Book Review – Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager: Administration Cookbook

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Also available as an eBook

Over the years, I have read many books about Systems Management Server (SMS), and Configuration Manager (CM).  Most of them have been focussed on preparing readers for the relevant Microsoft certification exam or theoretical explanations of how the system works and how to configure it for basic functionality.  These types of publications are great for new users of products looking to get a basic working knowledge of CM.

This book is different.  It I written by professionals who have years of in depth experience with the technology in some extreme use case scenarios.  This background gives them some rather distinctive perspectives on how to get more out of a CM infrastructure.  Whereas traditional books on the subject focus on the “What” and the “How”, Brian and Greg also include the “Why”.  For example, they include decision making frameworks that help the reader decide what is best for their particular implementation, use case scenarios, and other objectives.  In situations where the best practice might prove impractical, they provide rationale for making trade-offs (E.g. budget vs. performance, Application Catalog vs. Software Center).

CM is a complex product.  Each of its modules could easily be a product in itself.  There are dozens of point solution products aimed specifically at a sub feature of CM.  As such, this book is not targeted at somebody who is new to the technology.  There aren’t a lot of pages spent on how to install the software or the basic functionality.  Rather, the writers assume a basic understanding of the feature set (easily obtained form on of the dozen or so traditional books available on the subject) and provides a series of in depth modules intended to help a generalist administrator get more out of a specific feature as the need arises.

The organization of the book into a series of recipe cards lends itself to be easily consumed.  You don’t need to read it cover to cover.  You can jump right in to the topic that you currently need to learn more about.  Each topic is organized into the following sections:

  1. Getting Ready – What’s you’ll need before you start
  2. How to do it – Step-by-step instructions
  3. How it works – An explanation of the mechanics of the product
  4. There’s more – Additional information should your requirements be a little more complex
  5. See also – Additional resources if relevant

This recipe book firmly establishes Greg and Brian as CM Iron Chefs.  I will be recommending this book to all of my customers.  Buy it directly from Packt Publishing.

Full disclosure:  I have met both Brian Mason and Greg Ramsey multiple times.  They did not approach me to review this book.  I was asked by the publisher to review this book.  As a token of their appreciation once my review is completed, I will receive a free eBook from Packt Publishing.

Deploying Applications with System Center 2012 Configuration Manager

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With the General Availability of System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr 2012) just around the corner, many of my customers have been starting to prepare for the new version.  This is not a simple task as there is no upgrade option.  The only option is migration.  There are some good tools in ConfigMgr 2012 to help migrate objects but in order to take full advantage of some of the new features, you will have to learn some of the new paradigms.  In this post I will focus on one of the most obvious enhancements, the new Application Model.

The Old Way – SCCM 2007

The previous version of SCCM (and SMS for that matter) uses a Package model that has four key conceptsP

  1. Package – Container for files – replicated to Distribution Points
  2. Program – command line within a package that runs something such as an exe, msi, bat, etc. typically used to install software
  3. Advertisement – Makes a program and package available to a client.  Advertisements can be assigned (mandatory)
  4. Collection – Target for advertisement

Any logic like dependencies of or hardware requirements need to be manually built into the installation program or used as part of the collection membership logic.

The Package Model continues to be supported but is very limited compared to the new
Application Model provided in Configuration Manager 2012.  If required, packages can be migrated from a 2007 site using the Package Conversion Manager.

The New Way – Configuration Manager 2012 Application Model

The New Application Model is much more flexible than the Package model as it provides the ability to include much of the dependency logic that was has to be created manually in the Package Model.  Some new concepts:

  1. Application – A piece of software that users need access to
  2. Deployment – Distribution of an application.
  3. Required Deployment – A mandatory deployment (much like an assigned package)
  4. Global Conditions – Global Conditions are requirements that can be re-used across multiple applications without having to recreate them.  Examples of global conditions are platform (x86 or x64, OS version, Service pack version, language, etc.
  5. Requirement Rules – These are local to the particular application.  They can be used to evaluate prerequisites like disk space, memory, other required applications, etc.
  6. Deployment Types – Deployment types allow the same application to install differently depending on the target device.  For example, a full local installation can be performed on a user’s primary device that is on the corporate LAN while a virtual application would be streamed if they were not on their primary device.
    1. Windows Installer – Creates a deployment type from a Windows Installer file.
    2. Script Installer – runs a script on the client that performs an action – typically installing an application.
    3. Microsoft Application Virtualization – Creates an App-V deployment type based on the associated manifest file
    4. Windows Mobile Cabinet – Creates a deployment type from a Windows Mobile Cabinet (CAB) file. Configuration Manager can retrieve information from the CAB file to automatically populate some boxes of the Create Deployment Type Wizard.
    5. And my favourite – Nokia SIS file – Creates a deployment type from a Nokia Symbian Installation Source (SIS) file.
    6. Dependencies – Deployment types that must be installed before another deployment type is installed.  An application can be configured to install all required dependencies that are not are required if they are not present.

    I expect there to be a lot of interest in this new software distribution model.  I’ll keep you posted on new developments.