With Microsoft’s enterprise IT dominance increasingly threatened by the growth of cloud, consumer technology and bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, the software giant is starting to push harder with its own products for mobile device management and cloud computing.
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This week, some 5,000 IT administrators gathered for Microsoft’s Management Summit in Las Vegas, to hear the latest on System Center, private and hybrid cloud, mobile device management (MDM), and Hyper-V virtualisation.
Microsoft hopes to persuade enterprises it has the right platform and tools for the era of cloud computing and BYOD, where users access business data on personal smartphones and tablets.
In the opening keynote Brad Anderson, corporate vice-president of Windows Server and System Center, took constant shots at virtualisation rival VMware, referred to indirectly as “the other guys”. Case studies from companies such as Domino’s Pizzas in the US, which is migrating to Hyper-V, show higher density, faster performance and greater reliability, he claimed. “Microsoft workloads run best on Microsoft’s hypervisor,” he said.
There is no doubting the momentum behind Hyper-V, which is now getting strong third-party support, but it is apparent from delegates that VMware still has a strong hold.
“The jury’s still out,” said Chris Harney, president of the Virtual Technology User Group. He sees strong interest in Hyper-V, but few migrations so far. Why the interest? “It’s coming from the top,” he said. “Why am I buying two hypervisors? It’s always good to have choices in your datacentre.”
One of Hyper-V’s biggest users is Microsoft itself, since it is the hypervisor for Azure, the company’s public cloud platform. After years of being suspiciously quiet about Azure adoption, Microsoft is beginning to talk about its growth, as well as that of Office 365, which offers hosted Exchange and SharePoint, alongside other services.
After years of being suspiciously quiet about Azure adoption, Microsoft is beginning to talk about its growth
Azure storage is doubling in capacity every six to nine months, Anderson said; 420,000 domains are now managed in Azure Active Directory (also used by Office 365), which has just come out of preview into general availability. Office 365 is now used in some measure by over 20% of enterprises worldwide.
In System Center, Microsoft is drawing attention to the mobile device management capabilities introduced in Service Pack 1, released in January, which adds support for Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, iOS and Android devices via integration with the cloud-based InTune management service.
“Modern devices should be managed from the cloud,” said Anderson.
Features include application deployment via a self-service portal as well as remote wipe for lost or stolen devices, although Android support is less advanced than for iOS or Windows Phone 8, and Blackberry is not supported at all.
Microsoft made a couple of acquisitions in October 2012, both of which were a talking point at the Management Summit.
One was StorSimple, a company which offers a storage appliance that integrates cloud and on-premise storage. Cloud integrated storage (CiS) lets you access storage via the standard iSCSI protocol that is partly on-premise and partly in the cloud.
Performance is good for most workloads, thanks to a technique called data tiering, which places the most active data on the fastest storage (local SSD), less active data on local SAS drives and the coldest data in the cloud. It also offers cloud backup and archiving.
The other acquisition was Phone Factor, which offers two- or three-factor authentication via automated phone calls or text messages rather than using dedicated token devices. This approach is ideal for adding two-factor authentication to public cloud services, and rumours are swirling about how something like this may come shortly to Outlook.com, Microsoft’s consumer cloud email offering.
It would make sense if Microsoft were to integrate these services into Windows Server and Active Directory, although there are no specific announcements yet.
Microsoft’s overall strategy is based on the belief that enterprises need private or hybrid clouds, a supposition readily confirmed by the companies represented at the summit.
System Center 2012, which focuses on creating and managing private clouds, has struck a chord with many organisations despite its complexity. There was also strong attendance at sessions on Active Directory synchronisation and single sign-on, and virtual networking for integrating internal networks with Azure.
The pieces are coming together and Server 2012, as the foundation operating system is well-liked, but there is also recognition that Microsoft’s private cloud solution is not yet mature.
Equifax, a credit intelligence specialist based in Atlanta, Georgia, is adopting System Center and Hyper-V for its private cloud. The goal is that users requiring computer resources will be able to self-provision through automated systems and a company portal.
“It is not an uncomplicated journey,” said executives working on the project, who also expressed frustration that the technology in Microsoft’s public cloud offering, Azure, is different and in some respects ahead of what is available in System Center: “We want to see convergence.”
Nevertheless, they believe that even today System Center delivers significant benefits: “The win that we’ll have on being able to provision in a self-provisioning way is huge.”