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3 Important Things from the Microsoft Management Summit 2011

Windows Intune "lounge"

This week in Las Vegas, Microsoft came out with some strong, confident direction in their IT Management portfolio. There were numerous products announced in beta or GA’ed and endless nuance to various stories like “what exactly is a Microsoft-based private cloud?” Rotating in my head though are three clusters of important offerings and concepts to keep track of, whether you’re a user of IT Management or a vendor looking to compete of frenemy with Microsoft:

  1. IT Management delivered as SaaS – thus far, success has been the exception, not the rule in delivering IT Management as a SaaS. has been the stand-out success here, driving incumbents BMC, CA, HP, and IBM to start offering IT Management function as a SaaS. Others have had rockier times getting IT heads to move their tool-chain off-premise. The common sentiment as told me by one admin last year was: well, if the Internet goes down, we’re screwed. Windows Intune, GA’ed at MMS 2011, is a SaaS-based (or “cloud-based,” if you prefer) service for desktop management – keeping the Microsoft portions of desktops up-to-date for $11-12/month/desktop. It’s not hard to imagine that Microsoft would want to extend this to servers at some point, as Opscode does now. The System Center Advisor product line (covering SQL Server, Exchange, Windows Server, Dynamics, and SharePoint) is knowledge-base served up as a SaaS – something klir (RIP) and Splunk have played around with – to make this kind of collaborative IT management work, you have to layer in a strong community like Spiceworks does, something that seems missing from the Advisor line at the moment. The feel I get from this momentum is that Microsoft would like to (after a long, multi-year “eventually”) move much of its portfolio to SaaS delivery. Admins can be “special snow-flakes” when it comes to moving their tools to SaaS, but at a certain point of cost & hassle avoidance vs. the risk of the Internet going down, it starts to make sense. And, really, if the Internet goes down, many businesses would be dead-in-the-water regardless of the IT Management tools available.
  2. Private cloud is what you need – while the focus on “Cloud and Microsoft” is often the public Azure cloud, Microsoft is also amped up to provide companies with the technology needed to use cloud-based technologies and practices behind the firewall, creating private clouds. Microsoft’s Project Concero is the spearhead of this, but there’s some interesting training wheels towards cloud that Microsoft wants to do with its virtualization management product. Strapping on the recently released System Center Service Manager and System Center Orchestrator (formally Opalis), and you have the self-service, highly-virtualized view of “private cloud.” The troubling aspect for Microsoft is the hardware layer. Time and time again, Microsoft executives rightly pointed out that “true” clouds need standardized hardware – at the same time they pointed out that most IT shops are far from “standardized.” When I asked them what that transformation would mean, being a software company, the answers weren’t too prescriptive. One hopes that the answer is more than “keep your eye on those Azure appliances we mentioned awhile back.” The issue is this: if private cloud means rip-n-replace of your existing hardware to get “standardized” hardware…then we’ve got some rocky budget hijinks ahead for anyone considering private vs. public.
  3. The War Against VMWare – judged by the amount of kicking in VMWare’s direction, Microsoft is freaked out about VMWare. They see VMWare’s plan as using their hypervisor dominance (which no one, including Microsoft, denies them having in the present) to infect all the way up to the application stack and, as one executive put it, “all the sudden you’re re-writing your apps in [Spring-based] Java!” While VMWare would certainly love for you to do that – as would Microsoft! – its unclear if that strategy is a realistic enough one to fear so much. More importantly, arguing that a VMWare-carved path to Java applications is somehow more costly, closed, and otherwise un-desirable than a complete Microsoft Hyper-V/.Net stack is a dangerous glass house to start throwing rocks in. I’d say the real enemy of both of these companies is the vast, un-quantifiable mass of open source developers out there who don’t want allegiance to any vendor – not to mention the public cloud IaaS and PaaS options out there (how exactly “cloud development” plays out with the ages-old lockin/closed source/single vendor stack architectural decisions is incredibly murky at this point). Clearly, with moves like buying WaveMaker, you can see some pitched VMW v. MSFT battles involving Lightswitch and other post-VB RAD development. As I told one Microsoft executive, if VMWare buys into an entirely different, non-Java ecosystem (e.g., Engineyard for Ruby, Zend for PHP, etc.), then it’d be time to doff the foil-hats for the real helmets.

They Did a Good Job

Overall, Microsoft did well with the announcements, products, and conversations at this MMS. Their focus on explaining how technology is used to further the goals of IT (and the evolution of those goals to align with business) stands in stark contrast to the wider, dual-messages going on at most Big 4 conferences of this type. Microsoft in the IT Management area is typically good at speaking to their products rather than pure vision.

The VisualStudio Test

The primary issue revolves around one question you can ask of any transformation story from Microsoft: does it require the use of VisualStudio? There’s nothing wrong, really, with VisualStudio, but that questions shows you how much of a Microsoft shop you have to become to follow their vision, here, of a private cloud. As Microsoft, I think rightly, said, cloud is ultimately about applications: a business needs applications, not just a bunch of “services.” How you develop that application, ideally, should be very open and up to you rather than, as Microsoft criticized VMWare for lusting after, requiring the use of the application stack from the same company that provides your cloud technology. Sure, there may be time-to-market trade-offs and all sorts of other concerns, but last I checked, mono-vendor approaches were still something to be concerned about and evaluate carefully before going “all in.”

(The same test should be applied to VMWare, Amazon, IBM, Oracle, HP, and anyone else looking to be your cloud-dealer.)

Disclosure: Microsoft, VMWare, IBM, and WaveMaker are clients.

Categories: Cloud, Conferences, Systems Management.

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Comment Feed

5 Responses

  1. I wasn't able to attend this conference but from what you have written it looks like Microsoft still doesn't get it. I'm a heavy user of their products and work with a lot of developers but I've been following a Forbes columnist Adam Hartung who recently published an article comparing the management strengths of Apple vs. Microsoft and I have to say I agree with his observations. Microsoft has the market position to disrupt the market or go into new markets but continues down the road of supporting PC's. It will be interesting to watch where they are next year at this time.

    knowledgeshiftApril 10, 2011 @ 1:04 pm
    • Thanks for the comment and link!

      A salesperson in the Microsoft management ecosystem recently asked me if Microsoft was going to move everything to the cloud. I said it seemed like it, but that it was, you know, "one of those 5 year journeys." It was the first time I didn't answer "no" to that kind of question. Clearly, they want the Windows OS to live on, but they seem more inclined to finally catch-up to the idea of SaaSes than they have in the past. We'll see how they balance the cash-cow of on-premise vs. the gamble on going "all in" on cloud.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] Michael Coté also provides some insightful takeaways as to what the software giant is thinking and doing, observing that there is a new thrust from […]

  2. […] anyone to use their cloud software without having to give a dime to VMWare or use their tools (see “The VisualStudio Test”), they should have a good chance at building a big cloud ecosystem that they can siphon cash off […]