For those of you who haven’t heard of SCCM, it may sound mysterious! For those of you who have heard of it, you’re probably already cowering! SCCM! Microsoft’s System Centre Configuration Manager. This will be one of the most powerful tools that Microsoft has to offer, but it can also be the bane of your existence!
This article will cover the pros and cons of SCCM and whether it’s a good idea for your business.
What is SCCM?
Microsoft System Centre Configuration Manager is a management application designed for large-scale workstation auditing, reporting and deployments. It is extremely powerful, and allows IT staff to manage the ins and outs of all desktop operations such as application deployment, Operating System deployment, software reporting, as well as a centralised location to configure settings such as allowing RDP access.
For large-scale companies that have at least 400 machines, it can severely reduce the overheads of IT Support by managing the deployment of applications and also controlling all aspects of an Operating System that runs on your workstation.
SCCM has a lot of positives which comes with it, which is why so many companies decide to leverage its features. Having the manageability of all workstations from within one console ensures that IT staff reduce the overheads in managing services that are running on each machine.
It allows you to package applications and deploy them to all or some workstations as you see fit. It also has a feature called ‘Software Centre’, which is an application installed on each workstation allowing users to actually see a catalogue of applications which have been made ‘available’ to them, and allows them to actually install the applications themselves. Because these have been pre-packaged, there’s no requirement to be local admin, and there’s no configuration necessary from the user’s end. Simply click ‘install’ and away you go. This is a great benefit when you’re offering applications which may not need to go to all users.
Operating System Deployment
Another great feature of SCCM is Operating System Deployment. This allows the automated sequence of formatting a computer and reinstalling Windows. Operating System deployment follows a Task Sequence which is a set of tasks that have been defined to run on the computer. This can include installing the Operating System, as well as joining it to the domain and installing applications before the user logs in. This means that setting up a SOE and managing that will work very well for large-scale deployments.
User State Migration Tool
Going on from Operating System Deployment, you can include USMT, which allows the saving of personal data such as background, local data stored on desktops etc and even Outlook profiles to be copied to a server, and then copied back to the newly provisioned machine automatically. Where this can be of benefit, is when you’re offering a “Operating System Refresh” to staff members who wish to reinstall their own machine. This is a fully automated process, and no data will be lost. This can reduce your IT Support overheads if there’s issues with client’s computers where it would be more time efficient to simply re-image the computer. Allowing an option where staff can leave on a Friday night and click “Install” and come back to a newly imaged machine on the Monday morning will not only reduce the support calls coming into the Service Desk, but it will also give staff some peace of mind knowing that they’re still in control of their machine.
This feature requires minimal configuration and allows the SCCM server to monitor what applications have bene installed on workstations, and keep track of the number of instances. This is good for maintaining licenses throughout your network, and ensuring you’re not using more licenses than you currently have.
All applications which are picked up are referenced against the Microsoft Databases online and download all the application specific data to the server. This is usually updated daily to ensure that you’ve got the most up to date information.
Now there’s not too many cons of running SCCM within your environment, but the few that do exist are rather large ones.
SCCM is a very complex application. The installation process is rather time consuming, and it’s critical that you know what you’re doing in order to set this up correctly the first time. If everything is working well, then it’s great, but as soon as something goes wrong, it’s a ‘time-sink’.
If you’re wanting to troubleshoot logs, then there’s plenty for you to choose from. Within the SCCM installation location, there’s 138 log files for you to choose from. The trick is knowing which log file to look at when there’s a problem, and knowing which problem would be logged in what log file. It’s made ‘slightly’ easier with the use of CMTrace, which formats the log files and allows them to be more user readable.
SCCM is slow. And when I say slow, I basically mean that if you make a change, don’t expect this to roll out immediately. Whilst this application is extremely scalable and can be used with hundreds of thousands of workstations, the price you pay for that scalability is the fact that rolling out changes to computers are relatively slow. It’s in fact designed this way. In order to keep the server processing power low, it’s designed to take its time when rolling out changes to call computers. This will ensure that the SCCM server isn’t crippled when making changes, or deploying new applications. If you use SCCM with the mindset that nothing is going to happen immediately, then you won’t have an issue.
This actually references a previous section I’d mentioned about this being a rather complex application. When SCCM works, it works really well. It’s nice and robust, and provided a staff member doesn’t change settings, you will rarely have a problem. But when you do have an issue, you better know what you’re doing! SCCM is one of those applications where it’s sheer size and complexity makes troubleshooting very difficult. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can suck up your time to find an answer. It is important that if you’re going to be using SCCM, you either skill up, or contract/employ someone who has the knowledge to look into SCCM and mange it correctly
If you’re a large business and you want to leverage the power of SCCM, it is highly recommended. Whilst I do say that it’s a complex beast and it needs to be handled accordingly, provided you can employ someone with the right skillset to configure and manage this application, it will be of great value to your company.
Avantgarde Technologies provides IT Support in Perth for many businesses who run SCCM to automate application rollout, operating system deployment, asset management and more. If you require assistance with SCCM or require other IT Services in Perth, contact us by visiting http://avantgardetechnologies.com.au/.