How Cloud-First Design Affects You

Today, Brad Anderson (Corporate VP in the Windows Server/System Center unit) posted the first in what should be a series of "What's New in 2012 R2" articles. In it, Anderson focuses on how Microsoft squeezed so many features into the 2012R2 release in such a short period of time. The short answer, which has been stated by Jeffrey Snover before, is "we build for the cloud first." That means features we're getting in 2012R2 have, for the most part, already been developed, deployed, and in use in some of Microsoft's own cloud services. This is a huge deal. It means their cloud services (think Azure, O365, and the like) get stuff first, where Microsoft can make sure it's stable. They then package those and hand them off to us.

It means we get better stability, but it also means we get better manageability. Look, you don't get excited when you have to deploy a new server, right? You want to automate that stuff. Well, Azure gets really ticked off if they can't automate it, because they do it thousands times more than you. So forcing themselves to run a ginormous datacenter also forces the company to make better management tools - which they then hand down to us in an OS release.

If, that is, you're managing your datacenter as if it was your own little... dare I say it, private cloud. In other words, if you think of your datacenter as a wee little cloud, and you manage it like one, then you'll get the tech you need, because Microsoft has to develop that tech for themselves. If you want to keep managing it the old-fashioned way... well, you'll get less love.

This whole approach, for me, is the ultimate expression of the Microsoft phrase, "eat the dogfood." Meaning, use our own products just as our customers would. You just have to make sure you're eating the same flavor dogfood. Not that MS expects everyone to have their own in-house Azure. No, that's not the point. The point is that they're developing for a world where admins do nothing but create units of automation, and business processes (perhaps outside IT) initiate those processes. You're going to see more and more tools and technologies (um, PowerShell) to facilitate that model of IT operations; you'll see less and less tech that facilitates the old way (meaning, fewer and less robust GUI tools, I'm guessing).

Desired State Configuration (DSC) is probably an ideal example of this new approach. In the past, when you wanted to configure a few hundred machines to look and behave a certain way, you went clicky-click a few hundred times in a GUI. That's imperative configuration; you tell each machine what to do. That doesn't scale to cloud-sized proportions, and so now we're getting DSC. DSC is declarative configuration, meaning you tell a group of machines what to be. The OS itself figures out how to achieve that state of being. So admins have to shift from thinking "what do I make the machine do" and "how do I tell it what to be." It's not unlike Group Policy, actually, which is also declarative, except that DSC will eventually dwarf Group Policy in terms of reach and capability.

Point being, if you're in the old world of, "I just run through the Wizard and set the machine up," you're not aligned with the new world order. Expect fewer wizards, as product teams shift their investment to building things like DSC resources instead. With 12-18 month product cycles, time is in short supply for each new release. One-at-a-time approaches don't scale to the cloud, so those are likely to get less of that limited amount of time.

Anderson's post is worth a read. It's a little high-level - the man is a Corporate VP, after all - but it shows where Microsoft is pointing their collective brain. It uses the word "delight." It describes in great detail how Microsoft is trying harder to put the customer in the front of every conversation - but, more subtly, it also shows how Microsoft is moving the conversation past "what do customers tell us they want" and more toward "here's what we see customers needing." Henry Ford would be proud.

About the Author

Don Jones

Don Jones is a Windows PowerShell MVP, author of several Windows PowerShell books (and other IT books), Co-founder and President/CEO of PowerShell.org, PowerShell columnist for Microsoft TechNet Magazine, PowerShell educator, and designer/author of several Windows PowerShell courses (including Microsoft’s). Power to the shell!