Virtualization + Cloud = lots of buzz but what does it mean to IT Professionals?

News and Notes from Your Senior IT Pro Evangelist – Dan Stolts (ITProGuru)

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Virtualization + Cloud = lots of buzz but what does it mean to IT Professionals?

Virtualization => Cloud: Definitions and Progressions

Is it really worth all the buzz?  How big can it really be?

How to future proof your career!


Virtualization + Cloud = lots of buzz but what does it mean to IT Professionals?

Virtualization => Cloud: Definitions and Progression

As an IT Professional I have been working with the predecessor to the cloud for many years. The predecessor of course is virtualization. We (IT Professionals) have been taking advantage of many virtualization technologies including: Server Consolidation, Desktop Virtualization, Application Virtualization, Presentation Virtualization, Storage Virtualization and a number of other technologies. We get many great benefits out of virtualization.  Most do not see a natural progression to the cloud. In fact, it kind-of sounds like everybody is just making up that the cloud is an extension of virtualization.  Really, isn’t cloud just a web application? 


First things first, as we look at defining the term ‘virtualization’ one turns to the dictionary to see what it means.  Well if you go to it is not even a word.  If you do a Bing search you will find literally thousands of people and companies that have defined it.  It appears we cannot even agree on a definition of virtualization, so how can we ever really know what cloud is?  For the sake of argument I will loosely define virtualization as “Abstracting and isolating computer hardware or software from other components.”  I think most that read this will agree that this fits most definitions.  When you look at server virtualization:  a virtual server host “abstracts and isolates” their guests from the hardware and from each other.  In Application virtualization the application is abstracted and isolated from the operating system and/or from other apps and so on…


Ok, so how is cloud related to virtualization?  What is being “abstracted” and what is being “isolated”?  The answer to that is somewhat complex.  It is complex because it depends.  There have been many, many people and companies that define cloud and like virtualization, the definitions are different.  In some cases, they are very different.  In the case of Microsoft cloud components there are three fundamental classifications: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (Paas) and  Software as a Service (SaaS).  We will take a quick look at each of these “cloud offering classifications” in a bit of detail by looking at where the lines of abstraction and isolation occur.  These lines will be highlighted by who manages different components of the infrastructure.  To start this dialog let’s look at what we manage in our datacenter today in terms of elements of the stack.  We manage everything.



Now let’s take a high level view and give just a simple overly simplistic look at each of the Microsoft cloud classifications.

1)    Infrastructure as a Services (IaaS): Think all the infrastructure in the cloud.  That is, server hardware, switches, routers, etc all residing in the cloud.  Not simple enough for you?  How about this… Think of it as a virtual machine (VM) in the cloud.  All the hardware and software needed to run a VM is in the cloud.  {You patch and manage the OS} This might also include infrastructure services like network authentication (think LiveID, Federated Services, etc)

Infrastructure IAAS Responsibility.


2)    Platform as a Service: Think of this as an OS in the sky.  The OS is Windows Azure which includes all the infrastructure that is part of IaaS.  The OS is managed and patched by Microsoft (your cloud provider).  Windows Azure is a customized version of Windows Server 2008 R2.   If you were to use PowerShell to connect to your Azure system it would look very much like a PSSession to any other windows server 2008 R2 machine.  In this environment, you deploy and manage your custom applications and Microsoft manages everything else. A little more on this later.



3)    Software as a Service:  Think Application in the sky.  This is any application that is running as a cloud service.  What was once called a web application is now called a cloud application or Software as a Service.  Web App and Cloud App are pretty much synonymous. The only real difference is who is hosting it and what kind infrastructure do they have it on. Do they have high availability? How elastic is it (able to scale up and scale down)?  Does it have self-service? Is it billed by usage?  These are fundamental cloud traits. In this environment the provider manages everything. Some examples would include Office 365, Windows Intune, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, CRM Online etc.  There is always going to be applications or services that skirt the lines and even cross over at time.  One example of this might be Xbox Live.  Is it Software as a Service or Infrastructure as a service?  Well, it is really both.  The Xbox Live authentication could easily be classified as IaaS but some might consider it SaaS.  In my opinion, it really does not matter.  All that matters is that we understand they are “cloud” services.  It also matters that you know that there are different types of services.  More about how to use this information later.



Now that we understand the isolation points and abstraction points of the cloud let’s focus back on the datacenter and virtualization.  We went from the traditional datacenter to the “virtualized datacenter” by way of virtualizing the operating system and isolating these operating system and services from each other.  OS virtualization was virtualizing the operating system, application virtualization was virtualizing the app, etc.  As we added new virtualization capabilities we added abstraction and isolation points. clip_image019 I will not go into detail on Public vs Private cloud.  Yung Chou covered that pretty well a few TechNet articles back.  I will just lump public and private together for now.  When you move to Windows Azure (in the cloud [Private or Public] you are virtualizing the HARDWARE.  Let me try to explain it this way.   When we virtualized servers we were still managing the hardware that those services were sitting on.  We were just able to divide a single server into many servers by applying virtualization technologies to that server.  The hardware did not change.  Well, it did get much more powerful, but largely it was the same kind of hardware we were using before virtualization.  On this same hardware we put multiple OS’s to make up multiple servers on a single physical server.   Some of the servers did move because many of them were sitting under someone’s desk and all were moved to the datacenter when the new super servers were brought in. If I still have your attention let’s step it up a bit.


If we abstract and isolate the hardware to the cloud run our applications on a cloud server (Windows Azure) we are virtualizing the hardware which comes with its own OS.   The hardware does not go away but it is very different.  You probably recall that buying a server that was a web front end and buying a server that was a virtualization host were very different.  The virtual servers were much bigger.  When we move to cloud we step up the hardware again. It is much bigger, much faster, much more scalable and much more expensive than the hardware we once purchased for our virtualized datacenter.   The operating system has changed a bit too.  It is still Windows but it is Windows Azure.  It is an operating system that has been built to allow massive scale and flexibility.  On top of that, a self-service portal was built to allow customers full control of their applications.  Yes, you now manage the applications instead of the hardware and OS.   We have abstracted the Hardware/OS and your cloud provider (e.g. Microsoft Cloud) is managing that for you.  When you deploy an application, you do not have to think about the hardware or the OS.  You just have to think about and manage the application.    


Is it really worth all the buzz?  How big can it really be?

I could write an entire article on this.  In fact, I did.  It is posted on my blog at Cloud For The Masses–The ITProGuru Answers Is the Cloud a Fad or a New Paradigm. I will just give you a quick summary here.  In this article I took a look at virtualization and in particular the impact of virtualization on IT Professionals as well as other segments of the population.  I then contrasted that with how cloud will impact each of these segments.  The findings reported where: Virtualization was HUGE for IT Professionals but not much of a play anywhere else.  For IT professionals cloud will be as big as Virtualization, possibly a bit bigger. However, it will be even bigger for other segments of the population.  Please read the full article for proof.


I looked at and defined involvement in the following segments…

·         Large Enterprise (More than 100 Servers)

·         Medium Business (10->100 Servers)

·         Small & Startup Business (Less than 10 Servers)

·         Device Manufacturers (this is a very important one to look at in further detail)

·         Developers

·         Consumers

·         Gamers

·         Others???

Bottom Line Score Card:

Cloud is exponentially bigger than the virtualization movement could ever be. There is no doubt that the cloud is a new paradigm and it is here to stay. Cloud has reached critical mass. This means, there is no stopping it. Cloud will continue to grow and provide value to all segments of our population. It has already changed the way of thinking of many. It will in the next couple years change the way of thinking clip_image021for EVERYONE ELSE! As a teacher and mentor to the IT audience I have to strongly recommend that if you are not smart on the cloud now, do not wait. Get started now and pass the word along to others so you can capitalize on the bell curve of the technology while it is still developing. We can and should learn about the cloud and leverage it now to give us the best chance of succeeding in this RACE to the clouds!

The Score Card answered the questions…

1.    Did Virtualization impact this segment?

2.    Will the Cloud impact this segment?




How to future proof your career!

Ok, now what?  How do we prepare for the cloud today? We as IT professionals need to start thinking more strategically.  Wait… don’t bail on me now, let me explain.  If we look at all the devices and web services that are around today it is clear that many companies have found they can “leverage” the cloud (or web if you prefer)  to increase brand loyalty, decrease cost, increase income and even create new ways of doing business or new was of generating revenue.  Companies like Leap Frog with their Leapster Explorer is one example of a company that has done all of the above.  A company that not too long ago was a device manufacturer is now well known by most parents and considered more of a learning company than a device company as their tagline “The future of learning” articulates.  They figured out how to expand their device offering by leveraging the cloud to get parents involved with their children’s learning.  They created new brands, incredible customer loyalty (children & parents), new revenue streams and a future outlook that is almost limitless.  How did they do it and what does that have to do with IT professionals?  It is simple, we follow the pattern.  For a few years now, some developers have been thinking strategically about how they can help their company achieve by leveraging new applications.  In some cases they have been wildly successful.  Look at Office 365 from Microsoft which will be launching very soon.  Someone had to come up with the idea to leverage the cloud for new revenue streams.  Look at Intuit who now leverages the cloud for online backup and a whole lot more.  Who is to say that only developers can think strategically?  We as IT Professionals have a much better picture of our company than most developers do.  We should be able to look at our company and figure out what can be done better.  We should look at, and potentially provide ideas for improvement to leadership on:

·         Where the bottlenecks are in service, support, delivery or wherever

·         Increasing brand loyalty

·         Improving customer relationships

·         Improving employee moral

·         Increasing revenue

·         Decreasing cost

·         Developing new products & services

·         Many, many other things


Present a plan to management on how they can potentially leverage the cloud to make great things happen.  If you can “think strategically” and come up with an idea or two, I would guess you will feel pretty good about your long term prospects with your company. There are limitless solutions that people and companies have come up with on devices, phones, computers, slates, web, whatever.  We can potentially get ideas from what others have done.


Wait, that’s not all!  Most importantly we need to invest in ourselves so our skills do not get stale in an ever changing market.  IT professionals are very lucky now because there is a ton of information out there on cloud and much of it is freely available online.  I would start with,, or  TechEd 2011 North America just concluded and there are hundreds of recordings online from the sessions. I would set aside 10-15 mins every day maybe first thing in the morning or at the end of the day (yeah, like that is going to happen, let’s stick to first thing in the morning) to read a blog post or TechNet article.  Perhaps once a week, (or every day if you like) set aside time at lunch to watch a video.  Get smart on the technology so you can understand how you can leverage that technology in your job now and/or in future jobs.  If you are not yet savvy on virtualization, you are way behind.  Try to get caught up by perhaps trying to get certified on virtualization then build on that knowledge as you study up on cloud.   If you want to play with Azure you can get a free 30 pass with the Promo code DPEA01 at