Windows shops wake up to cloud realities and challenges

IT managers are more comfortable with the private cloud options that Microsoft presented at its annual management confab this week than the public cloud options presented last year.

LAS VEGAS --- The idea of building a private cloud has grown in appeal for many IT shops during the past year. This is particularly true when compared to Microsoft’s previous annual management event, where the company introduced the idea of cloud computing only to be snubbed by Windows administrators and managers.

The reason might have something to do with the fact that there are some tangible cloud products to discuss at the this week's Microsoft Management Summit 2011.

Nothing can compromise network security.

An IT architect for Chevron

"It was a tough pill to swallow last year," said Charlie Maurice, PC support specialist at The University of Wisconsin. "The message was really unclear, all about public cloud ... This year they are saying you don't have to use public cloud; it can be private or hybrid cloud."

Other attendees agreed. "We want to create more automation in our environment so private cloud is appealing, we're working towards that," said Michael Hough, director of data center operations at JTI-Macdonald Corp, the Canadian arm of Japanese Tobacco International. "The public cloud is not an option for us."

Microsoft received that message. Conversations about cloud appeared focused on building private clouds with IT creating services internally for business users to consume. "You are in the service provider role and your users are service consumers," said Brad Anderson, a corporate vice president of management and security at Microsoft, during his keynote.

Anderson described a scenario where IT would create service templates based on pre-defined configuration setting that would automatically deploy services across different clouds. For most Windows administration routines today, this is a high concept.

"It's tough to get your head around this, but we're doing it," said Rob Hansen, IT architect with Deloitte LLP. The multitude of subsidiaries that make up Deloitte have standardized on a set of core infrastructure components that it refers to as its "Global Windows Framework" -- one set of apps, drivers, hardware, tools, management and policies that knit it all together.

"The goal is to get a global app out the door, get it to work once and then it should work everywhere," Hansen added. The IT organization is now able to deliver services to the member firms on a subscription basis. The key driver in bringing about this degree of standardization was getting the CIOs of each subsidiary to meet on a regular basis and agree on the requirements for a common platform.

"This took the longest time," Hansen said.

Next gen System Center gets ready
Microsoft’s Andersen warned IT operations teams that if they didn’t think about delivering services that make it easy for end users to consume capacity from IT "they will go around you." Some IT shops said this wasn’t a threat to them anymore as corporate security policies had quickly caught up with the easy accessibility of cloud services like Amazon Web Services and have strictly forbidden their use.

Meanwhile, Microsoft bets that while it might be several years behind Amazon Web Services in public cloud computing, it is much better positioned to pull the majority of IT organizations into the cloud from the inside, out. 

To that end Microsoft discussed new products and features in the System Center product family, including Microsoft System Center 2012, the beta availability of Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012, and project Concero, a new System Center feature that allows administrators to manage applications across public and private clouds.

According to Ananthanarayan Sundaran, cloud platform marketing manager at Microsoft, Concero will release to manufacturing in the second half of 2011, albeit with limited functionality. The initial release will let administrators move applications from one VMM cluster to another on a private cloud and from one Azure subscription to another in the public cloud as well as see applications that are running in both environments, from a single view. However it will not support moving applications between private and public clouds and there's no telling how long that feature will take to ship.

Sundaran said that the release of the Windows Azure Platform Appliance (WAPA) will be key to enabling the hybrid cloud management feature in Concero. The appliance will give IT organizations Windows Azure in a box making it easier to connect to the Windows Azure public cloud service as the same software will be on both ends of the pipe.

However, these appliances were discussed almost a year ago and are still not shipping. Sundaran said this was because the Azure cloud software was written to run on a minimum of 900 servers and scaling that down to run on, say, 200 servers, was really hard.

"We're working on those SKUs, it's a lot of engineering and testing," he said. Ebay, Fujitsu, HP and Dell are waiting in the wings to sell the Azure appliances when they finally ship.

Still, this kind of hybrid cloud computing strategy where users manage applications across a private and public cloud computing environment is way off the map for most IT organizations today.

"This model of cloud assumes bandwidth and this can be a problem for us," said an IT architect for Chevron, who declined to be identified. "Oil is in bad places where you don't have bandwidth," he said. Moreover he said his audit team would have something to say about it if he even suggested public cloud. "Nothing can compromise network security," he said.

Softcorp, a Microsoft reseller in Brazil echoed these sentiments. "Microsoft does not have a data center in Brazil, the closest is Mexico, so online services are limited due to latency," said Mauro Hiroshi Sato, director of services at Softcorp. He added that Amazon and Google do have data centers in Brazil, and he uses their services to host customer extranets and portals.

"Microsoft's business model is changing, but in many places of the world they are constrained by infrastructure," he said.

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of Contact her at [email protected].

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