SCCM 2012 – New Technology and New Ideas

During a recent System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 deployment, there was something I noticed that I must have previously missed when reviewing the seemingly endless number of features that have changed between version 2007 and 2012.  This change is that packages now leverage single instance storage!  This was something I completely stumbled on when I was looking for a test application package I created, its ID and the location on my Distribution Point (DP).  Content (files for software updates, applications, operating system deployment, etc.) is now stored in what is referred to as a Content Library.  The Content Library contains three components/directories:

1.        File Library – is the location that stores all the actual files that are used in packages. The files here are renamed and stored based on the hash of the files.
2.        Data Library – contains all the Metadata about the files stored on the distribution point
3.        Package Library – contains all the references to the files for each package stored on the distribution point

After you have created an application or package and before the content is distributed to your DPs, SCCM will first check to see if the file is available in the Content Library.  If is not, the content is copied and if the content is available, SCCM will not copy the file(s) to the DP, but rather associate the existing content with your application or package.

You can re- enable the older method which will create the traditional folder share and structure (remember the SMSPKG shares?), but like before, that will consume twice as much of your precious disk space.  As you can imagine, great efficiencies are gained with the new shared, single instance storage Content Library.  In addition to the gained efficiencies, I am continuing to see significant cost recoveries for implementing SCCM 2012 such as:

·         Simplified Site Architecture reduced number of primary servers, reducing infrastructure costs
·         Single Instance Storage reduced disk space requirements and LAN/WAN traffic, reducing infrastructure costs
·         Client Policy Evaluation reduced expensive Site Server CPU cycles, better leveraging the physical capabilities of workstations

So this got me thinking about a few other engagements I have been consulting on around cloud implementations and how these organizations can best leverage hybrid-clouds and I wandered straight into Cloud Distribution Points, a feature that was introduced with SCCM 2012 SP1.  If you have not seen the list of features introduced with SP1, here you are:

·         New client for Windows 8 PCs
·         Deploy Windows 8 and also upgrade previous versions to Windows 8
·         Supports ‘Windows To Go’ feature
·         Leverage Windows 8 features like “metered Internet connections” and “Always On Always Connected”
·         Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 now supported
·         New client to manage Apple Macintosh computers, Linux and UNIX servers
·         For Mac OS X, we can deploy software, collect hardware inventory, and manage compliance settings.
·         For supported Linux / Unix, you can deploy software and collect hardware inventory
·         Automate SCCM operations using new PowerShell cmdlets
·         Distribution point can be set up using Windows Azure infrastructure
·         Multiple software update points per site which provides automatic redundancy for clients
·         Email alert subscriptions are now supported for all features, not just Endpoint Protection

Yeah, I know, it’s like an entirely new version of the product was released not just an update!  Also, if you have not already, there’s a great TechNet Radio show hosted by Keith Mayer featuring Wally Mead, where Wally …discuss the new capabilities in Service Pack 1 of System Center 2012 Configuration Manager for managing Windows 8 clients, deploying Windows 8-style Apps, managing Windows-to-Go USB devices, and leveraging Windows Server 2012 for site system roles…  Okay, back to the coolness of Cloud DP and why we should care so much.  Solutions like System Center are in our IT lives to make them easier and so are solutions like Azure and cloud based storage. So let’s take the scenario where we are looking to start leveraging public cloud storage to augment our on premise storage or if we needed to scale out our SCCM DPs but couldn’t provide physical server infrastructure to the needed remote sites.

A Cloud DP will allow us quickly set up a content location accessible from anywhere at a very low cost.  Cloud DPs also allow us to service Internet-connected clients without having to set up Internet-facing Configuration Manager Server Roles, which is not a trivial undertaking when we take into the number of additional services/infrastructure needed beyond those for SCCM.  Finally, because these Cloud DPs are provisioned through Windows Azure, the internal cost which would traditionally be a capital cost should now be an operational cost.  Here is a short article describing the process of configuring ConfigMgr Cloud Distribution Points.  So, as we continue to search for new ways to recapture costs from within IT, System Center 2012 continues to be a very smart place to focus our attention.

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