By the time you read this, Microsoft will have announced some major news related to itsprivate cloud services. More specifically, the software giant is delivering the release candidate version of System Center 2012 and revealing that it intends to deliver the final version of this product by the end of the first half of 2012.

System Center might be the ultimate Microsoft hybrid server, an on-premises system designed to make cloud computing capabilities available to the company's core customers, enterprises, and medium-sized businesses, more easily and inexpensively than ever before.

To be clear, we're speaking about private cloud capabilities here, which is sort of a gray area depending on who you ask. But according to Microsoft's definition, a private cloud is a pool of capability dedicated to a single customer, regardless of whether those resources exist in the customer's own data center, in a third-party data center, or in some combination of both. A public cloud, by contrast, shares resources, or pools of capabilities, among multiple customers.

"Private cloud is not about location," Microsoft corporate VP Brad Anderson told me in a briefing last week. "It's about the dedication of capacity. Shared capacity is public cloud, which has some of the same attributes, otherwise."

I'm coming around to this definition, and it makes a lot more sense when you consider that Microsoft's System Center solution is aimed at managing this capacity. If you're familiar with System Center today, you know that the current product isn't so much a product as a fully-fleshed-out product family with multiple member products. And that's the first thing that's changing with System Center 2012: It's going to consolidate eight previously separate products into one.

Yes, really.

These products include System Center Configuration Manager, Service Manager, Orchestrator, App Controller (which is actually new to this release), Operations Manager (including Avicode capabilities), Endpoint Protection (also new), Data Protection Manager, and even Virtual Machine Manager. Amazing.

"With System Center 2012, we said, 'Let's make the cloud easy to use and embrace,'" Anderson noted. "In typical Microsoft fashion, we're bringing previously complex and expensive capabilities to the masses with this release. There's a tension now in IT, they're struggling, really, under budget pressures and more, and need predictable spending patterns. Managers and CXOs want to embrace the cloud, they're already using it at home, and the customers they serve are pushing them to embrace it too. System Center 2012 will help IT to be more agile, and to give more control to their customers."

It gets simpler. In addition to consolidating a vast array of previously separate products into a single product, Microsoft will offer only two versions, or SKUs, of System Center 2012, Standard and Datacenter, and they'll both provide a unified experience, with unified capabilities and simplified pricing. Put simply, System Center Standard is basically aimed at managing physical servers in a data center with light virtualization, whereas Datacenter can manage both physical and virtualized servers.

Pricing, too, is quite simple. When you purchase a license for System Center 2012 Standard, you get coverage for two OSs (both physical or one physical and one virtual) on two processor cores. Datacenter offers unlimited virtualized OSs, within the limits of what's possible on two processor cores. Pricing is $1,323 for System Center 2012 Standard and $3,615 for System Center 2012 Datacenter, Microsoft says, and managed devices will still require management licenses, which vary depending on usage, but are in the $22 to $121 per device range.

But here's where things get interesting. VMware's private cloud offerings (vSphere 5.0 + other products) aren't available in a single integrated version, and each product comes with its own licensing concerns. For example, vSphere 5.0 is licensed per-processor, but vCenter is per-instance. And vCloud Director, vCenter Site Recovery Manager, vShield, and vCenter Operations Manager all come with per-VM licensing. This adds up, and although I'll leave the math in Microsoft's more capable hands since I can't verify it, let's just say it's not even close.

VMware adherents will point out that Microsoft has historically fared pretty poorly from a cross-platform perspective, but even in this regard we see some interesting improvements in System Center 2012. It's compatible with multiple hypervisors, including Hyper-V, Xen, and VMware, and it lets you create a single private cloud using any combination of the three. "We also let you run Linux as a guest on top," Anderson said, "and offer wonderful management capabilities for Linux." According to Microsoft's telemetry, about 20 percent of the current System Center Operations Manager base is monitoring Linux guests.

As with Hyper-V, it does appear that System Center is now closing the gap with yet another one-time VMware advantage. Will Microsoft's simplified and less-expensive management capabilities provide it with another big win? I would think so, and although I wasn't able to attend a deep-dive workshop about this new product, some of my Windows IT Pro colleagues did. (See "System Center 2012 RC Ships, Showcases Revamped Licensing and Branding Strategy" and "Microsoft System Center 2012 Enables the Private Cloud.")

 

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