The last full version of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) that we saw was five years ago. Despite the introduction of two interim releases (R2 and R3), a complete revamp was certainly due. The SCCM development team came through with a substantially overhauled new product to provide organizations with better performance, enhanced information, and ultimately more control of their infrastructure. In this post, I’ll take a look at Microsoft’s new approach to its configuration management system and cover some of the components that changed and the features that were added.
Experienced SMS and SCCM administrators will be surprised by the core structural revamp of the new version. A new top level site system called the Central Administration Server (CAS) allows for the consolidation of all reporting and management in one location. What makes the CAS different from the previous ad-hoc central site is that it can host no clients. Essentially, Microsoft created a flat topology.
Also changed in SCCM 2012 is the structure of the secondary site. Prior-versions had secondary servers with no database and could be installed locally using the setup executable or remotely from the console of its primary. Now, the secondary has its own database (SQL Express is an option) and remote install is the only way to go.
Console and the Ribbon
The now familiar “ribbon” graces the top of the SCCM console, and, as such, the console is completely revamped. With training, practice, and repetition the console will become the admin’s friend, providing all of the flexibility and granularity that is needed. By abandoning the Microsoft Management Console (we’re told) we will see better performance.
While we’re all concerned with the security of our data, the overhead in creating a native mode environment was not necessarily worth the added peace of mind provided by an encrypted connection on the physically secure local area network. Remedying this concern, SCCM 2012 allows for different settings to be applied on the site systems within a site.
Hardware Inventory Controls
We’ll now customize hardware inventory collection using the console. For the hardcore geeks, we still have our mif files, and if you are not sure what those are — well, never mind. Another plus is the ability to apply different hardware inventory at the collection level by using client settings.
Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)
I can easily say that SCCM has the most flexible and user-friendly approach to RBAC that I have seen. The built-in RBAC roles should satisfy many enterprise deployments. The mechanism for role creation and assignment is entirely GUI-based and allows for the cloning of an existing role and then modification either by adding or limiting its capabilities or the scope of its effectiveness. In 2012, we now use the collection as our primary administrative border, giving us many choices in how we assign capabilities to our IT workers.
The structure of providing software to devices is completely revamped in SCCM 2012. First, we no longer call it software distribution; it is now application management. Also lost is the long-standing concept of the advertisement. It gets replaced with deployments.
A user accessing the network from a desktop computer will likely be provided a full local copy of an application for the computer where she typically works. For any other computer, a remote connection might be made to an App-V server where the user could run the application as if it were installed on her desktop.
Software update groups are now used to control the patches that will be deployed and automatic rules can be used to deploy the updates. There are significant improvements to the available monitoring tools for the software update process, which now provides detailed status information in the console as well as complete reporting on each of the elements of the update process.
Mobile Device Management
Right now SCCM 2012 does nothing for smart phones. We can hope that the RTM version of the product will supply more, but that is doubtful. It is more likely that we will see something more substantial for all of our phones in an early update. Right now SCCM 2012 only provides a fully featured client for the Windows Phone 5 and 6 and the Symbian phones. I’m waiting!