The Future of System Center Configuration Manager: Getting the Windows 10 Treatment

The Future of System Center Configuration Manager: Getting the Windows 10 Treatment

The next version of System Center Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr) has been in beta testing for some time and Microsoft continues to deliver on promises of new features and capabilities. ConfigMgr is still the undisputed king and market leader for on-premises endpoint management. But, as such – in a cloud-frenzied world – being considered solely an on-premises solution has its drawbacks. And, when you take a step back and watch what Microsoft is doing with all its other products, it now seems out of place. Additionally, as many System Center customers have noticed, there seems to be two very different – almost segmented – sides to System Center. There’s the products that are cloud-enabled and then there’s ConfigMgr. ConfigMgr has a conduit to the cloud through Microsoft Intune integration, but that’s about it.

On Monday of this week, I had a discussion with Microsoft’s Senior Director of Enterprise Mobility, Andrew Conway, to get the full view of what’s coming and what’s changing.

Here’s what’s changing…

Name change

When ConfigMgr releases to customers, it will no longer contain a yearly designation. Just as Windows 10 will remain Windows 10, System Center Configuration Manager will be just System Center Configuration Manager. There won’t be a ConfigMgr 2016 or any subsequent delineations. However, for those customers that require to know the revision of ConfigMgr they are running, they will be able to go to the About option in the console to find a version number, for example “v1512”, for a version shipping in December 2015.  This designation will also be referred to in documentation and on volume licensing download sites.

Servicing Model

One of the major feature updates in the next version of ConfigMgr will be in how the product gets updated and how often. Using the Windows 10 updating model, the product will be updated quite frequently over the Internet connection. The constant updates are meant to both keep pace with Windows 10 features and to keep pace with Windows Intune. Intune, by the way, is now updated monthly – so you can expect ConfigMgr updates to also be fast and furious.

These servicing updates should allow the new ConfigMgr to be updated whenever new Windows capabilities are released, for example. Or, as another example, whenever Intune is updated with new iOS and Android features and capabilities, ConfigMgr will have the same capabilities in quick order.

There's also changes in the servicing engine within ConfigMgr to enable in-place upgrades of the agents and many roles with minimal disruption. However, more on this will be available closer to release.

Update Support

Updates to ConfigMgr can be delayed, but not forever. Like Windows 10, updates will be cumulative, so when businesses decide it’s time to apply the backlog of updates, they’ll only need to install a single patch.

However, each update is supported for only a 12-month period. If, for some reason, a customer decides not to apply updates for an entire year, they will be asked to move to the most current update before Microsoft will continue to provide support. The big caveat here is that updates cannot be rolled back, should an update cause issues in a ConfigMgr environment. I asked about this specifically and Andrew assured that through Telemetry (see below) Microsoft would be able to deliver fixes to botched updates quickly, but a customer’s only recourse is to wait for a fix – even if the entire environment is broken.

To help minimize update problems, Microsoft is offering a sort of “Insiders” program for ConfigMgr where customers can help pilot the updates before they are released.

Telemetry

Just like Windows 10, ConfigMgr will deliver Telemetry back to Microsoft. The telemetry is delivered back to the engineering teams to receive nearly real time feedback on how the capabilities we have released are working (or not working), and we can then quickly adjust to address any issues. Another example of the value of telemetry is that we are able to see configuration data that helps us engineer and test the configurations that are in production.

Upgradeability

The next release of ConfigMgr is based on the 2012 version, so it’s a straight-forward in-place upgrade.  This year, Microsoft delivered updates to ConfigMgr 2007, 2012, and 2012 R2 to support Windows 10. However, only the next version of ConfigMgr will support Windows 10 completely and on an ongoing basis. ConfigMgr 2012 will only ever support the first two Current Branch and LTSB builds. It won’t support any builds after. To have full and continuing support for future builds of Windows 10, customers will need to upgrade to the new ConfigMgr by February 2016.

Customers that just aren’t ready to upgrade to a new ConfigMgr product by February, they’ll need to deploy Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB 2015 and just sit at that build until they can upgrade.

Timeline

There’s no hard date given for when the new ConfigMgr will release, but Microsoft has promised that it will deliver before the end of this calendar year. The launch, though, is important to support the new Windows 10 branch updating features coming next month. 

Additionally, Microsoft will ship another big version to align with System Center 2016 and Windows Server 2016 when those products release sometime next year – rumored for Spring.

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