System Center Virtual Machine Manager Gets a Badly Needed Update

Last month Microsoft announced (https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/system-center-blog/system-center-2022/ba-p/2907771) System Center 2022. Although much of this announcement centered around System Center Operations Manager, or SCOM, Microsoft also gave a tantalizing glimpse of what we might expect for Virtual Machine Manager.

I had actually been wondering for quite some time, what the future holds for System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Even though Microsoft has dutifully updated Virtual Machine Manager with each new System Center release, Virtual Machine Manager is in my opinion becoming badly outdated.

Early on, it seemed that Microsoft had lofty goals for Virtual Machine Manager. While it was originally created as an enterprise grade management tool for Hyper-V, Microsoft eventually added capabilities that allowed Virtual Machine Manager to connect to other parts of the infrastructure. For example, you can connect Virtual Machine Manager to Microsoft Azure, VMware, and even to your private cloud.

As great as all this sounds, Virtual Machine Manager really doesn’t work all that well as a cross platform management tool. It does not for example, support current versions of VMware, and even its legacy VMware support is limited at best. Similarly, Amazon once created a Virtual Machine Manager plug-in that allowed Virtual Machine Manager to connect to AWS EC2. However, this plug-in had very limited capabilities and is not work correctly with System Center 2019 (it is only officially supported for Virtual Machine Manager 2012).

All of this is to say that Virtual Machine Manager was becoming very dated and it was becoming a lot less practical for an organization to use Virtual Machine Manager to manage its virtualized infrastructure. Thankfully, Microsoft is breathing new life into Virtual Machine Manager. Because the 2022 version was only just announced, I have not yet been able to get my hands on a preview release to see how well it actually works. Even so, I am encouraged by the information that has been released so far.

Dual Stack Support

One of the first improvements that Microsoft has made to System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2022 is to add dual stack support. Specifically, this means that Virtual Machine Manager 2022 will allow you to assign IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to software defined network manage virtual machines. It was previously possible to create both IPv4 and IPv6 address pools in Virtual Machine Manager 2019, but IPv6 support was at least somewhat limited. With the new 2022 release, it seems that Microsoft is fully embracing IPv6.

Better VMware Support

Earlier I mentioned that Virtual Machine Manager 2019 does not support the current version of VMware, and that even its legacy VMware support is somewhat limited. Virtual Machine Manager was simply never intended to be a replacement for vCenter Server. While Virtual Machine Manager 2019 does allow you to perform basic VMware related management tasks, you will have to revert to using the native VMware tools if you need to do anything beyond the most basic virtual machine management. However, it seems that Microsoft may be planning better support for VMware environments.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2022 is going to add support for VMware 7.0 hosts. Although Microsoft doesn’t give a lot of details about what its newly updated VMware support will look like, the recent System Center 2022 announcement says that you will be able to “provision, deploy, manage, monitor and backup” VMware virtual machines. Backups will require System Center Data Protection Manager, and the monitoring capabilities are presumably going to be made available through System Center Operations Manager. Even so, the idea that you’re going to be able to provision, deploy, and manage VMware virtual machines through Virtual Machine Manager hints that Microsoft has probably put a lot of work into dramatically improving support for VMware environments.

Azure Stack Support

Just as Microsoft is improving support for VMware environments in its latest System Center release, it is also adding support for the 21H2 release of Azure Stack. For those who might not be familiar with Azure Stack, it is a collection of Microsoft products that are designed to bring Azure services into on premises environments. Some of the Azure Stack products are intended for use in the data center, while others are intended for use at the edge.

Virtual Machine Manager 2022 seen squarely focused around Azure Stack HCI. Azure Stack HCI was announced at Microsoft Ignite earlier this year and is a Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) solution for hosting virtual machines on premises, while also leveraging Azure cloud services. Although Microsoft has not come right out and said so, it seems as though Microsoft is positioning Azure Stack HCI as a next generation replacement for Hyper-V.

Microsoft has indicated that you will be able to use System Center 2022 to provision, deploy, manage, monitor, and backup the virtual machines running on Azure Stack HCI. The bigger news however, is that you will be able to use Virtual Machine Manager 2022 to fully manage Azure Stack HCI clusters. Not only will the software allow you to set up and register clusters, but you will also be able to configure networking, software defined networking controllers, and you’ll be able to manage storage pools and virtual disks all from Virtual Machine Manager 2022.

Hybrid Support

Microsoft has been pushing its customers to move everything to Azure for years. As such, it’s hardly surprising that Microsoft is introducing hybrid benefits for System Center 2022. This means that System Center customers will be able to run System Center in the Azure cloud, and use it to manage their on premises environments. Incidentally, Microsoft has also indicated that you will be able to continue to use your existing management packs and other investments that you might have made in System Center.

Conclusion

I’m really curious about the Virtual Machine Manager 2022 release. The updates that Microsoft introduced in Virtual Machine Manager 2019 were relatively minor compared to the previous version, and it seems as though Microsoft is placing a lot of effort into finally bringing Virtual Machine Manager up-to-date.

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