Mike Schutz, Microsoft
With its vast array of products spanning on-premise, third-party service providers and its own Azure public cloud, it’s not always easy to unpick just where Microsoft is heading. In the consumer space for example, it seems the cloud-based Office365 gets way more attention than ‘single PC’ versions of Office, and that’s perhaps unsurprising given the juicy recurring revenues that an Office 365 subscription offers Microsoft.
In the enterprise space though, its direction of travel is clear, at least according to Microsoft’s Mike Schutz, GM of product management in the Server and Cloud Division. "We are definitely taking a cloud-first approach," he told CBR. "An example of that is our build-out of Windows Azure, as well as building new capabilities in Windows Azure that we then take and deliver to our customers in our on-premises products."
"Today we demonstrated some capabilities in what we call the Windows Azure Pack," he said. "For infrastructure as a service we did virtual machine provisioning for Windows Azure, website provisioning and then a self-service portal that people would use to spin up virtual machines and so on – we brought those capabilities so now customers who deploy their Windows Server and Systems Centre on-premises, can put those services directly on those servers in their own data centre. They can build an Azure-like infrastructure in their own data centre."
But while the firm says it takes a cloud-first approach to investment, Schutz also states categorically that on-premises products are also still critical. "Every enterprise customer that we talk to wants to get value from the investment they’ve made on premises, but they also want to extend and get new capabilities from the cloud," he said. "So we see hybrid being the predominant model for the foreseeable future. We want to offer a consistent platform on-premises with Windows Server and Systems Centre, as well as in our service providers, and then Windows Azure in the public cloud so customers can move their applications between those three destinations as they see fit."
As for Windows Server 2012 R2 – the latest release launched in October – Schutz calls out a number of new areas of improvement as the biggest news of the announcement: virtualisation, networking and storage.
"Virtualisation clearly is the most common deployment today and so significant improvements to HyperV as well as in the area of automation, so focusing on cloud providers, who do a really good job of automating all of the tasks within their data centre. And so we wanted to make R2 really focused on automation," Schutz said.
Another big area is software defined networking, he said: "Software defined networking is a common phrase this year, but I think extending virtualisation to the network is the next stop on the cloud journey. In particular for our customers on-premises. Because the network has become a barrier to realising some of the full benefits of cloud computing, because today’s enterprise networks are static and manually configured for the most part, and therefore inhibit some of the mobility benefits that virtualisation can bring. So we’ve built software defined networking capabilities in the box with Windows Server 2012 R2 so that customers can create pools of network resources, and divide those up between their business units or their tenants, without making underlying physical changes to the network."
Then the last area is storage: "Storage remains one of the most expensive and fastest growing areas in terms of expense," Schutz said. "Partially because of the explosion in data. But because virtualisation drives shared storage, we’re seeing our customers’ storage costs increase dramatically. So we’ve been focused on reducing storage costs, by bringing some of the experience that we have in public cloud storage architecture, that use industry standard storage, hard drives and SSDs without always requiring a SAN but still getting SAN-like performance and resilience behind the virtualised infrastructure."
"Windows Server 2012 R2 supports SMB-based file storage, and there’s a feature called Storage Spaces that we have enabled," he added. "What that is, is that it allows IT professionals to take a bunch of disks and create a pool of storage and then slice those up and allocate them to different resources. Like a LUN. We also introduced storage tiering so you can use SSDs as well as hard drives so you can have really high-performant SSD storage, and so for hot storage it would be automatically stored in SSD, and as that data ages it would be stored in cheaper hard drives."
So does Schutz see the storage capabilities in Windows Server 2012 R2 competing with dedicated storage arrays? "We want to make sure that HyperV works great with SAN – with 3PAR, with EqualLogic, with EMC. So we’ve done things with HyperV to offload – a capability called ODX, Offload Data Exchange – that basically leverages the SAN processor to move data, so we have great performance over SAN. But at the same time we see particularly amongst service providers, the desire to use industry standard storage architectures that user lower-cost JBOD [Just a Bunch of Disk] architectures. That’s where Storage Spaces is focused. We see plenty of space for both architectures."