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Microsoft System Center handles data center management

Data center management is a complex undertaking, with challenges around hardware and software, energy costs and personnel expenses. Microsoft System Center can help your customers get a handle on those issues.

Service provider takeaway: Service providers can turn to Microsoft System Center to help customers ease data center management challenges in areas such as capacity planning, automation, configuration, backup and virtualization.

Data center management is a very complex process. Data centers need to provide high availability with a low total cost of ownership (TCO). Distributed applications such as Web or application servers require load balancing and a middle-tier/business logic layer atop another set of servers that communicate with a relational database management system (RDBMS). Not only are data centers complex, they are increasingly expensive to operate, with rising energy costs one of the most significant contributors to overall operating costs. Finally, managing the hardware and software for infrastructure is no small feat. In fact, the biggest expense in managing such systems is the salaries of the IT professionals managing your enterprise; making that job easier can contain or even reduce data center-related costs.

Microsoft's System Center data center management suite addresses these issues in a number of ways, with modules for capacity planning, configuration management, backup, software and hardware monitoring, and virtualization management.

Before we go deeper into Microsoft System Center, let's talk in more detail about the problems and needs around data center management. The challenges are:

  • Capacity planning: Resources are often wasted in the enterprise. Too frequently, servers have large amounts of unused disk space or their processors are idle most of the time, while other applications are starved for space and resources.
  • Monitoring and configurations: IT departments must monitor server health to detect, troubleshoot and address performance and application errors in a proactive manner. They must deploy patches and upgrades with minimum disruption in application services.
  • Automation: Your customer's IT staff must be able to patch, update and deploy software in an automated manner. Manual installations, deployments, upgrades and updates are tedious, time-consuming and error-prone. Automation is a must in a large enterprise.
  • Backup and recovery: Research has shown how critical backup and recovery are to any company's continuance after a system failure (like those caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina or more mundane events), yet the reliability of tape or other backup media is very poor.
  • Virtualization: Virtualization enables significant power savings in the data center, yet it presents some challenges. To realize power savings, IT staff must identify underutilized servers to virtualize and ensure that the virtualized servers continue to meet SLAs. Resources on the virtualized servers need to be managed to prevent one virtual machine from hogging all the available resources on the host.
  • Standardization: Best practices must be followed and standards enforced to ensure quality operation and management of an IT infrastructure.

Microsoft System Center can help you and your customers meet these data center management challenges. The components of Windows System Center are:

  • System Center Capacity Planner 2007: Microsoft System Center Capacity Planner 2007 can be used for capacity planning or for change analysis on Windows Server, Exchange Server 2007, SharePoint Services 3.0, SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007. For example, you can use System Center Capacity Planner to test various configurations (i.e., adding a branch office or new users) to see how the existing infrastructure will perform under the new load. The tool asks questions about the number of servers, locations, requirements and hardware and makes estimates on performance, bandwidth and resource usage.
  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007: Configuration Manager 2007 is the successor to Systems Management Server (SMS). Configuration Manager has a rich set of tools for deployment automation, software distribution, state and patch management, asset intelligence and application management (with the ability to improve network bandwidth utilization). It also offers support for mobile users.
  • System Center Data Protection Manager 2006: Data Protection Manager performs intelligent backups for the enterprise. Continuous data protection continually backs up data as it changes, which can provide very fast, near-point-in-time restoration of data. Data deduplication ensures that only what is changed is backed up, with duplicate copies of data backed up only once, resulting in much lower storage requirements. Both of these technologies provide always-up-to-date backups, which occupy a much smaller volume than their tape equivalents and which can be stored on disk.
  • System Center Operations Manager 2007: System Center Operations Manager, the successor to Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005, provides rich and robust monitoring of applications and hardware in local and distributed networks. The product allows you or an IT staff to control how an event condition is handled, for example, by triggering pager notification, a script or the execution of a program.
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager: Virtualization is becoming increasingly attractive in data centers. Virtual Machine Manager helps migrate both Microsoft and Linux servers to Microsoft Virtual Server or Microsoft Hyper-V, as well as deploy, configure and monitor virtual machines. And, if needed, Virtual Machine Manager can migrate a virtual machine to disk, which would be helpful in troubleshooting problems in a virtual environment.
  • System Center Service Manager 2007: Service Manager 2007 is an upcoming product that handles incident change and problem management. It provides a self-service portal to reduce your customer's help desk costs. However, the release of Service Manager has been delayed until the first half of 2010.
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Microsoft has also bundled versions of the above products into System Center Essentials 2007, which is intended for smaller enterprises with 30 or fewer servers and fewer than 500 clients.

It's clear that handling data center management tasks for a large IT infrastructure is a very complex undertaking and requires considerable IT resources. Microsoft System Center maximizes the use of these hardware and software resources, as well as your customer's IT staff.

About the author
Hilary Cotter has been involved in IT for more than 20 years as a Web and database consultant. Microsoft first awarded Cotter the Microsoft SQL Server MVP award in 2001. Cotter received his bachelor of applied science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and subsequently studied economics at the University of Calgary and computer science at UC Berkeley. He is the author of a book on SQL Server transactional replication and is currently working on books on merge replication and Microsoft search technologies.

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