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Introduction to the Microsoft System Center Enterprise Suite

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This chapter introduces the System Center family of products and what each of the components are.
This chapter is from the book

System Center, which is licensed either individually or as a bundled suite, is a series of tools that help organizations manage their servers, client systems, and applications to be more proactive in responding to the needs of the IT data center. In fact, the name System Center actually didn't come about until just a few years ago; prior to that, the products were all sold separately.

Like with many families or suites of products, the first rendition of the suite is nothing more than a bunch of disparate products bundled together under a common brand name, but really have no integration in working together. System Center was no different—with the first couple of years of the product line being nothing more than name and branding.

Today, however—three to four years and two to three versions later—the System Center products actually do work better together and an IT organization can leverage information in the various System Center components more easily and for a common benefit.

This chapter introduces the System Center family of products, what the components are, and how the balance of the chapters in this book provide tips, tricks, best practices, and guidance on how to best leverage System Center in the enterprise.

What Is System Center?

As mentioned at the start of this chapter, System Center is a family or suite of management tools from Microsoft; being a family of tools, you don't go out and buy Quantity 1 of System Center. Rather, you choose to buy an individual System Center component like System Center Configuration Manager 2007 for patching and updating systems, or you buy a licensed bundle of the main four products that Microsoft calls the System Center Management Suite and separately download and install additional System Center components that are outside of the licensed bundle for even more functionality. More details on the software licensing of the System Center products can be found in the section "Understanding System Center Licensing" later in this chapter.

Systems Management in the Enterprise

For years, IT departments have struggled with managing their servers and client systems, and hundreds of companies have arisen that provide tools for patching computer systems, imaging workstations, pushing out new software, monitoring servers and network devices, and backing up systems. However, over the years, organizations have found that each individual product would require a separate server, a separate set of policies or rules setup, a separate agent to be installed on the computer system, and a separate set of tasks to inventory the systems all doing similar things. With several different products installed on a system and no real sharing of information between the management agents and tools, enterprise systems management has been quite a clumsy process.

As an example, an organization would inventory its systems for asset tracking with one product to keep track of corporate assets. With a separate product, the organization would put an image onto its system. Yet another product would be used to patch and update the system. Another product would monitor the system and alert the administrators of a problem; this monitoring program would typically have to inventory the system to know what hardware and software it is monitoring and managing. The organization would have yet a completely different product to track help desk calls and problem tickets, in some cases capturing asset information from one of the other two tools mentioned earlier in this paragraph, but frequently the help desk tool would have its own management components to remotely control and support the user and system. Finally, the organization would have a separate product to back up data on the system, plus yet another separate product to provide security management of the system for security policies and controls.

With all this going on for just a single system, there's no wonder why systems management has been a dirty word in the computer industry. Everyone knows they need to do something about it, but when you try to do something about it by going out and getting the best-of-breed product from each vendor in the industry, you have 5 or 10 different products all vying to do some type of management of the system. Naturally, with that many different products doing different but similar things, changes made by one of the 5 or 10 products frequently would cause problems with one of the other components—setting the organization's systems management efforts back a step at a time.

Five to eight years ago, Microsoft provided tools for systems to do patching, monitoring, asset inventory, backup, and the like, but no better than the 5 to 10 separate vendor products, Microsoft tools were all separately installed, configured, and managed. Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) has a bad name in the industry for old-timers who tried to use the system years ago as even within this tool itself, it installed several separate agents on a computer to try to "help" the system monitor and manage updates, software installation, inventory tracking, and remote control, with the SMS components themselves frequently conflicting and causing system problems.

Roll forward several years, and Microsoft combined all of their products under a single brand called System Center and has spent the past half of a decade getting the products to work together. Three or four generations later under the System Center brand, Microsoft now has tools that work together so an organization that buys a suite license isn't just buying a bundle of separate products, but a family of products that work together.

The whole premise of this book is how organizations can deploy the separate System Center components and then ultimately tie them together so that there is a coordinated effort from cradle to grave on a system that can be imaged, deployed, patched, updated, maintained, supported, and retired under a common management process. It's the full life cycle of a server or client system that is addressed in this book.

System Center Family of Products

In looking at the cradle-to-grave life cycle, how the System Center products fit in, and how the various chapters in this book cover the topics, the family of products are as follows:

  • System Center Configuration Manager—System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) starts with the ability of imaging or laying down the base operating system on a server or client system based on specific organizational guidelines for configurations. Once the operating system has been installed, SCCM continually patches and updates the system as well as provides the ability to push out new software to the system, also based on specific templates and guideline configurations. SCCM keeps track of system inventory, provides remote-control capabilities, and provides IT administrators the ability to ensure the system configuration is maintained in a common configuration.
  • System Center Operations Manager—Once SCCM lays down the base configuration of the system and keeps it patched and updated, System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) takes over for monitoring the ongoing health of the system as well as the applications installed on the system. Specific rules are created that track the normal operations of the system, and any time the system falls out of the standards, the organization's IT personnel are notified of the changes.
  • System Center Data Protection Manager—Although SCCM and SCOM deploy and monitor system operations, there are times when data is corrupted or lost or systems fail and having a backup of the data is crucial. This is where Data Protection Manager (DPM) fits in as it backs up client systems, server file systems, Exchange databases, SharePoint data, or SQL databases on a continuous basis, providing an organization the ability to recover a single lost or corrupted file all the way through restoring a completely dead system.
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager—As the industry has shifted from one made up of primarily physical server systems to one where servers are now virtualized in the data center, the Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) product from Microsoft helps organizations manage their virtual systems. In the fully managed scenario, in the event that SCOM identifies a physical or virtual system is about to fail, it can automatically create a new guest session using SCCM to a Hyper-V or VMware virtual host, build out a brand-new system, and use DPM to automatically restore the latest backup of information all as a scripted disaster recovery process. VMM can also transfer fully running physical servers and transfer the operating system, application, and data to a virtual server in an automated physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion process.
  • System Center Service Manager—Although all of the previous tools chug along doing IT-related tasks, such as imaging, patching, monitoring, and backing up, organizations also have a need to manage processes and change control. The System Center Service Manager (SCSM) product is an incident management and change-control system that tightly integrates with SCOM, SCCM, and VMM to take alerts, automatically log the problems, take inventory information, and track system configurations so that help desk personnel and support individuals have at their fingertips information they need to support users and application owners in the enterprise. SCSM brings together management policies and processes as the umbrella under which the other System Center tools facilitate day-to-day tasks and procedures.
  • System Center Capacity Planner—As an organization looks to replace servers and systems, or upgrade and deploy new software applications, the System Center Capacity Planner helps the organization test performance demands on current systems and model the future environment relative to the necessary hardware specifications needed to meet the performance demands of the organization.
  • System Center Mobile Device Manager—Throughout an enterprise, an organization doesn't have just servers and client workstations, but the proliferation of mobile devices make up the IT landscape. System Center Mobile Device Manager (MDM) integrates with SCCM to provide cradle-to-grave management of mobile devices similar to what SCCM does for servers and client systems, including provisioning, updating, securing, monitoring, and wiping devices in the course of a mobile device's life cycle.
  • System Center Essentials—Finally, not all enterprises have separate IT groups handling servers, client systems, and applications, such as enterprises with fewer than 500 users and fewer than 50 servers. Microsoft has System Center Essentials that provides key management functions around tracking inventory, patching and updating systems, deploying software, monitoring, and managing virtual systems that helps smaller enterprises meet their management needs in an all-in-one integrated tool.

Each of the products have had variations over the years (2003, 2007, 2008, R2, SP1, SP2, 2010, and so on) with each successive version adding more functionality and capabilities than the version before it. The balance of this chapter details each of the System Center products and provides a snapshot of what to expect throughout the chapters of this book.

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