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Microsoft Releases Next Preview of System Center Configuration Manager

Microsoft rolled out "Technical Preview 2" of its System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) product on Thursday.

The preview is now available for testing via this Microsoft Evaluation Center page. It also includes a second preview of System Center Endpoint Protection.

Microsoft's announcement of the release may be a déjà vu moment for some because the company had released a Technical Preview back in May. That release was Technical Preview 1, although some Microsoft blogs had labeled it as "Technical Preview 2" for System Center 2016, as I reported back then.

In addition, Microsoft is refusing to describe Thursday's preview release as being part of its upcoming System Center 2016 product line. Here's how a spokesperson explained that point:

The Technical Preview is simply called System Center Configuration Manager Technical Preview 2. When this release of ConfigMgr reaches general availability in Q4 2015 it will be regularly updated to deliver best-in-class support for managing Windows 10.

Microsoft has previously indicated that the SCCM component of its System Center 2016 suite of management tools would arrive earlier than the other System Center 2016 components. SCCM will get released earlier to be available for managing Windows 10, which is set for release on July 29, but there also will be a second release of Windows 10 that's expected to occur sometime this fall. The full System Center 2016 suite of products is expected to have a commercial product rollout sometime next year.

Microsoft has hinted before about a more service-enabled System Center to come. Maybe that explains its fussiness over the SCCM Technical Preview 2 nomenclature and the dropping of the "System Center 2016" phrase.

Mobile Device Management
This Technical Preview 2 release of SCCM is notable for enabling mobile device management of Windows 10-based devices. That capability, though, is dependent on using an Intune subscription with SCCM. Intune is Microsoft main solution for mobile device management operations, but it integrates with SCCM via a connector solution.

Microsoft's announcement explained that this integrated mobile device management capability in SCCM Technical Preview 2 "is especially helpful for managing devices that are unable to connect to the Internet such as Windows IoT/Embedded devices." Examples include devices used in retail stores, as well as machines used for credit card transactions, according to this Microsoft TechNet article, which describes the two previews.

Technical Preview 2 lets IT pros test mobile device management on up to 10 devices running the Windows 10 Enterprise edition. An Intune subscription is required to carry out the testing, though, according to the TechNet article. Another mobile device management scenario that can be tested with this preview release is the "bulk enrollment of Windows 10 devices."

Peer Caching and Sideloading
Microsoft has added "peer cache support for Windows PE" with Technical Preview 2. The peer cache support is new technology in SCCM that lets IT pros deploy new operating systems by using content (such as the OS image, driver package, etc.) "from a local peer" instead of a distribution point. The idea is to reduce traffic loads on the wide area network when deploying OSes in branch-office-type scenarios, according to the TechNet article. The article further explains that the peer cache feature is similar to the Windows BranchCache feature, except that it "functions in the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE)." Essentially, one computer workstation can serve as a peer for updating the next client device using the cached images.

Technical Preview 2 also lets IT pros "sideload" internally created Universal Windows Platform apps to Windows 10 devices. Sideloading is the process of making apps available for end users outside the typical Windows Store vetting process. Organizations with their own custom line-of-business apps might use the sideloading technique, which requires that the apps be provisioned with certificates.

New to Technical Preview 2 is support for adding deployments to a previously created Automatic Deployments Rule.

Microsoft improved on Technical Preview 1 with this release. Windows 10 in-place upgrades are more stable, the TechNet article claims. Users now get screen feedback when importing Windows 10 drivers. The Endpoint Protection component now can use "security scopes" with its anti-malware policies.

About the Author

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