Microsoft kills the little guys at 'cloud scale'

Windows Server 2012's new features for managing multiple machines will undoubtedly make life easier for systems administrators, but they're also one more nail in the coffin of small IT consultancies.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

commentary During the various presentations introducing Microsoft's new server operating system at TechEd 2012 this week, company representatives banged on about their new "Cloud OS" branding, and the ability for the new OS to run at "cloud scale."

"Cloud OS transforms the datacentre," claimed more than one PowerPoint slide, with plenty of familiar buzzwords. Scalable and elastic. Shared resources. Always up, always on. Automated and self-service.

Yep, that's the cloud.

But with all of this emphasis on "cloud scale"— no, I don't know either — what about the tens of thousands of small Australian businesses that really don't need that much infrastructure? The ones that don't even need a server room, let alone a datacentre?

Why should they go to the expense of upgrading their servers?

"One of the goals here is for [Windows Server 2012] to be a broad and deep release. So for those folks that are in the small to medium business realm, we've made some huge investments to really ease the operations of the server itself," said Jeff Woolsey, principal program manager with Microsoft's corporate team, in a clearly well-rehearsed response to that question.

"In Server 2012, we've really changed the paradigm with how you deploy and manage a server," he clichéd.

"Let's say I set up 16 servers. Well, in the past, what you would generally do is you would go and RDP [remote desktop protocol] into server one, make some changes, configure it, RDP into server two, and you would go through these things individually. In Server 2012, the Server Manager, built in to every box you buy now, is designed out of the box to do multi-machine management."

Woolsey spoke of a new feature, cluster-aware updating, that will patch all of the virtual servers in a cluster of nodes, and reboot them in such a way that there's no service downtime.

This is all well and good, but surely there's a minimum cluster size at which the total workload of learning to set up and use these new features outweighs the old-fashioned approach of maintaining the servers one by one?

And surely, with all of the cloud services available today, such as managed Exchange, and with server hardware being so powerful, a business can grow reasonably large before it even needs more than one server, let alone a cluster.

The answer to that question, according to Microsoft, is that the low-end Windows Server 2012 Essentials edition includes the ability to be aware of those cloud services.

"A lot of those small businesses would have run email in that server, a bunch of other stuff on that server as well. So a lot of those services are moving to Office 365, or to datacentres run by service providers as managed email, and the Essentials product has that capability to understand how to do that," said Phil Goldie, Microsoft Australia's director for server and tools.

It strikes me that all of this emphasis on datacentres and mobile endpoints, not just by Microsoft, of course, but by the entire industry, means that the middle scale of infrastructure is disappearing.

There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself. Change brings opportunities. But it surely means that the little IT support businesses that built and maintained that infrastructure will be gutted.

If everything's either cloud scale (shoosh) or BYOD, that surely leaves little room for the one-person shops that typically made easy money watching progress bars for a couple of days as they set up a 10-user Exchange server.

Microsoft disagrees.

"The other dynamic that's happening locally, if you look at our service-provider partners, is they're now offering white-label services, either directly or through distribution, out to those thousands and thousands of small business partners," Goldie said.

"The partner doesn't want to operate the infrastructure, but they remain the trusted advisor to the customer."


But didn't most of these guys — and they are mostly guys — get in to the IT business to work with computers? Endless meetings with clients about their business needs and growth plans probably wouldn't be their idea of fun. Neither would a job in a datacentre, given that they're used to their independence.

So what's next for them?

Stilgherrian attended Tech.Ed Australia 2012 as a guest of Microsoft.

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