System Center 2012 and Cloud Management


Microsoft System Center 2012 is a management solution that provides support for all major deployment and operational areas in private and public cloud infrastructures. System Center 2012 includes the following components:

  • System Center Configuration Manager 2012
  • System Center Operations Manager 2012
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012
  • System Center Service Manager 2012
  • System Center Data Protection Manager 2012
  • System Center Orchestrator 2012
  • System Center App Controller 2012

This article offers an overview of how System Center 2012 helps to build, operate, and manage heterogeneous cloud deployments that include multiple hypervisor platforms. With System Center 2012, you can pool and abstract disparate hypervisor resources, provide an elastic infrastructure, deliver self-service to organizational units, and offer a usage-based cost structure.

Cloud Elements

Clouds are a new concept for many organizations. However, they can be thought of as an enhancement to the existing infrastructure, management, and monitoring processes deployed within most enterprises today. In essence, a cloud is designed to allow one or more organizations to leverage a common set of resources to minimize the cost associated with deployment, management, and maintenance of the solution. The main elements of a cloud are:

  • Fabric – the underlying computing, networking, and storage infrastructure that provides the building block of shared resources. The fabric resources are owned by the IT organization and offered up in a chargeback model so that resources are not idle or underutilized.
  • Services – the applications that leverage the fabric to provide features and capabilities to users. The services are deployed as usable units that can be scaled up or down to meet capacity needs.
  • Service and Lifecycle Management – the solution that tracks changes to the cloud infrastructure, provides automation and approval processes, tracks capacity, and provides proactive issue resolution.
  • Service Users – the users of the services with limited knowledge of the fabric because they are presented in an abstracted manner. The service user leverages self-service solutions to accomplish their goals and do not have to worry about the underlying infrastructure they are consuming.

System Center 2012 Benefits

Building and managing cloud infrastructures using Microsoft System Center 2012 suite supports some key tenants:

  • Pooled infrastructure resources that optimize resource utilization and reduce costs
  • Elastic infrastructure that allows to scale up or down, scale in or out, all based on capacity needs
  • Self-service user interface and workflow that allows business units or departments to provision systems or entire solutions as predefined
  • Infrastructure monitoring to take proactive maintenance actions that minimize downtime
  • Usage-based cost model that allows business units to only pay for resources consumed

These are the cloud deployment pillars that allow service consumers to focus on application performance, SLAs, and lifecycle, rather than physical computing resources. Using this model, organizations can quickly scale up to meet upcoming end of month or seasonal resource requirements, then equally quickly scale back down to nominal levels when additional resources are no longer required. In addition, organizations only pay for the additional resource consumption during the peak period. This is much more advantageous than a traditional infrastructure model that is deployed to meet peak requirements, and requires resources that may be idle for considerable periods of time.

Fitting the System Center 2012 Pieces Together

System Center 2012 provides the ability to build, manage, automate, and access the cloud in a cohesive manner. As noted earlier, System Center 2012 provides support for a computing layer based on multiple hypervisors platforms that include Hyper-V, VMware ESX, and Citrix XenServer, as well as a range of networking and storage components.

Fabric Deployment

A cloud fabric consists of the computing, the networking, and the storage components that are shared within the cloud solution. System Center Configuration Manager 2012 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 are the primary tools that a fabric administrator would use to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Deploy new computing (hypervisor) hosts from bare metal
  • Configure new computing hosts to scale cluster units
  • Configure networking connections between computing hosts
  • Configure networking connections to the services running on the hosts
  • Deploy logical virtual networks
  • Provision IP addresses to services
  • Provision storage on demand, attach storage to services, and allow management of the storage migration between computing hosts

Following deployment of the fabric, the health status must be monitored and the health status information used to optimize the fabric layer.

Fabric Monitoring

System Center Operations Manager 2012 is the primary tool that a fabric administrator would leverage to monitor and optimize the cloud fabric. In addition, integration between System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 and Operation Manager 2012 provides capabilities like Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO), and dynamic optimization of workloads. Overall, System Center Operations Manager 2012 allows a fabric administrator to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Monitor the fabric infrastructure and generated alerts
  • Proactively modify the cloud fabric to mitigate the effects of problems raised by an alert
  • Dynamically optimize the cloud fabric to provide the best performance for the services
  • Provide capacity tracking to allow proactive scale up or scale down of the fabric

Hand in hand with a well-monitored and proactively optimized fabric, a backup and recovery strategy must be implemented to mitigate the effects of fabric faults and failures.

Fabric Backup and Recovery

System Center Data Protection Manager 2012 provides backup and recovery of the computing hosts, the services running on the hosts, and the fabric management components. DPM 2012 provides on-premises and off-premises protection using built-in replication mechanisms as well as cloud-based partner repositories. Furthermore, DPM 2012 also provides protection and recovery capabilities for application workloads such as Microsoft SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint, and offers self-service restore features, including for database administrators.

Fabric Update Management

Along with fabric backup and recovery, fabric update management is required to optimize the update state of computing components. By integrating System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 and Windows Software Update Services (WSUS), a fabric administrator can maintain the update state of the computing host resources. In addition, you can leverage WSUS and the Windows Update agent, or WSUS integrated with System Center Configuration Manager 2012 to update services, virtual machines, and other physical servers.

Service Management

Services are layered above the cloud fabric and make use of the computing, networking, and storage components to perform the work for an organization. Services are composed of virtual machines and the applications that run within the virtual machines. Virtual Machine Manager 2012 provides the fabric administrator with the ability to create a service definition, perform a service deployment, and updating and scaling a service.

A service requires four main components to define it and automate its deployment: a hardware definition (memory, processors, storage, and network), an operating system configuration definition (system name, domain to join, administrative settings, and so on), the set of applications that make up the service, and the service deployment definition.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 provides a new feature called a service template which defines the number of tiers in a service (one or more virtual machines), the relationship between the tiers, the scalability of each tier, and the applications that should be deployed at each tier. Once the service template is defined, it is used to deploy the service (that can include multiple virtual machines executing on different hypervisor platforms) as a single unit operation. As application revisions are released, or service template elements must change, service templates can be versioned to implement and deploy service updates.

Service Lifecycle Management

Along with cloud fabric deployment, monitoring, and service templates, it is necessary to develop a model for IT Service Management (ITSM) of the cloud. IT Service Management encompasses the definition of a set of infrastructure and change management processes that support predictable levels of service, change, capacity and demand management. System Center Service Manager 2012 is the building block for ITSM, and it provides the following baseline features:

  • Service catalog
  • Service management portal
  • Service desk
  • Central repository for change management
  • Ticketing and approval workflows

System Center Service Manager 2012 provides a configuration management database (CMDB) and connectors to other System Center products (like System Center Operations Manager 2012) to gather information about the entire cloud into a single location. This allows Service Manager 2012 to track changes to the environment, provide change history, and provide approval processes (manual or automated) when changes are initiated through the Service Desk ticketing system. While Service Manager provides the repository and tracks the changes, it relies on the other System Center products to implement modifications.

Cloud modifications that require a structured chain of events synchronized across multiple components are controlled through the process automation capabilities of System Center Orchestrator 2012. Leveraging a native connector between System Center Service Manager 2012 and Orchestrator 2012, a fabric administrator can initiate a change from Service Manager 2012 that creates a ticket workflow for tracking purposes and then initiates a process workflow in Orchestrator 2012.

Orchestrator 2012 relies on integration pack connectors to System Center and other products, as well as a defined process workflow to perform the actual modifications through native API calls or PowerShell. When the modifications are complete, Orchestrator 2012 reports the status back to Service Manager 2012 as a success or failure. The change ticket is updated and the workflow marked complete if the change was successful, or it is marked as failed for manual resolution, or it can even automatically create another ticket to have a technician troubleshoot the issue.

In addition to tracking changes to the cloud fabric, the information in the Service Manager CMDB is used to perform capacity tracking and demand management that allows tracking service level agreements, making decisions of when to scale out the fabric, or when to scale up a service. You can also leverage the Service Manager 2012 portal to create custom interfaces based on the unique interface or reporting needs of a specific cloud environment.

Service User Self-Service

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 offers a self-service portal to allow a service user to administer previously deployed services, or if given the rights, the service user can deploy a new service from a granted list of service templates. This feature is sufficient for small cloud deployments with a single VMM instance. For larger or multi-cloud environments, subscriptions to the Microsoft Azure public clouds, or more advanced features, then the System Center App Controller 2012 self-service portal is indicated.

System Center App Controller 2012 provides the following benefits:

  • Configure, deploy, and manage services using a library of standard templates
  • Create, manage, and move services using a web-based interface that presents a role-based view of resources
  • View private and public cloud services in a single view and get granular control of application components at each layer

Service User Quota and Chargeback

Service users need a way to deploy services and to accomplish that, they must be granted rights to deploy or administer their services. However, access to deploy services must be managed to avoid uncontrolled or out-of-control deployments.

In order to control service sprawl, services quotas are defined on cloud fabric resources, and the quotas are assigned to service users so that they cannot consume all of the fabric resources. Service Manager 2012 provides the capability to track quota usage and to define costs associated with the services and resources consumed. Based on this information, a chargeback model can be structured and interfaced with an internal billing system to enable the service users to fund the cloud infrastructure.


In this article, you were provided a high-level overview of where System Center 2012 components fit into the management structure of a cloud infrastructure. If you have used previous incarnations of System Center components to manage traditional infrastructure deployments, then it isn’t much of a leap to see that each of these tools is extended in their System Center 2012 incarnation to adapt to the higher level of integration, and process structure needed to manage a cloud environment. If you want to build and manage a private cloud test environment using the System Center 2012 suite, you are encouraged to download the pre-release version of the System Center 2012 products from the Microsoft website.

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