Microsoft System Center 2012: Service Delivery & Automation

For this second of three articles of looking at Microsoft System Center 2012 (SC12), we will be looking at two programs which make up the Service Delivery & Automation portion of SC12:


  • System Center Orchestrator
  • System Center Service Manager


Let’s start with a quick review of Microsoft’s philosophy behind their new vision.  All of Microsoft’s recent moves revolve around what they call “IT as a Service.”  The following key points from Microsoft’s TechNet blogs define this new catchphrase:


  • If you’re referring to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), you're thinking about your datacenter as a set of pooled resources (including compute, network, and storage), not in terms of individual hosts or VMs.


  • If you’re referring to Platform as a Service (PaaS), you're talking about building applications that will then be delivered as a service. The platform provides all the required building blocks for your app. (i.e.: Windows Azure)


  • Between IaaS and PaaS, we believe that there is a new category emerging in the marketplace called IT as a Service, a way that will transform how customers consume IT and will deliver a completely new cost structure at a much higher level of business responsiveness.


Microsoft has committed themselves to the emerging hybrid environment that they believe will become the norm for IT.  The common theme in these hybrid environments will be integrated physical, virtual, IaaS, and PaaS management that will enable the consumer to optimize the ROI on the IT budget. 





Microsoft’s definition of the Orchestrator is easily understandable without a lot of tech jargon:


  • Orchestrator is a workflow management solution for the data center. Orchestrator lets you automate the creation, monitoring, and deployment of resources in your environment.


One of the main goals of IT Administrators is to keep the health of their computing environments up-to-date and the organization running smoothly.  No system can get rid of critical failures, but those should be the exception (and a rare exception at that).  However, maintaining health is a static goal and comes into direct conflict with the other goal of IT: keeping the technical environment flexible and responsive.  The speed of business has increased and IT departments are finding themselves faced with the common issues like configuring accounts and resources for new employees up to some more esoteric issues like business acquisitions requiring system integrations.  Further, while dealing with the common and complex needs of their environments, IT Admins need to continue to provide efficiency and security.


Orchestrator enables IT to fulfill these various requirements by automating process throughout the data center without the need to specialize for hardware or platform.  It also standardizes and automates IT operations allowing improved efficiency.  Finally, Orchestrator creates a unified environment between systems without specialized knowledge of scripting or programming.


Out of the box, Orchestrator has standard activities that allow you to:


  • Move, copy, or edit files
  • Execute SQL queries
  • Run PowerShell, VB scripts, and executables
  • Monitor services, processes, events, files, etc.
  • Start, restart, or shutdown services or servers


However, Microsoft’s Integration Packs are where the true power of Orchestrator is found.  While these Integration Packs (see full list here) do not contain activities of every possible action, they do cover most common needs.  Combine that with the simplified Run PowerShell activity (easier to use than the standard Run .NET script) and you can cover everything from the simple to the complex within a single pane of control.


System Center 2012 is still a suite of programs with disparate infrastructures, databases, and monitoring agents.  Orchestrator and the available Integration Packs for the different applications helps the IT Administrator really leverage the strengths of each system to work in a unified way never available before.  The strongest integration (out of box) with the other programs is between Orchestrator and Service Manager.  This is a well thought out pairing because while Orchestrator is all about IT processes, Service Manager is all about business processes and that makes up the other half of the Service Delivery & Automation in System Center.



Again, let’s start with Microsoft’s definition of System Center 2012 Service Manager:


  • Service Manager provides an integrated platform for automating and adapting your organization’s IT service management best practices, such as those found in Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). It provides built-in processes for incident and problem resolution, change control, and asset lifecycle management.


Whereas Orchestrator gives control over the IT process, Service Manager controls the ability to manage business processes.  Boiled down to its most basic element… this is a help desk/ticketing system on steroids. 


This program enables the IT department to manage incidents and issues efficiently by implementing and automating the help desk processes to best practice standards according to MOF and ITIL.  For example, when Operations Manager kicks off an alert for something minor, disk space running out or a bad sector on a disk, Service Manager will automatically create a help desk ticket to deal with the issue.  Two obvious benefits of this would be that a minor problem that might fall through the cracks is captured in a timely manner potentially stemming off serious issues, and there is no need to waste time by manually entering the help desk ticket because the system automatically creates one.  This is all out of box functionality. 


This system is not static.  You can create any number of processes to fit your organization’s specific business needs.  Further, once the automated ticket is created, you use Service Manager to review the ticket queue, update incidents, and even combine incidents into child-parent relationships to group tickets that deal with the same issue.


Granted, for small operations, Service Manager may seem like over kill.  But for those organizations that are growing rapidly or are already mid-market or larger, the scalability of this program is a must have.  Each management group can scale up to 50,000 users or computers but can also be chunked into smaller, more discreet groups for different management needs (i.e.: High Availability failover vs. dumb terminal).


One last thing we will discuss here (but not the last feature by a long shot) is the self-service functionality of Service Manager.  The new user interface for designing self-service screens is much better than in previous versions.  This allows the IT department to create in an efficient manner a self-service process allowing end users to quickly resolve issues instead of waiting on IT help.  This process comes about through the integration of SharePoint and allows IT to stand up a service catalog, role based access with user interface parameters so only offerings available to that user are available, a knowledge base with help articles, etc.


As can be found throughout the entire System Center suite, the full value isn’t about the technology interface between SharePoint and Service Manager… it’s about mapping out the best practices for what services IT should offer and how to get those services to the end user.  Once those best practices have been determined, then Service Manager kicks in high gear allowing you to create processes that allow you to get those services to the end user in an automated environment for highest efficiency with lowest cost.



Join us next month for the final article in this three part series.  In that article, we will look at the Infrastructure Management section of SC12: Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, and Data Protection Manager.