How Microsoft's server teams got the lead out

How are Microsoft's server team moving to deliver new releases annually, rather than every three years?

Microsoft is moving toward a new, much faster release pace with Windows client and Office , as I've blogged before. But the server team is on the same fast track.


So how did the Server team move from a schedule of delivering new releases of Windows Server, System Center and SQL Server just about every three years, to seemingly annual one?

One enabler has been something the Server & Tools organization has been doing for a number of months, if not years: Moving to a cloud-first model . By rolling out smaller sets of new features first on the cloud complements of its server products -- Windows Azure, Windows Intune and SQL Azure -- Microsoft began putting in place the first steps toward a move away from the big-bang releases of the past.

This doesn't mean Microsoft always is delivering every new feature first on Windows Azure, however. Earlier this year, for example, Microsoft updated all of the servers running Windows Azure in its datacenter so that they were using Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V. Up until that point, Windows Azure was running on a different version of Hyper-V than the one built into the most recent version of Windows Server.

The Server & Tool unit's move to “cloud first” engineering principles means the two are working together on shared development and delivery milestones for new products and services. But they're not the only ones doing so. Going forward, starting with the new set of "Blue" server updates coming this year and into next, the Windows Server, System Center and SQL Server teams also started sharing development and delivery milestones horizontally.

Microsoft officials (happily) seem to be reducing references to its server and cloud products as elements of the "Cloud OS." Instead, as of this week, the Softies are now talking about its servers and service complements as "Azure-powered solutions." Whether these products and services actually run on top of Azure, they incorporate Azure design and code -- if not connect to Azure and Azure-hosted ones.

Here's another naming change worth noting: Microsoft also is no longer using "hosters" to refer only to its various partners/service providers that host its products and services like Exchange, SQL Server and Lync on behalf of customers. Instead, users that are running Microsoft servers and services in their own datacenters seem to also be considered hosters, too. In other words, users can be hosters, too. This is yet another way Microsoft is attempting to blur the lines between cloud, on-premises and hybrid.

Back to the more tangible cloud announcements Microsoft made at its TechEd North America conference on Day 1, June 3.

Update: During a press conference following the Microsoft TechEd Day 1 keynote, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson said Microsoft's new delivery cadence isn't going to be as jarring for customers as some fear. Anderson noted that Microsoft actually delivered six Windows Server releases in the past 10 years. 

He said that Microsoft has been moving to a faster deploy-iterate pace than many realize. And Windows Azure, which runs on Windows Server, is being almost continuously updated these days. Microsoft also is working on improving live migration so that moving from Windows Server 2012 and the coming R2 update later this year with as little disruption as possible, officals stressed.