Interview: Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate vice-president of Windows Server and System Center

Brad Anderson, head of Windows Server and System Center at Microsoft, talks about the future of the server and management platform

Microsoft is making what its critics would call a somewhat belated push into mobile device management (MDM) and cloud computing, both increasingly critical challenges for IT leaders.

The man in charge is Brad Anderson, corporate vice-president of Windows Server and System Center at Microsoft, and he gave Computer Weekly an exclusive interview during the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas about the future of the server and management platform he oversees.

He began by explaining why Microsoft backs the hybrid cloud concept, despite its added complexity versus a pure cloud or on-premise infrastructure.

“Research shows that 85-90% of organisations plan on using cloud capacity from multiple providers. It’s clear that hybrid cloud is where most organisations are going to be,” he says.

“Now, that is introducing complexity. That’s our role to solve. The work we’re doing is to automatically be able to stretch your network out to a service provider or stretch your network out to Azure and make that as simple as possible,” he adds.

How successful is Microsoft with Azure, given that Amazon seems to dominate infrastructure as a service?

“Think about this massive public cloud that doubles every six months. We’re four times bigger than we were last year,” says Anderson. “What differentiates Microsoft is that we’re making the investments we always have in private cloud and hosted cloud, but we’re also making the investments in public cloud.”

Hyper-V versus VMware

Microsoft’s cloud, whether public or private, is founded on Windows Server and Hyper-V. How is Hyper-V faring against VMware, which is the giant in virtualisation?

“Last year, we saw VMware’s market share peak – it is now in decline. It has dropped three to four points of share since it peaked. Hyper-V is like clockwork, a point of share increase every quarter. We’re seeing it at the 30-31% rate right now; VMware’s at 51-52%, but we’re growing,” he says.

What I see happening is organisations struggling with how they would enable BYOD and still protect the company assets

Brad Anderson, Microsoft

In his keynote speech at the Microsoft Management Summit, Anderson mentioned that products such as Exchange and SQL Server are being optimised to run on Hyper-V. What does that mean?

“The learning and the configuration and the coding that we do to maximise the efficiency and reliability of our public services also applies to our cloud platform on-premise. If you’re running on the VMware stack, you don’t get that benefit. We will be more reliable, more highly available, more efficient because of that virtuous cycle of learning in the public cloud, and bringing to the private,” he says.

If Microsoft optimises its applications for Hyper-V and System Center, is that fair to virtualisation competitors?

“This is not saying we’re doing something that you could not do. If VMware was serious about standing up and hosting these massive services, these massive clouds, it would get some of the same benefit, but it's not doing that,” says Anderson

Bring your own device

The trend for bring your own device (BYOD) strategies is seen as a threat to Microsoft’s dominance of end-user computing in enterprises – but Anderson says the supplier is responding.

“What I see happening is organisations struggling with how they would enable BYOD and still protect the company assets,” he says.

“We want you to be able to set policies based on the user, then the device, and then the network location. So we want to enable BYOD, and we think this is where a lot of the industry will head. But organisations need to have a strategy for how they manage the expanding number of devices.”

Anderson rejects the idea of a separate container on mobile devices, to separate work and personal data, which is the approach taken by BlackBerry 10, and by Samsung with its Knox project.

“I think the container model is just heavy,” he says. “It puts two experiences on the device for the user. We believe that the right way is to put the protection in the actual document itself," he says.

“What these containers are trying to do is to put a fence around all the data. But if that data ever comes out of the fence, it’s not protected. So the right way to protect the data is in the data,” says Anderson, referring to Microsoft’s Information Rights Management technology.

Microsoft is using InTune, its cloud management service, to add new mobile device support to System Center. There is native support for iOS, Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, but Android support still depends on Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). Why is Android is a second-class citizen?

“It’s just a point in time. The architecture is actually quite different. For Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, the System Center team builds the management layer. In iOS there’s an MDM layer that Apple provides,” he says.

“In Android you don’t have that management layer. Samsung has built one, but the strategy we would have is to integrate with what Samsung is doing, but also to have a first-party agent on non-Samsung devices to give us that management layer.

“Android is getting great adoption, but most enterprises have been hesitant to support it, compared with supporting iOS or Windows, because there’s more risk associated with Android. There’s malware that comes through the store, it’s not as tightly buttoned down. That’s the reason why it was third in our prioritisation in terms of support.”

What about Blackberry? “We don’t have a lot of requests coming in to support Blackberry. We see that as an offering that’s losing share.”

Faster updates for Windows Server

Microsoft is talking about a faster release cycle for Windows client, because of the demands of today’s tablet market. How is the company going to manage the evolution of Windows Server, given that it shares the same code?

“As an engineering organisation we have to do work that makes it easier for customers to take the updates we put out and adopt them easily. That has ramifications around ease of deployment – can we get to a point where the upgrade is zero downtime?

“I think the world is going to have to get a little more comfortable with taking updates and upgrades at a faster pace, but the engineering organisations of the world have got to do a better job at making it easy and simple to upgrade with much better compatibility. I look at that as an engineering task that we can take on,” says Anderson.

He concludes by emphasising how Microsoft’s management strategy has changed from the desktop, domain-joined model: “The direction that we are taking is the concept of putting the user at the centre – the device becomes secondary to the user. That’s the fundamental change. 

"Everything centres on the user first, then on the device, and then on the network location. That governs what access a user has. And let me tell you, everything moves towards the cloud and will be delivered as a service.”

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