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Microsoft Execs Offer the Case for Hybrid Cloud

Microsoft held a Webinar on Thursday for the press on the topic of Microsoft Azure and the hybrid cloud.

The Webinar, which included Q&A presentations by Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate vice president for Windows Server and System Center, and Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow, was a typical marketing pitch that didn't break any new ground. However, it did contain a sprinkling of Microsoft stats for those keeping score.

For instance, Anderson put in an early plug for Microsoft's cloud as an innovative push.

Brad Anderson

"When you are deploying hundreds of thousands of servers a year, and you are making tens of thousands, fifty-thousand-plus network changes a day, you have got to learn; you've got to be agile; you have to innovate," he said. "You constantly have to drive down costs and try to drive your ability to adjust to all of that."

Other Microsoft stats included in the talk:

  • Office 365 has been licensed by more than 25 percent of organizations worldwide (Anderson)
  • Office 365's identity system, Active Directory, powers 95 percent of identity use (Russinovich)
  • Microsoft hosts more than 200 services (Anderson)
  • Windows Intune has "10,000-plus unique customers" that are using it in production environments and paying for it (Anderson)
  • Windows Server has more than 50 million instances deployed around the world (Anderson)

Microsoft's Cloud Vision
Hybrid cloud was defined during the talk as an evolution of on-premises operations. It arose from a need to connect somewhere else, according to Russinovich.

A key theme offered up by both Anderson and Russinovich was that Microsoft's "cloud first" approach has allowed Microsoft to deliver benefits to customers that have relied on traditional premises-based Microsoft server technologies. Anderson even suggested that the cloud-first approach was contributing to Microsoft's new faster software release cycles, particularly with releases of Windows Server and SQL Server.

"One of the reasons we've been able to do that is because we try out and prove a bunch of the capabilities in the cloud first," he said. "So, as part of our engineering process, we will literally take and we'll develop and deploy things into Azure; prove it, try it out, refine it, harden it and then we'll deliver it down to Windows Server and into SQL, as an example."

Anderson added that Microsoft doesn't have a lot of time to stabilize these releases. "So look what's happen with our betas and our preview periods -- how they have compressed." The cloud is allowing Microsoft to deliver more value at a faster rate and the releases have been at the highest quality ever because they have been proved first in Microsoft Azure at scale, Anderson contended.

Organizations may still be struggling to keep up with that accelerated release pace. They now have until August 12 to install the new Windows Server 2012 R2 Update and establish a new operating system baseline in order to continue to get updates. Microsoft recently offered organizations a four-month reprieve to that effect.

Cloud-First Benefits
Anderson and Russinovich cited a few examples where Microsoft's cloud testing has benefitted its customers running premises-based Microsoft products.

Russinovich cited "boot from VHD" as a capability that started in Microsoft Azure first and then was taken back into Windows Server and System Center. He also mentioned that Hyper-V support for more than eight cores was first started in Microsoft Azure and it was then made available for on-premises instances. Similarly, Microsoft's plans for SQL Server in the cloud came back into the "boxed product," he contended.

Anderson noted that running Web sites is one of the most common workloads seen on Window Azure. He said that "we did some innovation that allows us to have more than 5,000 Web sites running on a single Windows Server OS instance" and that capability was first pioneered on Microsoft Azure and then brought on premises. The Windows Azure Pack allows organizations to have the same portal experience with Microsoft Azure and use it for their on-premises clouds, he added.

Top Cloud Drivers
One of the biggest drivers for organizations adopting a hybrid cloud model is "dev test," according to Russinovich. He said that once organizations have an app ready after testing it on the cloud, they can then bring it back for use in the premises environment. Backup to the cloud is a second big driver for hybrid cloud deployments. Russinovich said that organizations may be concerned with data sovereignty when using the cloud, but they can encrypt their data on the way up to Microsoft's cloud.

Anderson concurred on dev test being a prime hybrid cloud driver. He added that organizations also are engaged in "lift and shift," in which they take their on-premises apps and put them in the cloud. Others are using Microsoft's cloud for disaster recovery and high availability, using features such as Hyper-V Recovery Manager, or they may tap the cloud for backup, replacing the use of tapes.

Anderson also touted Microsoft's StorSimple management solution for hybrid cloud storage. Microsoft completed its StorSimple acquisition in late 2012, but it's been rather quiet about it ever since.

"What StorSimple does is it basically gives you a bottomless datacenter," Anderson said. "And so it allows you to take advantage of cloud integrated storage. The actual delivery of it…it's an appliance and it's got multiple tiers of storage in there, so there's spinning media, there's SSDs. But then you also have a third tier, which is Azure Storage. And so you are able to put that in your datacenter and you automatically move the cold blocks of data back into Azure -- you want to keep only the blocks that are hot there locally. And so you get incredible performance and you get that backup and disaster recovery into the cloud and you get it at a very economical price."

The IaaS to PaaS Transition
Russinovich and Anderson both argued that Microsoft's cloud approach, which started as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering and then incorporated infrastructure-as-as-service (IaaS) capability, would prove helpful in avoiding "vendor lock-in," which is where an organization is stuck with using a single service provider. Russinovich added that there's a greater likelihood of vendor lock-in if a vendor just has public cloud offerings. Part of Microsoft's strategic vision is to help its customer move from IaaS to PaaS, he added.

Mark Russinovich

"We started Azure as being purely PaaS and what we learned as we talked to enterprises is that they weren't ready to jump to PaaS and needed a bridge to the cloud, and so that's when we turned our attention and focused on IaaS," Russinovich said. "One of the strategic differentiators as well for us at this point is that we're going to help enterprises make that transition from IaaS to PaaS at the pace they want to move."

Russinovich described those support efforts as deriving from a "blending of PaaS and IaaS." The capability is emerging with some of Microsoft Azure's IaaS extensions. Examples include third-party monitoring extensions, as well as the ability to port code.

The top considerations on IaaS include compatibility, consistency, enterprise capabilities and security, plus no vendor lock-in, according to Anderson.

"Cloud is about agility and choice," Anderson said. He also emphasized that Microsoft offers "enterprise ready" solutions to its customers.

"Today, we operate more than 200 services that are running at incredible scale," Anderson said. "Hundreds of millions users that are using it are constantly under attack. We have had to learn over the last 10 to 15 years what it means to secure those. I think we do a very good job of that. We've secured our services, we've secured Azure, and Mark talked about the different certifications we've done on that. Also, part of the enterprise there is the fact that we have an SLA [service level agreement] that we back financially."

He added that security is another enterprise concern that gets addressed with Microsoft Azure.

"But then in these areas where we're doing backup and disaster recovery, we encrypt all of the data locally before it's sent up. It's encrypted on the wire; in transit; it's encrypted in Azure…. So, rest assured, all of your data, all of the things you put up in Azure, are secure."

Some of the talk critiqued competitors. Amazon Web Services was said by Russinovich to not be investing in anything on premises. Anderson claimed that VMware had "no partner focus" and that it "doesn't have a public cloud."

The IT Job Question
Perhaps one of the more crucial questions for IT pros is how adopting the cloud affects their operations, and even their jobs. Anderson sort of addressed that issue.

"Today, what we see happening often is IT organizations feel that hosters and the public cloud are a threat," Anderson said. "So you have 'shadow IT,' where maybe the line of business or maybe dev test are going around IT because they're getting the level of service or a level of agility from the public cloud that they're not getting on premises."

Anderson suggested that IT should just look at the public cloud as "the model and the benchmark," asking if they can deliver the same sort of agility. He suggested IT could bring it all together and devise a strategy for the company about exactly what the hybrid cloud should be.

In any case, the cloud will find you, Russinovich seemed to argue.

"I think resistance is definitely futile in this case," he said. "If you're going to close your eyes to it, like Brad said today, organizations are going to go around you. And I think part of IT's role is ensuring safe operation of the company."

Safe operation means enabling the public cloud with corporate governance, Russinovich explained.

Microsoft's Webinar, "Hybrid Cloud Series -- Episode 1," is now available on demand via this page.

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