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.

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System Center Configuration Manager 2012 Beta 2 Available

Now I feel that product name really rolls off the tongue…

Back in the old days when I started this site the product I started to cover quite extensively was System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008. It was supposed to be the Mobile Device Management offering by Microsoft, and it had some nice features at the time that made it worth looking into. For a number of reasons – narrow platform support, complex deployment procedure, lack of marketing – to name a few, it never really took off though. (I had a lot of fun making those deep dive articles though.)

While System Center MDM halted it’s evolution the bits and bytes lives on in what is to be the next version of System Center Configuration Manager, previously codename v.Next, now with the final name bearing the 2012 suffix. The idea is obvious enough – why have two systems for managing mobile devices and computers when the two are converging.

In what seems like quite a long time ago, (about ten months actually), I tested the public beta 1 of SCCM 2012. Microsoft has now released an updated beta (#2) with the final RTM date still somewhat undefined. To not “lose the touch” I did a quick install to see if there’s anything new in the mobile department. It was a lot easier to install than beta 1 which required some tweaking to get installed, so that really was a positive experience.

Device support? I created a quick policy and snapped this screenshot from the summary:
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I’m not saying their pants are on fire, but knowing how many different versions there are of “Symbian” I am guessing that “All” is an inaccurate term and what it really means is the E-series devices or something along those lines. The future of Symbian itself is probably worth speculations of it’s own, but not much is known about what Nokia will actually do with it. But this being a beta I expect the RTM to change if it turns out it doesn’t make sense to support Symbian devices.

I was going to test this too, but unfortunately the release notes indicate that Symbian support is currently just present in the UI, and not something that will work on actual devices…

Windows Phone 7 isn’t on the list either, but the operating system lacks mechanisms for MDM at this point as far as I know. Rumors has it that the Mango update that will be released in the Q3-Q4 time frame might prepare the OS for some “Enterprise features”, but no one outside the inner circle of the Windows Phone team knows the details. It might also be that MDM isn’t around properly until the release after that. Since RTM of SCCM still is some time away they might be able to include some WP7 support at RTM or in a Service Pack.

While I would see the rationale for not having Android support, (Android being far from enterprise ready), it would have been really impressive if Microsoft included iOS support. Knowing the hoops MDM vendors have to jump through to support iOS though I don’t know if MSFT wants to get in on that game. (iOS certainly has a lot of what you need for MDM these days.)

The policies you can apply and the stuff you can do is pretty much the same as what SCMDM and Exchange will let you do, so as far as I can tell there’s no new killer feature introduced at this point. I’ll have a couple of more looks at it, and will let you know if there’s any must haves present Smile

SCCM v.Next hits Beta 1

And goes public too at the same time. (It showed up for downloads on 24. May, but I didn’t notice it the same day.)
Downloadable from https://connect.microsoft.com/ConfigurationManagervnext

I think it was about six months back that Microsoft disclosed that the roadmap for the SCMDM product would be a merge with SCCM in what has been codenamed v.Next. This would bring about the grand unified management console enabling you to manage both client computers, servers, and mobile devices from the same place. I’m having mixed feelings about this, not because I enjoy having to relate to different interfaces for managing different devices, but because managing computers and mobile devices aren’t necessarily the same thing. That’s not to say there aren’t benefits to it though, and if it’s pulled off the right way it could make sense. This is a topic I could rant on about for hours though, so we’ll leave that discussion aside. Microsoft has made a strategic choice, and I will of course try to evaluate what is available in this build.

I don’t have hands-on experience with SMS/SCCM from before since I mainly deal with MDM solutions. Even given this the installation experience went pretty smoothly. Sure, there are some beta issues, but nothing you can’t solve easily (at least when it comes to installing it). I’m not going to cover the installation process, as I’m trying to focus on what you can do with v.Next, and the install process is sure to change before RTM.

Microsoft and Nokia have both stated that Symbian devices will be supported by System Center, but it is not known whether this will apply to the current Series 60 generation, or only to new (and unannounced) devices. iPhone and Android are unsurprisingly not supported at the time of writing, and from what I can tell it seems like only Windows Mobile 6.1 and 6.5 are supported for now. This probably isn’t a problem as far as having an introductory look.

In this post I’m only going through the interface, and commenting on a few of the features I can see. I have not done a deep dive in the available technical documentation, and this means I might get something wrong/incorrect/missing too 🙂 I intend to do some actual testing of devices in the (hopefully) near future.

Enrollment
It seems the enrollment concept we saw in SCMDM is still present here. You need to fill in details like which OU to place device, which CA to use (you can easily choose), etc. The certificates you enroll are used by the device for authentication purposes, but not for establishing a VPN tunnel. The Mobile VPN feature is gone in v.Next, and last thing I heard it’s not clear if it will be re-introduced, and if so in what form.
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After creating the enrollment policy you can create devices – either single devices or importing from a csv file:
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App Distribution
The ability to distribute applications is naturally present. Most likely still based on the robust WSUS distribution engine underneath.
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Configuration Items
Normally I refer to settings like Power-on-Password, device encryption, etc as security policies. In v.Next this is called “Configuration Items”. You’ll recognize most of these categories from Exchange (2007 & 2010), and SCMDM. Or other MDM solutions for Windows Mobile for that matter.
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After checking the relevant categories you’ll be prompted for the specific settings. I’m thinking this might be more intuitive for new admins, but such things have a touch of personal preference so you might disagree. It’s nicely wizard-driven at least.
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With policies implemented through Exchange there are some loopholes, and one can try to get around the policies. With SCCM we can have the devices report compliancy which would uncover such attempts.
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You may check the operating systems you want to apply the settings to.
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If the wizard configuration items aren’t enough you can also create custom settings; I’d say this is a nice and user-friendly way of setting registry keys (especially compared to having to build custom adm files in SCMDM):
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You can also specify “Windows Mobile OMA URI”, but I’ll admit I’m not sure of how this URI should be formatted:
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After you have created a couple of different policies, and perhaps an app or two, you can group it together as a baseline to apply to devices.
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There’s obviously an inventory view as well, but since I haven’t enrolled any devices there wasn’t all that much info present in it 🙂

For a beta I’m very happy with the responsiveness in the UI, and I’m not seeing many hiccups in the UI either. I don’t see any fantastic new features at the moment compared to what SCMDM has to offer, but it’s a slightly different mindset required for administration (if you’re used to SCCM already I’m guessing it’s familiar stuff already). Of course, it’s not impossible for new features to surface as we progress through the beta builds.

This was a sort of “quick and dirty” article, but I wanted to get some initial impressions out there as quickly as possible. More testing and evaluation will be performed once I’ve verified the base deployment is working, and I’ve had time to read through some white papers.