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Microsoft Releases System Center 2012 SP1 Beta

The beta test version of System Center 2012 Service Pack 1, which promises to considerably broaden Microsoft's cloud product strategy, became available on Monday.

Those who want to test the SP1 beta can download it from Microsoft's page here. Previously, SP1 was available only to qualified testers as a community test preview.

While Microsoft has not indicated when the final SP1 product will be available, a blog post suggested it would be available sometime in "early 2013," in conjunction with the next Windows Intune release. Microsoft issued its last service update of Windows Intune in June at Tech-Ed.

SP1 as 'Full-Featured Release'
SP1 for System Center 2012 appears to be a big game changer for Microsoft. Vijay Tewari, principal group program manager on System Center Virtual Machine Manager, told the Tech-Ed audience back in June that SP1 actually represents a "full-featured release" of the product, rather than a mere update. SP1 also will be an important release for other supporting applications, including management apps offered by Microsoft's server hardware partners, such as Dell and HP.

While it may seem somewhat unsurprising to say it, the top big benefit of SP1, according to a Microsoft blog post, is that it lets IT pros use System Center 2012 to manage Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8. When Microsoft released System Center 2012 in April, it was just limited to managing the most current flagship Microsoft operating systems products at that time, which were Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. Similarly, with SP1, it's now possible to use all of System Center 2012's components to manage SQL Server 2012.

Microsoft also announced that System Center Configuration Manager 2012 (SCCM 2012) SP1 now reaps the benefits of PowerShell's automation capabilities for handling administrative tasks, although no specific details were provided. Microsoft's entire product culture has shifted to using PowerShell, in conjunction with Windows Server 2012 Server Core, which represents the preferred approach for automating processes and managing workflows (although a GUI is still available).

SCCM 2012 SP1 and the next release of Windows Intune will be able to manage multiple tablets, devices and servers. The list includes Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Windows To Go USB-based memory sticks, Mac OS X clients, Unix and Linux servers, Windows Phone 8 smartphones and various Windows Embedded devices (thin clients, kiosks, digital signs and point-of-sale devices).

Microsoft claims that improved management capabilities will be coming for SCCM 2012 SP1 when working with Windows Embedded Standard 8-based devices. The availability of Windows Embedded Standard 8 is planned "within three months from Windows 8 General Availability," according to Microsoft. Windows 8 arrives on Oct. 26, so that means that its embedded cousin should appear sometime in January.

SP1's Cloud Boosting Effects
SP1 also adds to Microsoft's cloud integration capabilities, including across products. For instance, SCCM 2012 SP1 and the next version Windows Intune will have an interoperability improvement that will let IT pros use either product to manage mobile devices. They can set security policies, view reports and distribute mobile applications from a single console, using either the cloud-based Windows Intune or premises-based SCCM SP1.

Users of System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager can leverage SP1 to move on-premises virtual machines to Windows Azure. App Controller now can tap into resources offered by cloud service providers. Another important cloud improvement with SP1 concerns the use of System Center 2012 Data Protection Manager and the Windows Azure Online Backup Service, which was rolled out in test form back in March. The cloud-based backup and recovery service enables virtual machine storage in Windows Azure. It works with Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 Essentials via an integration module, according to a Microsoft blog post. Microsoft is also releasing a preview of the Windows Azure Active Directory Management Portal, which supports the backup service. So far, Microsoft hasn't said what it may charge for using the new cloud-based backup service, when it's offered to customers.

Microsoft indicated a few other changes to come that will be timed to the arrival of SP1, although the details were a bit sketchy. To better accommodate bring-your-own-device scenarios, Microsoft plans to shift Windows Intune licensing from a per-device licensing model to a per-user model. It also plans to roll out a specific Windows Intune license that will give users the rights to use System Center 2012 Configuration Manager along with Windows Intune. Core Client Access License users of SCCM 2012 SP1 will be offered access to Windows Intune "at a reduced price," according to Microsoft's announcement. Lastly, Microsoft plans to loosen the Windows upgrade rights for those subscribing to the Windows Intune service.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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