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Re-Imagining the Windows Administrator

There's no longer a firm dividing line between IT and development skills -- especially not with Microsoft System Center 2012. Greg Shields explains why.

IT folks have long divided into two distinct camps: developers who are generally charged with creating things and administrators responsible for keeping those things running.

That work-breakdown structure has existed thus far because it generally makes sense. Developers and their tools can focus on crafting apps that solve business requirements. Administrators and their tools can then manage each app's care and feeding once delivered.

Unsurprisingly, separate toolsets beget divergent skill sets. Rare is the admin with experience in .NET or C#, or one who has ventured much past merely installing Visual Studio. Rarer still are developers who grok the complexities of administering apps in dynamic and heterogeneous datacenters.

At fault might be the physical server itself. In the old days when "an app" and "a server" were functionally the same thing, developers could code with a reasonably certain set of assumptions: Resources such as memory and compute were known values; resource contention was generally nonexistent (except where created by the app itself); and admins could be expected to follow instructions once apps were thrown over the wall.

Times Are Changing
Virtualization has changed the relationship between IT pros and developers. Physical servers are virtual and co-located with others. Resources are shared, often at layers far below the visibility of the prototypical developer and his apps. Also, admins are savvier, in part because they have to be. When it comes to performance and capacity management, virtualization has both complicated datacenter operations and optimized them.

A further evolution stems from advances in the not-quite-coding, but not-button-clicking-either tools that bridge the gap between traditional admin and dev roles. Windows PowerShell is one of these tools, but even Windows PowerShell itself is but a framework for an entirely new post-Windows PowerShell generation.

This generation is known as "DevOps," and in the universe of Windows systems administration, its harbinger is Microsoft System Center 2012.

A Gap Needing Bridging
The DevOps movement intends to increase cooperation between IT's disparate development and operations halves. Such coordination isn't just procedural or cultural. Activities between the halves also are being increasingly facilitated by shared toolsets that extend each half's reach into the other's traditional purview.

System Center 2012 -- and most notably System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) -- offers a perfect example of one of these new shared toolsets. Dig shallowly and you'll quickly surmise that VMM 2012 is not your father's Hyper-V manager. In earlier versions a virtual administrator armed with VMM could deploy new VMs from scratch or via VM templates. Those versions offered tools for managing each VM's lifecycle, from creation to updating and maintenance activities and, ultimately, to decommissioning.

Notably, these activities in early VMM were fundamentally VM-centric. VMs were the management object; activities were performed on VMs. That focus met the needs of the admin, while entirely missing the needs of the developer and the business itself.

This focus on the app developer raises the question: Where does the Windows admin role now lie? In a world of self-served apps and developers acting like admins, what's a Windows admin to do? The answer lies in the building blocks themselves. Any VMM service is entirely unmanageable without a solid and well-managed library of constituent components -- a fact you'll quickly learn as you try to build your very first VMM service.

Managing those building blocks and playing caretaker to resources -- not just servers -- is perhaps the new mission of the Windows admin. It's a job that is by no means easy, and in this new era of DevOps presents a career path toward the next generation's Windows admin.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.


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