In an enterprise where most components of System Center are deployed, Microsoft’s vision is for the Service Manager self-service portal to be the only place for end users interact with the IT department.

Paul Schnackenburg

Paul Schnackenburg works part time as an IT teacher as well as running his own business in Australia. He has MCSE, MCT, MCTS and MCITP certifications. Follow his blog TellITasITis.

If the theme for Operations Manager in System Center 2016 (SC) is open source support, the theme for Service Manager 2016 is performance. And not a day too late, because the Service Manager console is notoriously slow to work with.

But there’s also more goodness on the way in the form of a new self-service portal (again), Lync 2013 / Skype for Business support and support for SQL AlwaysOn backends.

New portal ^

The Service Manager self-service portal is where System Center components log incidents and track problem resolutions, but this is also where they request new services from IT, whether that’s being added to a security group, requesting a new laptop, or spinning up a new VM or application.

The importance of this portal cannot be understated. In a true private cloud, automation is king and requests have workflows attached where approval is required. So, requesting a new tablet and phone for a new hire (or any of the many other things IT provides to the business) doesn’t just send an email to someone to purchase it, it’s as automated as it can possibly be.

You only have to look at the number of third party add-ons for Service Manager that provide their own consoles to see how important this is. The issue with Microsoft swapping console technologies is that an enterprise that has invested in a lot of customization to provide the automation will have to start over again (and again it seems).

So, a few versions back, Service Manager had its own Silverlight-based console that left a lot to be desired. In 2012 / 2012 R2, the decision was taken to integrate it into SharePoint, taking advantage of its rich platform capabilities. That doesn’t seem to have worked out very well because Service Manager 2016 now brings a new inbox HTML portal instead, removing the older portals.

The new Service Manager HTML console

The new Service Manager HTML console

Customizing the portal is fairly straightforward: an MVP has written a series on the different alterations you can do for the title, logo, colors, icons, and sidebar links. Note that the new portal debuted in Update Rollup 8 for Service Manager 2012 R2 so it’s not actually a “new” feature in 2016. On the plus side, it does bring back announcements, a handy way for IT to communicate updates to the user base.

Integration with Lync 2013 and Skype for Business ^

This is a bit overdue, but at least now you can see the presence information of a user who reported an issue in the incident form, as long as either Lync 2013 or Skype for Business is deployed, and your PC has Office 2013 or 2016 installed. You can send an email directly from the form or contact the user via instant messaging.

The main Service Manager console

The main Service Manager console

Performance ^

The team has tested performance improvements under heavy load, where creating an incident in 2012 R2 took 2–3 seconds, the equivalent action in 2016 TP4 took less than 1 second. Additionally, the AD and Configuration Manager connectors, which Service Manager uses to populate the Configuration Management Data Base (CMDB) with asset information, only syncs when there’s data to process, improving performance.

Highly available SQL backends in the form of SQL AlwaysOn are now supported.

Another benefit is write collision avoidance where two analysts (or an automated workflow) are working on the same item and save their changes simultaneously. You’re now given the opportunity to incorporate both changes and resolve the error.

The Service Manager library

The Service Manager library

Conclusion ^

In researching what was coming in System Center Service Manager, I listened to a couple of “Lync up” webinars with the product team and end users. Two things became clear quite quickly. First, the most requested feature for Service Manager is multi tenancy. This isn’t surprising. Service Manager is a very “heavy” product with a minimum of four servers with lots of RAM for production deployments. Therefore, it’ll only appeal to larger environments; however, if smaller companies could share that infrastructure with others, it would open the door to service providers. But it’s not on the short term roadmap.

The second thing is that Service Manager is more or less on life support. Each UR brings some new features, so really Service Manager 2016 is bringing very little new to the table. Don’t expect any revolutionary features any time soon. In this sense, it’s much closer to Data Protection Manager (DPM) or Orchestrator in Service Manager 2016 than Configuration Manager or Virtual Machine Manager. Perhaps a number of developers have been pulled away from Service Manager to work on other projects? Perhaps Service Manager functionality in the cloud is in the works, in a similar fashion to how OMS complements SCOM?

I think Microsoft will have a hard time selling businesses on the merits of upgrading from System Center 2012 R2 to 2016, due to the lack of compelling features across the different products, especially Service Manager and DPM.

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