How to Work with an SCCM Tech Preview Lab

Previews aren’t just for moviegoers. Administrators can explore upcoming attractions in System Center Configuration Manager with the help of a lab environment.

It’s a great idea to have a Tech Preview Lab to get a quick glimpse of future features. Whether you’re a novice getting started with the device management product or an expert who wants to stay ahead of the learning curve, using an SCCM Tech Preview Lab is a way to hone your administrative skills. . It is also useful to have a laboratory in place to test new developments before implementing them in the production environment.

Back to Basics: What is the SCCM Tech Preview?

Microsoft began providing technical preview builds of SCCM in mid-2015 to get customer feedback on upcoming features.

SCCM has two channels: Technical Preview and Current Branch. The current branch release is supported by Microsoft and designed for production environments, while technical previews are intended for testing outside of production.

Microsoft offers a technical preview edition every month with new features that may or may not be coming to future releases of SCCM. In my experience, almost every feature from the Tech Preview eventually appears in the current branch.

How do SCCM Tech Previews differ from current branch releases?

Because technical previews are separate from the current branch, they are not licensed for use in production environments and are therefore not recommended for use outside of a lab environment.

Other differences between the Tech Preview and the current branch releases include:

  • Microsoft supports primary, not secondary, central administration or multiple primary sites.
  • Versions expire after 90 days.
  • Only 10 clients are supported.
  • It is not necessary to have a product key.
  • It is not possible to upgrade a technical preview environment to the current branch.

Admins can continue to use a Tech Preview Lab before the 90-day limit by updating to a later version via an in-console update.

Best Practices for an SCCM Tech Preview Lab Setup

For the best experience, administrators should follow these best practices:

  • Create a simple hierarchy that approximates a real-life scenario.
  • Automate as much as possible to rebuild the lab quickly.
  • Provision the host machine and guest VMs with sufficient resources, including RAM and vCPUs.
  • Run virtual machines on a device with a solid state drive (SSD).

Advantages and disadvantages of an on-premises lab versus an Azure SCCM lab

Administrators have several options for deploying an SCCM Tech Preview lab, but the two main choices are to install it locally or build it in the Azure cloud platform. A local installation has been the typical setup for several years, and while still the simplest solution, a cloud-based SCCM lab has some advantages.

Benefits of an Azure Lab include:

  • no need for the cost and support associated with local infrastructure; and
  • relatively easy reinstallation if necessary.

The disadvantages of an SCCM technical preview lab in Azure are:

  • An Azure subscription is required;
  • less control of the underlying infrastructure; and
  • an operating cost for virtual machines.

Administrators will need to monitor the VMs used in Azure Lab and monitor charges.

How do I create a Tech Preview Lab for SCCM?
The following requirements (for the purposes of this article, the latest supported OS and SQL will be used) are needed for an SCCM Tech Preview Lab:

  • Hyper-V host, which can be a dedicated host or on a laptop;
  • Hyper-V guest machines;
  • Windows Server 2022;
  • SQL Server 2019;
  • domain controller;
  • account with administrator permissions; and
  • the latest version of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK).

For a locally installed lab, configure a Hyper-V host with guest VMs on the laptop or a separate server. Since the Tech Preview Lab has scale limitations, you can keep system requirements to a minimum.

How to Create an On-Premises SCCM Tech Preview Lab

First, download the Tech Preview from the Microsoft Evaluation Center at the following link.

Before installing the Tech Preview Workbench, install the prerequisites, which are the same as a current affiliate workbench and available on this link.

At a high level, these are the required activities:

  • Configure a Hyper-V host with an external virtual switch.
  • Create at least three virtual machines: one for Active Directory, one for System Center Configuration Manager, and a Windows 11 guest.
  • Create a system management container in Active Directory with ADSI Edit.
  • Extend Active Directory
  • Install SQL Server 2019.
  • Install SQL Server 2019 Reporting Services.
  • Install a primary site using the SCCM technical preview media.
  • Install Windows 11 test clients.

As with current branch releases, download a Technical Preview baseline from the Microsoft Evaluation Center and then update to the latest release.

How to deploy an Azure-based SCCM Tech Preview Lab

The easiest way to set up an SCCM tech lab in Azure is to use an Azure template from Microsoft that sets up the necessary components: domain controller, primary site, and remote site server with a distribution point and management point role .

The requirements to deploy an SCCM Tech Preview lab in Azure are:

  • an Azure subscription
  • a Standard_LRS storage account
  • two Standard_B2s virtual machines
  • a Standard_B2ms virtual machine

The Azure model is here.

To install an SCCM tech lab using the Azure template, tap Deploy to Azure and enter information specific to your environment to start the process.

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