System Center is Dead, Long Live System Center?

MSFTSystemCenterlogo1Change is afoot for System Center, Microsoft’s stack of enterprise technology management applications that guys like me install, use, manage, and build great careers on top of. And not just little change. Big, sweeping change, I’m convinced, thanks largely to Satya Nadella, but also thanks to a new & healthy culture of pragmatism inside Microsoft.

But that pragmatic culture began with a bit of fear & intimidation for the System Center team. I’m told by a source ((Not really)) that it went down like this: Nadella strolled over to the office building where System Center is built by  segregated development teams. I’m told that the ConfigMan & VMM teams, as creators of the most popular programs in the suite, get corner offices with views of the Cascades, while the Service Manager & DPM teams fight over cubes in the interior.

Anyway, Nadella walked in one day, called them all around a handsome, gigantic, rectangular redwood work table in the center of their space. He looked at each of them quietly, then -with a roar that’s becoming legendary throughout the greater Seattle metroplex- he bent over and with enormous strength, flipped the table on its side, spilling coffee, laptops, management packs, DPM replicas, System Center Visio shapes and the pride/pain of so many onto the cold, grey marble floor.

“Some of this is going to stay. And some of it’s going to go,” he said to them, motioning to the mess on the floor.

And then, he vanished, like a ninja.

But seriously, look at all the change happening at Microsoft. Surely the System Center we love/hate/want to name our kid after is not goign to escape 2015 without some serious, deep, and heartbreaking/joy-inducing change, depending on your perspective. It’s already happening. To wit:

  • Parts of System Center are dead as of Windows Server Technical Preview: App Controller, the self-service Silverlight & http front-end to VMM has been dropped out of System Center Technical Preview.  Farewell oddly-named App Controller, can’t say I’ll miss you. In its place? Azure Pack baby.
  • In the last 45 days, the whole System Center team has been busy begging and pleading with us to give them some feedback. VMM put up a Survey Monkey , and the DPM, Orchestrator, and Service Manager blogs all have been asking readers to give them more feedback. VMM even has a Customer Panels  whose purpose is to take the pulse of working virtualization stiffs like me. That’s awesome -and reflects the broader changes in the company- but it’s also a bit scary because I love my VMM & Configman and I’m not used to being asked what I think of it, I’m used to just taking it, warts and all. ((Since they asked, I’m running SCVMM Technical Preview in the lab at home and though its changes mostly amount to removal of features in the production version, I view it as a great advancement for one reason: I can now automate the re-naming of vNICs through VMM itself, rather than some obscure netsh command/batch file thingy. Awesome))
  • There are many Configuration Management products out there, but ConfigMan is mine, and it has remained suspiciously absent from System Center Technical Preview. Now I’m not suggesting that MS is going to kill off the crown jewel of its System Center suite, but crazier things have happened. Jeffrey Snover, father of Powershell, isn’t giving up on his Desired State Configuration cmdlets, the DSC sect within the Microsoft professional community is gaining influence & strutting about the datacenter floor with some swagger, and DSC is a tool that with some maturity could largely make ConfigMan unnecessary in many environments. It probably scales to Azure better, though it doesn’t have anything in MDM as far as I know.
  • Though much improved, SCOM still strikes me as too hard  to build-out compared to Monitoring as a Service offerings like New Relic. Granted, SCOM’s cloud story was pretty strong; just two months I ago I got a taste of #MonitoringGlory when I piped an endless train of SCOM alerts/events directly into Azure Operational Insights and got, well, some insight into my stack. But guess what SCOM-fans? You no longer need SCOM for that.  Ok then.  Why would I use it?
  • There are no sacred cows at Microsoft anymore: My precious Lync? Gone. Renamed Skype for Business. The Start Screen, which I was strangely beginning to like? I’m suffering Stockholm Syndrome as I play with the latest Windows 10 build; it’s been axed! Sharepoint online public-facing websites? Starting March 9, new customers won’t have to go through the crucible some of us have gone through to stand-up a dynamic corporate website back-ended by Sharepoint in Office 365. They get to go through someone else’s crucible, like Drupal or something.
  • Nadella has a talent for picking the obvious, and he’s clear: Apparently it was Nadella who told the Microsoft Holo Lens team that what they were building was more akin to the Enterprise’s Holodeck than a new way to play shooters in XBox Online. It’s been Nadella repeating the call that there should be One Windows across all products, not an RT here, and a Windows Phone there. Like him or not, the man has some clarity on where he wants Microsoft to be; and I think that’s exactly what MS needed.

So, I have no evidence that System Center is going to get all shook up in 2015 -and I mean seriously shaken up- but it seems pretty obvious to me that with Nadella came a healthy & powerful introspection that’s really bearing some fruit in parts of Microsoft’s business.

Now it’s System Center’s turn. And it’s good. We should look at that suite holistically, in the context of our time & and the marketplace. Parts of it are undoubtedly great & market-leading; other parts of it are, in my opinion, beyond fixing. The former will be strengthened, the latter will be cut off and discarded. System Center, whether it lives on or gets swallowed up by the Azure Pack, will get better, and I’m pumped about that!

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