As expected, Microsoft revealed the future of its private cloud strategy Jan. 17, 2012, in a webcast that officially debuted the long-awaited System Center 2012. According to Microsoft, System Center 2012 represents the first platform that allows providers to efficiently build private clouds and deliver business applications across both private and public cloud infrastructure. Lucky for you, the System Center 2012 Release Candidate is available now.

You know what? Microsoft's press release actually does a pretty solid job boiling down the value proposition, so I'll let Redmond speak for itself:
System Center 2012 integrates eight separate component products into one unified solution, streamlining installation and reducing the time it takes to deploy from days down to hours. The number of product versions has also been simplified, so customers will be able to choose between the Standard and Datacenter editions of the product, based on their virtualization requirements. And because System Center 2012 Datacenter edition licensing covers unlimited virtual machines, customers can continually grow their private clouds without additional licensing costs for virtualizing their infrastructure and applications.

Okay, so no industry-changing new features in System Center 2012. But as VM licensing become more of a major concern among service providers, it's nice to see Microsoft pre-empt the entire issue with unlimited VMs. And paring the product versions down to two likely will make life a lot simpler for service providers who choose to go the System Center route.

In the press release, early System Center 2012 customer Lufthansa Systems also praised the solution's roadmap for going to the Windows Azure public cloud.

The official Microsoft Server and Cloud platform site has more technical details, including a downloadable evaluation version. We'll be watching for updates on Microsoft's cloud strategy, so keep watching TalkinCloud.