Microsoft to meld cloud and on-premise management

Ryan O’Hara, Microsoft’s senior director for System Center, talks to V3.co.uk about bringing cloud resources under the control of existing management tools

Daniel Robinson, V3.co.uk 21 May 2010

Microsoft’s cloud computing strategy has so far delivered infrastructure and developer tools, but the company is now looking to add cloud support into its management platform to enable businesses to control workloads both on-premise and in the cloud from a single console.

Microsoft’s System Center portfolio has focused on catching up with virtualisation leader VMware on delivering tools that can manage both virtual and physical machines on-premise, according to Ryan O’Hara, senior director of System Center product management at Microsoft.

“Heretofore we’ve been investing in physical-to-virtual conversion integrated into a single admin experience, and moving from infrastructure to applications and service-level management,” he said.

Microsoft is now looking at a third dimension, that of enabling customers to extend workloads from their own on-premise infrastructure out to a public cloud, while keeping the same level of management oversight.

“We think that on-premise architecture will be private cloud-based architecture, and this is one we’re investing deeply in with Virtual Machine Manager and Operations Manager to enable these private clouds,” said O’Hara.

Meanwhile, the public cloud element might turn out to be a hosted cloud, an infrastructure-as-a-service, a platform-as-a-service or a Microsoft cloud like Azure.

The challenge is to extend the System Center experience to cover both of these with consistency, according to O’Hara. He believes this is where Microsoft has the chance to create some real differentiation in cloud services, at least from an enterprise viewpoint.

“I think, as we extend cross these three boundaries, it puts System Center and Microsoft into not just an industry leading position, but a position of singularity. I don’t think there is another vendor who will be able to accomplish that kind of experience across all three dimensions,” he said.

This is territory that VMware is also exploring with vSphere and vCloud, and the company signalled last year that it planned to give customers the ability to move application workloads seamlessly between internal and external clouds.

However, O’Hara said that Microsoft intends to go further than VMware and provide consistent management control across cloud boundaries at every level of the stack. All of Microsoft’s future management products will have cloud extensions, he said.

“VMware is investing heavily in infrastructure-level symmetry, creating mobility at the virtual machine level from the on-premise stack to the off-premise stack,” he said.

“That’s interesting, but there’s no uniformity of platform, no uniformity of managing service levels between the on- and off-premise capability, and there’s really not a lot of insight on applications being delivered across the infrastructure.”

In other words, VMware’s focus is on moving virtual machines around, rather than managing the applications running inside them.

“One of the things we’re highlighting is that we’re extending across the public boundary using Systems Center and familiar assets like Operations Manager 2007 to manage an Azure application in conjunction with your on-premise application workloads. Having established two discrete management stacks, we’re now looking at bringing them together,” said O’Hara.

Microsoft announced in April that a forthcoming Management Pack for Azure, coming in the second half of 2010, will give customers the ability to control Azure components within the Operations Manager 2007 R2 console.

This is a necessary path to take, O’Hara explained, otherwise cloud computing will turn into yet another separate application stack with its own management tools and expertise.

“Frankly, we’re going down a path where, if we don’t do this, we’re going to end up with a third silo in the organisation, with cloud engineers as well as infrastructure engineers and virtualisation engineers. That’s a cost model that I don’t think is viable,” he said.

Microsoft is also spinning back the expertise it has gained from Azure and its compute fabric management capabilities into Windows Server and its on-premise infrastructure, according to O’Hara. Announcements around this are expected in the next couple of months.

The next generation of Virtual Machine Manager and Operations Manager, which Microsoft has dubbed its ‘VNext’ releases, are due in 2011 and will have “even more robust investments incorporating cloud scenarios”, O’Hara said.

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