Hey you, What “Mobile First, Cloud First” means for your enterprise

by Stephen Owen

This year, I had the great fortune to attend the PowerShell Summit and was able to meet Distinguished Engineer, Jeffrey Snover.  His energy for the future of Windows, and Microsoft as a whole, was absolutely infectious!  We enjoyed a series of talks – focused on the future of Windows from an engineering perspective, and I took away a few key points that I saw reiterated time and time again at Build and Microsoft Ignite in the following weeks.  Here are some key points you should know to better understand what Microsoft is saying about the direction our industry is headed.

It’s time to rethink your approach to the cloud

Was your first reaction to the “cloud” something along the lines of “over my dead body?”

“Mobile First, Cloud First:” we’ve heard Ballmer say it, and now it’s become the rallying call behind new CEO Satya Nadella.  Microsoft is going where the customers are, and that means opening up their massive infrastructure to support new tools.  They want Azure to become the backend of choice for any mobile or online application. 

When it comes time for your next infrastructure refresh, consider investigating the cloud again.  If mega-companies (like everyone in the Fortune 100) are doing it, there might be use cases for you to consider as well.  At the very least, consider mirroring your virtualized datacenters running on VMware and Hyper-V using Azure Site Recovery.

Running in the cloud doesn’t mean giving up the keys to your kingdom.  Tools like Azure Site-to-Site VPN make your remote VMs run seamlessly, even appearing as if they’re connected to your local LAN, and iVision’s skilled Engineers and Consultants have deployed configurations for some of the biggest names in the business.  It’s doable, and totally mind-blowing, to see it in action.  Fail-over from local datacenter to Azure automatically, Azure storage replacing costly tape backups, there are a number of options and the numbers are there in such a big way that we’re seeing more and more of our clients integrating some form of cloud utilization into their datacenter story.

Microsoft is dedicated to ensuring their cloud experience is the most approachable and user-friendly too.  Key resources are deployed to warrant Azure grows well.  None other than the rockstar Engineer, Mark Russinovich now heads up Microsoft’s Azure division, famous amongst Engineers for his creation of the SysInternals tools.   Approximatelyh70% of the world’s server capacity in 2014 was purchased and shipped to Microsoft – destined for a rack spot in a shipping container in a massive datacenter somewhere in the world.

Redmond’s focus on Azure requires Management at Scale, which means for your systems Engineers and Administrators the era of Remote Desktop Connection as the infrastructure management tool of choice is ending.  This leads to my next point:

It’s time to learn how to manage at scale

We can see this evidenced in Server Nano.  A super stream-lined version of Windows Server, so svelte that you can fit nearly 10 instances in the install footprint of one Server Core install.  It’s tiny, and yet it’s still Windows…but, in order to make it so small, they had to gut a lot of the cruft.  For instance, MSI Installer, Local Logon, and a large number of legacy servers were all carved out to give us this slimmer, more scalable version of Windows. 

You might be asking yourself, how do I logon locally to Nano?

You don’t.  Ever.  There is no walking up to a server running Nano and logging in and noodling around.  100% of your management will be performed remotely. 

Why not?  Well, one-on-one handholding with a machine is much closer to treating our systems like a beloved pet, rather than treating them as cattle.  It’s counter-point to the devops mindset of deploy automatically/ deploy often.  Nano is one of those artifacts that came out of Microsoft’s drive to develop Windows Server in ways that push Azure’s capacities further and further.

It should come as no surprise that Server is moving in this direction, as Jeffrey Snover (father of PowerShell), also is the head of Server development at Microsoft.  We saw hints of streamlining the founding document that charted the development of PowerShell, the Monad Manifesto, outlined the same path we’re seeing today.

Well…how do I manage a Nano machine?  You manage it using Remote PowerShell commands, or via Server Manager from Windows Server.  This new model of machine management is new to Windows, but not to the world of server computing.  Remote management via SSH is a mainstay of Linux system management, as is the notion of running Servers headless (that is to say, without a monitor, keyboard or mouse).  You’ll also be able to use Desired State Configuration and tools like Puppet and Chef to help you craft a configuration for your Nano Servers, so do not despair!

It’s time to learn some new tools for systems management

It might be time for us as Systems Administrators, Consultants and Engineers to begin looking outside of our normal toolset when it comes to deployment and maybe begin to rethink the way we approach systems management.

For instance, if you supported a large line of business applications that makes money for your company, you might never want to risk rebuilding it, and so you get stuck on old versions of SQL, and Windows Server, and before you know it, you’re the one sweating looking at your calendar at July 14th (last day of support for Windows Server 2003).  You could easily waste long week-ends manually patching servers and migrating databases, a thankless task that is only noticed if something goes wrong. And because you might only rebuild this service once a career, it’s easy to make a mistake.

Compare that to a deploy often, deploy in state model.  Even now, there are massive organizations rethinking their approach to Windows Update and instead deploying their full service tier on a new Windows Image once a month.  That means, instead of ever upgrading their application servers, they deploy a new one in a given state.  It lives it’s whole life in a given state, defined in a recipe that never changes.  When software changes are desired, copy your production environment to test (remember, it’s only a few keystrokes and clicks to automate your build), tweak, validate and then build a new production environment in a few clicks and call it a day.  No more spending hours over the weekend watching progress bars.

This is what Desired State Configuration is all about.  No more configuration overlap between Configuration Manager, inTune and Group Policy.  It’s a new approach to systems management, and a lot of organizations are starting to consider its use cases.

It’s time to rethink Bring Your Own Device

I, even writing this, might fly in the face of some, as there are many IT shops which have drawn their line in the sand that they will never allow users to Bring their own Device to work. Remember the era of Blackberry Enterprise Servers and people insisting “there will never be an iPhone in my company”.  We all laugh at that guy now, but currently the same situation is repeating itself when sysadmins resist users who want to read some company documents on their iPad by the pool.  Most companies allow their users to enroll in Exchange or e-mail on whichever device the user chooses, and in the coming years, users will expect constrained access to documents too while on the go.

We either provide the services that users want, or they find a way to do it without us, and then we discover hidden GitHub Repos of company code, shadow DropBox accounts or worse, people e-mailing their critical business documents to themselves!  These huge security holes can and should be patched, and we can do so and be seen providing rich new productivity options to our users if we embrace a technology like the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite, which allows users to enroll their device (any device) and receive access to files in a secure way which can even circumvent users ability to copy and paste, or take a screen shot of corporate docs.  Very cool!

mobile first, cloud firstImages of devices running Windows Apps on an iPhonend an iPad and on a Microsoft Site.

There’s even a new install experience for users when they first setup a device, allowing them to connect to and receive access to corporate resources from the Out-Of-Box-Experience.  You can deploy all of these amazing new features to your enterprise by making use of Active Directory Federation Services, Microsoft Intune and Azure AD.  Below, you’ll see the very slick new Out-of-box-Experience, expected to ship in Windows 10.

Windows 10 Expereince

It’s time to rethink productivity with cloud first

Tools like Excel changed the business world over-night, by placing the ability to run spreadsheets and obtain deep insights into cash flows and expenditures in the hands of everyone with a PC.  Microsoft is aiming at that productivity boost again in a big way with their new offering of Microsoft Power Business Insights, which seeks to comb through your data sources (over 50 of them supported today, including SalesForce, SharePoint, SQL and even endpoints for your development team to code the last mile to your tool of choice) and use Azure’s massively scalable database to draw powerful actionable insights from that data.

After a short on-boarding process in which you locate your data sources (your spreadsheets with project sales, accounting data from QuickBooks, etc.), you’ll have the ability to ask at the Start Menu “Hey Cortana, which of my sales associates closed the most deals in the last week?” in spoken language and receive real-time data back in the form of rich graphs, pivot tables and even GPS maps.

I’ll close with this incredible demonstration given by Joe Belfiore on Cortana and Power BI given at Ignite. (Fast-forward to 50:00 for the incredible part of Cortana responding immediately to Joe’s request.

The times, they are a-changing

I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of the high-water marks from the last month of conferences.  Please leave me some feedback or feel free to ask questions!  If you’d like iVision’s help with implementing any of these solutions, please contact us or call us at 678-999-3002.

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