Elephant in the Room – System Center, Dead or Alive?

Okay, time for a bit of a contentious post. Many will already have their own views on this, some agreeing and others vehemently disagreeing.

Has Microsoft’s System Center suite of components finally passed into Morr’s realm/crossed the River Styx and what does that mean for those using it?

Firstly, I’m completely excluding Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr or SCCM) from this discussion. ConfigMgr divorced from System Center back in 2019 and became a part of Microsoft Endpoint Manager alongside Intune.

Ferryman rowing across the River Styx

Which means we’re specifically talking about the following System Center components:

  • Virtual Machine Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Service Manager
  • Orchestrator
  • Data Protection Manager
  • Service Management Automation
  • Service Provider Foundation

The official Microsoft line is these are all alive and supported. Simply looking at the 2019 release shows that support started on 14th March, mainstream support runs until 9th April 2024 and extended support runs through until April 2029.

So, it’s all good then! Years of support and life left in the old dog yet 😊

Except, in this modern world, technology is changing so fast and the solutions used to manage them have to change and bring new features just as fast, in my opinion.

System Center components and their usage areas

System Center has used the concept of Update Rollups (URs) to introduce both fixes and new features for a while.

Originally URs were just fixes and features were left for major releases (2012, 2012 R2, 2016, 2019 etc) and while Microsoft tried the approach of a Semi-Annual channel to get features out quicker, only 2 SAC releases (1801 & 1807) saw the light of day before changing to use Update Rollups for feature releases as well as fixes.

In its heyday, the 2016 release received a total of 44 URs across the core components (I’m not counting SMA & SPF) throughout 2016 – 2021 while 2012 R2 saw 36 in just 2014/15!!

However, the 2019 release has seen just 10 URs between April 2020 – May 2021.

  • VMM – UR1, UR2, UR3
  • SCOM – UR1, UR2, UR3
  • DPM – UR1, UR2
  • SCSM – UR2
  • SCORCH – UR1

VMM and SCOM have always been the most actively maintained components of the suite, with DPM closely behind. SCSM and SCORCH haven’t seen much love since the original 2016 release other than some bugs fixes.

Which raises the biggest point… if they’re not being regularly updated with new features and improvements, can they still compete and manage your environment well enough?

VMM keeps adding new features as can be seen here, including support for Azure Stack HCI, which is slightly odd as that has it’s own management methods.

Similarly SCOM has it’s new features listed here, but mainly boils down to new OS support and performance enhancements.

Apart from that… 🤷‍♂️

If we’re not seeing investment and innovation in System Center anymore, what’s the alternatives then? Focusing purely on a Microsoft option first I’ve pulled together a high level view below. 

Component Microsoft Alternative
Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)
Windows Admin Center
Operations Manager (SCOM)
Azure Monitor, Azure Application Insights
Service Manager (SCSM)
No Microsoft Alternative
Orchestrator (SCORCH)
Azure Automation, Azure Logic Apps, PowerApps
Data Protection Manager (DPM)
Azure Backup
Service Management Automation (SMA)
Azure Automation, Azure Logic Apps, Azure Functions
Service Provider Foundation (SPF)
Azure Stack HCI

This is by no means a like for like comparison. There’s undoubtably functionality gaps all over the place and I’m by no means saying there should be a mass rush to migrate as every organisations needs are going to be different.

For example, while Windows Admin Center will help you deploy Hyper-V clusters, manage the Software Defined Networking, create and manage VMs, all like VMM can do, you can’t create and deploy VM Templates or build bare metal clusters like VMM can…

Similarly with SCOM. You can certainly monitor CPU, Disk, Memory etc. with Azure Monitor and you can dive into certain application performance metrics with Application Insights, but you’re not going to be creating custom state-based monitoring models across multiple parts of the infrastructure or creating custom script based monitoring.  

Side note: It will be interesting to see what happens if we ever get more information about Project Aquila that was rumoured last year…

SMA and SPF were introduced to help MSPs provide hosted offerings across Hyper-V for customers and weren’t widely deployed by most organisations. Microsoft’s Azure Stack HCI is far superior as a solution if you really need to create an on-premises multi-tenant isolation capable “cloud” within the organisation.  This does however require specific hardware and is also tied to Azure costing.

DPM is just straight up replaceable with Azure Backup, unless you’re using tapes, and then… why????

Which leaves SCSM and SCORCH. Two components very near and dear to my heart (go buy the books if you’re still using them! SCSM SCORCH)

I think the time has come to call these specifically as finished. If you’re still using Service Manager, fine. Don’t rush to replace as it still works, it’s still supported and you’ll have invested enough effort in it to make them work for you.

But I wouldn’t start thinking about new implementations.

SCORCH though… I really would recommend looking into Azure Logic Apps and Azure Automation to replace.  Modernise your automation and gain some features that allow you to more easily spread the automation love across the Cloud, external SAS Apps and also on-premises.

In short and not surprisingly, where Microsoft has alternatives, they’re in the Azure Cloud.

Cloudy era

I’ve obviously focused on direct Microsoft alternatives above. There’s plenty of other options on the market, for example I’d recommend looking at Arcserve for your backup requirements if you’re using DPM, especially with the added ransomware protection it provides!

However, there’s no Microsoft alternative for Service Manager.

ServiceNow is the usual first alternative that springs to most peoples minds and it is certainly good. But it also tends to be it’s own big beast of a solution and might not be right for all sizes/maturity of organisations.

I’d also recommend having a look at Freshservice as an option. I can’t state enough how this solution changed my mind when comparing others to SCSM and has lots of capabilities across the board including process automation and integration with other systems.

So… do you agree or disagree with my views on the life expectancy of System Center?

If you’d like a deeper discussion or more information on potential migration scenarios, the team and I are always happy to help, so just drop us a message

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