Executive Summary:
Microsoft has recently released System Center Configuration Manager 2007, part of the Microsoft System Center family of management solutions. System Center Configuration Manager identifies the causes of common configuration and deployment problems and provides ways to solve them. System Center Configuration Manager 2007 is being released almost simultaneously with Windows Server 2008 and simplifies the deployment of Server 2008.

It’s common knowledge that IT people spend about 70 percent of their time on maintenance tasks. But just think of all the projects you could finish and how much you could benefit your organization’s bottom line if you could reduce that percentage. Freeing IT from day-to-day drudgery so that technology can become a strategic business asset is a key motivator behind Microsoft’s efforts to unify its systems management products and management infrastructure. The System Center family is at the core of these efforts. The recent release of System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (SCCM) illustrates Microsoft’s focus on “transforming \[customers’\] infrastructure into a strategic and progressive asset for their business,” according to Brad Anderson, general manager of Microsoft’s Management Solutions Division.

For example, Brad said, “We know that the numberone cause of unplanned downtime on Windows Server is when a configuration change is made and the ramifications \[of that change\] are not truly understood.” With the model-based management approach built into SCCM, Brad continued, “we’ll have technology in place so when a configuration change is made, we’ll be able to detect that the change was made and notify the administrator before that change becomes a catastrophe.” The idea is that by identifying the causes of common problems and providing ways to avoid them, System Center can have “dramatic impacts on uptime, customer satisfaction, and real value to the customer.”

To illustrate the value of System Center’s capabilities, Brad cited the example of a study examining Microsoft’s customer-support calls. “In January 2007, we looked at every call that came in about our big server workloads in the most critical situations—when the customer is literally down and in need of help. We looked at how many of those calls would have been avoided, and 48 percent of all those critical calls would have been prevented had \[the customer\] been using the monitoring capabilities of Operations Manager and the desired-configuration management capabilities of Configuration Manager.”

Those capabilities, Brad continued, are based on “models that instruct System Center how to verify compliance and any deviation, or drift, from a desired state. Microsoft and some of our partners will be releasing models, and there will be tools for IT professionals to customize those models and build their own. They can build a model for almost anything: How should a server be configured? What does a secure desktop look like? The way we envision this is the developer—whether that’s internal or an ISV—will release their products with a model for how the application should be configured. But then IT professionals may choose to extend that, enhance it, change it, based on their criteria. We also see IT professionals take an application model and combine that with an OS model and a compliance model. And that is what they’ll use to see if a server, for example, is configured properly.”

Windows Server 2008
Of course, one important reason why Microsoft wants to free up your time from maintenance is to give you time for tasks such as deploying new versions of Microsoft products—Windows Server 2008, for example. And Brad’s team “has the responsibility to make sure that enterprise accounts have a simple and efficient way to deploy Windows Server and upgrade to Server 2008 across the enterprise.” So it’s no coincidence that SCCM is being released almost simultaneously with Server 2008.

Brad reported that “In our TAP \[Technology Adoption Program\] deployments of SCCM, the feedback we got for the OS deployment capabilities is that it truly does enable everything from configuring the hardware, to making sure the server is ready to be upgraded, to doing the deployment or upgrade—and then after you’re done, bringing back the applications, bringing back the configuration, joining the domain, configuring the server so it’s ready to go. So one of the ways people will be using SCCM is that base configuration.”

Brad admitted, “Asking our customers to upgrade from one version of Windows to another is one of the most complex things we ask them to do.” He added, “We’re pretty proud of what we’ve delivered in SCCM 2007 to help our enterprise accounts get upgraded to Server 2008.”

In summary, Brad said, “We have delivered technology to the market that enables that connection between IT and the developer and allows the IT organization to really understand what’s happening on their desktops, their servers, and the applications they run on those.”