Microsoft's latest cloud message to IT: Manage or be managed

As System Center continues to shift toward a more cloud-friendly approach, it might be time for IT pros to become more flexible in their management practices as well.

Some of the biggest news from Microsoft Management Summit 2011 this week is centered on System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012. The product, now in beta and available for download, is designed to let IT pros deploy virtual machines on both on-premise servers and the Windows Azure-based platform as a hosted VM role, all from a central console.

The integration of cloud capabilities to System Center shouldn’t really shock anyone who’s been paying attention to Microsoft over the past year. Still, if you look a little deeper at some of the feature additions to the next version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), there’s a bold challenge presented to IT pros everywhere: the ability to become more dynamic and flexible.

The message Microsoft is pushing here is clear; corporate IT needs to become more agile, or it risks being “circled around” in an effort to get services and workloads pushed out faster, more efficiently and with better capacity. In an effort to keep control and manage the delivery of services like they have for the past three decades, IT departments are proving to be slow adopters of cloud-like services and dynamic deployment and provisioning. This is particularly true for larger corporations with both a central IT operation and more isolated departmental-level IT support.

Industry observers are finding that these departmental-level outfits are increasingly going around central IT, bypassing that command and control entirely, and signing up directly with cloud providers to get their needs met. Microsoft has apparently taken this type of observed behavior to heart and responded with tools that centralized IT operations can use -- namely SCVMM 2012 -- to stay abreast of the cloud and offer those services in a manageable way while still maintaining some degree of control over technology resources company-wide.

More focus on self-service IT
Project Concero, built to sit on top of SCVMM 2012, is another great example of the company’s strategy. Concero will let an IT pro delegate a set of servers or other resources to, say, a department-level IT administrator. The central IT pro designates exactly what sort of control and resources that junior admin can use (sort of like Active Directory delegation on steroids) and then takes a hands-off approach. The delegated administrator can then configure those resources within the parameters previously set based on user and customer needs. It’s essentially a pared-down, role-specific experience based on what central IT believes a particular group needs while allowing that group to handle management tasks on its own.

The issue of command and control versus agility is a huge one. Bridging the divide between departments, users and developers that just want things now and the IT staff that has a controlled, structured and deliberate way of providing service has always been a tough duty. But the fact that public cloud providers offer a platform that can essentially bypass centralized IT operations means the challenge is now more political as opposed to technical.

The cloud offers the promise of a ready-to-go platform with administrative niggles taken care of, and Microsoft and other vendors tout the ease with which one can go from signup to running applications -- sometimes in a matter of minutes. As the portfolio of services from cloud providers becomes more mature, the allure will only increase, and the only thing for central IT to do is modify its outlook on service delivery. In other words, to become a service provider as well and engrain that mindset into the entire IT organization. As an IT professional, you will be a part of this phenomenon, if you aren’t already.

Configuration Manager continues the trend
It isn’t just virtualization that represents this concept, although it is a key component. SCVMM’s sister product, the upcoming System Center Configuration Manager 2012, is also adding self-service controls and a sort of “delegated” access feature that will allow end users and junior administrators to manage application selection, delivery and maintenance from a convenient Web-based portal.

The idea of empowering people to be productive from anywhere on whatever device they choose is perfectly in tune with the overall idea of delivering choice and power directly to users. The main question involves exactly how IT pros control that choice in a way that still leaves users and the business satisfied while ensuring their financial and service-level agreements are met consistently.

Whatever your opinion of the divide between IT and its customers, it’s clear that the ability to deliver services efficiently, on demand and with greater delegated control is going to be a top priority for IT pros in the coming years. As cloud solutions like Amazon’s EC2 and Windows Azure mature, management solutions for these platforms will as well -- solutions that will help balance that natural tension between the “yes” folks that are your customers and “no” folks that IT departments have traditionally been represented as.

If IT departments don’t take a longer-term perspective on their role of service delivery and how those processes are carried out, they may find themselves being managed, instead of doing the managing.

You can follow SearchWindowsServer.com on Twitter @WindowsTT.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

This was first published in March 2011

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