Microsoft Updates System Center Configuration Manager Preview

Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) product, currently in technical preview, received its latest update this week.

Update 1605 was released on Monday. Microsoft seems to be releasing its SCCM technical preview updates approximately once a month; the SCCM 1604 technical preview was released in April, while SCCM 1603 technical preview was released in March. However, the SCCM 1602 technical preview was announced in both February and March, with different feature sets highlighted in the respective announcements.

Microsoft's method of updating the SCCM technical preview is somewhat confusing, given that the company released its finished SCCM 1511 product in December (the "1511" refers to "2015 November"). It turns out that the technical preview version of SCCM continues to live on, despite Microsoft issuing a commercial product release. In this somewhat new model, the technical preview is considered by Microsoft to be a separate entity from the commercially released product.

"The System Center Configuration Manager Technical Preview is distinct from the current release of System Center Configuration Manager," a recently updated TechNet library article explained.

A technical preview SCCM installation is just good for 60 days, becoming inactive thereafter. It doesn't have support for "a central administration site, multiple primary sites, or secondary sites." The technical preview is just designed for use in testing environments.

The SCCM 1511 Baseline
In contrast, SCCM 1511, also known as the "current branch" (or "baseline") product release, is aimed for use in production environments. In Microsoft's old product-release terminology, SCCM 1511 might have been called a "general availability" release.

The SCCM 1511 component of the System Center suite hit commercial release status early to support Windows 10 deployments. The rest of the System Center suite is expected to appear in Q3 of this year. Microsoft also released SCCM 1602 (for "2016 February") in March, which was described as its "first update" to the current branch of the product.

SCCM essentially became service-updated software, getting monthly updates pushed down from Microsoft much like Windows 10. The updates show up in SCCM's "Updates and Servicing" node for approval. Microsoft also issues hotfixes for the product, which typically must get installed manually. The product update model for SCCM is described in this TechNet article.

Microsoft never seems to have explained this model for SCCM in which the technical preview release continues to exist alongside the product release version. The approach seems somewhat analogous to the Windows Insider test program for Windows 10, although Microsoft doesn't appear to have a program name designation for these SCCM perpetual technical preview releases.

New in Tech Preview 1605
IT pros might be surprised by what's new for testing in SCCM 1605 technical preview. It has Windows Store for Business integration, for instance. Many know Windows Store for Business integration as a feature Microsoft lists in its Windows 10 comparison page as being available to all Windows 10 editions except for the Home edition. Its launch was highlighted in November by Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, when Windows 10 version 1511 was released.

Windows Store for Business lets IT pros house line-of-business applications in Microsoft's app store for access by end users. The apps get loaded in a process called "sideloading." Windows Store for Business is a potentially useful feature for organizations, but it's only just now manageable via SCCM at the test stage. Microsoft's Windows 10 roadmap page currently lists the Windows Store for Business capability at the "recently available" stage.

The SCCM 1605 technical preview also includes the ability to control enterprise data protection policy settings for Windows 10 devices. The enterprise data protection feature is a data-leak prevention scheme that wards off inappropriate content sharing, but it's just available in the SCCM 1605 technical preview for testing with "Windows 10 Insider Preview and Windows 10 Mobile Preview builds," Microsoft announcement explained. Myerson had said this capability was "coming soon" back in November. A footnote in Microsoft's edition comparison page states that it will be "broadly available in mid-2016." Microsoft's Windows 10 roadmap page still lists the enterprise data protection feature at the preview stage.

The SCCM 1605 technical preview now lets IT pros control settings for "server groups," formerly called "cluster patching." This capability lets IT pros create "a collection that contains servers in a cluster" and then manage the overall settings for it. In the case of this technical preview, the "percentage of devices that can be updated at one time" can be set. This server groups capability was first available in the SCCM 1511 technical preview, but Microsoft's announcement described it as being a "pre-release" feature.

Also included in the SCCM 1605 technical preview is management of Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection policies. Microsoft announced an expanded preview of this service earlier this week. Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is a post-breach analysis service for Windows 10 clients. Organizations will need a subscription to this service to test it with the SCCM 1605 technical preview, Microsoft's announcement stated. Possibly, that means being in the test program at this point, since the service isn't commercially available.

Microsoft also made some dashboard and user interface changes in the SCCM 1605 technical preview. Also, this release lights up a few Microsoft Intune mobile management capabilities. One Intune capability of note is the ability to remotely wipe a Windows 10 device and reset it back to its factory settings, which is now integrated with the SCCM 1605 technical preview.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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