Microsoft's vision of corporations using hybrid cloud has benefits for IT departments and end users as well as cost savings, says Brad Anderson, Microsoft vice president of Windows Server and System Center.
IT departments can look forward to replicate data-center virtual machines to a cloud service provider where they can provide fault tolerance and high availability and be ready for recovery in case of a disaster, Anderson said during an interview at TechEd North America 2013. [Click here for a full transcript of the interview.]
With the service, IT will also have the capability to manage any mobile device Windows, Android, iOS from the cloud-based InTune mobile-device management service within Microsoft Azure. The advantage is that for businesses using System Center Configuration Manager, the interface is the same, so there is no learning curve, but management can be extended to BYOD devices.
"You could just use the tools that you're using right now and now enable your users across their PCs, their Windows devices, their Apple devices and their Android devices," he says.
This yields benefits for end users as well. "I can bring up a company portal, authenticate with my Active Directory ID and the combination of Active Directory and System Center will automatically bring for me a personalised experience on any kind of device enabling me to provision the applications and get access to the data I need to be productive," he says.
New tools in Microsoft Office applications enable on-the-fly parsing and graphically representing data, as exemplified by new capabilities in Excel called GeoTracker and PowerPivotl, Anderson says. Users themselves can blend database information with data drawn from Web sources such as Twitter and Bing to create graphic depictions of the aggregate data.
A demonstration at the conference keynote showed attendees of TechEd distributed across a map of the world with bars on each location showing how many people came from each city relative to others that used the TechEd database plus Bing. Clicking on a city allowed drilling down to search the attendees from that city by job title.
Then using data from Twitter, a heat map of the world showed the increase of Tweets about TechEd from around the globe as the date of the conference neared.
The ability to take unlimited amounts of data, diverse sets of data, bring that all together and then bring this rich visualisation on it that allows me to wallow in it," Anderson says. "I can experiment, I can ask questions and I can literally sit there in a very visual experience, experiment and form hypotheses and theories and learn about what is happening in my infrastructure if I'm IT or if I'm operating a business what's happening in that business and how I can differentiate and improve."
Saving money is another key part of hybrid cloud, Anderson says, and many of the cost savings businesses can take advantage of in their private corporate networks are offshoots from what Microsoft has learned building Azure.
"We literally operate over hundreds of thousands of servers [in Azure] and we deploy hundreds of thousands of servers every year," he says. "So for us just a relentless focus on decreasing complexity and decreasing costs by taking advantage of just industry-standard hardware is a lot of innovation that we're doing in the public cloud and then bringing on premises."
In particular, Azure has taught Microsoft to build storage networks on commodity hardware that is less expensive than traditional SAN gear, and that is now available to corporate customers in their private networks.
The ability to use corporate infrastructure management and device management tools across the cloud can also reduce expense.
"Everything from software defined networking, the innovations in storage where I get all of the benefits that traditionally have only come from a SAN but doing it on industry standard cost-effective hardware, the ability to unify my environment from a user enablement and endpoint protection to where I can manage my PCs, all my users' devices as well as my anti-malware on one common infrastructure all these things drive savings," Anderson says.
Since many of these new capabilities are part of standard platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Server and InTune, there is no extra cost to current customers. "It's just Excel, it's just SQL, it's not additional licenses, it's not additional hardware, you don't have to rewrite your application" he says.
Anderson repeatedly uses the phrase "cloud-first engineering" to describe the principle behind moving features of Azure into the major Microsoft server platforms. He says that can protect business customers from scaling problems as well as giving it a thorough vetting before selling it as on-site products. "Develop the software, try it out, prove it out, battle-harden it in the cloud, then bring it on premises," he says.
This is made real with Azure Pack, new features that overlays the Azure Web portal to the Windows Server and System Center on-premises products. It can be used with System Center, for example, to enable end users in a department to create new virtual machines within cloud infrastructure based on policies set up by IT. "It's self-service, exactly as if you were to go to Azure," Anderson says.
Azure Pack is the renamed package Microsoft introduced last year under the name Windows Azure Services for Windows Server. "So this is the evolution of that with a name that's easier to remember and easier to say," he says.