System Center 2012 is Microsoft’s unified systems management platform, intended for hybrid IT environments, in terms of its ability to manage private and public clouds, and physical and virtual servers, as well as in terms of its ability to manage Microsoft and third party products. Its level of success in performing the latter claim is debatable and, I would postulate, not fully realized in this release of System Center.

For large organizations with Microsoft environments, System Center 2012 can be a solid investment, in terms of its ability to provide centralized and automated management. It bundles together a number of components that were previously sold separately, which both simplifies the licensing, but also makes it more expensive.

A core component to the upgrade is System Center’s Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). This component is really the driving force of Microsoft’s strategic vision for System Center as it claims the ability to manage Virtual Machines (VMs) on VMware and Citrix hypervisors, as well as Hyper-V VMs within a single console. However, functionality for the management of these third party server virtualization solutions is basic. If the majority of your virtual infrastructure depends on VMware or Citrix, you will certainly still want to use vSphere or XenServer for managing your VMs.

VMM can now also be used to manage VMs deployed in Azure public cloud, and SP1 (expected to be released soon) includes a new Service Provider Framework API, providing the ability to manage other third party public cloud providers.

A strong benefit in VMM for business users is its Service Template Design and System Center’s App Controller component. These functionalities enable the bundling of VMs that work together to deliver a service into Service Templates that can then be deployed on demand by delegated end users. This ability for self-service of applications is an exciting new feature in its ability to minimize the loss of communication between the business and IT by enabling business users to have the ability to interact with the resources they require and have a level of self-service.

Deployment of System Center is quite complex. Before investing in System Center 2012, consider your environments needs and weight the associated costs of System Center licensing and the infrastructure that is necessary to implement it against the value you will receive out of deploying it.

For more information, see Decide if Microsoft System Center 2012 is Right for the Enterprise.