Interview: Microsoft’s Chris Van Wesep on System Center 2012 SP1

During our recent trip to the Microsoft campus, we had a chance to chat with Chris Van Wesep, a Group Product Manager on the System Center team. Our interview with Chris primarily focused on the new features being introduced in Windows Server 2012 Service Pack 1 (SP1), which was just released in beta form last week. Be sure to also catch our recent interview with Microsoft’s Edwin Yuen and Matt McSpirit about Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V 3.0.

Jeff James: Could you walk us through some of the most noteworthy new features in System Center 2012 SP1?

Chris Van Wesep: [One of them is] the introduction of an API for System Center 2012. It’s called the Service Provider Foundation API. Where we think it will provide the most value is with service providers to help create and manage virtual machines. As more hosters deploy System Center 2012, this is a valuable feature for them… we recently demonstrated Windows Azure services running on Windows Server, and we talked about that quite a bit… [part of that demo involved] leveraging this new API.

You could also see a situation where enterprise organizations may want to set up their own portal internally for people to do stuff, like creating VMs. [This leverages] the API… but I think that we could see even more value from a service provider perspective as they’ve already got portals set up that need to go execute on stuff and it’s mostly creating VMs, running websites, and doing other stuff that service providers do.

JJ: What does System Center 2012 SP1 add in terms of additional platform support?

CVW: We’ve added support for some additional distributions for Linux. SP1 also introduces support for SQL Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012, which we were unable to do [at the time of the System Center 2012 launch] because those products launched after System Center 2012.

SP1 also takes advantage of all the new scale up and scale out stuff in Windows Server 2012 on the virtualization side… really taking advantage of those hypervisors. [Another new feature] is enhanced support for network virtualization. This feature works really well for service providers, where multiple companies can come with IP addresses and networks that match each other and we parse those through Hyper-V and virtual machine manager (VMM) in their data center. You can have the exact same networks running on the same host, which they obviously think is pretty cool.

Global Service Monitor is something new. It looks at your application availability from an externally facing perspective. For example: If I have an app that needs to be accessed globally… [I may want to access that app from a location]  in London… and [a location] in Tokyo to see how my app responds from these various places around the globe, and what the response time will be. The cool thing is that this is all integrated, so if it sees a problem, it can kick off flags in Operations Manager, which can start processes to either make people aware of things or to fix things.

JJ: For this latest version of System Center, Microsoft is now selling and licensing the product as a whole rather than as individual components. Maybe you could talk a little about the licensing and branding changes with System Center 2012 in general?

CVW: On one hand, people are like “Man, why can’t I buy my one component anymore? You’re making me buy everything.” On the other hand, every other vendor out there nickels and dimes you to death. They’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted that ability. That’s actually extra.” We don’t do that. It’s one thing, and it’s super simple. You might debate whether you want to buy it all or not.

The product is System Center, and two of the components are Operations Manager and Configuration Manager… from a client perspective if you want to deploy and configure things in your data center you need to get it through System Center 2012… configuration manager functionality for data centers is a component of System Center 2012.

We were talking about hybrid stuff before. In the SP1 release, in app controller, I didn’t get a chance to show you but I told you that’s the console that you have to consume capacity from whether it’s from your own private Cloud or its Windows Azure. In SP1 we’re introducing service provider capacity as well so you can have space at Rackspace that you can go do stuff with that shows up in the same console as your Windows Azure stuff.

The really cool thing is now you have the flexibility to be more selective about where you want stuff deployed. You’ve got an image… also, the ability to just move images between VMM and Azure. “I’ve got this image. I want it to be in Azure now.” Great. Move it over there, it’s now running on Azure. (Editor’s Note: You can download the free Windows Azure trial here.)

So, really getting to that nirvana statement a lot of people have been looking for of like, “Just break down the walls of my data center. I’ll take which things I want. Where would I want it to flow?” People love AWS, but you can’t bring stuff back on premise once you stick in their cloud. It’s there. It’s done. So, having that perspective is good as well.

JJ: From a management standpoint, not managing devices, but actually from an admin management, are there any mobility user interfaces, like for tablet devices, or phones, or anything like that, that are being tied in with System Center?

CVW: We’ve done a lot in terms of dashboarding in Operations Manager, where you’ve obviously got the console, but now you can do a ton of customization of which dashboards you want. It’s role based access to the dashboards, so you give the CIO their own high level view, and then the line person has a much more rich view. The cool thing is that you can surface, not just through the console, but you can do it through SharePoint now. You can also do it just web, if you want just do a web view of it.

JJ: That’s only with the Operations Manager?

CVW: Yeah. Dashboards from Operations Manager. I’m trying to think of scenarios where it would be helpful to have a phone way of looking at things. Of course, the nice thing is, in Windows 8, the OS Windows side, the OS on your tablet, your phone, it’s all going to be basically the same OS, so whatever runs in one place should run everywhere.

We’re also introducing some chargeback capabilities in SP1, which is something… It’s kind of funny. People ask a lot for it, and I’m not always sure what they know what they’re asking for, because real chargeback is actually incredibly complex. It’s really expensive to implement, and it doesn’t always give enough benefit to justify the cost of having put it in.

I think more what people want, and I think that’s the step that we’re taking here, is something more along the lines of showback, and saying, “I’m tracking resource utilization. I can assign a value per resource, and do some math, and tell me what all stuff costs, and I can show, ‘Hey, here are what your assets cost.'” Would you really want to start tying it into your ERP solution, and doing cost centers, and cross charging, and all that stuff? There are partners of ours that do that and do that in a really deep way.