Microsoft System Center is a crucial tool in the management of Windows Server environments as well as client desktop operating systems. In recent years, it has become a linchpin of modern data center strategies:

  • Data centers are the backbones of every major IT operation, from consumer-facing ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft to the enterprise Infrastructure-as-a-Service offerings from Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
  • The virtualized and cloud-based infrastructures housed in these facilities have consumed a larger share of corporate IT budgets over the years. An NTT Communications survey of 1,580 decision-makers found that the virtual/cloud combo would likely represent 28 percent of their allocations by 2018.
  • IT automation is essential as data center and cloud environments become more sophisticated and intertwined with each other; it is the only way to ensure ample scalability and responsiveness in the face of business requirements that often change rapidly.

For IT administrators, System Center 2016 streamlines the process of turning a data center into a private cloud. While public clouds such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services receive the lion's share of attention when it comes to cloud-focused conversations, private cloud is nearly as important for a lot of organizations.

A private cloud is a pool of elastic infrastructure that is available on-demand only to users within an exclusive corporate IT environment, behind the firewall. In that sense, it is "private," unlike public cloud equivalents that are typically multi-tenant and thus utilized by numerous paying customers.

What does System Center 2016 bring to the table for cloud management? Let's look under the hood at some of its most important features:

1. Hybrid IT support

The 2017 State of the Cloud Report from RightScale found that a solid majority of enterprises had hybrid cloud strategies in place. With hybrid cloud, mixing and matching of disparate service providers, software platforms and applications is inevitable. The question is how adeptly they can be weaved together into a coherent whole.

System Center 2016 makes synthesis easier than before. It can be run on Windows, VMware, OpenStack or Linux-based OSes, with the ability to support on-premises as well as cloud-based (either on Azure or AWS) workloads.

2. Linux integration

Support for Linux in System Center 2016 is especially sophisticated. For starters, the CentOS, Debian, Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu OSes are compatible with it. Its drivers are also checked into the upstream Linux kernel so that direct integration is seamless and continuous.

In System Center 2016, up to 64 processors can be added to a virtual machine running Linux. There is also support for secure boot, so that OS components can be verified via their respective Unified Extensible Firmware Interfaces.

Overall, Microsoft itself estimated that 25 percent of all instances of System Center include Linux virtual machines. The additional features in System Center 2016 enable advanced management of heterogeneous environments that include Windows and Linux VMs, with greater levels of power, security and flexibility than in previous editions of the platform.

3. Enhancements for Windows Server

Windows Server has evolved dramatically over the past 20 plus years. It has added crucial features such as Active Directory and Hyper-V in that timespan, becoming the keystone of modern virtualization and cloud computing strategies.

Users of System Center 2016 can pair it with all currently supported versions of Windows Server, including Windows Server 2016. Windows Server can be set up as the guest operating system when managing VMs in any environment utilizing System Center.

"System Center offers three different types of VM checkpoints."

System Center offers three different types of VM checkpoints designed to capture the data, configuration hardware and last known state of VMs. Production checkpoints are "point in time" captures capable of being fully restored at a later date (they do not use save-state technology, but rely on restoration software instead). There are also production-only checkpoints, which make no backups if the attempt at a production checkpoint fails (instead of falling back to a standard checkpoint like the first type does); and standard checkpoints for development and testing scenarios.

In terms of other Windows Server-specific features, System Center 2016 also supports Nano Server and hot-swappable memory and network adaptor. The latter capability refers to the option to modify assigned memory for VMs even while they are still running normally (i.e., "hot," hence the name).

4. Streamlined resource provisioning and migration

One of the core benefits of virtualization and cloud computing is the ability to provision resources that would have taken days or even weeks to set up using traditional IT infrastructure. System Center 2016 continues the long advance of IT provisioning and migration with additions including:

  • Template-based provisioning: The System Center 2016 Virtual Machine Manager allows VMs to be set up using preset templates, saving time that otherwise would have gone toward manual configuration.
  • Dynamic optimization: On-demand optimization ensures that load balancing of memory, CPU and storage and networking I/O are fully responsive to changing conditions. Power optimization is also available: It powers down hosts when they are not required within the cluster and turns them back on as needed.
  • Nested virtualization: The Hyper-V host itself can now be virtualized. Accordingly, it is possible to run a Hyper-V lab with very low overhead thanks to this more extensive virtualization.

5. Extensions for Microsoft Azure

With the rise of hybrid cloud environments, organizations of all kinds need to move significant number of physical and virtual machines off-premises. In System Center 2016, such migration is as straightforward as possible.

Its Data Protection Manager (DPM) can back up assets to Azure Backup or to tape or disk. DPM itself can be configured as a VM to further simplify the Azure transition.

Azure subscriptions can also be added to the Virtual Machine Manager in System Center 2016. These Azure VMs can be managed on a basic level from System Center, with options for starting, stopping and connecting them via the proprietary Remote Desktop Protocol.

Extend your knowledge of System Center at New Horizons

We have only touched the tip of the iceberg of System Center 2016. Specific coursework and hands-on training are necessary for mastering the platform for today's most important use cases.

You can sharpen your expertise by enrolling in courses at a New Horizons near you. We offer a wide variety of programs covering topics in the Microsoft stack, Cisco technology, IT certifications and much more, so that you have the opportunity to build comprehensive expertise for today's complex IT environments.

Be sure to view our webinars page, which is regularly updated with new content on topics such as System Center and Windows Server. Also take a look at the complete course listings to find ones aligned with your career goals.

Sep 2017

By: Kayla Tellers