Microsoft Takes a New Approach to the Cloud

Microsoft is leveraging existing products and revamping others to bring multiple flavors of the cloud to businesses seeking an IT paradigm shift.

REDMOND, Wash.-"Cloud" was the big word at Microsoft's recent Private Cloud Reviewers' Workshop here. There were many other words uttered, such as System Center 2012, Windows Azure, Hyper-V and so forth, but "cloud" seemed to be spoken the most.

However, whenever presenters during the event-which ran the week of Jan. 9-mentioned the cloud, they were really talking about much more than standard view of cloud technology. Microsoft's utterances of a word that has come to mean many different things to many people was meant to clarify, not further confuse. Simply put, the term "cloud" was meant to encourage, not blur visions of future IT.

In the keynote session of the workshop, Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business unit, probably explained it best by showing that the cloud (at least in Microsoft's view) is all about optimizing business. Anderson said clouds (public, private or hybrid) share four common technologies: virtualization, identity, management and development. He said it is that gang of technologies Microsoft uses to build public and private clouds.

Microsoft's public clouds are part of the Windows Azure platform, while the private clouds fall under the mantle of Windows Server and Microsoft System Center. Anderson said private and public clouds have been distinct and separate entities in Microsoft's view, and that Microsoft's current tool set does not support moving from a public cloud to a private cloud or vice versa seamlessly, further highlighting the distinction between the two.

According to Anderson, System Center 2012 will become the platform for provisioning, managing and deploying private cloud technologies using Microsoft technology, and that the software giant has put significant effort into designing private cloud capabilities into platform.

During the event here, Microsoft engineers demonstrated many of the new capabilities that System Center 2012 will offer IT managers, and attendees were given hands-on exercises to further help define how System Center 2012 will fit into the management of private clouds.

Anderson said the primary ideologies System Center 2012 brings to the data center include a flexible and cost-effective infrastructure that works with what IT administrators already own and know, and applications that ensure predictable service levels with deep application insight. In addition, the platform will offer a common toolset for managing the cloud environment.

These ideologies will help enterprises better leverage System Center 2012 in their cloud environments, according to Microsoft officials. Microsoft has also correctly identified all of the key elements- elasticity, reliable service delivery, automation and self-service capabilities-needed for effectively using private clouds. Each element is represented in System Center 2012 with wizards and menus that drive the creation of the parts that make up the whole of a private cloud.

Other themes presented during the workshop included the reliance on virtualization, ease of mobility and integrated management, all of which is focused on making private cloud access easier for the user and simpler for the administrator. For example, System Center 2012's Configuration Manager supports developing hypervisor-based virtual servers from bare metal systems, offering almost instantaneous, hands-off VM creation. Much of the same can be said for virtual networks, where Configuration Manager supports the creation of a virtual network infrastructure with just a few mouse clicks. Those features and others add up to easier deployment and simplified management of private clouds.

Microsoft has a lot at stake, at least when it comes to the cloud. The company faces stiff competition from a variety companies ranging from VMware to IBM to Oracle, all of which are working to establish a leadership in cloud transformation and related services.

Add to that the evolution of the data center, where cloud services are expanding at exponential rates, and it becomes evident that Microsoft needs a home run in the cloud-enablement market to maintain the relevancy of their products. Data centers are shifting from client-server type technology-an environment that Microsoft has mastered-to cloud-based applications, services and virtualization, a space that Microsoft needs to embrace to maintain market share. By re-engineering their technologies for the cloud, Microsoft officials are working to secure the company's future.