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Microsoft's System Center 2012: Building A Private Cloud

Microsoft is beefing up its private cloud offering by enhancing existing modules in System Center 2012 Release Candidate, adding an application controller that disconnects apps from the operating system, an orchestration module that automates application and virtual machine deployment, and unified management tasks. Microsoft is also reducing System Center 2012's licensing options from 113 different combinations to two editions--a Standard edition and a Data Center edition. This is Microsoft's big move into private cloud, which should make it easier for enterprises to get into the game, but it is also a first step along a longer path in Microsoft's march to private cloud.

Brad Anderson, corporate VP with Microsoft's management and security division, sees enterprises' first step into cloud computing coming through private clouds that are scalable, automated, dynamic platforms combining servers, storage, networking and applications. Our June 2011 research report Research: IT Automation agrees. We found the second most common step IT was taking to focus on providing new services was building a private cloud (35%).

Microsoft is taking the lessons it is learning from running its own cloud services and applying them to its private cloud offering. There are three pillars to Microsoft's initiative: productive infrastructure, which includes the servers and software that support cloud services, is where Microsoft has made the biggest gains with System Center 2012 automating and managing their environment, as well as integrating with VMware's vCenter and Citrix Xen; predictable apps, which automate application deployment life cycle and decouple the application from the underlying OS, make application and server management easier; and, finally, unified management, which uses a set of common tools via Systems Center 2010. It's a pretty heady lineup, and today's announcement is a solid first step.

Perhaps one of the biggest news items is the change in licensing to System Center 2012. The short story is that Systems Center now comes in two versions that include all of the modules that used to be licensed individually, like Virtual Machine Manager and Configuration Manager, as well as dependencies like SQL Server. The licensing is loosely tied to the number of CPU sockets (regardless of the number of cores per socket) in the server. Standard edition is a two-socket license that includes what Microsoft calls an operating system environment (OSE)--Windows Server 2008 R2 and one guest VM. Windows Server occupies one socket, and the VM occupies the other. The list price is $1,300. Data Center edition includes one OSE and an unlimited number of guest VMs for $3,600. In either case, if you have a four-socket server, you need two licenses. You can stack standard licenses if you want, but you hit the crossover point where it makes more sense to buy Data Center edition at two licenses.

Hyper-V is still free, but the licensing changes slightly from number of sockets to number of OSEs (or VM images). Standard edition gets you two OSEs per Hyper-V server, while Data Center edition gets you unlimited OSEs. Microsoft also has a transition plan for existing Systems Center customers that maps the old licensing to the new. The net effect, Microsoft believes, is that in most cases, the cost per license will be close to even. The benefit is that you get all of the System Center modules plus two years of software assurance for one price. Microsoft has a separate plan for Core Infrastructure licensing. The licensing for virtual desktop applications are not affected.

Microsoft has two new System Center modules. The first, App Controller from the 2010 acquisition of Avicode, abstracts applications from the underlying OS and eases application deployment. One of the biggest benefits of App Controller is the ability to abstract an application from the OS, making it simpler to move an application from one host to another, between data centers, or even to Microsoft's Azure. App Controller provides rights management so that users can be limited to a subset of resources, such as 10 VMs, which helps to control VM sprawl.

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