TechEd 2014 Keynote Sneak Peek

TechEd 2014 Keynote Sneak Peek

Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President of Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft, held a botched Reddit AMA yesterday. Bottom line is that Brad was ready, but Reddit bombed. New questions couldn't be posed and Brad's responses were not showing up. So, the AMA was abandoned and Brad posted the Q&A to his "In the Cloud" blog on the Microsoft site. Not surprisingly, a couple hours later, Reddit was fixed and the AMA, with all the questions and answers, is stored online in its originally intended location.

There was a mishmash of questions and answers. Some personal. Some safe. Some not. But, there is a very important thread included in the completed AMA that I believe I need to highlight for you to understand. And, by understanding it, you'll actually get a sneak peek into a piece of Brad's upcoming keynote for TechEd 2014.

Question: With ConfigMgr still the cash cow of System Center, why is there so much more focus on the other products of the System Center suite?

Brad: The ConfigMgr team is the largest one in the System Center org. a lot of our efforts in this space are really focused on MDM, with a focus on delivering that from the cloud with Windows Intune. In fact -- Intune and ConfigMgr are the same team. If anything, we've actually increased our investment in endpoint management and user enablement. What you may be noticing is that we are talking a lot about transform the datacenter and the cloud.

There's a very interesting takeaway from Brad's response and one that needs to be expanded on a bit. Last year Microsoft merged the Windows Intune and ConfigMgr teams into a single unit. And, not only were the program teams merged, but so were the MVP groups. In the past, there were specific MVP groups based on specific products. Those focused on ConfigMgr were ConfigMgr MVPs. Those with expertise in OpsMgr were OpsMgr MVPs, and so on. 

But last year that changed. The System Center suite was divided into two distinct areas, a heavy cloud area and separate area with on-premise focus. In effect, ConfigMgr (on-premise focus) was separated from the other pieces of the System Center suite. The MVP groups were also changed to reflect this change. The System Center MVP groups are also now separated into two distinct groups. The Cloud side is now called System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management and the on-premise side is called Enterprise Client Management.

Now, remember that one of Satya Nadella's (who used to be Brad's direct boss before being chosen the new CEO) primary statements in his first letter as CEO was Mobile First/Cloud First. Brad states in his response that a lot of the System Center org's focus right now is mobile device management and this follows along directly with Satya's declaration.

One other thing to highlight here is that it's been reported that development focus on ConfigMgr sustained engineering has been decreased considerably and instead the entire group is focused on developing Windows Intune. Customer complaint has been high in the past few months over sluggish responses to suggestions and support for ConfigMgr. It's been said that since ConfigMgr has been so successful proliferating the market that Microsoft is intentionally taking focus off it because they just feel they've done enough there. Instead the focus should be realigned to develop the weak link in the enterprise management suite which is Windows Intune. 

Question: When will Microsoft flip the switch on ConfigMgr and make it completely Cloud-based?

Brad: Intune is ConfigMgr delivered from the cloud. Last Fall we created a strong connection between both of them for use in a hybrid cloud model. Today there are more than 10k customers using Intune to manage their PCs and devices. The choice is yours: Do you want to manage on-prem or from the cloud -- we give you the option to do either.

Brad starts his response with an interesting use of English phrasing, and really it's more of a messaging and marketing trick than anything. Instead of saying "in the cloud," Brad states "from the cloud." By changing the preposition he also alters the perception of how on-premise clients will be managed in the future, and promotes a fuzzier feeling about the Cloud for those on-premise IT Pro stalwarts. In essence, they are not moving operations to the Cloud, instead they are managing their operations from the Cloud while still sitting in the same exact seat they have for generations. Did you catch that? Tricky.

Windows Intune is coming around and new features are being added all the time. Much like Windows Azure is steadily becoming a full mirror of on-premise services, Windows Intune is close to mirroring ConfigMgr completely. With the added development focus (at the expense of ConfigMgr), it won't be long before Windows Intune is an exact match, further blurring the lines of how endpoints are managed. If Microsoft can show that managing on-premise endpoints from the Cloud is viable, ConfigMgr could be history. And, by Brad's response, he believes that is possible today since he states that it's now up to the customer to decide which management method to use. Or, maybe he's just rehearsing his TechEd 2014 keynote? Hmmm…

Question: Why were the majority (if not all) MVP ConfigMgr sessions for TechEd declined?

Brad: We accepted, by a percentage, more sessions from the community this year than we did last year at MMS. I love the work the MVP's are doing, and I look forward to meeting with them at TechEd.

In true MSFT form, Brad answers the question without answering the question. Instead of focusing on the meat of the question, which was about ConfigMgr, Brad deflects by commenting on the percentage of community sessions. And, this really cements the focus of my commentary, and why we may hear a big announcement during the TechEd 2014 keynote around ConfigMgr and Windows Intune.

ConfigMgr, the on-premise endpoint management solution, despite being hugely successful in adoption and revenue, is a problem for a company intent on moving customers to the Cloud. As we've seen over the last couple years (and the last year, specifically) Microsoft has not been shy about dumping popular programs (TechNet? MMS?) or keeping slow or failed ones (Surface? Windows 8? Service Manager?) as long as it aligns with the roadmap.

From a technology management perspective I believe the message is clear for IT Pros: Go Cloud or go home. I fully expect to hear soon (possibly at TechEd 2014) that Windows Intune will be rebranded (OneTune, anyone?). The name no longer represents the focus and direction of Microsoft, the Cloud, or System Center. But, it will definitely be highlighted in the keynote with new features unveiled that will make attendees wonder why Microsoft is keeping up development on clearly competing products, particularly one that doesn't meet the Mobile First/Cloud First angle.

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