Microsoft will push the benefits of a hybrid cloud strategy with new capabilities coming in the next version of Windows Server, combined with a consistent experience between Windows Server and Microsoft's Azure public cloud service.
The company is focusing more on a "software-defined everything" approach in the next version of Windows Server, currently codenamed Windows Server vNext.
At the same time, Microsoft is bringing Azure-like orchestration capabilities to enterprise customers that want it, and emphasising the consistency between Windows Server and Azure when it comes to developing a hybrid cloud strategy.
"It's all about bringing the cloud goodness to your data centre," said Chris Van Wesep, technical marketing manager for Windows Server and Management.
Microsoft's position on cloud computing is that, while there is a lot of talk about moving everything to the cloud, enterprise IT is likely to be a hybrid world for the foreseeable future, with a significant amount of on-premise infrastructure supplemented by public cloud services and resources where necessary.
"When I talk about cloud, I don't think of cloud as a place, I think about it as a compute model," Van Wesep said.
"Azure happens to do cloud well, and Amazon Web Services [AWS] does cloud well, but as a compute model, it's a different way of doing data centre and application management to what most people are used to."
The company's strategy is to give customers the choice to run their infrastructure and applications inside their own data centre, inside a partner's data centre, or to use resources from Windows Azure.
"Those three pieces form a triangle, and the goal is to have consistency between all of those environments," Van Wesep said.
For this reason, Microsoft has introduced technologies such as the Windows Azure Pack, which delivers cloud-like orchestration and scalability across infrastructure based on Windows Server and System Center.
The Azure Pack is used to maximum effect in the Microsoft Cloud Platform System, which offers a pre-integrated rack of Dell server, storage and network hardware ready to slot into the data centre as a "cloud in a box".
Consistency between the on-premise and public cloud environments allows customers to move workloads between the two much more readily, or manage public cloud resources using the same console as their on-premise infrastructure.
This realisation that hybrid cloud calls for a degree of consistency between on-premise and the public cloud infrastructure is not restricted to Microsoft.
VMware has made it a cornerstone of its vCloud Air (formerly vCloud Hybrid Service) strategy, but is something of a latecomer to the public cloud, having started to build out its data centre capacity only last year.
Conversely, AWS is by far the largest public cloud operator in the world, but has based its strategy until recently on customers building everything on its cloud platform.
"AWS is now finding out how much people actually want hybrid solutions, and that's a bit of a challenge for them as their model has been 'bring all your stuff to our cloud'," Van Wesep said.
Perhaps more importantly, Microsoft is working to make the API layer identical between all three corners of that triangle, in order to make it as easy as possible for customers to move things around if need be.
Meanwhile, the next version of Microsoft's Windows Server platform will deliver more software-defined storage and networking capabilities on top of the virtualisation of the server, according to Van Wesep.
"You'll see us introducing things like a Network Controller. We're taking the Network Controller from Azure and enabling it to be deployed as a role in Windows Server," he explained.
This will provide a point of automation for configuring and monitoring physical network infrastructure such as switches, as well as virtual networks, network services and managing IP addresses, all under the control of System Center.
There will also be a software load balancer that Microsoft is lifting from Azure and enabling customers to deploy using Windows Server and System Center.
Microsoft's software-defined storage offering will be based on an updated version of the Storage Spaces disk pooling and virtualisation technology introduced in Windows Server 2012.
The update will add features such as storage quality of service and synchronous storage replication, according to Van Wesep.
Storage replication will enable mirroring of data across two or more physical sites for disaster recovery, with certain distance limitations imposed by network latency.
"People have been investing a ton of money in synchronous storage solutions, and now that will be something available out of the box with Windows Server," Van Wesep said.
"There are going to be distance issues, but if you have two sites about 15 to 20 miles apart you've got below 0.3ms latency or whatever people declare as synchronous, and data will get stored on both sites at the same time," he explained.
Windows Server vNext is currently available as a technical preview and is expected to ship at a similar time to Windows 10.
Customers should be thinking about how their IT infrastructure can interact with and take advantage of a larger public cloud of environment, even if they have no plans to do so in the immediate future, according to Van Wesep.
"The public cloud environment is where masses of investment is going, so customers should be thinking about how they can take advantage of it even if they are using on-premise infrastructure," he said.
Van Wesep cited Microsoft's Azure Active Directory, the StorSimple Hybrid Cloud Storage service, and Azure Operational Insights, recently introduced as a preview, as an example of how on-premise IT can best be supplemented and expanded by connecting with public cloud services as part of a hybrid cloud strategy.
Azure Active Directory enables organisations to extend their existing identity credentials into the cloud, so it can be used to authenticate users for access to cloud services such as Office 365.
StorSimple enables users to migrate less frequently accessed data from costly on-premise storage up to Azure instead, effectively using Azure's low cost storage as a lower tier in the storage hierarchy.
Azure Operational Insights uses the power of the cloud to enhance monitoring of a customer's on-premise IT infrastructure. It takes telemetry from the infrastructure and uploads it to Azure for analysis to deliver key information on health and other factors.
"You'll start seeing more management as a service from us, and this is one example. It takes all the log files from your systems and ships it up to Azure for processing, then visualises it for the customer through things we call intelligence packs," Van Wesep explained.
"Over the last six years, we've spent about $15bn in building out our cloud and data centre assets, and it's a level of investment that means it is a bit ludicrous for customers to want to get into trying to develop that stuff themselves. Customers should take advantage of all of that and build on top of it," he said.
For more information on the cloud, visit the Intel IT Center.
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