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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Let me be clear here right from the start. In server virtualization, there are a number of worthy competitors to industry leading VMware. But as virtualization becomes mainstream for most organizations, the only vendor that has any kind of chance of catching up to VMware, and contending for its crown, is Microsoft.

For virtualization, 2011 was a watershed year as we saw the proportion of server workloads on virtual machines pass the 50% mark across all enterprises (small to large). That includes production servers as well as test/dev.

We’ve been covering the server virtualization market since 2007. Throughout that time the interesting story has been less about perennial leader – in features and market/mind share – but rather the game of catch-up being played by VMware’s competitors. Microsoft was late to the game with Hyper-V but has steadily improved the product. Citrix bought XenServer, restructured their whole product lines around virtualization, using “Xen” as a branding lever for everything from server virtualization to server hosted applications. Red Hat has come a long way fast since acquiring KVM in 2008.

Others fell by the wayside. Virtual Iron had a compelling and low cost alternative but it was eaten by Oracle and disappeared. Sun Microsystems was also acquired by Oracle. Their server virtualization and management products melding into Oracle’s offerings.

2011 was also the year when the market started to really take Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization seriously. This was due largely to two events, the release of Hyper-V R2 Service Pack 1 (Hyper-V R2 SP1) and the beta release of improved management components in Microsoft System Center 2012.

In our recent strategy set on server virtualization, Get the Most out of Server Virtualization, we recognized Microsoft as the leading alternative to VMware. Microsoft has solidified its second place status in terms of market choice. More significantly, Microsoft has solidified its role as the go to alternative to VMware.

Between our 2011 and 2012 surveys, VMware and Microsoft emerged as the sole choices among those using only one virtualization vendor. The others are now more likely to appear in secondary and special purpose roles where more than one server virtualization hypervisor product is deployed.

It should be noted that the proportion that have a heterogeneous virtualization environment has grown year over year (from 42% to 50% in 2012). So there are plenty of opportunities for competitors.

Typical multi-hypervisor scenarios include cases where the organization standardizes on VMware for its main production servers, but leverages a lower cost alternative — such as XenServer or Hyper-V — for secondary processes or for special projects like virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). But when it comes to choosing just one hypervisor for everything, increasingly that choice is being made between VMware and Microsoft.

Recently Info-Tech also published our most recent Vendor Landscape report on Server Virtualization. Interestingly, Microsoft was not a Champion in the landscape. Citrix and VMware were Champions while Microsoft is a Market Pillar. How can this be if we see Microsoft as the chief rival to VMware?

Our Vendor Landscape compares vendors on a range of measures, including depth and breadth of product features as well as vendor market strength. Citrix XenServer remains the product that is the closest competitor to VMware feature for feature. Microsoft has a range of impressive features and management capabilities coming down the pike, but we could not give them full marks at the time of writing as they were still in beta.

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Over the past year, Info-Tech has written about the traditional challenges to desktop virtualization (see Desktop Hypervisors Key to Virtual Desktop Future). One of the most significant challenges is that of mobility. Truly mobile users are the ones with only intermittent access to the corporate network, who may log in from the road, the hotel, the airport, or anywhere.

At Citrix Synergy 2010, Citrix’s latest addition to the Xen family, XenClient, was finally unveiled. This video takes a look at some XenClient quick facts; for example:

  • XenClient is a joint collaboration between Citrix and Intel, which has been in the works for several years.
  • XenClient is a bare-metal or Type 1 hypervisor that sits directly on the hardware rather than on top of the OS (i.e. like a Type 2 hypervisor).
  • XenClient features a remote kill pill function for added security.

XenClient has the potential to change the virtualization game by making it more accessible to mobile users. Citrix’s partnerships with Wyse, Intel, and others make the possibilities of such a solution even more attractive.

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