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Microsoft Updates System Center Configuration Manager

Microsoft announced the release of the latest update to its System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) device management product on Friday.

The update is dubbed "1602," which refers to the year and month of its release (as in "2016 February"), even though Microsoft only announced its arrival last week. In its announcement, Microsoft described the 1602 update as the "first update to the current branch of System Center Configuration Manager."

That's an important detail to note. It's just an update and not a new current branch for business release. Microsoft confirmed that detail via e-mail on Friday:

The current branch of System Center Configuration Manager was released on December 8, 2015. Today's announcement was the first update for the current branch with new features, not a brand new release.

SCCM as a Service
Microsoft now updates SCCM like the service model of Windows 10, with updates pushed down at certain intervals, called "current branch" and "current branch for business" for summer and fall releases. There's also a "long-term servicing branch" option for Windows 10. Possibly, Windows 10 will get an altered update cycle with this year's releases, which allegedly go by the "Redstone" code name.

Prior to this update, the current branch release of SCCM was known as "1511" (for "2015 November"). Microsoft announced the SCCM 1511 current branch in December.

A new current branch update is supposed to appear every month, per past Microsoft descriptions of its update process. A new current branch for business update is expected to appear every four months, so 1602, released after three months, wasn't the next current branch for business release.

These updates appear in the Updates and Servicing node of SCCM's console.

Microsoft has a similar update model for Office 365, but it uses slightly different terminology. "Branches" are called "channels" for Office 365 updates. Office 365 has "current channel" updates every month and "deferred channel" updates every four months.

These details are important for IT pros to note. If they fail to update to the next current branch for business after eight months' time, then they risk running "unsupported software." That means that the software will no longer get updates and security patches, a risky situation.

SCCM 1602 Perks
Organizations are getting plenty of perks with SCCM 1602. It enables in-place upgrades of Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows Server 2012 R2, per Microsoft's TechNet Library article description. Other benefits include the ability to see the clients that are online and view the "health" of Windows 10 devices.

Another big benefit of SCCM 1602 concerns the management of Office 365 clients. They can be managed using SCCM's "Software Update Management workflow." This capability is possible for "Office 365 ProPlus, Visio Pro for Office 365 and Project Pro for Office 365," according to an Office team blog post.

"Now you can leverage Configuration Manager's built-in workflow engine to natively distribute software updates," said Amesh Mansukhani, senior program manager for Office 365, in a Microsoft video.

The video explains that Office 365 updates housed in Microsoft's datacenters get sent to Microsoft's Windows Update datacenters. SCCM gets apprised and will directly request the updates it needs from Microsoft's Office 365 datacenters. This scheme works for SCCM 1602 after some configuration and setup changes by IT pros. However, Microsoft also has placed scripts in the GitHub software repository that will enables this Office 365 update management capability using Configuration Manager with System Center 2007 and System Center 2010 products, according to Mansukhani.

Intune-SCCM Management
Microsoft also announced new capabilities with SCCM 1602 when integrated with Microsoft Intune, which is Microsoft's mobile device management service. Organizations can use Intune as a standalone tool or it can be integrated with SCCM. The standalone tool tends to get its new capabilities faster than the integrated SCCM solution.

One new capability in the integrated Intune-SCCM solution is the ability to impose conditional access on devices. For instance, IT pros can now specify with SCCM 1602 that devices have to have current software updates, anti-malware protection and BitLocker encryption to connect with a network.

SCCM 1602 with Intune also permits Microsoft Edge browser deployments to devices. Edge browser settings can be changed with the SCCM 1602-Intune combo.

Some management capabilities for Apple iOS devices are unlocked with SCCM 1602 and Intune. IT pros can set policies to "dynamically change settings such as server name or port for iOS applications." They can enable iOS Activation Lock on devices or they can bypass it.

For all of the new SCCM 1602 capabilities, see Microsoft's TechNet article.

Mansukhani said during the video that the next Office 365 deferred channel update was expected to arrive in June. Possibly, that date also corresponds with the next current branch for business Windows 10 release, but he didn't say such.

About the Author

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

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