Install a Windows Azure Cloud Right in Your Datacenter
If you aren't familiar with the Microsoft Windows Azure Pack, you should be. It's one of Microsoft's newest solutions for taking what Redmond's created with its Windows Azure public cloud and bringing it -- at no charge -- to your datacenter. Call it "private cloud" (ugh) or call it "better way to run a datacenter with less overhead"; the results can be impressive.
Windows Azure Pack (Redmond's calling it WAP, cuz, you know, acronyms are good) integrates with your existing Microsoft System Center (2012 and R2) and Windows Server infrastructure to give you Windows Azure-like management capabilities right in your own building.
It essentially gives you a Web-based administrator portal that looks and functions like Microsoft's own Windows Azure public cloud service, except its running on Windows Server in your datacenter. For example, to deploy a new virtual machine (VM), you log in, click a few buttons, pick a VM template from a "gallery" of sorts (that you've set up with your images), and you're off and running. The current WAP release supports Web sites, VMs, service bus (an intra-application messaging infrastructure), virtual networks, and both SQL Server and MySQL databases.
It's billed as self-service management. Users of the portal have a "subscription," and they can "spend" their money on whatever services they like. It's also multi-tenant, meaning an enterprise could set up independent portals for different divisions of the organization, if desired; services providers could set one up for each customer.
I bet some of you just had a fit: "God, no, we're not giving the marketing department permission to spin up their own virtual machines!" Maybe not. Maybe the marketing department's subscription is physically managed by someone in IT, who handles it on behalf of the department. But it's funny: IT leaders have for years referred to users as "customers." Well, isn't the customer always right? That is, if the customer's willing to pay for something, should we let them pay for it? Isn't the whole "services provider model" (something else high-speaking IT leaders have been on about for years) all about acting like... well, like a services provider?
Microsoft's whole vision for the datacenter of the future -- OK, "private cloud" -- is less a technical shift and more of a management shift, something I don't think people have completely absorbed. The idea is to take most of the IT team out of the loop for business-decision making. Not all of the IT team: You still need tech-savvy folks helping the rest of the company to make smart decisions. But that decision is made without involving the entire IT team from the help desk on up, and once the decision is made, actual human beings don't have to get their fingers sticky in order to implement the decision. The IT team's main job is to put systems in place (of which WAP could be a part) that implement made decisions more or less automatically. WAP is, in part, designed to help make it easier and faster to implement decisions once they've been made. It's still a pretty technical interface; if you don't know a Web site from a hole in the ground, you're not going to be useful in the portal. You still need technical folks to push the buttons -- but they don't need to be expensive technical folks. The expensive technical folks make the buttons.
Over the next few months, I'm going to use this column to try and outline what Microsoft's up to, from an IT management perspective. You all know the company is doing "cloud-first engineering" now, which means you're basically going to be getting versions of the tools Redmond develops for itself and Windows Azure. You don't have to manage your IT investment like Microsoft manages Windows Azure; you don't have to adopt the services provider model. But the tools won't work as well if you don't, so I want to make sure you've got a clear understanding of Microsoft's vision and direction, so that you can make an informed decision for your organization. Stay tuned.
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.