My Top 5 Features in System Center Data Protection Manager 2016

Microsoft’s System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) has undergone a huge period of transition over the past two years. Significant investments have been made in hybrid cloud backup solutions, and DPM 2016 brings many improvements to this on-premises backup solution that all kinds of enterprise customers need to consider. Here are my top 5 features in DPM 2016.

5: Upgrading a DPM production server to 2016 doesn’t require a reboot

Times have changed and Windows Server & System Center won’t be released every 3-5 years anymore. Microsoft recognizes that customers want to upgrade, but fear the complexity and downtime that upgrades often introduce. Upgrading DPM servers and agents to 2016 will not cause production hosts to reboot.

4: Continued protection during cluster aware updates

The theme of continued protection during upgrades without introducing downtime continues. I’ve worked in the hosting business where every second of downtime was calculated in Dollars and Euros. Cluster-aware updates allow Hyper-V clusters to get security updates and hotfixes without downtime to applications running in the virtual machines. DPM 2016 supports this orchestrated patching process, ensuring that your host clusters can continue to be stable and secure, and your valuable data is protected by backup.

3: Modern Backup Storage

Few people like tapes, first used with computers in 1951! And one of the big concerns about backup is the cost of storage. Few companies understand software-defined storage like Microsoft, leading the way with Azure and Windows Server. DPM 2016 joins the ranks by modernizing how disk storage is deployed for storing backups. ReFS 3.0 block cloning is used to store incremental backups, improving space utilization and performance. Other enhancements including growing/shrinking storage usage based on demand, instead of the expensive over-allocation of the past.

2: Support for Storage Spaces Direct

While we’re discussing modern storage, let’s talk about how DPM 2016 has support for Microsoft’s software-defined hyper-converged infrastructure solution, Storage Spaces Direct. In recent years, these two concepts, inspired by the cloud, have shaken up enterprise storage:

  • Software-defined storage: Customers have started to realize that SAN isn’t the best way to deploy fast, scalable, resilient, and cost-effective storage. Using commodity components, software can overcome the limitations of RAID and the expense of proprietary lock-in hardware.
  • Hyper-converged infrastructure: Imagine a virtualization deployment where there is one tier of hardware; storage and compute are merged together using the power of software and hardware offloads (such as SMD Direct/RDMA), and turn cluster deployments into a simpler and faster process.

Windows Server 2016 took lessons from the previous two versions of Storage Spaces, Azure, and the storage industry and made hyper-converged infrastructure a feature of Windows Server. This means that you can deploy an extremely fast (NVMe, SSD, and HDD disks with 10 Gbps or faster networking) storage that is cost effective, using 1U or 2U servers, and with no need for a SAN, external SAS hardware, or any of those other complications. DPM 2016 supports this revolutionary architecture, ensuring the protection of your data on the Microsoft on-premises cloud.

1: Built for the Cloud

I’ve already discussed the cost of storage, but that cost is doubled or more once we start to talk about off-site storage of backups or online-backup solutions. While many virtualization-era backup products are caught up on local backup bells and whistles, Microsoft has transformed backup for the cloud.

Combined with Azure Backup, DPM 2016 gives customers a unique option. You get enterprise-class backup that protects workloads on cost effective (Modern Backup Storage) storage for on-premises short term retention. Adding the very affordable Azure Backup provides you with a few benefits, including:

  • A secondary site, safeguarding your backups from localized issues.
  • Cost effective long-term retention for up to 99 years.
  • Encrypted “trust no-one” storage with security mechanisms to protect you against ransom-ware and deliberate attacks against your backups.

In my opinion, if you are not using DPM, or have not looked at it in the past two years, then I think it’s time to re-evaluate this product.


UR1 For System Center 2012 R2 Is Available – Be Careful

Microsoft has released Update Rollup 1 for System Center 2012 R2, covering everything except Endpoint Protection and Configuration Manager (they’re almost a separate group).

As usual with update rollups, I would caution you to let others download, install, and test this rollup. Don’t approve it for deployment for another month. And even then, make sure you read each product’s documentation before doing an installation.

Those who lived through URs over the last 12-18 months will remember that System Center had as bad, if not worse, time than Windows Server 2012 with these Update Rollups.


Update Rollup 5 for System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 was also released. The same advice applies; don’t deploy for 1 month and let others be the guinea pigs.

PowerShell Deployment Toolkit (PDT) For System Center

It takes time to deploy System Center.  It takes a long time to deploy the entire suite.  So you can imagine that I only ever (if that) have bits of System Center deployed.  That’s why it was great to see that Microsoft’s Rob Willis had written a “hydration” kit to deploy a complete System Center demo environment using PowerShell scripts and XML metadata files called the PowerShell Deployment Toolkit.

I want to stress that word: DEMO.  This kit is not to be used for deploying a production system.  Out of the so-called-box (a zip file really) it deploys an architecture that should never ever be used in production.  It’s designed to be able to run on a laptop (a large one) and it does things that any System Center expert would choke at.  But it will deploy, with very little effort, an environment that is fit for performing demonstrations.

In the zip you’ll find a few files:

  • Variable.xml: This file describes the System Center installation.  You can customize this as required (time zones, domains, passwords, etc) – and that’s probably a good idea after you’ve done a test install to see what the PDT does.
  • Downloader.ps1: This script will download all the some of the required pieces to deploy your System Center suite.  All of them!  The newest version even pulls down the new Windows Azure Pack! You’re going to be manually downloading System Center and Windows Server 2012 R2 as pointed out by Reidar Johansen here.
  • VMCreator.ps1: This script will create the Hyper-V VMs required for your demo environment.
  • Installer.ps1: This script will deploy and configure System Center from your downloads.

Before you ask, yes, the kit does download/install WS2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, and all of the dependencies (about 11,000 MB at the time of writing).  It’s a monumental piece of work that should be a time saver for those wanting to quickly build new demo environments.

I’m running this kit for the first time right now.  I’ll blog about my experience as time goes by.

Dell Management Packs Now Support Microsoft System Center 2012 R2

Thanks Florian Klaffenbach for the heads up on this.  Dell have announced that they support System Center 2012 R2:

  • Dell Server Management Pack Suite ― Discover, inventory and monitor Dell PowerEdge servers (agent-based option with Windows/OpenManage Server Administrator and agent-free option using WSMAN for 12th Generation of Dell PowerEdge Servers), Chassis Management Controllers using SNMP &  iDRACs using SNMP.   Download: version 5.1 , Documentation
  • Dell Client Management Pack –Discover, inventory and monitor Dell Client PCs running Windows and OpenManage Client Instrumentation (OMCI) ― Download: Dell Client Management Pack version 5.0 , Documentation
  • Dell Printer Management Pack –Discover, inventory and monitor Dell Printers using SNMP ― Download version 5.0, Documentation
  • •Dell MD Storage Array Management Pack Suite –Discover, inventory and monitor Dell PowerVault MD Storage arrays ― Download version 5.0, Documentation
  • Dell EqualLogic Management Pack Suite–Inventory and monitor Dell EqualLogic storage arrays using SNMP― Download version 5.0, Documentation
  • The latest releases of all the listed Dell Management Packs will work as-is for System Center 2012 R2 Operations Manager; the only exception is that the Chassis Modular Server Correlation feature of the Server MP Suite is not supported on R2 (110032 in the online Release Notes).
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KB2886362 – New Update Rollup For DPM 2012 SP1 If Backing Up Hyper-V VMs

Microsoft released a fix for System Center 2012 SP1 – Data Protection Manager for an issue where DPM consumes too much space to track changes of Hyper-V VMs stored on CSVs:

DPM has express full technology where DPM tracks the changes via DPM filter driver and the changed block information are tracked as bitmap and is stored in bitmap files. In some scenarios, DPM bitmap files are becoming very big leading to higher CSV volume consumption. This issue is fixed in DPM filter and effects only VM protection scenarios. This fix is done on the DPM filter driver running on the production server.

Please note: It is advised to apply this update only if you are backing up Hyper-V VMs. This upgrade will lead to CC on all data sources that are effected by this particular DPM servers.

This update appears to be called Update Rollup 3.6 and is available via Windows Update.  My advice is:

  • Let some other sucker test this update rollup for Microsoft.  Don’t be the fool who installs this and has to go to the TechNet Forums for help because it breaks something.  Wait one month; if all is well, then consider installing the update.
  • Only rush the install of this update if you are suffering badly from the above problem.

Update Rollup 3 For System Center 2012 Service Pack 1

Microsoft released UR3 for System Center 2012 SP1 overnight.  It contains bug fixes for:

  • App Controller
  • Operations Manager
  • Virtual Machine Manager

Download links and installation instructions are on the site.

My advice: considering the quality of patches coming out of Redmond recently, I’d wait a month before installing these updates.


FYI, it appears some download links aren’t active just yet.

Comparing Microsoft Cloud with VMware Cloud

In this post, I am blogging the comparison done by Matt McSpirit at TechEd NA 2013 (video & slides here) of the Microsoft Cloud OS (WS2012 R2 Hyper-V + System Center 2012 R2) versus the VMware vCloud Suite (vSphere 5.1 + a host of vProducts).  This is a follow up to my post where I compared Windows Server 2012 R2 (WS2012 R2) Hyper-V with vSphere 5.1.

The Technologies Involved

A key piece in the Microsoft versus VMware debate is to understand the products so you can compare like with like:


In green is Hyper-V, a free Hypervisor.  If you disagree and say that you must pay for Hyper-V then please send me your employer’s name and address so I can call the Business Software Alliance to make an easy $10,000 reward on your illegal licensing of Windows Server on vSphere.

In red is System Center 2012 R2, purchased as a suite (Server Management Licenses).  Note that Open licensing customers can buy a bundle including Windows Server and System Center at a small discount called CIS, and customers with more than 25 hosts can buy a similar bundle with a greater discount called ECI.  This licenses the all VMs on a host for Windows Server and System Center (any virtualization), and you can optionally use this licensing for the host itself (hence the free Hyper-V).

In pink, is the vCloud suite from VMware, comprising a bunch of loosely couple vProducts and vSphere 5.1.  There once was a video of a VMware architect who said that VMware were years behind System Center.  I can’t find that video anywhere now – it looked like it was recorded secretly from a phone.  I also once attended a VMware presentation on the products on this suite.  The two presenters confused even themselves, and lost the audience in 10 minutes.

To do a like with like comparison, you must compare either:

  • Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 versus vSphere 5.1 free + guest OS licensing
  • ECI/CIS versus vCloud Suite Enterprise + guest OS licensing

Note that System Center offers heterogeneous hypervisor management including Hyper-V, vSphere, and XenServer.

Granular App & Service Deployment


System Center is a deeply integrated suite tools you can see some of this from the above:

  • Request Private Cloud Resources w/ CMDB: Service Manager provides the change management database, Service Manager provides a service catalog, Orchestrator pulls all the automated strings, and VMM deploys the service.
  • Role-Based Self Service: All throughout System Center.
  • Standardized Templates: VMM gives us VM templates and service templates.  VM templates are made up of reusable virtual hard disks (1 VHD/X can be used for LOTS of templates), hardware profiles and OS profiles.  That reduces library space utilisation and offline VHD/X maintenance.
  • We can add roles/features to a VM template on the fly during a VMM service template deployment.  So we don’t need a VHD/X for a web server, a VHD/X for a file server, etc.
  • VMM also can deploy server applications (such as SQL Server) using Server App-V.  That reusable library asset can be attached to a VM tier in a service template.
  • Businesses rarely deploy a single VM.  At the very least, there’s a web server and a database server, plus customization.  All this can be modelled in a VMM service template, with roles/features, load balancing, cloud pre-requisites, Server App-V, SQL/IIS packages, and shared with users for self-service (via App Controller, Service Manager, or Windows Azure Pack)
  • And System Center can manage the big 3: Hyper-V, vSphere, and XenServer.

In comparison, vCloud suite looks pretty limited, expensive, and non-integrated.

Service Quality Management


Nagios and similar ping based monitoring is for the past.  System Center, particularly Operations Manager, provides the granular monitoring of the infrastructure (from the network up) that the admin cares about and service (SLAs) with the end user perspective that the business cares about.

VMware’s focus is on the hypervisor – that’s indicated by the need to buy additional software to monitor physical infrastructure … there’s more to a cloud than a host! 

The focus of monitoring is pretty focused, whereas System Center scales well beyond just the Microsoft world, including network, servers, storage, and third party applications.  You can even monitor the all-important coffee pot Smile  Wait for the vBaby to try make a joke about that point – it is sad that this is the tactic that VMware employees now have to resort to.

System Center does some rather special things in monitoring.  End user perspective monitoring for SLA and service availability can be done from any OpsMgr agent.  It can be stretched into Windows Azure via Global Service Monitoring (GSM) to see how available your local application is to the globe.  And you can extend your monitoring into the same Azure data centers via System Center Advisor to get the latest in best practice analysis.  All of these monitors and reports are surfaced through the OpsMgr console.  Reports can be scheduled to be spit out in a large number of formats for the business.

Devs and testers also have integration into their local cloud via System Center; they can push out a new environment from the tool (Visual Studio) that they live in.   No need to pay for more add-ons for this to work.


I am deliberately skipping DPM.  In my opinion, most anyone big enough to use System Center will rarely use System Center Data Protection Manager.  They are probably choosing the same backup tools that also support vSphere.

Heterogeneous Management

This is just a very small sample of the 3rd parties that support System Center.  You’ll notice VMware is in there Smile  Actually, the Veeam management pack for monitoring vSphere is superb.  I’ll admit it’s by far superior to the dreadful Hyper-V management pack.  Hardware vendors such as Dell and HP make huge efforts to support System Center, e.g. bare metal Hyper-V host deployment is a breeze with HP or Dell.  And the monitoring … oh the information is amazing.



VMM will quite happily manage vSphere 5.1, including VM templates, service templates, using it as the compute in your cloud, vMotion, etc.  And it’ll do the XenServer dance too.  Orchestrator has a Microsoft-written integration pack for vSphere to give you runbook automation. 

Operations Manager does support monitoring of 3rd party products.  Realistically, those management packs come from 3rd parties.  Some are 100% free, e.g. HP and Dell.  Some are free to a point, e.g. Veeam.  And some require a purchase.

Hybrid Networking

With the Microsoft stack we can easily extend the Microsoft private cloud into service providers and Windows Azure using System Center and Hyper-V Network Virtualization.  Service Provider Foundation provides an interface into the hoster’s VMM infrastructure that the customers’ App Controller installs can plug into.  Hyper-V networking and the cloud pieces of System Center were designed for this purpose as a single unit. 


Not so simple with the VMware stack where there are a lot more acquired vProducts involved.



VMware made a pretty good virtualization stack.  But their managment stack reminds me of frameworks that I worked with in the 1990s … lots of acquired products with a v- slapped in front of them and thrown into a license bundle.  That’s not integration … it’s a collection of confusing and loosely coupled point solutions.  VMware’s focus continues to be on what they have historically done: the virtualisation layer.

System Center was designed for purpose.  System Center 2012 R2 was designed to work at the same time as and with Windows Server 2012 R2, with hybrid cloud computing being the focus.  Hybrid meaning that the solution spans private and public, and with cloud, there is a focus on what the business really cares about: service (self-service, automation, rapid delivery, easier administration, reporting, and SLA).

Hmm, and I didn’t even bring up Datacenter Abstraction Layer (DAL) where VMM 2012 R2 will build bare-metal SOFS storage, provision SANs via SMI-S (including fiber channel zoning), or manage top-of-rack switches.  You can only do so much stomping, I guess.

The choice is yours: service versus virtualization. 

Update Rollup 2 For System Center 2012 SP1 Is Released

Microsoft has released UR2 for System Center 2012 SP1 via Windows Update.  That means you’ll auto download and deploy (pending manual/auto approval on your part) this update via WSUS, etc.  You can also manually download the updates to each product. 

Note that VMM is not included this time around and OpsMgr has quite a few updates.

Please test and then update yours or your customers’ sites to improve the performance and stability of your System Center deployments.  For consultants, this is an opportunity for you do do a little *ahem* sales, and see if there are some further deployments/customisations that you can do for your clients.

App Controller (KB2815569)

  • Issue 1: You cannot change the virtual machine network of deployed virtual machines.
  • Issue 2: The network connection is set to None after you view the network properties of a deployed virtual.
  • Issue 3: You cannot view the virtual networks for a virtual machine.
  • Issue 4: When you change the virtual network in App Controller, you receive the following error message:
  • Issue 5: You cannot copy VMs that have multiple processors or large amounts of memory from VMM to a Windows Azure.
  • Issue 6: App Controller requires Microsoft Silverlight 5 but links to the download page for Silverlight 4.
  • Issue 7: An argument null exception may occur if network connectivity is interrupted.

App Controller Setup (KB2823452)

  • Issue 1: App Controller cannot be installed if the Microsoft SQL Server database server name starts with a number.
  • Issue 2: Setup incorrectly reports that the SQL Server database has insufficient disk space.
  • Issue 3: Setup is unsuccessful when it tries to enable Internet Information Services (IIS).

Operations Manager (KB2826664)

  • Issue 1: The Web Console performance is very poor when a view is opened for the first time.
  • Issue 2: The alert links do not open in the Web Console after Service Pack 1 is applied for Operations Manager.
  • Issue 3: The Distributed Applications (DA) health state is incorrect in Diagram View.
  • Issue 4: The Details Widget does not display data when it is viewed by using the SharePoint webpart.
  • Issue 5: The renaming of the SCOM group in Group View will not work if the user language setting is not "English (United States)."
  • Issue 6: An alert description that includes multibyte UTF-8 characters is not displayed correctly in the Alert Properties view.
  • Issue 7: The Chinese (Taiwan) Web Console displays a wrong message.
  • Issue 8: The APM to IntelliTrace conversion is broken when alerts are generated from dynamic module events
  • Issue 9: Connectivity issues to System Center services are fixed.
  • Issue 10: High CPU problems are experienced in Operations Manager UI.
  • Issue 11: Query processor runs out of internal resources and cannot produce a query plan when you open Dashboard views.
  • Issue 12: Path details are missing for "Objects by Performance."

Operations Manager – UNIX and Linux Monitoring (Management Pack Update) (KB2828653)

  • Issue 1: The Solaris agent could run out of file descriptors when many multi-version file systems (MVFS) are mounted.
  • Issue 2: Logical and physical disks are not discoverable on AIX-based computers when a disk device file is contained in a subdirectory.
  • Issue 3: Rules and monitors that were created by using the UNIX/Linux Shell Command templates do not contain some parameters.
  • Issue 4: Process monitors that were created by the UNIX/Linux Process Monitoring template cannot save in an existing management.
  • Issue 5: The Linux agent cannot install on a CentOS or Oracle Linux host by using FIPS version of OpenSSL 0.9.8.

Service Manager (KB2828618)

  • Issue 1: If the number of "Manual Activities" displayed in the Service Manager Portal exceeds a certain limit, page loads may time out.
  • Issue 2: Incorrect cleanup of a custom related type causes grooming on the EntityChangeLog table to stall.
  • Issue 3: Service requests complete unexpectedly because of a race condition between workflows.
  • Issue 4: The console crashes when you double-click a parent incident link on an extended incident class.
  • Issue 5: PowerShell tasks that were created by using the authoring tool do not run because of an incorrect reference.
  • Issue 6: The Exchange management pack is stuck in a Pending state after management pack synchronization.

Orchestrator (KB2828616)

  • Issue 1: The Monitor SNMP Trap activity publishes incorrect values for strings when a Microsoft SNMP Trap Service connection is used.
  • Issue 2: Inconsistent results when you use Orchestrator to query an Oracle database.

Data Protection Manager (KB2822782)

  • Issue 1: An express full backup job in SC 2012 SP1 may stop responding on a Hyper-V cluster that has 600 or more VMs.
  • Issue 2: When a SC 2012 SP1 item level restore operation is performed on a SharePoint the restore is unsuccessful.
  • Issue 3: When you open DPM on a computer that is running SC 2012 SP1, the Welcome screen does not indicate the correct version of SP1.
  • Issue 4: When you perform a disconnected installation of the DPM 2012 SP1 agent, you receive an error message.
  • Issue 5: When you use DPM 2012 SP1 for tape backup, a checksum error may occur when the WriteMBC workflow is run.
  • Issue 6: Backups of CSV volumes may be unsuccessful with metadata file corruption in DPM 2012 SP1.
  • Issue 7: The DPM console may require more time to open than expected when many client systems are being protected.

The Most Under-Appreciated & Under-Used Feature Of VMM: VM Templates

Over the years, I’ve talked to people who own VMM and I’ve seen a few customer installations.  Way too often I see one of these two things:

  • An empty VMM library
  • People are not deploying VMs from VM templates

The VMM Library

Adding files to the library is easy: you use Windows Explorer to copy the files into the share.  If you can’t do that, maybe a job in IT isn’t appropriate?  The library in the console refreshes every 1 hour by default.  You can wait, or you can right-click the library and force a refresh.  Now you have a repository of reusable contents.

Personally, that’s where I like to keep the ISOs that I download from Microsoft and others.  Some software doesn’t come as an ISO, so I’ll use some free utility to “burn” and ISO with the installer on it.  You’ll find a nicely populated MSSCVMMLibrary folder in our lab at work, and on my Windows 8 (Client Hyper-V) laptop.

To save space, WS2012 deduplication is enabled on the library volume in the VMM server.

This is also where I keep my VHDs.  But more on that Smile

VM Templates

Microsoft has a different way of thinking about VM Templates than VMware.  From what I am told by VMware customers, every virtual machine template in vSphere consists of a VMDK and some metadata.  It’s the Ghost approach – lots of images.

Microsoft went a more modular route.  A VM Template is made up of:

  • A linked VHD/X file: generalised by Sysprep if it’s got a Windows OS
  • An OS profile: how do you want to customise the OS deployment in the VHD/X?  This includes computer naming, local admin password, roles/services, etc.
  • A hardware profile: how do you want to customise the virtual hardware spec of the VM?  This is the entire set including, processors, memory, disks, network (and VM network connection, etc), and so on.

You can have a single WS2012 VHD/X.  You can create lots of OS profiles.  You can create lots of hardware profiles.  And you can create lots of VM templates.  You link:

  • A VHD/X.  A single VHD/X can be reused many times.
  • A OS profile: maybe some VM templates will be for basic servers, some will be file servers (with all the storage stuff enabled), some will be web servers (with IIS enabled), and some will be .NET application servers (with .NET Framework enabled).
  • A Hardware Profile: How should this type of server be specced?  Maybe SQL Servers should have Startup RAM of 1024 GB and 2 additional VHDX files on the SCSI controller?

The concept here is that you can create lots of VM templates from a single VHD/X file.  That means you have a single, already patched and hotfixed, VHDX file for every kind of VM deployment with that OS.  Single image deployment – it’s the achievable dream in OS deployment … and it’s really easy with VMM if you bother to try.  You can deploy new VMs directly from your VM templates.  Maybe you make no changes in the wizard, but you can also further customise the VMs at this point.

Now deployment is easy.  For example, I need to build a lab for a series of events on WS2012 non-Hyper-V features for the next few weeks.  I could waste a lot of time by deploying lots of VMs, not from templates, patch the suckers, customise hardware, lots of reboots, and enabling features/roles, and lots more reboots.  Or I could be clever, and build a single VM, update the patching, turn it into a template (power it down, right click, Create VM Template), create more custom VM templates from that single VHDX file, and deploy my lab really quickly from that.  Which one do you think I’ll be doing? Smile

Give yourself a couple of hours.  Create a couple of VM templates based on your most common deployments, and you’ll save tonnes of time later on.

BTW, you can’t do self-service without templates, and you can have a cloud (of any type) without self-service.