System Center 2016: What you must know before upgrading

With System Center 2016 generally available now, it’s important to get to know the new features. There are quite a few upgrades that Microsoft put into this new System Center that they claim will help you simplify your virtual, software-defined datacenter and hybrid cloud datacenter built on Windows Server 2016.

This includes assisting in deployment, configuration, management, and monitoring, while additionally increasing agility and performance. The new System Center will also have more support for heterogeneous environments such as LAMP stack monitoring, as well as scale improvements in UNIX/Linux monitoring.

Also included in System Center 2016 is a native integration with the OMS, or Microsoft Operations Management Suite. For those who don’t know, these are a set of cloud-based services that “complement and extend System Center functionality to give you analytic, data correlation, orchestration, archival, and hybrid management capabilities,” according to Bala Rajagopalan, principal group manager of System Center.

We’ll take a look at these claims and some specific new features of System Center 2016.

Data Protection Manager

System Center 2016 - Data Protection Manager backup

It seemed in the past that Hyper-V and VMM weren’t correlating well, as a feature would be released on one platform without support for the other. However, it’s clear that they’re working more closely now as the features that are deployed in Windows Server 2016 also function in VMM.

Hyper-V gives you some new options on Windows Server 2016, like continuing a VM backup even in the case of a Hyper-V node crash or VM storage migration. This is completed through the new Resilient Change Tracking (RCT) protection technology.

You are also able to backup and recover shielded VMs, protect VMs deployed on Storage Spaces Direct configuration, and maintain Hyper-V VM backup even if a Windows cluster upgrade is in progress.

This will assist in reducing overall TCO of private cloud deployments and improving security, stability, and availability. Essentially, the System Center Data Protection Manager now has better support for protecting VMs deployed on the new Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V.

VMM — Virtual Machine Manager

System Center 2016 - Virtual Machine Manager

There are a number of upgrades offered in the VMM of System Center 2016. According to the Microsoft’s own website, you’ll now be able to manage your fabric and workloads in one place.

When speaking of networking, this includes:

  • Being able to have predefined customizable service templates to deploy Software Defined Networking (SDN) components like Network Controller, Gateway, and Software Load Balancer (SLB)
  • Use port access control lists (port ACLs) to manage network traffic through a VM
  • Have higher availability with fewer virtual machines by creating and controlling flexible gateway pools rather than traditional gateway clusters
  • Use the Network Controller to “create and configure all SDN entities” like virtual networks and virtualized network functions

When looking at security, we now can:

  • Use both Windows Azure Pack (WAP) and the Virtual Machine Manage to create shielded VMs
  • Change non-shielded VMs to become shielded by using the VMM console and WAP
  • “Manage the lifecycle of guarded hosts that provide the infrastructure for shielded VMs; these hosts protect VM data against snooping and tampering by fabric administrators or malicious software”

Focused rather on computing, you are able to:

  • Manage compute and storage clusters from bare metal machines
  • Control a Nano Server-based hosts and VMs entire lifecycle
  • Perform “rolling upgrade of Windows Server 2012 R2 clusters to Windows Server 2016 clusters with no downtime for the hosted workloads”
  • Take production checkpoints, or application-consistent VM checkpoints
  • Alter memory and the virtual network adapter configuration of a running virtual machine

Lastly, understanding storage’s new features, it’s possible to:

  • Re-create storage volumes synchronously using Storage Replica (SR) instead of storage-based replication, which can be quite costly
  • Avoid the noisy neighbor problem, thus providing better Quality of Service (QoS) for virtual machine storage
  • Storage Spaces Direct (S2D), which reduce storage costs with a scalable storage system and industry-standard servers with local storage, are now able to be deployed and managed in “disaggregated and hyper-converged topology”

Operations Manager

The new System Center 2016 Operations Manager helps to assist in the monitoring of all infrastructure and applications through both public and private clouds. This update expands the surface area of monitoring and helps simplify the discovery and maintenance of management packs. Not only that, but it is also said to provide better support “for Linux environments and integrate with the Operations Management Suite to provide rich analytics and improved diagnostics.”

Some of the concrete changes include being able to monitor many different network devices without needing to have an Operations Manager certification, as well as monitoring Nano Server deployments. This includes DNS and IIS roles.

You are also able to use the Preferred Partner program if you so choose to find third-party management packs, authoring tools, dashboard utilities, and more, from the Operations Manager console, making this a bit more simplified.

One of the nice features includes being able to limit the amount of alerts that aren’t completely necessary. It’s possible to alter the monitors and alerting rules, both as a source or group. Also, you are able to “plan and schedule maintenance windows for workloads without generating spurious alerts in Operations Manager console.”

A couple more new conveniences include being able to go to the administration console to find, install and/or update required management packs or navigate through different views and pivots without waiting for data to load.

Lastly, Microsoft says that there is now a “more than 2X scale improvement in monitoring UNIX/Linux servers.”

Should you upgrade?

System Center benefits

This is essentially the ultimate question. A few other features that Microsoft brags about for the new System Center include:

  • “Deploy, configure, and keep your Windows and mobile devices up to date using Configuration Manager”
  • “Automate your datacenter tasks using Orchestrator Service Management Automation”
  • “Automate service delivery using Service Manager”

A very important note is that, according to an interview with Christopher Barnett, an associate attorney with Scott & Scott LLP, by Katherine Noyes, the Windows Server 2016 will force customers to purchase licenses “based on the number of activated processor cores in each server.”

This could end up costing users quite a bit, as customers need to “purchase enough licenses to cover at least eight cores for each physical processor, regardless of how many cores are actually in their server,” Barnett notes.

If you aren’t quite convinced that you need to upgrade to this system, don’t forget that the “Azure Stack, unlike Azure Pack, does not require System Center to build a private cloud.” So, be sure to consider all of your options.

Keeping all this in mind, though, the number of new features offered by Windows System Center 2016 certainly seems to warrant an upgrade from the 2012 version.

Photo credits: Microsoft

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