Windows administrators contend with call to the cloud

Microsoft's rapid development pace in the cloud tempts more enterprises to pull the plug on on-premises systems, as Azure technology works its way into multiple offerings.

As Microsoft pushes its cloud through a variety of avenues, Windows administrators find themselves grappling with more down-to-earth problems.

Many companies and their worn-down IT staffs, tethered by increasing costs and workloads associated with legacy equipment, might not be able to resist the call of the cloud much longer. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella beckons organizations with talk of digital transformation powered by the company's Azure platform, it must be tempting for some admins, who can imagine the day they can pitch their servers -- and their corresponding maintenance headaches -- into the dumpster.

PowerShell, the script-based automation tool into which Microsoft has poured significant resources the last several years, can alleviate some of the pain associated with these maintenance tasks. As organizations' infrastructures continue to expand and pull in different operating systems, namely Linux, Microsoft touts the open source PowerShell Core as the conduit through which IT will find administrative nirvana. But for many admins who get burned out from the constant demands of their jobs, it can be difficult to find the time to learn a new way to manage and configure systems.

SearchWindowsServer reached out to its contributors for their thoughts on Microsoft's recent moves and whether they will ease the various challenges facing many IT departments.

Cloud-friendly a misnomer for some admins

Stuart BurnsStuart Burns

Stuart Burns: A lot of Windows shops do not fully utilize automation technology. Linux administrators went through the same thing, but are further along the curve.

The trend with Microsoft server products is a shift from GUI-style management to a command-line-first approach. Old-style Windows administrators must learn to write scripts with a certain level of proficiency. But when everything is reduced to a PowerShell script that runs against an Azure environment, what is left for the administrator to do?

As the world shifts to infrastructure as code and software-defined data centers, the Windows administrator that wants to stay relevant must know how to code and handle the cloud as well as they know their current on-premises infrastructure.

Look for Microsoft make inroads with cloud offerings

Adam FowlerAdam Fowler

Adam Fowler: Despite all the hype around Azure and Office 365, many companies still need the basics, such as a file share.

Microsoft's spin is to put file shares in the cloud with Azure File Sync. The service offers similar abilities to the distributed file-system service, but takes it several steps further. Azure File Sync keeps recently accessed files local, while older files remain in Azure. Windows administrators can set it up for multiple sites and not worry about what data goes where.

I also like what I've seen about the new server tool, Project Honolulu, that compiles numerous management features in a nice web interface. It includes utilities such as Server Manager, Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager and Failover Cluster Manager for on-premises systems. While it's very early in the project's development, it shows promise that Microsoft has not forgotten its Windows Server customers who are not PowerShell aficionados.

The future will bring more hybrid interoperability. The Operations Management Suite (OMS) offering, for example, has a lot of server support. OMS is an option as the hub for log shipping, data analysis, along with health checks of the servers and the applications they run.

Is the chasm between Microsoft and its customers growing?  

Jonathan HassellJonathan Hassell

Jonathan Hassell: Looking ahead, I expect Microsoft to further push its Azure services and cloud management services in general, including a de-emphasis on System Center in favor of Intune. I do not expect System Center Configuration Manager to last another five years.

There's a disconnect between where big corporations are and where Microsoft is in terms of tech progress -- and that gap is widening. Yes, Azure's range of services is impressive. If you want to drop a quarter-million to call yourself a hybrid cloud user with Azure Stack, then fine. But there are still mainframes around. There are still critical line-of-business apps that run on Windows Server 2008 -- even some on Windows Server 2003.

I also expect more navel-gazing about why Microsoft feels compelled to update Windows every six months in its Semi-Annual Channel. None of the IT people I talk to want that.

Server channels attempt to cater to two crowds

Brien Posey: One of the more intriguing recent developments for Windows Server admins is Microsoft's new dual-channel release model, which addresses differing needs in the customer base.

Windows administrators generally fall into two different camps. On one side, there are administrators who prefer nonfrequent, well-tested, monolithic Windows Server releases. Microsoft has taken this approach over the last 20 years, with a new Windows Server version every two to three years.

Brien PoseyBrien Posey

On the other side of the equation are Windows Server admins who want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. For them, new Windows Server features cannot come quickly enough. They see frequent updates as a key to achieve business agility and maintain a competitive advantage.

In an effort to satisfy both sides, Microsoft now has two release channels for Windows Server.

This approach is the only way that Microsoft can make customers happy. The only question is how easy it would be for a company to switch channels. That might not end up being a cheap or easy thing to do.

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