First and foremost, I am a ConfigMgr guy and I love the Microsoft System Center suite and am an extreme advocate. With that said, I realize that Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is not something every corporation, big or small, can jump into and implement as its client management solution. Sometimes, the licensing cost alone will drive a potential customer of said solution away. Sometimes it's the fact that it takes a huge learning curve to simply learn to manage SCCM properly, and allocating staff to learning it is not something that can easily be done.
With the aforementioned reasons, I start by dissecting client management – what is client management? What toolsets are needed to encompass a solution that meets the standards and goals of an organization? In addition to SCCM, I'll also delve into other client management solutions I've come across. Bear in mind, there are many client management solutions I will not cover. In this series, I'm focusing on three client management solutions: SCCM, Windows Intune and RES Software's Automation Manager. I will review the pros and cons of each product, and highlight features I like in hopes that this post will help you make an informed decision when it comes to building a client management strategy and implementing an environment that is right for your business.
System Center Configuration Manager
Pros: Industry Leadership, OSD (bare-metal and refresh), Application Catalog, Automatic Client Push/Remediation, native integration with other System Center tools
Cons: Massive scope of tools, requires formal knowledge and know-how to administer
System Center Configuration Manager, SCCM, ConfigMgr, SMS, CCM or whatever you want to call it – this is my ultimate preferred method of client management. Oddly enough, it's also Microsoft's preferred method ... since they made it and all. SCCM has come a long way. It's been around since 1994 (SMS 1.0) so it has about 21 years of development behind its coding. To me, SCCM has it all. Operating system deployments, software deployments, patch management, endpoint protection, remote tools, compliance settings that challenge group policy settings, company resource access, reporting that could go on for DAYS, and let's not forget the ability to integrate and tie in all the loose ends with all the other tools offered with the System Center Suite. SCCM is a literal beast. It scales like no other and has countless benefits to almost any organization. It also has the most online documentation I've seen for client management solutions. I heard a statistic somewhere that 75% of the world's computers are managed by SCCM. I don't know if that's 100% accurate, but I like that number. If I have anything to do with it, that number will go up one day. So, what are my favorite features?
OSD (operating system deployments) - It's no wonder, since my first peek into the system administration world was building, managing, and maintaining the image used on all 16,000+ devices. I learned this technology using MDT to build, capture, and deploy the images to devices. Once I saw that you can essentially do the same thing on a global level, all managed from a single point, I was sold. As many may know, MDT doesn't scale well. To some extent, it can, but nowhere as easy as SCCM can and does. Also, with MDT-integration, migrating your users from one OS to another is only a few configurations away.
Next in line would be the ability to give your users a nice web-interface when they need software – the Application Catalog. This is a very user-based approach to distributing software to your environment, and really, that was the point. You can easily base the availability of these applications on your already neatly structured Active Directory, or dynamically based on the users role, department, manager, and an array of other attributes.
Of course, managing Windows patches is neat, but SCCM takes it a step further and can even manage third-part software, like Adobe. Using System Center Update Publisher, you can subscribe to these publicly published catalogs and publish them to your SCCM environment for easier management and the ability to even report on these patch levels.
Hardware and software inventory is something that one can definitely learn to appreciate. Need to find out who all has Visio installed in your environment? There's a report for that. Need to automatically uninstall all the versions of Visio that haven't been used in over three months to regain some licensing? A quick little query-based collection can handle that for you. Need to identify how many of your machines need to be refreshed in terms of virtually any hardware criteria? That's pretty simple too. Maybe you need to see how many computers have a certain level of memory built into their video card? SCCM couldn't make it easier.
Granted, mastering all these facets of SCCM takes time. It takes a lot of time, in fact. A lot of researching, a lot of troubleshooting, and a lot of time spent testing and troubleshooting. "It's an art form" as my buddy Nick would say when we were tasked with learning SCCM for one of the largest organizations I've ever worked. It takes elegance to master the craft of OSD, it takes know-how to master configuration settings, and it takes an abstract mind to find crafty ways to make it fit even more-so into almost any organization.
Clearly, I am pretty biased when it comes to SCCM, though. I would prefer it if every organization and customer I've come in contact with would have it. So let's pretend, going forward with the next post in this series, that SCCM is the best client management system. Since it seems to encompass almost every facet of client management, in my humble opinion, I'll be comparing it to Windows Intune and RES Software's Automation Manager. Stay tuned for Part II!
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