System Center Configuration Manager 2012–Release Candidate Comes Along

We’re fond of dabbling with Microsoft products at this site, and System Center is no exception (without Virtual Machine Manager my lab would have been less manageable). I’ve done a lot of articles on System Center Mobile Device Manager, and have also taken quick looks at the successor; System Center Configuration Manager 2012 and the Beta releases:
System Center Configuration Manager 2012 Beta 2 Available
SCCM v.Next hits Beta 1

It only seemed natural to at least do an install of the Release Candidate of said product. Now, I have no doubt I can manage my desktop systems and servers with Configuration Manager, but the mobility features…so far they haven’t been causing manic episodes. I have tried to look through the console to see what is available now, assuming that the RC should be pretty much feature complete.

Starting with the configuration settings you can apply will be very familiar to anyone who’s logged on to an Exchange Management Console recently:
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They are as far as I can tell the very same settings, so you’re not likely to be able to pull off that many extra things. An exception would be the ability to deploy applications, which isn’t available for all platforms. Which brings me to the next point, and a very important one at that; which operating systems are supported?

If you follow through with the settings wizard you’ll find there are two major mobile OSs supported – Windows Mobile 6.x and Symbian. (Although it says “All Nokia Symbian” I would think it’s only the Series 60 versions. Possibly it could also include Symbian^3, Anna, Belle, etc. by launch, but Series 40 is at least not very likely.)

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However more devices are actually supported…sort of… SCCM deals with the concept of thick and thin devices, meaning devices with an agent and agentless devices. This of course isn’t a new concept – most IT Pros will have run across Citrix or a similar terminal server environment. But we don’t run into it so often when configuring Mobile Device Management platforms. Windows Mobile and Symbian are the thick clients as they have agents you can install on the device. Windows Phone 7.x, iOS and Android are the thin devices as they do not have agents you can install.

So, how do you manage them? Well, there’s something called “Exchange Server Connector” which hooks into your Exchange Server environment to leverage the Exchange ActiveSync protocol. (To be clear – SCCM interfaces with Exchange through PowerShell, not ActiveSync.) You can do this for the purpose of just collecting all info about which devices are syncing (so you have asset data in one location) or you can enforce Allow/Block/Quarantine settings controlling on an individual level which devices are allowed to sync.

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Once SCCM has run a sync from Exchange, you’ll have a list of devices registered with the Exchange ActiveSync service, and get the option to allow/block and wipe the device.

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This is all nice and dandy, but I would hesitate to call it “managing” devices, as in Mobile Device Management. I’d call it access control, and an attempt at policy enforcing. As it looks now it’s fair enough if you only intend to deploy Windows Mobile devices, but outside Line-of-business use it’s kind of hard to not deploy iPhones or Android devices for email use. For multi-OS deployments I don’t see this replacing a fully featured MDM platform with clients for each specific OS as the features are presently. Of course, it’s nice to basically support all devices which has ActiveSync support, but it comes with the cost of less actual manageability.

However, if Microsoft releases proper clients for iOS and Android it could become more interesting. Of course there’s a lot of competition in that market space already, but Microsoft’s take on enterprise scale deployments and potential integration with other Microsoft products could make a nice addition to the available options.

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