Make no mistake, IT Pros are witnessing yet another disruptive technology rise to the surface – presenting equal parts threat and promise. As a developer, I was in the minority of those in attendance at a ‘Firestarter‘ event presented by Microsoft yesterday in Iselin, NJ. Most of those in the audience were infrastructure and operations folks, and I think many of them seemed very threatened by what they saw.
Bob Hunt and Yung Chou did an excellent job in presenting the subject matter, and their commitment and passion to cloud computing was front and center. For me as a developer it was also a bit contagious – can you pleas pass the Kool Aid?!
My company is actually in the process of moving to Microsoft’s BPOS product. While it promises to significant reduce the burden on our IT staff ( a concern for the IT support audience members), it is not without it’s pain points for an organization very passionate about their need to do things in very specific ways. Complying with some of the constraints and limitations of BPOS will be a challenge – and there are simply some areas where the product itself just doesn’t feel fully baked. The view into the next gen product – Office 365 looks like it addresses many of the rough edges, but not necessarily the limitations. Some of the Communicator features were actually quite awesome – and it seems like the day is coming when PBX will be replaced by software (more shivers down the IT pros spines).
Windows Azure seems like a no brainer to me. This is where our organization needs to go, and I WANT to build out some app on the Azure platform. My concern until now has centered around reporting of various types. Previously there was no SSRS on Sql Azure, although I’m told that will not be the case for long. What remains a problem for us is many of our apps use PDF libraries or other components (Crystal hack hack Reports) that access System.Drawing or other lower lever resources – and apparently these things simply won’t work in such a tightly managed environment. While I thought Azure ‘Virtual Machine Roles’ would be our saving grace, Yung made clear in no uncertain terms that the VM role is a crutch not worthy of even speaking to during the full day course of the event. The idealist in me really wants to agree with him, but the realist in me says better start with something mind numbingly simple.
The last session of the day was what really excited me – even though it was probably the most ‘infrastructure’ oriented topic of the day. The ‘private cloud’, or building out your own ‘Infrastructure as a Service’. Using Windows Server 2008 R2, Systems Management Server and a couple of add-in overlays for Virtual Machine Management – Yung demonstrated creating a datacenter definition, tempting server types and building out a library of images. Using the ‘Measured Service’ attribute of cloud computing, everything is assigned a ‘cost’, both in terms of ‘reservation’ and actual deployment and usage. With in an organization roles are assigned for Data Center Admins, Business Unit Admins and a couple others. BU admins can ‘reserve’ resources based on planned or projected needs. The DC Admins can revise those requisitions, and can quantify the cost entailed to be ready for their deployment. When the point it time comes that the 3 person development team roles on to the new project, the BU Admin pushes a button on a screen and 9 new VM’s are provisioned and deployed, ready for the team to go to work. The model looks so simple and makes so much sense that I’m ready to go sell the highly virtualized data center to my bosses and follow up with a quick ‘common management platform’ pitch so that I can spin VM instances on a whim. That is until I get the cost report showing what the realization of those instances is costing me across all kinds of levels I don’t think IT has ever reported on before. The IT Pros were quite pale by that point.
The threat to the old school way is clear. And the old school way will wither and die. But I tend to agree with Yung and Bod, that while this disruptive technology will certainly displace jobs and require re-training, tooling and ways of thinking – the opportunity horizon actually gets wider. We are living through a time of data explosion – where every couple of weeks or so we double the amount of content generated by the human race throughout our existence. The tools, techniques and new ways of thinking presented in this seminar are the tools that will allow us to manage, support and ultimately make sense out of that data explosion. We need this.
If you’re an IT pro, I highly recommend you try to attend one of these Firestarter events in your neighborhood.