Friday 1 January 2016

What's coming for System Center in 2016?

So, 2015 has drawn to a close and 2016 has been ushered in.

While System Center Configuration Manager may have managed to squeeze out of the gates early, we already knew that the wider System Center suite (along with Windows Server as well) wouldn't be seeing a generally available release until 2016.

We still don't have a confirmed date as of yet, but with licensing details (here and here) having been announced and the previews being at the Technical Preview 4 (TP4) stage, if I was a betting man I would place it towards Q3 of 2016 for release.

Based on the TP4 release, what do we know at present?

The Technical Preview is available to download from here:

Well the core components that were in the 2012 R2 release are mainly still staying around to get an upgrade in the 2016 release.

These are:
  • Virtual Machine Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Data Protection Manager
  • Service Manager
  • Orchestrator
  • Service Management Automation
  • Service Provider Foundation

If that's what's in, what if anything is not getting a refresh for 2016?

Well, App Controller has been deprecated, but this has been known for a while.
The on-premises functions are basically replaced with Windows Azure Pack and, let's be honest, not many people used it for deploying VM's into Azure

A little more surprising, well for me at least, is the removal of Service Reporting.
This was used in conjunction with Windows Azure Pack and gave the ability when used with VMM and SCOM to provide usage monitoring and reporting for billing purposes.

The suggestion from Microsoft is to utilise a third-party utilisation/billing system. So if you needed this functionality I'd suggest starting to look at things like Cloud Cruiser (which has an express "free" version for Windows Azure Pack only deployments).

There are also some other side features/addons for System Center that have finally had the curtains drawn on them:
  • Service Manager:
    • IT GRC Process Management Pack
    • Cloud Service Process Pack
  • Operations Manager:
    • Visio Management Pack Authoring
  • Virtual Machine Manager:
    • Server App-V Support
    • Citrix XenServer Support
    • Vmware vCenter 4.1 & 5.1 Support (5.5 and 5.8 are still supported)

So there's no doom and gloom, a bit of fat trimming, but nothing scary.

Source: Features Removed from System Center Technical Preview

On a positive note, what's new?

Well as expected, all components will be getting Windows Server 2016 support, both from an underlying OS to install on as well as a supported OS for management, monitoring and deploying (where applicable). Also SQL 2014 will be supported as a target for component installation.

Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) is getting the biggest amount of new features, which is quite understandable since it is driven by new features that come in the virtualisation and storage parts of Windows Server 2016.

A high level summary of these features are:
  • Management capabilities for Guarded Hosts and Shielded VM's
  • Consistent naming of VM Network Adapters
  • Easier Logical Switch creation
  • Conversion of standard switches created outside of VMM into Logical Switches
  • Better failure reporting on failed logical switch creation/modification tasks
  • Enhanced Quality of Service (QoS) for storage
  • Support (finally!!) for creating storage tiers for Storage Spaces
  • Support for Storage Spaces Direct
  • Mixed Cluster Support and Rolling Upgrades
  • VM Static Memory Configuration while VM is running
  • Hot  add/remove network adapters
  • New VM Checkpoint support ("Production" checkpoints in Server 2016)

Operations Manager (SCOM) so far in TP4 doesn't have a huge list, but what we are seeing are more and more cool features being lit up within Operations Manage Suite, of which SCOM can extend and integrate to.
A high level summary of these features are:
  • Updates and Recommendations of management packs running in the SCOM environment
  • Further management pack catalog improvements (including mpb support)
  • Monitoring support for Nano Server
  • Maintenance Mode Schedules
  • Performance Improvements

Data Protection Manager (DPM) again doesn't have a massive new feature set in TP4.

A high level summary of these features are:
  • Protect mixed mode clusters
  • New form of change tracking to replace VSS snapshot-based backups - Resilient Change Tracking (RCT)
  • Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) support
  • Virtual TPM support for protection of Shielded VMs

Service Manager (SCSM) has a few new bits in TP4.

A high level summary of these features are:
  • The default Self-Service Portal will be the new HTML5 portal introduced in Update Rollup 8 for 2012 R2 and replaces the Silverlight & SharePoint based portal
  • Support for presence awareness and IM with Lync 2013 & Skype for Business
  • Performance Enhancements
    • ECL Logging can be optionally disabled
    • Grooming improvements for ECL logs
    • Reduction in lag for Incident Workflows (batch size increased)
    • AD Group expansion integrated into AD Connector tasks
    • SQL AlwaysOn installation changes
SCSM also had some updates in TP3 that get carried across:
  • Write collision avoidance to help deal with conflicting changes
  • AD Connector no longer performs a full sync after changing target domain controller
  • MPSync jobs are now more reliable
  • Further performance improvements for connectors
  • AD Connector sync schedules can now be configured to a schedule you choose.
The latest #LyncUp call also announced that the Service Request area enumeration list will get moved into an unsealed management pack (sounds like a small change, but is long overdue!)

Service Management Automation (SMA) has the following planned:
  • Support for PowerShell 5.0
  • PowerShell ISE add-on
  • Native PowerShell script support
  • Designate a runbook worker
  • Caching of Runbooks for more predictable execution

Orchestrator (SCORCH)… don't be expecting anything new for this component in the 2016 release, other than splash screens being changed to say 2016 and some updates to the Integration Packs to support the other System Center 2016 components.

We have however seen the "beta" release of the migration tools for Orchestrator that will allow runbooks to be migrated to Azure Automation.

I have a previous post on the migration tools:

Source: What's New in System Center Technical Preview

In Summary...

The core of System Center remains the same in the 2016 release, with improvements, some new features and OS support but with a strong focus on Cloud based service integration with Azure and Operations Management Suite (which includes Automation, Backup and Site Recovery under that umbrella).

Please keep in mind, all of this is based on Technical Preview information (i.e. beta's) so is subject to change at any point.

Have your say

It's never too late to influence the future of System Center. If you have an idea or a request, make sure you head over to the Uservoice sites and make it heard!