System Center 2012 RC Ships, Showcases Revamped Licensing and Branding Strategy

Over the last decade or so, Microsoft's System Center product family has grown to resemble that over-achieving acquaintance we all know who suffers from a hopelessly complex personal life. Starting a conversation with them is like peeling open a can of conversational worms that leads to more questions than answers: Who was that person? Why did they do that? When did that happen? And why are you telling me all this?

In the case of System Center, that complexity has historically arrived in two forms: confusing product nomenclature and branding, and a complex licensing model that could drive even the most seasoned Microsoft licensing pro into fits of head scratching and eye crossing. Realizing that creating befuddled customers wasn't a good product marketing strategy, Microsoft announced today -- in addition to news that the System Center 2012 release candidate (RC) is now available for download -- that it is drastically streamlining and simplifying their System Center licensing and branding efforts. Here are two of the biggest changes:

Branding: Gone are all of the eight separate System Center product sub-brands like Operations Manager and Virtual Machine Manager. Those products will become components of System Center 2012, the only product that remains as a separately-branded entity. System Center 2012 will be offered in only two versions: a standard edition and a datacenter edition. The former is aimed at businesses with more modest virtualization and private cloud needs, while the latter is aimed at organizations with more aggressive ambitions for virtualization and the cloud.

Licensing: I recently attended a press workshop on the private cloud on the Microsoft campus, and Microsoft's Garth Fort -- general manager of the system center and virtualization marketing team -- was walking the group of assembled IT journalists through the legacy System Center licensing structure. While displaying a Byzantine licensing diagram that looked like something a minotaur could get hopelessly lost in, Fort suggested -- with tongue partly planted in cheek -- that Microsoft has provided a "rich" array of licensing options for the System Center family, which was met with chuckles and laughter from the press in attendance.

With the System Center Standard and System Center Datacenter licensing changes, Microsoft brings some sorely-needed clarity to the System Center licensing picture. These licensing changes are also a shrewd business move on Microsoft's part that will undoubtedly prove painful for the VMware sales team, since System Center 2012 Datacenter edition licensing will cover an unlimited number of virtual machines without incurring additional licensing fees, in contrast to VMware's more costly licensing options.

brad-anderson

It's always interesting to see how Microsoft's goals and ambitions for their products change over time, but System Center has been remarkably consistent with Microsoft's original goals for the product, which was to help IT professionals more easily manage and administer their infrastructures. Back in 2009 I interviewed Brad Anderson, Microsoft's current corporate vice president of the management and security division (MSD), about what Microsoft's priorities were at the 2009 Microsoft Management Summit (MMS). Here's a bit of what Anderson said back then:

Customers want a single set of tools, to command across physical and virtual assets. They don’t want to have two. They're looking for a consistent way to manage their Windows environments, from the data center to their servers and across their data centers. And there's a whole lot of hype going on in the market going around about cloud. And what we're communicating is that the conversations about the cloud are great conversations, and if you think about what Microsoft has been communicating with our Software+Services strategy, these conversations about private cloud vs. public cloud, those fit right in line with what we've been communicating for years.

At the private cloud reviewer's workshop Anderson also stressed the knowledge that Microsoft has gained from managing their own public cloud infrastructure -- for massive cloud services like Hotmail, Xbox Live, and Bing -- that they're hoping to push through into their private cloud offerings as well. "There are certain things you can only learn by doing," Anderson says. "We have a set of scar tissue and experiences that enable us to leverage those learnings to benefit our customers building private clouds.”

Anderson also provided some interesting stats on the state of Windows Server and System Center, including:

  • 76% of all x86 servers shipped in 2011 have Windows Server installed
  • For all organizations that have more than 500 PCs, 50% used System Center to manage their infrastructures
  • 20% of the System Center customer base is managing Linux instances as well, arguably making System Center the most popular way to manage Linux clients
  • Datacenter efficiency (outside Microsoft): One server administrator manages 40-50 servers
  • Datacenter efficiency (inside Microsoft): One server administrator manages 4000 servers for Microsoft cloud services

We're covering today's System Center 2012 news from several angles. Paul Thurrott talks about what this means for Microsoft's private cloud efforts, Sean Deuby provides his perspective on the news, and Michael Otey discusses changes to virtual machine management.

So what do you think about the changes introduced in System Center 2012? Feel free to add a comment to this blog post or contribute to the discussion on Twitter.

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