Q&A: A power user's view of SCCM 2012

Now that its release is upon us, learn what System Center Configuration Manager really delivers and what could use improvement

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Microsoft's System Center suite is getting a major overhaul this year, and it's now been released. Ronald Barrett, a technical architect at the Gotham Technology Group and Windows admin expert, is one of the early power users of the System Center Configuration Manager component. In this interview, he shares his experience in using SCCM 2012.

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Bruzzese: What have you found to be the most impressive aspects of Configuration Manager?

Barrett: First and foremost, the switch to user-centric management is huge. In an era when BYOD (bring your own device) has become the rule rather than the exception, IT needs to find a way to bring users the productivity they crave while maintaining control over the corporate data. Configuration Manager's application delivery model makes that possible.

In addition, the new look of the management console makes navigating and management even easier. Microsoft has also added endpoint protection and the software update roles using WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) to centrally manage a system from OS deployment to the decommissioning of a system. SCCM 2012 is meant to handle everything that system needs in between. And in working with it over the last seven months, it all works very well.

Bruzzese: What issues have you run into while deploying SCCM 2012 in the field?

Barrett: In my first experience with Configuration Manager, I tried to overdeploy. I was designing a lab based on three geographical locations. In my head, I needed to design a hierarchy that included a CAS (central administration site) and three primary sites. My thinking was the CAS does not directly host clients and, because we have three locations, I would deploy a CAS and three primary sites and centrally manage everything. However a single primary site can manage up to 100,000 clients, so after setting up the entire lab and running into issues with the SQL database replication, I found that a single primary site design with the management and distribution point site roles placed in the remote locations was just fine. Don't over deploy Configuration Manager. There are a few reasons to have a CAS and build out an entire hierarchy, but in most deign scenarios, a single primary site with multiple management and distribution Point roles will work fine.

Bruzzese: How does SCCM 2012 compare to earlier versions like SMS (Systems Management Server)?

Barrett: Earlier versions of SMS were really nothing more than a glorified scripting engine, basically a layer (and a sometimes difficult-to-understand layer) between the script and the machine. Also in the past, we targeted systems rather than users. Even when we attempted to target users, it was not simple. SCCM 2012 not only makes it easy, but the installs are state-based, which means SCCM 2012 has intelligence built in so that it will not reinstall a targeted application to a user over and over.

Bruzzese: Are there any features you believe are missing?

Barrett: I think that the operating system deployment capability is still a bit immature, considering that MDT (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit) 2010 was way more advanced, and MDT 2012 adds about 100 deployment options. It just seems weird that Microsoft did not incorporate those features into SCCM 2012 out of the box. But it's not a complete loss, since you can integrate MDT 2012.

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