Microsoft Releases System Center 2012, Officially Names 'Windows Server 2012'

The forthcoming product code-named "Windows Server 8" now has the official name of "Windows Server 2012," Microsoft announced on Tuesday at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) in Las Vegas, where the company also announced the general availability of System Center 2012.

Windows Server 2012 will be "released this calendar year," said Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of the Management and Security Division at Microsoft, during his MMS kickoff keynote.

Anderson and his team outlined Microsoft's vision for enabling simplified cloud deployments. Attendees at the sold-out MMS event were given a memory stick that can be inserted into a USB port -- what Anderson called a "private cloud on a stick." Users answer a few questions and a private cloud gets set up automatically, he explained. Anderson described Microsoft's private cloud on a stick as "a giant runbook" derived from System Center Orchestrator 2012.

The System Center 2012 suite now can be purchased globally and it currently works with Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2 product. Anderson said that System Center 2012 will be updated when Windows Server 2012 is released, although he didn't specify exactly when that would happen.

"Nothing ever has been this ambitious," he said, adding that "it's the most amazing release of Windows Server that we've ever done."

Microsoft's partners currently offer 12 certified configurations of Windows Server 2008 R2 with System Center 2012 under the Microsoft Fast Track partner program, allowing organizations to "have a private cloud up and running in a short time," Anderson said. The partners include Cisco, Dell, EMC2, Fujitsu, HP and others.

Anderson said that System Center 2012 is "deeply ready," having been tested by 5,500 participants, of which more than 200 joined Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program. He added that 10,000 servers used the prerelease bits. Early adopters of System Center 2012 included Lufthansa, Unilever and T. Rowe Price, he said.

Private Cloud Vision
Much of the rest of the keynote talk at the MMS was devoted to laying out Microsoft's private cloud enablement vision, although Anderson also talked about "the cloud on your terms," which is Microsoft's marketing phrase indicating technological support for private, public or hybrid cloud architectures.

According to Microsoft's vision, private cloud deployments are simplified through the use of the Windows Server plus System Center 2012 combination. While people often think of the public cloud when they think of cloud computing, Anderson said that cloud computing represents a model that is independent of location. Microsoft's approach is to think about an organization's resources as a pool that's available on demand, which can be consumed, managed and tracked.

"If a single organization has shared capacity, that's a private cloud," Anderson explained.

It's 'All About the Apps'
Microsoft's strategy is to add a few common capacities to the private cloud, including identity, a common virtualization model, common management tools and common development tools. The goal is to optimize applications.

Anderson explained a little about how System Center 2012 works with Visual Studio. System Center 2012 takes knowledge of infrastructure, stores and applications and brings all of that information together to show how the service is doing. IT pros can then understand if a problem is an issue with the system or if it's a code issue.

This point was elaborated during the keynote by Ryan O'Hara, director of program management on the System Center team. He said that Operations Manager in System Center 2012 can be customized to show service-level objectives and app performance. Users can click and drill down to see the performance details of an app. Developers will find the same issues forwarded into their work items in Visual Studio. It's the same rich info as seen in Operations Manager, O'Hara said.

Service Providers and Consumers
In devising System Center 2012, Microsoft had a specific model in mind about how organizations tapping private clouds function. On the back end, the private cloud infrastructure is provisioned and maintained by a "service provider" IT person. On the front end, IT personnel responsible for getting and maintaining applications are called "service consumers."

Microsoft built two experiences -- one for the service provider and one for service consumer -- and then enabled these teams to connect via System Center 2012 components, Anderson explained. For instance, the private cloud infrastructure is set up by the service provider. The service consumer can just request extra cloud capacity as needed, typically by using the App Controller component. In theory, this capacity is handed off without troubling the service provider to do any further work except approve the request.

This "self-service" model was demonstrated by Vijay Tewari, principal group program manager on the System Center team, during the keynote. By knowing the compute, networking and storage details, it's possible to deploy a virtual machine to the right storage environment. Users can take a node and drag it into cluster and configure it with credentials.

"With just a few clicks I've taken virtual machine and added it to a cluster," Tewari said. He claimed that the infrastructure for a private cloud can be set up in 30 seconds or less.

One of the Windows Server technologies that Microsoft offers that can be used to enable private clouds is called "storage spaces," which allows the storage pool to be expanded using commodity disks, which are hot swappable. Jeff Woolsey, principal program manager lead for Windows Server virtualization, demonstrated how storage spaces works during the keynote.

"Literally, in three clicks, I'm adding 270 gigabytes of storage to my pool," Woolsey said. "All hot, without any downtime."

Woolsey also described improvements in scaling up workloads with Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2. "We now support up to a full terabyte of memory per virtual machine," he said.

Virtual storage capacities in Windows Server 2012 have been expanded.

"From a virtual storage standpoint, we now support up to 64 terabytes per virtual disk, or 32 times anyone else in the industry," Woolsey said. "From a cluster standpoint, we support the largest clusters in the industry -- up to 64 nodes and 4,000 virtual machines in a cluster. All of this is available today in the Windows Server 2012 beta."

Live migration in Windows Server 2012 is enhanced over Windows Server 2008 R2. It's now possible to live migrate a virtual machine between two servers or between two separate clusters using nothing but an Ethernet cable, Woolsey said. Microsoft's term for this capability is "shared nothing live migration." Woolsey demonstrated how to do that using Virtual Machine Manager in System Center 2012.

Windows Server 2012 also addresses the problem of network multitenancy, which stems from the need to have multiple clouds, groups and companies sharing the same fabric but isolated on the fabric. Network virtualization in Windows Server 2012 allows subnets to be shared using the same IP address range, but all on the same fabric, Woolsey explained.

"This is game changing technology," Woolsey said. "No other virtualization platform has this, and we're simply including this in the box with Windows Server 2012."

Anderson commented that System Center 2012 can administer cloud capacity from VMware, XenServer or Hyper-V hypervisors. "We also do a great job of managing your guests, including Linux," he said. "Almost 20 percent of customers using System Center Operations Manager are using it to manage Linux."

For more on Microsoft's Tuesday Summit announcements, see the on-demand webcast here.

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