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TechMentor Panel: A Windows Crystal Ball

As Microsoft steadily shifts its focus to the cloud and ramps up release cadences for all of its code, the future of Windows is a pressing question.

At the TechMentor conference this week in Redmond, Wash., a panel of expert speakers gazed into their own crystal balls to assess the future of the operating system, both for end users and in on-premises servers. Their lively discussion touched on controversies surrounding the Windows 10 update cycle, looked ahead to features coming in Windows Server 2019 and exchanged best bets for IT pros to keep their skills current.

TechMentor co-chairs Sami Laiho and Dave Kawula moderated the panel on Wednesday that featured session presenters Peter De Tender, Petri Paavola and Orin Thomas, all of whom are current or recent Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs). The TechMentor conferences are a production of Redmondmag.com's parent company, 1105 Media Inc.

Laiho steered the discussion into the recent controversies over the Windows 10 update and patch process, where simmering discontent among administrators responsible for patching systems came to a head with the problematic July security updates.

Several panelists agreed that Microsoft's fast cadence of security fixes and feature updates was great in theory, but that IT pros justifiably lack confidence in the updates due to recent events.

"The goal has to always be that the update needs to be fast. It should be just, 'OK, now I have the big update, this may take a few minutes more time, but everything is working.' In real life, we have been seeing many problems with the new versions," Paavola said. "Hopefully in the next one or two years, we won't need to have these conversations."

Thomas argued that in addition to improving the patch release quality over time, Microsoft needs to improve its messaging for enterprises about the importance of features in the twice-a-year Windows 10 releases.

"If the messaging was getting there as to why these new features are important, that would be good. The reality is, most organizations aren't necessarily using all of the existing features, so giving them new features isn't necessarily a win," Thomas said. "I think on the enterprise side, we've still got to get people using things like Credential Guard and Device Guard and Windows Defender ATP."

Thomas also believes Microsoft could reduce resistance by making the current update process more flexible. "One of the other challenges around updates has been also the feeling of lack of control over when the updates install," he said. While Thomas says Microsoft is justified in its concern for keeping users updated, especially on security fixes, the current attitude is grating: "You're getting this update and we're going to install it when we want, and you've got no choice in the matter."

Swinging the pendulum back a little bit so users have a notification icon in their taskbar, where they can slightly delay an update, might go a long way, he said.

Earlier, moderator Kawula queried Thomas about what elements of the on-premises Windows Server 2019 release, scheduled for later this year, he was most excited about.

Thomas highlighted improvements to the Guarded Fabric/Shielded Virtual Machine features and container features that first appeared in Windows Server 2016.

"Not only are you going to be able to run shielded Windows VMs and encrypted Windows VMs, you're going to be able to better run shielded VMs running Linux and encrypted VMs running Linux," he said. "We're going to see much more of this story about Windows Server being the fabric on which you can run your heterogeneous workloads. Windows Server 2019 is very much going to be a great environment if you want to run on-prem Linux virtual machines. Not only that, you can install Windows Subsystem for Linux on Windows Server 2019, and you're going to be able to run Linux containers side-by-side with Windows containers."

Those types of improvements represent an important way to think about future on-premises releases of Windows, Thomas suggested. While he predicted Microsoft will continue to release robust Windows Server products for years, expect them to be evolutionary. The revolutionary new features will probably be reserved for Azure.

Discussing skills that IT professionals need to hone to keep current, Laiho emphasized that the critical technical abilities for forward-looking administrators are PowerShell, PKI and IPv6. "And you have to accept the cloud," he said.

De Tender agreed that IT jobs will remain relevant, so long as those who hold the jobs tweak their on-prem skills for the cloud. "You still need architecture design. If you're the network expert today, if you deploy workloads in Azure -- no matter what virtual machines, PaaS, IaaS -- you still need networking concepts. If you're the SQL DBA or any flavor DBA...if you move your database to the cloud, you still need to have your database knowledge," he said. "It's not that your job will somehow all of a sudden stop, but you need to be flexible, you need to adapt."

Posted by Scott Bekker on 08/09/2018 at 3:46 PM


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