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Going to the Cloud with Microsoft

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IT is continually challenged to create greater value at lower prices. Cloud computing is the new, more efficient compute model empowering IT to accomplish great results at lower costs, raising the ROI on every IT penny invested to create new business value.

The Cloud Computing Opportunity for IT

Cloud computing will change the traditional role of IT and cement IT’s leadership role in business, making IT the most flexible and manageable part of business costs. “Cloud” is not simply a description of where data and code are located. Cloud describes a profound change in architecture. Clouds surround and penetrate the organization, radically changing what processes can be measured and managed. IT professionals can reshape their companies by capturing more information about the business, the market and from deep customer engagement through Web services.

Companies and users of cloud computing are literally swimming in data, exposed everywhere to connectivity, which can be marshaled by IT for competitive advantage. Ubiquitous connectivity requires all the control, policies and security that have defined corporate computing, but the cloud puts IT Pros in a new role as architects of value mined from the company’s data about itself. Cloud encompasses the consumerization of IT, as well, so IT Pros will also need to manage computational devices on every desktop and in homes to help users blend work and life with greater ease.

From the beginning, the cloud will require IT Pros expand their planning, management and monitoring expertise. But the cloud’s most significant feature is its ability to evolve rapidly, at a pace previously unseen in the software industry or business. The cloud represents a vast opportunity for increasing the importance of the IT Pro within their organizations and to make IT a highly influential contributor to business performance.

What is “the Cloud?”

So, just what is the cloud? Let’s start with some basic concepts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) draft definition of cloud computing puts it most plainly:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Within that umbrella description, there are three distinct flavors of cloud services that are available today for organizations considering cloud options:

SaaS Software-as-a-Service involves the delivery via the network of application software that has traditionally been sold in shrink-wrapped packages. Microsoft Office, for example, will be available as a SaaS offering called Office 365 in the summer of 2011. These services are typically referred to as part of the “public cloud.”

PaaS Platform-as-a-Service encompasses all the development, service hosting and service management environments needed to operate, for example, a custom .NET-enabled, PHP, JavaScript, C++ or other application at scale, using on-demand compute and storage capacity, network bandwidth and databases managed by a cloud provider. In Microsoft’s cloud portfolio, Azure, SQL Azure fill the PaaS role. PaaS services are generally part of the public cloud and, through management tools like System Center, can be extended into the private cloud that operates behind a company’s firewall.

IaaS Infrastructure-as-a-Service provides raw computer and storage capacity with management tools, in Microsoft’s case, the System Center suite of products and Hyper-V Cloud server environment, in a company’s datacenter or on a hosted basis. Private cloud services are the typical home for IaaS, but some cloud providers, including some implementations using Microsoft Azure, can be characterized as IaaS.

Elasticity is the most notable feature of cloud computing, whether in a private cloud or public cloud. Services can be provisioned based on actual demand and scale up quickly to meet increased demand or release hardware resources that are going unused, turning the fixed costs of over-provisioning that was necessary in the datacenter into lower variable costs.

Flexibility of resources provides savings, because the same hardware can be deployed at different times of the day to handle different workloads. Virtualization of servers in the cloud, whether in an on-premise datacenter or on a hosted platform, allow the hardware that was once dedicated to a single workload—often leaving CPUs idle when they could be used elsewhere—to be used at full capacity. The savings created by a flexible infrastructure can be substantial, between 25 percent and 50 percent in federal agencies studied by The Brookings Institution.

The comprehensive reach of Microsoft’s cloud services sets our offerings apart from the rest of the industry. Where other providers have focused on SaaS applications delivered through the public cloud or IaaS in the datacenter, Microsoft’s cloud services portfolio reaches from the stratosphere down to ground level, offering SaaS (Office 365, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online), PaaS (Azure and SQL Azure), and IaaS (Hyper-V Cloud, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and others).

“If you know Windows Server, if you know System Center, we’ll take you to the cloud using the tools you are already using.” – Brad Anderson, CorporateVice President, Management & Security Division, Microsoft.”

The breadth of Microsoft’s cloud offerings makes it a first-tier competitor at every layer of the cloud stack. Microsoft’s cloud services in the datacenter have been shown in a study of 150 companies to cost one-third less than VMWare and require 24 percent less in IT labor on an ongoing basis. Add to that the fact that an IT Pro who works with Microsoft tools today already knows all the tools that are needed to succeed in the cloud and you’ll see why so many IT shops are moving to the Microsoft cloud.

“At Microsoft, we already offer many of the brands you know, use and trust today as cloud computing services,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson explained in an open letter to IT professionals published in USA Today, “including Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint and SQL. In addition, our cloud computing platform, called Azure, lets organizations migrate legacy applications and roll out new programs written in .NET, Java, Ruby-on-Rails,® PHP and Eclipse across multiple datacenters so they are accessible at scale from almost anywhere.”

Microsoft is building a cloud platform that spans private and public scenarios to address every facet of application and data connectivity across a heterogeneous collection of PCs and devices that rely on connectivity to the enterprise. A viable cloud infrastructure must be architected to provide appropriate connectivity and services at every location, reaching from Software-as-a-Service to Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service through rational planning to maximize online customer engagement profitably. With Microsoft Azure, SQL Azure, Office 365 and our all-encompassing management tool, System Center, you’ll never find yourself stuck in a dead-end where a critical cloud investment cannot be integrated with other cloud resources. Developers familiar with Visual Studio 2010, will be ready to build any application they can imagine in VS for the Microsoft cloud or another IaaS platform.

Microsoft’s Private and Public Cloud Toolsets: Familiar management products with powerful new capabilities

Cloud computing does require new skills, but the tools needed are familiar to every Microsoft IT professional— Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V are at the heart of private cloud architectures, and System Center is the keystone management tool for public and private cloud services . Active Directory and the Windows Identity Framework provide the security and access control you’re used to in the datacenter in the public cloud; Microsoft Forefront is the security and user management platform for our private cloud technology, as well as Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service productivity offering, Office 365, which combines Office Professional Plus, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online in a convenient cloud product for the enterprise, small business and workgroups. In short, if you are an IT Pro using Microsoft technology today, you are prepared to put the cloud to work with the same confidence and security as the datacenter.

Exploring Private Cloud Options

A “private cloud” is a cloud—a virtualized computing environment—running in a datacenter in your facilities or those of a service provider that are dedicated to your organization. Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V, which is bundled with Windows Server, provide the ability to virtualize servers on your hardware in order to deploy resources on demand. Virtualization substantially increases the return on investment from purchased hardware, because unused cycles can be allocated to custom workloads across the enterprise.

Virtualization is only one aspect of the Microsoft private cloud story, because it is interoperable with the full range of cloud services from Microsoft and other vendors. System Center allows IT Pros to manage all the systems they use – physical and virtual – and move workloads, as appropriate with ease. Opalis, Microsoft’s automation platform of systems management, provides configuration and workflow design capabilities that create the potential for self-service provisioning of workloads by users based on best practices.   

“A cloud services platform must run on hundreds and thousands of computers distributed over multiple geographies, while providing a single, integrated computing platform for IT professionals and developers.” – Robert Wahbe, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Server and Tools.

The private cloud can be the logical first step for many organizations, because it begins the process of converting application and storage workloads to virtual machines, making more use of the hardware for which the organization has already paid. It saves money, but savings are only part of the pay-off of cloud services. Consolidating servers and applications onto a centralized set of virtual servers makes day-to-day management of all the resources touching that virtualized environment more convenient. System Center, Microsoft’s core IT management product, can keep all the servers and virtualized clients up-to-date and backed up against disaster automatically.

Microsoft also has announced an appliance for platform-as-a-service cloud computing, which organizations will be able to install in their datacenters to deliver cloud services behind the firewall. Some companies and government agencies require that applications or data reside on-premises or within a particular jurisdiction. The Microsoft Azure Platform Appliance will allow those organizations to tap the same managed service currently available as a public cloud offering. Managed by the organization’s own staff, but with regular software platform updates pushed out by Microsoft, the appliance will enable these enterprises and agencies to run their own instance of the Azure platform, with hundreds of servers at their disposal offering massive scale and availability with reduced management costs.

The Public Cloud

The public cloud is a shared set of resources serving many organizations with a pool of shared compute resources defined by the customer relationship. For example, some services are delivered as SaaS productivity (Office 365) or sales applications ( Microsoft Dynamics Online) called by individual users. Other public cloud customers may have IaaS resources running on virtual machines in a cloud service which is available only to registered authenticated users and that are administered remotely by IT Pros who work for the customer. In other cases, the cloud provider may deliver all day-to-day management of compute resources as part of a PaaS service, such as Azure or SQL Azure.

Microsoft’s public cloud services, Azure and Azure SQL Database, are comparable to having a supercomputer, or a server cluster, that can be programmed to run custom applications that face enterprise users or the public Internet. It is a vast computational resource that can be initiated and run at any necessary scale until the resources are no longer needed, at which time it can scale down automatically. Developers can use familiar development processes and work procedures they know from Visual Studio to build Azure applications.

A new level of collaboration between Developers and IT Pros made possible by the cloud represents one of the greatest challenges--and opportunities--in the industry since the introduction of Web programming or when client-server computing displaced direct-connection, session-based applications. On the one hand, it is easier for a developer to envision deploying an application on her own, but the ongoing management and tuning of the application to an organizations’ real-world users’ needs will put IT management in a key role from the first stages of planning a new cloud service. Developers and IT pros must work together to get the most out of the cloud on an ongoing basis.

Microsoft’s public cloud services consist of an evolving set of offerings, which include:

  • Office 365 – A SaaS on-demand version of Microsoft Office, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and the Lync Online unified communications service. Office 365 includes all the applications in the packaged Office suite and the four communications and collaboration services typically hosted by an enterprise datacenter, starting at $6 per user per month.
  • Azure – A Platform-as-a-Service offering that delivers compute cycles, storage and the .NET integrated application framework familiar to Windows developers and IT Pros on an on-demand basis. Azure is an almost infinitely scalable computational resource that your organization can tap as needed for small or large workloads, a foundation for comprehensive enterprise-scale services or the power to perform massive data-mining projects that can call data virtually anywhere. Microsoft public cloud enables new kinds of analysis available only to the largest organizations in the world before the cloud came along.
  • SQL Azure – An on-demand global-scale database, SQL Azure provides an online version of SQL Server that complements Azure or that can be called from other applications to deliver high-performance database performance at any scale.
  • Microsoft InTune – Recently introduced, InTune in Microsoft’s cloud-based PC management service that extends administrative capabilities, such as software updates, policy management and backups to every corner of the globe. Think of having the resources Microsoft uses to update PCs around the globe— InTune and System Center work in synchrony to bring all the compute resources your organization owns or uses into a single console with one maintenance and management workflow.
“Organizations are going to be hybrids. They’re going to be using capacity from their own clouds, they’re going to be using capacity from their partners’ clouds. They’re going to be using capacity from public clouds. And bringing that all together in a unified manner is the new true North for IT organizations.” – Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President, Management&Security Division, Microsoft.”

Hybrid Clouds and Importance of Interoperability

The public and private clouds are not separate entities but part of a continuous programmable service that can be mixed and matched to fit your organization’s needs. Cloud architectures will be as unique as fingerprints, reflecting the organizations that use them – there can be no compromise with regard to the capabilities available because of a choice IT Pros made earlier in their journey to the cloud. Everything has to work, and everything has to work together.

Microsoft’s cloud services are designed to work with one another, but they are also made to interoperate with and enhance third-party and customized cloud services through a well-documented set of APIs. Virtualization products from VMWare can be managed from within System Center, as can Novell ZENWorks services. VMWare hypervisors can also run alongside Hyper-V. Cloud services running on Amazon Web Services can be called and managed by Azure applications and management consoles. There are no dead-ends because of incompatibilities in Microsoft’s cloud offerings. It is the only cloud services suite that gives users every available option – in fact, it’s the only cloud services suite that bridges every flavor of cloud available.

How to get started

This article lays out the basics of the cloud, public and private, for the IT Professional. It is just a beginning, like the journey you are on. As with any new generation of computing, there is a lot to learn, and enormous opportunity for advancement in your career. Nothing less than a comprehensive approach will provide the flexibility needed for the sophisticated business needs of the 21st Century.

After you’ve taken a few minutes to view the videos on the site, and browsed some of the links displayed here, we invite you to begin your journey to the cloud in the Microsoft Virtual Academy, a free learning community, or by taking a Microsoft Learning cloud certification class online or in one of our local partners’ classrooms. This page will continue to evolve, adding more IT resources, beginning with an FAQ that we will launch in the coming weeks.

Welcome to the Age of the Cloud, the time when your IT career will reach new peaks. Microsoft is here to help.