TechEd 2013: Microsoft Details Cloud-First Strategy for the Enterprise

TechEd 2013: Microsoft Details Cloud-First Strategy for the Enterprise

At what might arguably be called the most energetic and captivating TechEd keynote in many years, Microsoft corporate vice president Brad Anderson and a bevy of fellow executives made the collective case for the firm’s transition to devices and services. But the day was perhaps most notable for a related announcement that was delivered internally to Microsoft’s employees and then shared with the public: Going forward, Microsoft’s enterprise emphasis is in cloud services.

“To enable this transformation we had to make deep changes to our organizational culture, overhauling how we build and deliver products,” Microsoft Server & Tools president Satya Nadella wrote in his letter to employees. “Every one of our division’s nearly 10,000 people now think and build for the cloud – first. Our engineers live a ‘live-site’ first culture to better respond to our customers in real time. And we are laser-focused on building more complete end-to-end service scenarios, or modern workloads, to deliver more value to our customers and partners.”

Nadella’s open letter to employees might be seen as the second major milestone in Microsoft’s sweeping transition from a maker of traditionally packaged software to a company focused on devices and services. CEO Steve Ballmer first announced this move in an open letter to shareholders last October. But Ballmer’s broader strategy statement was perhaps a bit more confusing at the time, because most customers and partners still viewed Microsoft has a software giant. Today, Nadella’s pronouncement comes in the wake of an impressive spate of upgrades to major Microsoft cloud services like Windows Azure, Office 365, and Windows Intune. And this week, Microsoft has announced significant updates to its core server products—Windows Server, System Center, and SQL Server—as well as Visual Studio. All, Microsoft says, are built for the cloud.

At the TechEd 2013 keynote address in New Orleans Monday, Mr. Anderson and other executives outlined a comprehensive product overhaul that spans client and server computing, online services, and developer tools. “The products and services introduced today illustrate how Microsoft is the company that businesses can bet on as they embrace cloud computing, deliver critical applications, and empower employee productivity in new and exciting ways,” he said. “Only Microsoft connects the dots for the enterprise from ‘client to cloud.’”

Microsoft has been talking up its Windows 8.1 update for Windows 8 and RT over the past month or so and a live demo of the update by partner director of program management Iain McDonald focused on its improvements for businesses. Windows 8.1 adds native Miracast wireless display and near field communication (NFC)-based pairing with enterprise printers, support for fingerprint-based biometrics, multifactor authentication on tablets and remote business data removal, and updated Windows Intune and third party device management support, among other changes. You can learn more in my article, In Blue: Business Features in Windows 8.1.

Microsoft announced R2 updates to Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, as well as SQL Server 2014. Each will ship in preview form later this month and then in final form to customers in the second half of 2013. (SQL Server 2014 will ship a bit later than the R2 products, possibly in early 2014.) These private cloud solutions extend the capabilities of the previous releases while offering a compelling case for what Microsoft can accomplish with quicker, annual releases that more closely match the release cadence of online services.

With Windows Server 2012 R2, for example, Microsoft is introducing major advances to its Hyper-V virtualization stack, with a new legacy-free Gen2 virtual machine type, faster Live Migration capabilities, online resizing and snapshot exporting of virtual machines, new Quality of Service (QoS) functionality for storage and extended Hyper-V Replica that can include hosted solutions like Azure. You can learn more in New Features in Windows Server 2012 R2. System Center 2012 R2 integrates more deeply with a new version of Intune to provide more seamless device management. And SQL Server 2014 builds on the 2012 release, adding “Hekaton” in-memory OLTP capabilities, better performance and scale, enhanced security, support for hybrid cloud solutions, and Hadoop connectivity.

A lot of Monday’s focus, not surprisingly, was on Windows Azure, a product line that has grown so powerful and diverse it’s a bit hard to even conceptualize at times, with pervasive Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) capabilities. But the most compelling Azure announcement this week arguably has nothing to do with technology: Microsoft is changing the way it bills customers for Azure usage to a by the minute model in which usage time isn’t rounded up to the hour, a move that will provide significant savings to customers. In a related vein, customers will no longer pay for stopped VMs.

Microsoft also announced the next version of its software development suite, called Visual Studio 2013. A preview version of Visual Studio 2013, with enhancements for agile portfolio planning, developer productivity, team collaboration, quality enablement and DevOps, will ship at the Build conference in late June, Microsoft said.

There’s a lot to digest this week, and certainly more to come. Stay tuned to ongoing coverage at Windows IT Pro for TechEd 2013 updates throughout the week.

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