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Will Microsoft Ignite 2016 catch fire with IT?

Microsoft Ignite 2016 will set the course for the company's agenda in the coming year, but is IT on board with its push to the cloud?

As the Microsoft Ignite 2016 conference rapidly approaches, what can systems administrators expect?

Topping the list for many in IT is news about Windows Server 2016. After nearly two years of tinkering, Microsoft will launch the new server operating system sometime during the 2016 Ignite show. Microsoft continued to stoke interest during the development stage by introducing the minimal server instance dubbed Nano Server, which should consume fewer resources as a Hyper-V host and require fewer patches. Developers also got a taste of what's to come with support for Docker containers. Enterprises with concerns about moving workloads into Azure received a confidence boost with the security updates due in the next version of Hyper-V, such as the host guardian service and shielded virtual machines (VMs).

PowerShell is one option for automating the management of some of these new features, but Microsoft also plans to lift the veil on System Center 2016 during Ignite. In addition to handling the lifecycle for Nano Server Hyper-V hosts and VMs, this next iteration provides support for managing Linux systems. And, as with much of what Microsoft is developing today, System Center 2016 will integrate with the cloud-based Operations Management Suite (OMS) for additional support for managing and monitoring workloads in a hybrid environment.

We asked the SearchWindowsServer advisory board members for their thoughts about Microsoft, its recent moves, the Ignite show and what the future holds for IT shops.

Adam Bertram

Windows Server 2016 is a reflection of Microsoft's cloud-first stance. Nano Server and tighter Azure integration are a couple features that excite me.

Adam Bertram

In the past, Microsoft released Windows Server with all the same bits of the Windows client operating system. Even though administrators can use Remote Desktop to manage a server and see a familiar environment, this is fraught with problems.

The first issue is security. Servers don't need to be desktops, so why build a server with a larger footprint that can only help malicious intruders? Second is performance. In the Linux world, it's not uncommon to see a server image that's 500 MB or less. This small size allows for quick deployment and administration. The multi-gigabyte Windows Server image we use is not agile enough for modern environments.

Even though it's hard to change habits, I think it's only going to be a matter of time before admins stop using Remote Desktop to bring up a server console in Windows. This started with Server Core in Windows Server 2008; Nano Server is the next evolution of the remote-only Windows Server.

Tighter Azure integration is another topic I'm excited about with Windows Server 2016. Microsoft focuses first on developing features in Azure and then on premises on many products. Cloud-hosted offerings such as Visual Studio Team Services should get the latest features -- then those technologies will trickle down to on-premises products. The same process happens with the cloud-based OMS and its on-premises counterpart, System Center.

Administrators can also use Azure to control on-premises products. Features such as Azure hybrid workers in Azure Automation or on-premises OMS agents talking to cloud-hosted OMS servers make it clear that Microsoft wants to tighten the connection between Azure and Windows Server 2016.

This change in Microsoft's development rattles a lot of legacy IT shops. DevOps moving toward the mainstream and Microsoft's cloud-first initiative means that system administrators used to doing things a certain way will need to keep up or get left behind.

We see a lot of companies moving to a more agile, DevOps-focused workflow. This change forces system administrators to start coding and focus more on automation management. IT is learning it needs to quit thinking of physical servers as unique snowflakes. With Microsoft's new path and solid footing in the cloud market, businesses see value from using DevOps practices and the cloud. To keep up with innovation, system administrators must rethink their roles.

For more from Adam Bertram, please visit his contributor page.

Trevor Pott

Until Azure Stack is ready, there's not really anything Microsoft can bring to the table that is going to interest me. Aside from Azure Stack, the most interesting technologies coming from Microsoft are the applications that are compatible with Linux. With Microsoft intent on making Windows endpoint OSes and Windows Server as unpalatable and unaffordable as possible, I'm excited for things such as SQL Server for Linux, .NET for Linux and the increasingly capable Android support for Office.

I am seeing many conversions to Apple because businesses are not comfortable with Microsoft's overbearing and customer-hostile approach to Windows 10. Pilot projects around Remix OS are appearing, with the aforementioned Office for Android running on Remix OS as a combination for light-duty workstations that are doing predominantly browser-based work.

Trevor Pott

Some of what Microsoft is baking into Windows Server 2016 is interesting, but the bad offsets the good.

Microsoft's new licensing scheme and strong push toward a subscription model have me far more interested in technologies that help me move customers away from Microsoft than toward it.

This is going to fragment in three ways. Companies that are truly all in on Microsoft are not going to buy Windows Server 2016. They're going to go with Azure, and will probably stick with Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012 R2 until they complete their cloud migration. Companies abandoning Microsoft -- either wholly or partially -- will have a similar reaction; enterprises will stick with what they have and devote resources to the migration to Linux and/or UNIX.

What remains are companies that are wedded to Microsoft but still skeptical of the cloud. These are organizations that haven't bought into Microsoft's vision but are unable to escape its orbit. As they aren't migrating [to cloud], efforts will go into moving old systems to the new OS until they figure out which path to take.

For some, cloud resistance is simply about money. In the old days, you bought a server -- and its software -- and you sat on it until it broke. Yes, you might run it out past the support contract or beyond the patching date, but if the vendor changed licensing -- or anything else -- too egregiously, then customers standing united could force the vendor to back down. Those days are gone.

Once you're in the cloud now, you're there forever. And Microsoft -- or any cloud vendor -- can simply turn the knobs whenever they feel like. You either have the money to pay the subscription feel to stay in business or go out of business. That isn't a tenable position for many.

There isn't a lot of enthusiasm from anyone I've talked to about sticking with Windows Server on premises because very few people seem to believe in Microsoft's long-term commitment to Windows Server on premises. They feel herded into the cloud and its expensive subscription model, and there is a looming feeling that this may be the last on-premises version. There's a lot of nervousness about what to do if that is the case.

Outside of the hard-boiled Microsoft tribalists, there is mounting resistance. Heterogeneous environments are no longer outliers but the new normal. Skills for Android, Linux, Unix and Apple are growing at a record pace. Microsoft's hubris alienates many who once were its most ardent champions. It remains to be seen if Microsoft will face a challenge strong enough to break its stranglehold on both back-end workloads and endpoints.

For more from Trevor Pott, please visit his contributor page.

Michael Stump

When Microsoft and VMware hold their annual technology conferences within a few weeks of each other, you know we are in for a campaign of veritable shock and awe. It started at the end of August when Microsoft launched its boldest vSphere trade-in program yet, an attack aimed squarely at VMware's perceived licensing injustices.

Michael Stump

Then there was the announcement -- on the Azure blog, which is a tell on the reasoning behind the press release -- that PowerShell is an open source project and available for Linux and macOS.

Clearly, Microsoft is intent on stealing VMware's thunder by any means possible. But what is the real-world meaning of PowerShell on non-Windows platforms? That's a big deal, right?

We're 10 years into the evolution of PowerShell from an accessory that showed up on our Windows Server 2003 systems to -- as Microsoft explains -- "an automation platform and scripting language for Windows and Windows Server that allows you to simplify the management of your systems." PowerShell's success as a scripting language lies in its simplicity: if you can read English, you can read PowerShell. Sure, it can get pretty esoteric if you're reading an expert's work, but generally, the commands are in English, and do precisely what you'd expect them to do.

Microsoft was quick to realize the potential of PowerShell, and the company advanced it from understudy to the starring role in the Windows ecosystem. You can't read a product data sheet for any current version of a Microsoft product without PowerShell popping up. For example, on the Windows Server 2016 page, the No. 1 reason you'll "love" Windows Server 2016 is, "Manage your servers 'DevOps-style' and share code with the PowerShell community." As systems administrators, we're expected to use PowerShell as a needle and thread to weave a complex tapestry of infrastructure and applications.

In the real world, which is to say outside the confines of marketing land, is PowerShell as pervasive and widely adopted as Redmond would have us believe?

It turns out this isn't really a question about PowerShell. It's a question about the state of IT and the current sentiment toward systems administration.

Two worlds coexist in IT: the extroverted, social-media-savvy community of IT professionals who live on the bleeding edge of tech, and the introverted, in-the-trenches rag-tag bunch of veterans who've seen it all before and have the scars to prove it.

When Microsoft and VMware hold their annual technology conferences within a few weeks of each other, you know we are in for a campaign of veritable shock and awe.
Michael Stumpsystems engineer and owner of Holden Information Services LLC

The first community espouses the glory of PowerShell as the one solution to IT's woes. The second community wearily notes while PowerShell can help, it's not a hard requirement for continued employment in our profession.

Neither community is wrong; conditionally, they're both right.

PowerShell, in its nascent cross-platform incarnation, invites newbies to learn the language with its intuitive syntax in the form of self-descriptive cmdlets. Even people who would never call themselves coders find it easy to write useful one-liners in PowerShell. System administrators responsible for supporting multiple vendor products -- say, vSphere on a Cisco Unified Computing System with SolidFire storage -- are drawn to the language thanks to modules and snap-ins for PowerShell that expose native functionality on non-Microsoft technologies. In addition, PowerShell lets administrators manage infrastructure at scale; you could safely argue that PowerShell, like any mature automation offering, demolishes the old 1:100 ratio of admins to servers.

But the IT stalwarts with a few decades of experience in the field will tell you automation is not a solution unto itself, and PowerShell is nothing more than the current favorite of the automation crowd. The IT veterans will recount stories of epic Perl scripts that induced borderline insanity to debug; of batch files that were blocked by overzealous antivirus software; and of Python doing, well, whatever Python does. Sure, they'll say, learn PowerShell.

But don't mistake a tool for a profession. After all, the invention of the nail gun didn't categorically end the hammer market.

Microsoft is smart to push PowerShell as the grand unified theory for its enterprise offerings. But let's all take a step back and take a deep breath. PowerShell is by no means a learn-or-die technology for IT professionals. It's great to have in your toolbox, but it'd better not be the only tool in there.

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

Next Steps

Check out our Ignite conference guide

Unifying user data may be a theme at Ignite

Get a preview of what's coming in Windows Server 2016

This was last published in September 2016

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