Self-service for end users is one of the automated functions that distinguishes a private cloud from just another data center server cluster.
System Center already includes general purpose virtual machine management through its Virtual Machine Manager application. But being added to the suite are three new applications: Service Manager, App Controller, and Orchestrator. Their addition brings the total number of System Center applications, now referred to as "components," to eight. The suite was first launched in 2000 with Operations Manager.
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In daylong briefings at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus last week, Microsoft executives explained how they had to expand their concept of System Center to include business "application owners" as well as IT managers in version 2012. In the past, System Center has strictly been for Windows Server administrators and data center managers. Microsoft added a second console after "spending a lot of time understanding the personas in an IT organization," explained Brad Anderson, the corporate VP who supervises System Center development, in an interview at his Redmond office Jan. 12.
The 2012 version offers a data center administrator's console, labeled the "provider" management console, and a second, business application owner's console, dubbed "consumer." A business application's performance can be monitored and tracked through the consumer console.
Said Anderson: "The service consumer is the application owner. Owners are all about agility, all about getting it done and done fast. They will go around [the] data center administrator if [they] can't get it done," turning to an outside infrastructure-as-a-service provider.
The formal announcement of System Center 2012 came Tuesday, as Anderson and Satya Nadella, president of the Server & Tools business unit, held a webcast introducing the new features.
The App Controller component is designed to "open up the conversation" between IT managers and business application owners, said Jeremy Winter, group program manager at the Jan. 12 briefing. If the business managers says, "My app is running slowly," the network manager, storage manager, or server administrator can check out their respective areas and see if they can find an explanation, he said.
App Controller is derived from technology that came with Microsoft's Avicode acquisition in October 2010. Avicode produced software that could monitor running applications and report on trends or highlight slow Web server database responses or other performance inhibitors.
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App Controller can obtain data from the Operations Manager in the Windows Azure public cloud and provide a view of application performance, whether the application is on premises or in Azure. "Even though you're working with two different cloud environments, App Controller gives you a consistent view" across both, said Winter.
App Controller also gives the application owner the power to configure, manage, and update an application, even if parts of it are operating in different tiers, such as on premises and on the Web.
Service Manager is a key addition to System Center that provides a service catalogue of what's available to end users. IT maintains control over what's offered by building server templates and restricting them to users with the appropriate assigned role.
Orchestrator's functionality was acquired by Microsoft in the Opalis Software purchase in December 2009 and has now been incorporated into System Center. Orchestrator specializes in IT task automation and the integration of related IT steps. It links to other system management systems, such as BMC's, and can import information from the configuration management database that's part of Service Manager. Orchestrator generates run books of particular IT processes that can be used to govern and automate those processes.
Garth Ford, general manager of the System Center and virtualization marketing team, said the suite, when it becomes available, "sets up a fundamental shift in how computing will be done in the future. Agility goes through the roof. Segregation of duty between those who set up and those who consume" has been clearly established.
Ryan O'Hara, director of system center product management, emphasized a point that several Microsoft executives highlighted as the differentiator between its approach to private cloud computing and other vendors' approaches. "Our private cloud is all about the app ... When we think about an application, there are multiple tiers, a hardware profile, a set of configuration settings, a deployment package."
Microsoft representatives in the future will push harder at saying it knows applications as well as virtualization and cloud computing techniques. It hopes that message is strong enough to convince x86 server users that they can rely on System Center to generate their workloads, monitor their operations, and move them around.
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