System Center shifts to semi-annual release, version 1801 now available

System Center, Microsoft's suite of products aimed at sysadmins that manage networks of Windows Server and client computers, is now officially shifting to a semi-annual release schedule.

The suite itself includes a number of components, among which Operations Manager (SCOM), Configuration Manager (SCCM), Virtual Machine Manager, Data Protection Manager, Orchestrator, Service Management Automation, and Service Manager. It's important to note this because beyond the different components themselves, there are also current and preview branches - much like Windows client. While the semi-annual release seems to refer to the entirety of the suite, the actual cadence is a little more nuanced than that. A post from June of last year sheds a little more light on the expected timeline:

You will see releases twice a year, aligned with the Windows Server semi-annual channel timelines. A technical preview is planned for release in the fall with the first production version available early next calendar year, and subsequent releases approximately every six months. These releases will be available to System Center customers with active Software Assurance. System Center Configuration Manager will continue to offer three releases a year to give you the latest updates for managing servers, PCs, and mobile devices.

The latest major release of System Center is 2016, which has followed the same pattern like previous versions, with a four year delta between it and the previous release, System Center 2012. However, back in November, Microsoft released System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) version 1711 - the technical preview referenced for release in the fall in the quote above. 1711 has now morphed into the current branch release dubbed 1801. System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) has been on a three per year release for a while, and will continue this cadence, as per the quote above.

The focus of this update is on SCOM, Virtual Machine Manager and Data Protection Manager, but all of the other System Center components will get "security and bug fixes, as well as support for TLS 1.2". Here's what's new in System Center version 1801:

  • Support for additional Windows Server features in Virtual Machine Manager: Customers can now setup nested virtualization, software load balancer configuration, and storage QoS configuration and policy, as well as migrate VMware UEFI VM to Hyper-V VM. In addition to supporting Windows Server, version 1709, we have added support for host monitoring, host management, fall back HGS, configuration of encrypted SDN virtual network, Shielded Linux VMs on Hyper-V management, and backup capabilities.
  • Linux monitoring in Operations Manager: Linux monitoring has been significantly improved with the addition of a customizable FluentD-based Linux agent. Linux log file monitoring is now on par with that of Windows Server (Yes, we heard you! Kick the tires, it really works).
  • Improved web console experience in Operations Manager: The System Center Operations Manager web console is now built on HTML5 for a better experience and support across browsers.
  • Updates and recommendations for third-party Management Packs: System Center Operations Manager has been extended to support the discovery and update of third-party MPs.
  • Faster, cost-effective VMware backup: Using our Modern Backup Storage technology in Data Protection Manager, customers can backup VMware VMs faster and cut storage costs by up to 50%.
  • And much more including Linux Kerberos support and improved UI responsiveness when dealing with many management packs in Operations Manager. In Virtual Machine Manager, we have enabled SLB guest cluster floating IP support, added Storage QoS at VMM cloud, added Storage QoS extended to SAN storage, enabled Remote to VMs in Enhanced Session mode, added seamless update of non-domain host agent, and made host Refresher up to 10X faster.

For those also making use of Azure services, both existing integrations have been outlined, as well as new ones:

  • Service Map integration with Operations Manager: Using the Distributed Application Diagram function in SCOM, you can automatically see application, server, and network dependencies deduced from Service Map. This deeper endpoint monitoring from SCOM is surfaced in the diagram view for better diagnostics workflows.
  • Manage Azure ARM VMs and special regions: Using a Virtual Machine Manager add-in, you can now manage Azure ARM VMs, Azure Active Directory, and more regions (China, US Government, and Germany).
  • Service Manager integration with Azure: Using the Azure ITSM integration with Azure Action Groups you can set up rules to create incidents automatically in System Center Service Manager for alerts fired on Azure and non-Azure resources.

Sometime in the next two months, information on the second semi-annual release, as well as the long-term servicing branch version will be revealed. Until then, those who wish to evaluate System Center 1801 can do so at the Evaluation Center or the Volume Licensing Service Center.

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