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.

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interlocking shapesPricing for infrastructure systems management suites can vary from under $10K to over $1M, depending on your requirements. So what do you get for $1M that you don’t get for $10K? The more important question is what features and capabilities does your organization actually need? An all-encompassing solution may be overkill for your requirements, and more expensive.

For example, all vendors reviewed in our Systems Management Vendor Landscape, including those priced in the 4 or 5 figures, provided at least the following capabilities:

  • Automated Discovery: Automatically detect devices on your network (either through real-time dynamic discovery or via scheduled scans).
  • Unified Monitoring: Provide single-pane-of-glass monitoring for servers, databases, networks, and storage.
  • Centralized Monitoring: Monitor multiple data centers from a single location.
  • At least basic Incident Management: Integration with help desk systems and event troubleshooting capability.
  • Reporting/Multiple Export Formats: Capabilities vary, but all vendors offer some form of reporting or exporting capability.

The most expensive vendors added more advanced functionality, such as:

  • Advanced Incident Management: Automated root cause analysis and remediation/self-healing.
  • Automated Provisioning/Configuration: Server, network, database, and storage provisioning and patch management.
  • Automated Capacity Management: Dynamically re-provision/shift resources to meet ups and downs in demand.
  • Advanced Capacity Planning: Data center forecasting and scenario modeling.

In between, all vendors also offered at least some of the above features to varying degrees.

So that brings us back to the all-important question of what do you actually need? Info-Tech recommends you start by evaluating your process maturity, and using that as a guide. For example, most organizations can be grouped into one of the following categories:

1. Mature process-oriented organizations with complex environments.

For this type of organization, features such as automated capacity management are necessary not only to improve efficiency but also to enforce standards set by business requirements. For example, if CPU utilization for servers being used for a specific business system is mandated to always be between 70-80%, a systems management solution that can dynamically reprovision resources is a must.

2. Organizations seeking to improve process and efficiency.

For organizations that are more ad-hoc, just getting an understanding of their environment has to be the first step before setting standards such as CPU utilization ranges and automating provisioning. For those organizations, a solution that provides systems monitoring is the key requirement, with at least some incident management capability.

Another key consideration is future need. A standard rule of thumb is to project your requirements out 3 to 5 years. If you are in the second group above but anticipate being in the first group within 3 years, look for solutions that can go beyond systems monitoring and include at least some level of automated provisioning and capacity management, or for solutions that can be easily incorporated into a more advanced solution down the road.

The market is trending toward customizable and extendable solutions to meet customer-specific requirements and growing requirements over time. Expect vendors to add more open access, integration capabilities, and flexibility in their products going forward. We found that even large enterprises often use a combination of pure systems monitoring solutions in conjunction with more advanced solutions.

To learn more about the solutions we reviewed and how they ranked, please refer to our Systems Management Vendor Landscape.


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Systems delivery guymanagement plays a critical role in service delivery, but many enterprises either don’t do it or take a bottom-up technical approach.

Failing to take a service approach to systems management leaves IT exposed to service delivery failures and potential finger pointing when the technical staff try to isolate an issue.

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A solid systems management strategy can deliver on service availability, performance and capacity business needs if approached from the top down rather than as a technologist’s tool.

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Associated Research

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Obtain reliable systems operation and performance.

Storyboard: Ensure Service Delivery with Systems Management

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Close gaps in service reliability and performance.

Systems Management Strategy Assessment Tool

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