In advance of the System Center 2012 Release Candidate announcement on January 17, I attended a reviewer workshop at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. As I have predicted for many years, management mastery of virtualized environments will distinguished accomplished IT managers from the “also ran.” It’s clear that in the System Center 2012 RC, Microsoft is on to something. [WP_IMAGE] Today, I’ll focus in on System Center 2012 – Virtual Machine Manager (SC VMM). Since 2008, SC VMM has been able to manage not only Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization hosts but also VMware ESX hosts as well. Citrix XenServer hosts can also be monitored and managed using SC VMM. For IT managers, this means that the widely used System Center tools are gaining in capability. This has two positive and one negative effects. First, there is a relatively large pool of IT professionals with System Center experience, which means that there is talent available to implement and use the tool. Second, Microsoft’s decade plus of experience in datacenter management means that System Center has enough experinece under its belt to credibly handle the root cause analysis and error management reporting needed to help IT staff quickly identify problems and take action. On the downside, using System Center requires a substantial Microsoft ranging from Active Directory to WSUS (Windows Server Update Service) to Microsoft SQL Server. These components are tied together very tightly, such that once SC VMM is in place, stringent change management controls will be needed to keep the system running smoothly. So what do you get with SC VMM besides basic management across the three major hypervisor platforms? For one thing, you will get one of the best single products for managing a Microsoft Hyper-V environment. And with the improvements I’ve seen in the virtualization capabilities that will be offered in the upcoming release of Windows Server 8, the enhancements in SC VMM will lay the basis for the automation and fault resolution needed to keep a virtual datacenter up and running. There are alternatives to SC VMM for heterogeneous hypervisor management. BMC, CA, HP and IBM-Tivoli all make tools that can monitor one or more virtual and physical environments inside a common framework. As I delve into SC VMM at eWEEK Labs, expect to see more about how the product stacks up to these established datacenter players.