System Center 2012, which hit release candidate (RC) status this week, is Microsoft's bid for a greater share of the private cloud market, expanding the firm's management toolset into a platform for operating datacentre infrastructure as a unified resource along the same lines as VMware's vSphere, with which Microsoft now appears to be competing directly.
As part of this strategy, Microsoft has changed its licensing for System Center 2012 so that it is no longer available as separate modules, but comes as a single, unified platform for managing both physical and virtual machines, deploying applications and services and orchestrating these to meet user-service requirements.
In this respect, Microsoft is now bringing its management layer into line with the capabilities already offered by VMware, whose vSphere platform currently dominates the market for private clouds.
"In reality, there won't be a vast amount of difference between Microsoft and VMware once System Centre 2012 ships," commented Roy Illsley, principal analyst at Ovum.
However, he added that service management is currently Microsoft's weak spot and one where VMware still has an edge.
But Microsoft now sees private cloud as a major growth area to target and System Center 2012 looks set to become a key tool in helping it drive customers to its platform
"People want to embrace cloud, but some of the challenges for enterprises around compliance and security are focusing minds around how to turn their current datacentre assets into a private cloud, so they can use their infrastructure as a giant resource pool," said Lucas Searle, head of Microsoft's private cloud and virtualisation effort in the UK.
System Center 2012 is intended to do just that, according to Cliff Evans, product manager responsible for the platform in the UK.
"Customers need an integrated management suite that will work across multiple vendors' technology and that is very much how we have positioned System Center 2012, with its ability to manage not only Hyper-V virtual machines, but VMware and Citrix XenServer as well," he said.
Microsoft seems, on the face of it, to be in a strong position to challenge VMware, as many organisations already use System Center as the management platform for their Windows-based infrastructure and it seems logical that these customers will upgrade to System Center 2012 at some point.
But Illsley claimed that cross-platform support is not quite as straightforward as any of the vendors would have you believe and that customers with a mix of VMware and Windows servers will likely find they still require vCenter to fully manage their VMware estate, even with the new capabilities of System Centre 2012.
Nevertheless, by integrating all of the System Center components into one unified package, Microsoft is using a strategy that has proven successful for it in the past; bundling in capabilities that customers do not necessarily want right now, but which they might decide to use if they are paying for these anyway.
This has already worked with Hyper-V, following its integration into Windows Server, persuading many customers to, at least, evaluate the technology for new virtualisation deployments.
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