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Project Concero and its role in Microsoft's cloud strategy

Earlier this year, Microsoft introduced a new application in its System Center 2012 suite. Called Project Concero, the application will more closely align on-premise services

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with cloud applications, and enable administrators to monitor them from a single view.

Microsoft gave few details about the technology, and little information about how the software might make the lives of IT managers easier down the road. But we can more closely examine the public details to get a reasonable view of how Project Concero can work in the enterprise.

What exactly is Project Concero?
Concero is a self-service, Silverlight-based tool that lets administrators manage virtual machines running on Microsoft Hyper-V and other hypervisors through System Center Virtual Machine Manager. It also lets them manage services that run on Windows Azure and Azure appliances from any Web interface. With these capabilities, managers across an organization can set up applications and machines for self-service deployment by end users and other administrators. The idea is that users can sidestep corporate IT and spin up pre-packaged services that are ready to go whenever they need them. Essentially, Concero is made up of a little bit of virtualization mixed with cloud computing, and sprinkled with delegation and just a pinch of agility.

IT shops can balance central control with departmental agility
Project Concero is a great example of how IT shops can balance the speed and availability of innovation at the local level along with the need for enterprises to retain control. For example, Concero lets an IT pro delegate a set of servers or other resources to a department-level IT admin. Therefore, the central IT pro can designate exactly the sort of control and resources that the junior administrator should use (think of this as Active Directory delegation on steroids).

The junior administrator can then configure those resources to work with users’ needs and within the parameters previously set. It’s essentially a pared-down, role-specific experience based on what central IT believes a particular group needs. It also enables that group to handle management tasks on its own.

The issue of command and control versus agility is huge one. Bridging the divide among departments, users and developers looking for immediate access, and IT staff that has a more structured way of providing service has always been tough split. But now that public cloud providers offer platforms that can essentially bypass centralized IT operations, the challenge is more political than technical. The cloud offers the promise of a ready-to-go platform complete with all the administrative niggles smoothed out. In addition, Microsoft and other vendors tout the ease with which admins can go from signup to running an app -- sometimes in a matter of minutes.

As cloud provider services become more mature, the allure will only increase. In the meantime, IT shops need to modify their outlook on service delivery and decide whether they should become service providers as well.

Does Concero fit into Microsoft’s competitive strategy against other virtualization and cloud vendors?
With Project Concero, Microsoft attempts to play on three key strengths:

  • The ability to manage other vendors’ hypervisor solutions (for example, how System Center Virtual Machine Manager can interplay with VMware-based virtual machines)
  • The ability to move on-premise services to simple private clouds, and to more complex hybrid cloud environments as organizations enhance their reach
  • The desire for IT departments to control cloud computing resources with the same tools used to control other network resources, as well as to delegate that control to down-the-line administrators without losing grip on the system

Right now, it appears VMware doesn’t offer management services outright and its support for hybrid clouds is pretty limited. So, it’s safe to assume that Microsoft plans to manage cloud services using familiar tools as a key competitive angle against VMware.

System Center is not cheap, however, so paying a hefty licensing fee for a piece of the Microsoft cloud action could deter many organizations. It could also limit the advantages of Concero by deterring users from serious evaluation.

Concero availability and packaging 
Microsoft says Concero will be released by the end of the year. In fact, the first beta could be available at TechEd North America in mid-May. One question that remains is how Concero will be packaged within the System Center suite and whether it will be a separate product (unlikely) or a feature within a single product like System Center Configuration Manager. It could also be packaged as a set of related features that span the breadth of the whole System Center suite.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

This was first published in April 2011

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