In addition to new tools for administrators, System Center 2012 SP1 also includes some goodies for third-party Azure hosting companies. System Center SP1 also includes a Service Provider Foundation API (application programming interface), which third-party Azure providers can use to provide self-service management for their customers. Microsoft has also released Windows Azure Services on Windows Server, which will allow hosting providers to offer Azure cloud services identical to Microsoft's.
In addition to the System Center upgrades, Microsoft has also updated its Intune service for managing deployments of Windows personal computers. The fresh edition of the service can manage devices running the latest Microsoft operating systems, including Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8. Intune now can be accessed from 45 additional countries for a total of 87 countries worldwide.
Microsoft has also integrated Intune with Systems Center's Configuration Manager, so customers who use both the software and the Intune service will have a single interface.
System Center 2012 SP1 and the related releases are a "step forward" in Microsoft's goal of providing a unified cloud OS, said Gary Chen, IDC research manager covering cloud and virtualization system software, in an email interview. He praised the general strategy of providing a single set of tools for both cloud and in-house deployments, even if the tools are confined to mostly managing Microsoft software. "It's a lot easier today if you have the same platform on both sides of the fence; it's really a proprietary thing right now," he said.
Chen also said that while Microsoft made great strides in providing cloud capabilities through the new releases of Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 and Azure, it still has a lot of work to complete a unified cloud stack. "One thing Microsoft needs to resolve is that [it has] a Windows Server-based stack in the enterprise and a different Azure stack in the cloud. Eventually, they need to unify that, and they have been making progress in addressing compatibility, migration, etc," Chen wrote.
Microsoft is not alone in stressing the idea of unifying in-house and cloud operations into a single management layer. Hewlett-Packard has built its own cloud services offerings around the idea that a single set of software can control both environments as well.