Microsoft System Center further fuses Azure with on-premises assets

Microsoft System Center SP1 allows customers to manage Azure services and on-premises Microsoft assets from a single console

With the release of the first service pack for Microsoft System Center 2012, Microsoft is taking another step in its ambitious goal of helping customers manage their on-premises IT and Microsoft Azure cloud services with a single set of IT management controls.

"System Center delivers a single control plane for IT to manage not just the infrastructure throughout the cloud, but the application platform and respective applications as well," said Michael Park, Microsoft corporate vice president of marketing for server and tools. "Windows Server 2012 and Windows System Center 2012 enable hybrid IT across private, hosted and public clouds."

Realizing this goal is a challenging one for Microsoft because it must coordinate the features among its Windows Server software, its Azure cloud service and System Center, which will increasingly serve as a single management console for both Azure and Windows Server deployments.

Microsoft System Center Service Pack 1 (SP1) augments System Center Service 12 -- which was released last April -- with a number of new features to manage hybrid deployments.

Microsoft System Center SP1 is the first version of the software to fully manage the new advanced features in Microsoft's Windows Server 2012, released in September, noted Andrew Conway, Microsoft director of marketing. The new Windows server OS offers many network virtualization features such as the ability to manage IP addresses.

"Critical to the idea of moving around virtualizations is the ability to isolate IP addresses in software thereby [increasing] the ability to speed them across the infrastructure," Conway said. "We added all the capabilities into [System Center's] virtual machine management to really make that possible."

This is also the first version of System Center that will allow organizations to manage virtual machines both in house and on third-party Azure cloud services. Previously, System Center could be used to manage use of Microsoft's own Azure service, but not use of third-party Azure services. The new cloud controls will also provide a way for customers to back up their servers to a Windows Azure service.

Windows System Center SP1 also supports Global Service Monitor, a Windows Azure service launched Tuesday as a trial service, that measures Web application performance. Global Service Monitor will be fully available in March, Park said.

In addition to new tools for administrators, System Center 2012 SP1 also includes some goodies for third-party Azure hosting companies. System Center SP1 also includes a Service Provider Foundation API (application programming interface), which third-party Azure providers can use to provide self-service management for their customers. Microsoft has also released Windows Azure Services on Windows Server, which will allow hosting providers to offer Azure cloud services identical to Microsoft's.

In addition to the System Center upgrades, Microsoft has also updated its Intune service for managing deployments of Windows personal computers. The fresh edition of the service can manage devices running the latest Microsoft operating systems, including Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8. Intune now can be accessed from 45 additional countries for a total of 87 countries worldwide.

Microsoft has also integrated Intune with Systems Center's Configuration Manager, so customers who use both the software and the Intune service will have a single interface.

System Center 2012 SP1 and the related releases are a "step forward" in Microsoft's goal of providing a unified cloud OS, said Gary Chen, IDC research manager covering cloud and virtualization system software, in an email interview. He praised the general strategy of providing a single set of tools for both cloud and in-house deployments, even if the tools are confined to mostly managing Microsoft software. "It's a lot easier today if you have the same platform on both sides of the fence; it's really a proprietary thing right now," he said.

Chen also said that while Microsoft made great strides in providing cloud capabilities through the new releases of Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 and Azure, it still has a lot of work to complete a unified cloud stack. "One thing Microsoft needs to resolve is that [it has] a Windows Server-based stack in the enterprise and a different Azure stack in the cloud. Eventually, they need to unify that, and they have been making progress in addressing compatibility, migration, etc," Chen wrote.

Microsoft is not alone in stressing the idea of unifying in-house and cloud operations into a single management layer. Hewlett-Packard has built its own cloud services offerings around the idea that a single set of software can control both environments as well.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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