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Microsoft's strategy on open source is a sign of the times

Microsoft astonished the IT world again with a series of big open source moves in 2016. Do Windows admins need to get on board or risk getting left behind?

If Microsoft's recent open source and Linux moves are any indication, administrators in traditional Windows shops will need either to adapt and embrace this movement -- or risk being swept aside.

One of the first shockwaves swept through the IT landscape in March when Microsoft announced it would develop a Linux version of SQL Server. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft got developers intrigued by adding Bash to Windows 10, which opened the door to run Linux shell programs. The company also joined the Linux Foundation in November. In addition to all its open source focus, Microsoft also released Windows Server 2016.

Microsoft's strategy to embrace Linux makes it clear that the company has jettisoned the walled garden approach it had under former CEO Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft's strategy to embrace Linux makes it clear that the company has jettisoned the walled garden approach it had under former CEO Steve Ballmer. CEO Satya Nadella recognizes the reality: It's not just a Windows world anymore. Many organizations operate in a heterogeneous environment; Microsoft claims a third of all virtual machines on Azure cloud run on some form of Linux.

But not all admins work in fast-paced DevOps environments or require a management tool based in Azure. They may not see the value in learning an automation tool like PowerShell.

SearchWindowsServer advisory board members offered insights on Microsoft's strategy on Linux and other recent developments, giving their opinions on how those changes will affect Windows admins in 2017.

Living the Linux lifestyle

Windows Server 2016 introduces plenty of new features. While every new release of a server OS comes with a learning curve and potential compatibility issues, the most significant change for administrators is Microsoft's newfound love of Linux.

Brien Posey Brien Posey, technical
author, speaker and
Microsoft MVP

There has long been a degree of Linux support within Windows Server, but it is difficult for non-Linux administrators to ignore this level of Linux-related features in Windows Server 2016.

The best example of this is the new container functionality, which runs on the Docker Engine. Containers in Windows Server 2016 are getting a lot of hype, and Windows administrators will be expected to learn how to manage them.

Many administrators have little to no experience with Linux containers -- or other types of containers. While containers have some similarities to server virtualization, they are managed in a completely different way from Hyper-V virtual machines. The command line interface used to manage Windows Server containers has more in common with Linux than Windows PowerShell.

There is nothing wrong with Linux or containers, but Windows Server containers -- and other Linux-related features -- will present a sharp learning curve for administrators with little to no Linux experience.

For more from Brien Posey, please visit his contributor page.

The good old days of GUI

With the Windows Server 2016 OS, Microsoft made a major break from previous OS installation approaches. For years, security-minded systems administrators criticized Microsoft for its "everything on by default" approach. This was certainly a valid criticism of OSes like Windows 2000 Server, and Microsoft incrementally improved the default installation state of each OS in response. But, with 2016, administrators who fall into the "next, next, finish" install trap will be sorely disappointed when the server boots without a GUI.

I understand the rationale behind this: Require administrators to consider the attack surface of systems before deployment and only enable required features. But, pragmatically, such an onerous installer -- with its unfriendly consequences -- gives server admins one more reason to scratch their heads and wax nostalgic for Server 2003 R2. The excitement of seeing 2016 boot up the first time will fade once admins get a command prompt that demands "Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to unlock."

Michael Stump Michael Stump, systems
engineer for Holden
Information Services

Additional confusion will follow because the two options to address the no-GUI situation are reinstall or use PowerShell, the best Microsoft technology that no one wants to use. The PowerShell skills required to load the GUI are slightly out of the comfort zone of some admins.

There's a simple reason why admins don't bang out PowerShell scripts all day -- apathy. Sure, everyone has heard the benefits of IT automation, and few people would disagree that automation frees the admin for more thoughtful tasks. However, many admins just don't care to use PowerShell -- or even care about implementing automation.

Perhaps it's fear that makes IT professionals stick with the tried and true manual ways to manage IT. Perhaps, after a decade or more of Windows Server management, some admins just don't see the utility of changing their approach. The only people who proselytize automation are, unsurprisingly, those who stand to benefit from it.

For more from Michael Stump, please visit his contributor page.

A clear cloudy strategy

Whether they like it or not, Windows systems administrators need to strap in and get used to Microsoft's strategy to embrace public cloud and carry out "cloud cadence" releases.

Microsoft throws more code at admins faster than it ever did before. The "fail fast, fix fast" concept underlies the DevOps ethos, but not all IT shops are on board with DevOps. Administrators who apply updates slowly and judiciously need to adopt more agile processes to keep up with Microsoft's frequent updates to the Windows ecosystem.

Tim Warner Tim Warner, IT technical
trainer and Microsoft MVP

It's no longer optional for operations professionals to learn Windows PowerShell, Git version control -- and its interaction with GitHub -- and how to integrate and manage either Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) deployments. But admins still have Windows Server Update Services, System Center and the ability to control security and feature updates in the local environment.

Cloud cadence means, at least in a public cloud context, that new features appear in the cloud management portal almost daily. It can be disconcerting at first. The biggest hurdle is to overcome the initial learning curve. Once you gain your "sea legs" with Azure or AWS, you should be able to float along with the ebb and flow of cloud cadence.

For more from Tim Warner, please visit his contributor page.

Next Steps

The essential guide to Windows Server 2016 for administrators

Will Windows Server licensing change spur move to Azure?

New Windows Server 2016 features reflect evolution of IT's needs

This was last published in January 2017

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