At this year's Microsoft Management Summit 2011 in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced a massive update to the System Center management suite. All the members in the System Center family are slated to receive big updates in the System Center 2012 release. Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) is probably the System Center product with the most significant updates coming. Virtual Machine Manager 2012 is due out in the second half of 2011. You candownload the public beta from the Microsoft Download Center. There are too many updates to VMM 2012 to mention them all, but here are 10 of the most important enhancements.

1. Manage multiple hypervisors—VMM 2012 will be able to manage all the major virtualization platforms. In VMM 2008, Microsoft added the ability to manage VMware's vSphere Server via vCenter Server. With the upcoming release of VMM 2012, Microsoft is adding the ability to manage Citrix XenServer. Notably, but not unexpectedly, support for the older Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 and ESX 3.0 has been dropped.

2. Support for cloud, fabric, and services management—It's no surprise that VMM 2012 has moved into the cloud and services management space. VMM 2012 adds cloud support, where the cloud is defined as a collection of resources that can be assigned to users or groups. The cloud is composed of a fabric, which is the underlying IT infrastructure, and services, which are collections of virtual machines (VMs) that perform a given task.

3. Dynamic Optimization—The addition of Dynamic Optimization is Microsoft's answer to VMware's Distributed Resource Scheduler. Dynamic Optimization provides cluster-level workload balancing for VMs. Like the older VMM Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO) feature, Dynamic Optimization lets VMM analyze workloads and dynamically move VMs to different hosts by using Live Migration. Unlike PRO, Dynamic Optimization doesn't require Operations Manager 2007. The PRO feature will still be available in VMM 2012.

4. Power Optimization—A feature closely related to Dynamic Optimization is the ability to optimize the placement of VMs to minimize power consumption. Power Optimization in VMM 2012 can use Live Migration to consolidate running VMs onto fewer virtualization hosts, then power down the unneeded hosts.

5. Cluster awareness—One weak point with the previous version of VMM is that it isn't a cluster-aware application. VMM 2012 is cluster aware and can be installed on a Windows Server 2008 R2 failover cluster, giving VMM 2012 improved availability and the ability to fail over to a backup node in the event of a server failure.

6. Bare-metal Hyper-V provisioning—Another important new feature in VMM 2012 is the ability to perform bare-metal provisioning of Hyper-V servers. This feature lets VMM create new Hyper-V hosts on bare-metal systems by using predefined templates. VMM 2012 is also integrated with remote management technologies such as iLO (HP's Integrated Lights Out) and SMASH (Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware).

7. Enhanced placement rules—Intelligent Placement enabled the previous version of VMM to evaluate host capacity and suggest the most appropriate virtualization hosts for deployment. VMM 2012 extends this capability with over 100 VM placement checks and also adds support for custom placement rules. In addition, VMM 2012 supports multiple VM deployments as services.

8. Support for Server App-V—Server App-V is the server equivalent to the desktop version of App-V that Microsoft provides for application virtualization. As its name suggests, Server App-V is designed to virtualize server applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange Server. Using Microsoft's application sequencing technology, the server applications are converted into Xcopyable images that can be deployed with VMM 2012.

9. PowerShell 2.0—VMM has always been one of the leaders in PowerShell integration. VMM provides PowerShell cmdlets for command-shell management, and actions in the VMM console can be used as a basis for generating PowerShell management scripts. VMM 2012 enhances this management capability with full support for PowerShell 2.0.

10. Upgrade support—One other nice feature in VMM 2012 is the ability to perform in-place upgrades from existing VMM 2008 R2 installations. Customers will be able to upgrade from VMM 2008 R2 to the VMM 2012 RC, and then upgrade from the VMM 2012 RC to the final RTM release of VMM 2012.