Microsoft IT Business Case for System Center Configuration Manager 2007 in a Data Center
Published: September 2008
Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) manages thousands of servers worldwide in multiple countries for a large number of departments and customers. This document provides the business case for Microsoft IT and other customers to deploy Microsoft® System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and streamline the management of software and hardware assets throughout the organization.
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IT executives, managers, and leads interested in developing a business case for Microsoft technologies to manage their server infrastructure.
This document will demonstrate the business case that Microsoft IT made to implement System Center Configuration Manager in a data center to reduce costs through optimized IT resources, improve efficiency, and enable the data center to meet its data and computing needs. Additionally, this document will detail how the implementation of key features will help Microsoft IT align with the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to manage change and assets and to conduct change control.
Microsoft IT supports Microsoft employees worldwide, providing key infrastructure to users and business groups within Microsoft. This infrastructure encompasses everything from clustered servers in centralized data centers to the individual servers at Microsoft offices worldwide.
Microsoft IT supports a broad range of systems and users, including more than 100,000 clients running the Windows Vista® operating system and more than 150,000 installations of the Microsoft Office 2007 system. This presents challenges in scale that require the most reliable architectures for deployment, management, maintenance, and inventory.
The challenges for maintenance and operations are not limited to the desktop computers. Worldwide, Microsoft IT supports more than 250,000 computers and 700,000 devices. These computers include server infrastructure spread among six data centers worldwide, in addition to servers in business offices located in more than 100 countries. Microsoft IT manages data centers from three cities—Redmond, Washington, in the United States; Dublin, Ireland; and Singapore.
Microsoft IT's infrastructure supports not only a very large number of users, devices, and servers, but also a heavily used application and communications infrastructure. This infrastructure supports more than 100,000 mailboxes, 73 million instant messages per month, and 1.2 million remote access connections per month.
Microsoft IT supports multiple customers. Each one of these customers has different schedules that demand that servers and applications are available during key times of the day, month, and year. Considerations include sales-driven and accounting-driven end-of-month tasks that dictate that servers must be available to support the business. Additionally, these customers' requirements cover numerous time zones and are not aligned on a single schedule. Microsoft IT must deploy updates and perform maintenance without affecting the business for every customer.
Combining a large and demanding infrastructure presents a high degree of expertise and an extremely scalable and tested solution. When combined with continued growth worldwide, the challenge of managing servers, desktop computers, applications, and devices can easily overwhelm even the most highly trained staff. For example, in a single six-month window, the number of managed devices such as desktop and laptop computers grew from more than 180,000 to more than 320,000. The benefits of server consolidation further underscore the need for more precise management, because more individual operating system installations reside on fewer and fewer servers.
All of these factors introduce challenges in scale, deployment, and management of hardware and software assets. Traditional methods of patching individual servers are simply not an option for an organization of this scale, which would require thousands of operations personnel. Instead, Microsoft IT uses fewer than 10 server operations staff members worldwide. These demanding tasks can be performed even more efficiently with the use of System Center Configuration Manager 2007.
Business Need for System Center Configuration Manager
Microsoft IT has identified the following components as key areas of benefit for the organization:
- Reduced operations overhead
- Improved server change control
- Automated software and update deployment
- ITIL and MOF life-cycle alignment
- Centralized change and configuration management
These drivers represent the core components of the business need for Microsoft IT and System Center Configuration Manager. The following sections describe these areas and the benefits that System Center Configuration Manager offers.
Reduced Operations Overhead
With the growth of any business, the need for additional servers is common. The growth in servers also has a less obvious cost of additional facilities capacity, including power, cooling, and physical space. Each server also has a maintenance cost associated with keeping current on operating system and application updates. A server left without updates can represent a risk to the network and other vital server infrastructure. This means that the entire infrastructure must be maintained and updated on a frequent basis. Combine this with continued growth, and the need to operate efficiently inside scheduled maintenance windows is critical. Any improvements to each server can be multiplied against the entire infrastructure and can reduce the costs associated with maintaining servers and their applications.
One of these key drivers for increased capability is to reduce operations overhead. This capability enables a team of server operations personnel to maintain the same or larger number of servers and applications without increasing workload or staff. This benefitis accomplished through System Center Configuration Manager 2007 features that streamline and automate tasks that previously had to be done with custom scripts or done manually, consuming operations and support resources. By providing features that automate these tasks, staff resources are free to pursue other tasks or manage more servers with the same amount of effort. A clear area of benefit for the staff is the use of System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to enable staff to manage the more than 15,000 servers by a relatively small group of fewer than 10 staff for server operations. The same is true for the desktop support staff, where a team of approximately 50 members manages more than 240,000 desktop computers.
One key challenge for many organizations, including Microsoft IT, is the management and deployment of update levels. Microsoft IT operates within several windows, where the updates are first available to the product, tested by the staff, available for scheduling, and finally required for deployment by a certain date. Each one of these alone represents a significant effort when the organization is working with production and development environments, and each window represents an even greater aspect of overhead for individual business units outside Microsoft IT.
For example, Microsoft IT manages more than 15,000 servers worldwide, and each of those servers needed a various mix of more than 30 updates in six months. This is not an unusual scenario, with numerous software applications and operating systems needing periodic updates. The servers are divided among various business units and departments operation staff needs to coordinate with each department for the update scheduling and delivery. This means that while demand is increasing from the business to be as flexible as possible for server operations, the delivery of services has become more complex for Microsoft IT as the infrastructure grows.
Improved Server Change Control
One of the greatest areas of risk for many organizations is the gap between the release of an update and the implementation or deployment of the update to all company resources. Vendors issue updates to address possible stability concerns or application security concerns, both of which can create tremendous risk for the business infrastructure of any company. By reducing the response time for deployment of updates, an organization decreases that risk. Additionally, reporting is often just as critical as the deployment technology because operators can use it to learn which computers have not been updated. Three key technologies or features included with System Center Configuration Manager 2007 enable this benefit:
- Windows Server® Update Services (WSUS) is an essential part of the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 update deployment technology. This feature allows for detailed reporting as well as a high degree of customization that enables efficient download and delivery of software updates. By integrating with WSUS, System Center Configuration Manager 2007 can use all of the advanced features and make them available within the System Center Configuration Manager console.
- Maintenance window settings in collections enable the System Center Configuration Manager operators to apply specific maintenance windows for each collection. These collections can map to locations, application server groups, or any logical group that enables the servers to be administered and updated as a whole. By applying specific maintenance windows to each collection, the operator is freed to manage more servers efficiently instead of having to constantly manage maintenance window schedules for each individual server.
- Improved reporting and state messages enable operators to clearly understand which deployments have succeeded and which require manual intervention. This is not only visible within the console, but also easily translated to automated reports that can be provided to business customers and leadership for a clear representation of adherence to policy and service level agreements (SLAs).
Automated Software and Update Deployment
Despite the large number of application and operating system updates that are needed on an ongoing basis for customers of Microsoft IT, System Center Configuration Manager 2007 is ideally suited to reduce maintenance costs associated with testing, approving, and deploying updates. System Center Configuration Manager 2007 now takes advantage of WSUS, which provides a great deal of flexibility for downloading, testing, and delivering applications. Through the use of new features such as templates in System Center Configuration Manager 2007, updates can be assigned to collections. System Center Configuration Manager administrators can deploy approved updates to a group of servers though the use of a template in a much easier series of steps. Rather than have to follow up with each group individually for every update, the updates can be applied based on the rules for each collection.
This ability greatly reduces the amount of effort required for the operations team to deploy updates, but can also be used for deploying new applications. This ability can enable the staff at Microsoft IT to manage the approximately 15,000 servers worldwide and 240,000 desktop computers worldwide and still support the business through flexible and effective software deployment and updates.
Each one of these features has an essential role in reducing the steps required for operations staff to perform maintenance on servers throughout Microsoft IT. By streamlining the processes as mentioned earlier, the same number of staff can support a greater number of servers.
ITIL and MOF Life-Cycle Alignment
One key element that is often difficult to quantify in terms of resources is the protection benefits of having a faster turnaround time for updates. Updates are often driven by stability and security improvements in products from a variety of vendors. Reducing the amount of time needed to approve and deliver an update reduces the window of risk from not running the update. This means that a large organization such as Microsoft IT can enjoy a much faster turnaround time through a streamlined deployment process.
Through this increased response time, Microsoft IT can apply the ITIL and MOF more effectively. The operations teams can therefore follow the process and guidelines set forth for Microsoft IT as an organization.
A central role for Microsoft IT server operations is the management according to the MOF. Microsoft created this framework for its customers, but Microsoft IT also heavily relies on this framework for strategic management of IT infrastructure. The following sections describe the main phases of the MOF and how they relate to Microsoft IT and System Center Configuration Manager 2007. System Center Configuration Manager 2007 supports the organization at every phase of the MOF, which enables operators to support the constant life cycle of change within the organization.
Although planning is usually associated with new infrastructure or software implementations, Microsoft IT has the same task for each major software update that is deployed. Because of the highly varied schedules and requirements of various departments and customers internally, Microsoft IT must plan for every deployment to ensure that deployments of updates comply not only with the availability requirements for the specific server, but also with the delivery schedule set by policy.
System Center Configuration Manager 2007 enables this process to be simplified through task sequencing and automation. Rather than manually schedule each application update or coordinate with each individual team, administrators can set and reuse components such as System Center templates to schedule and group deployments, which simplifies planning.
Through the use of collections and advanced software packaging tools such as the task sequencer, the process of building solutions that consist of operating systems, applications, and detailed configurations can occur faster and more consistently through System Center Configuration Manager 2007.
One of the central roles for Microsoft IT is the deployment of not only new applications and operating systems, but also the continual maintenance of the Microsoft internal infrastructure with updates. These updates may come in the form of vendor-issued updates or simply optimizations to the current infrastructure.
The operations portion of the MOF is the central role of Microsoft IT for System Center Configuration Manager 2007. Through the use of the robust tools provided, Microsoft IT can manage a very diverse and highly complex environment.
The benefits of automation, reporting, and desired configuration management are crucial components that are executed in this phase of the MOF. The automation and increased capabilities of System Center Configuration Manager 2007 over previous releases enables administrators to manage configuration and support tasks with greater effectiveness. Detailed reporting on updates, installation progress, update requirements, and application inventory provide a complete view for all of the systems that Microsoft IT manages, creating vital statistics within reach that would normally take significant resources to collect and manage.
Desired Configuration Management (DCM) is at the heart of the operations phase of the MOF, enabling the operations team to extend policy enforcement and reporting throughout the organization's servers. In addition to reporting, automated rules and responses can be set to provide automatic configuration correction when needed.
Centralized Change and Configuration Management
System Center Configuration Manager 2007 offers several important functions that administrators can use to manage software more efficiently. These features enable Microsoft IT to reduce the effort required for managing the servers within its care. This savings can be used to either use more servers with the same infrastructure through efficient centralization and scaling of the System Center Configuration Manager 2007 infrastructure, or enable the team to take on new functions to support the business. The following key features help reduce maintenance costs:
- Application updates to various components of System Center allow for greater flexibility and automation. This includes scheduling the deployment of update packages and more detailed control over collections.
- WSUS offers many advantages to previous update models. WSUS provides detailed reporting, allowing for advanced management of complex infrastructures through a single interface. System Center Configuration Manager 2007 directly uses these advantages.
- Task sequencing is an addition that is central to operating system deployment but plays a major role in many functions of System Center Configuration Manager 2007. Essentially, task sequences allow for multi-step and multi-component deployments. For example, if an enterprise application has been deployed on multiple servers and is at different update levels throughout the organization, the task sequencer enables administrators to deploy specific updates based on various decision points such as current configuration or software version. The task sequencer plays a key role in numerous other components, including update management and deployment for cluster servers, which have historically proven to be more challenging to update through automated procedures.
- DCM plays a key role in reducing updates. Many organizations deal with slight variations in server settings, application versions, and update levels. DCM enables the operations team to enforce desired configurations. This enforcement can range from simply enabling Remote Desktop to requiring or prohibiting applications. Through this feature, the operations team is able to enforce business policies for software compliance, security, and more. This feature reduces the cost that is normally associated with an administrator having to adjust servers individually.
These technologies play a vital role in streamlining the update process, which is often a key role of the server operations team. Reducing the effort for complex tasks, automating repeated actions, and allowing settings to be enforced through policy greatly reduce the time required to keep the organization healthy.
The implementation of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 provides three major business benefits for operations customers. These benefits are reduced cost of deployment for updates and applications, increased response time for installation of updates, and automation that enables organizations to fully take advantage of the Microsoft Operations Framework. Although emphasis varies by customer and infrastructure, these benefits remain a large opportunity for customers of different sizes. Many operations teams grapple with the challenges of maintaining an infrastructure that complies with the MOF, but with System Center Configuration Manager 2007, Microsoft IT can respond more effectively to the guidelines of the ITIL and the MOF and support the business more effectively.
Reduced cost of management is easily calculated through the reduction of work hours spent on update deployment and is a compelling story for System Center Configuration Manager 2007 by itself. Even the smallest reductions in time spent on systems compliance, update management, update deployment, and other tasks can be multiplied by the sheer size of the Microsoft IT infrastructure and show near-term benefits. It is important to recognize that the infrastructure that Microsoft IT uses can be used just as quickly and effectively by customers of many sizes.
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