its OpsMgr and ConfigMgr 2007 counterparts. Customization and connectivity options for Essentials are limited, however. An Essentials deployment supports only a single management server; all managed devices must be in the same Active Directory forest. Reporting functionality is included, but only accommodates about a 40-day retention period.

Essentials 2007 also limits the number of managed objects per deployment to 30 Windows server-based computers and 500 Windows non-server-based computers. There is no limit to the number of network devices.

Service Manager: A Complete Service Desk Solution

Using System Center Service Manager (not yet released) will implement a single point of contact for all service requests, knowledge, and workflow. The Service Manager (previously code-named "Service Desk") incorporates processes such as incident, problem, change, and asset management, along with workflow for automation of IT processes. From an MOF perspective, Service Manager will be an anchor for the MOF Supporting quadrant. Figure 1.10 illustrates the mapping between the quadrants of the MOF Process Model and System Center Components.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 MOF quadrants and related System Center applications

Service Manager is Microsoft's new help desk product and fills a gap in Operations Manager—What do you do when OpsMgr detects a condition that requires human intervention and tracking for resolution? Until Service Manager, the answer was to create a ticket or incident in one's help desk application, which generally required a third-party product connector to facilitate data exchange between OpsMgr and the ticketing system. Now, within the System Center framework, OpsMgr can hand off incident management to Service Manager. Similarly, you can use Service Manager in conjunction with ConfigMgr for software distribution. Design goals of Service Manager include the following:

  • Incorporating Self-Service Portal technologies to help organizations reduce support costs, including providing the administrator with a view into the overall performance of the IT environment using reports and dashboards.
  • Ready-to-use process-automated workflows based on processes defined in the Microsoft Operations Framework, using DSI models.
  • A Service Manager Solution Pack framework, similar to the Operations Manager management packs, to enable customers and partners to develop additional custom functionality for the Service Manager.
  • A Configuration Management Database (CMDB) based on SML and XML schema. Microsoft is positioning the CMDB as the foundation of its asset and change management capability, which parallels the CMDB function as defined in ITIL.

Supported scenarios include the following Service Management Functions (SMFs) and capabilities from the MOF Operating and Supporting quadrants:

  • Incident management—Creating incident records based on information in management tools
  • Problem management—Identifying problems by searching common incidents
  • Asset management—Tracking movement and ownership of hardware assets
  • Change management—Reviewing and approving change requests
  • Self-Service Portal—Resolving an issue without calling the help desk

The console interface of Service Manager in style mirrors that of OpsMgr and Essentials, which have an appearance similar to Outlook. It uses the OpsMgr agent, and the console will have the ability to run OpsMgr tasks. Service Manager brings the "designed for operations" moniker full circle by providing a means to feed production and user data back into the development process using Visual Studio through incident and problem tracking.

Protecting Data

System Center's Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007 is a disk-based backup solution for continuous data protection supporting servers running Windows 2003 Service Pack 1 and above. DPM provides byte-level backup as changes occur, utilizing Microsoft's Virtual Disk Service and Shadow Copy technologies.

Microsoft describes DPM 2007 as a "best of breed" product, adding support for tape media. The Enterprise Edition offers native protection for Windows applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint Portal Server, plus bare-metal restore capability. This means that in addition to selecting file shares, you can back up SQL Server databases and Exchange Server storage groups. Via online snapshots, disk-based recovery can maintain backup points to a 15-minute window.

To support the burgeoning presence of virtual machines, DPM supports host-based backups of virtual machines using a single agent on the host. To support branch office and low-bandwidth scenarios, DPM advances de-duplication technology and block-level filter technology that only moves changed data during full backups.

Capacity Planning

System Center Capacity Planner is designed to provide tools and guidance to determine an optimal architecture for successful deployments, while also incorporating hardware and architecture "what-if" analyses for future planning. The Capacity Planner assists with planning deployments of Operations Manager, Exchange Server, and Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007.

In conjunction with the second "wave" of System Center, the newest version of Capacity Planner includes a model for OpsMgr 2007, which supports modeling the following areas:

  • All core server and database components
  • Gateway servers
  • Backup servers for the Operations database, Root Management Server (RMS), and data warehouse
  • 64-bit hardware support
  • Database sizing recommendations
  • Support for background loads
  • Trusted and untrusted agents
  • An enhanced predeployment wizard

The OpsMgr model for Capacity Planner only supports those OpsMgr 2007 installations running SP 1 and above.

The Capacity Planner creates models with information on topology, hardware, software, and usage profiles. It also allows you to run iterative simulations on the models for performance information. Capacity Planner ties into the DSI strategy by identifying when systems deviate from a defined performance model, providing guidance to correct those variations.

Virtual Machine Management

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 is Microsoft's management platform for heterogeneous virtualization infrastructures, providing centralized management of virtual machines across several popular platforms, specifically Virtual Server 2005 R2, Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, and VMware ESX 3.x. VMM enables increased utilization of physical servers, centralized management of a virtual infrastructure, delegation of administration in distributed environments, and rapid provisioning of new virtual machines by system administrators and users via a Self-Service Portal.

VMM also delivers advanced functionality for enterprise environments, such as guidance in placement of Microsoft and VMware virtual guests (called intelligent placement), reliable physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion, as well as virtual-to-virtual (V2V) transfer of VMware hosts. Integration with OpsMgr 2007 provides VMM access to historical performance data in the System Center data warehouse to augment intelligent placement decisions.

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