As we are entering 2014, it's a good time to step back and look back for a moment and imagine how the IT will look like in the coming months. Don't expect me to share any secret being baked at Microsoft at this time, I'm just looking ahead with an IT Pro perspective.

Products and industry trends.

I believe that 2013 will be remembered as the year in which the traditional release cycles accelerated.

Microsoft has released the SP1 then the R2 version of System Center and Windows Server just about one year after launching the previews version. Many new services for Azure have been made available like Windows Azure Active Directory, the long waited IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and several hybrid services like Windows Azure Backup or Hyper-V recovery Manager. This list is just a brief overview of the major updates that have been made available during the last year.

I'm impressed by the speed at which the new services and updates are released and it is not going to slow down in 2014. The approach that we have followed over the last decades consisted of getting a new version of a system (an application, a management suite or simply a new operating system), validating it in the corporate environment then planning a massive deployment. That usually became the company standard for few years.

This approach is not compatible anymore with today's business requirements. The current needs are about constant evolution. The IT must be able to deliver new services constantly. The idea of having a stable environment for few years is more an exception than the common ground. This does not means that the IT should become less reliable, the IT of the future will have to handle continuous changes, starting with the infrastructure.

Is a continuous change of the infrastructure really compatible with reliability? 10 years ago, I probably would have a more mitigate answer, but today, the new building blocks of the IT simply have this characteristic at their foundation. For example you can evolve a virtual machine from Hyper-V 2012 to Hyper-V 2012 R2 with no downtime, you can also consider Active Directory with continuous upgrade approach since the beginning.

One of the secrets of continuous change is automation. The cloud approach has driven the maturity of automation during the recent years because it brings the human intervention at a more valued level: the creation of the automation pieces. With automation the OS becomes a commodity and scaling in or out an application is not an issue anymore.

The IT teams will need to adjust their organizations to handle those changes in the proper way:

  • The IT needs to consider more that failure is part of the software. They will need to put in place structures and processes that mitigate the impact of the failures whatever environment they chose to run on.
  • IT Pros will need to learn this new approach of systems management and deployment.
  • Root cause analysis of the crash of an OS will not be necessary anymore.

This new approach requires to learn how to implement highly automated systems at the risk of struggling with more work to perform with less resources and less time. The job will undergo a certain transformation that not only includes those news technical skills but also includes a good understanding of the company business.

The transformation of the job

As the business needs of the enterprises evolves, so does the IT teams. Today, the business will go to a public cloud providers to build the solutions that the traditional IT cannot offer or built, creating a Shadow IT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_IT). According to Forrester, shadow IT is already happening in your companies, you just not know about it … yet. The main driver for that is that the IT departments do not answer the business needs.

The IT department can try to resisting to this change and may try to use their authority (block access to the providers, write a policy, etc.) but it will only make things worse. A better approach is to embrace the change and leverage the knowledge gained by running and managing applications on-premises. This added value should help getting the application aligned with the company's requirement like privacy, backup and recovery policies. Change has always happened in the IT industry and today, the role is evolving from managing servers to managing clouds and delivering the best possible service to the business.

I believe that 2014 is at the inflexion point for this transformation. This is the moment to jump on the train and evolve your skills. There are some regulation requirements, complexities, network limitations, etc. that will limit the evolution to a full public cloud environment and will require a coexistence between a public environment and on-premises resources. However the pressure to be more efficient in managing the local resources will be higher and the Private Cloud is the way to go. We will then see the development of a hybrid model that interconnects the private and public environments.

Implementing a private cloud and understanding the hybrid model takes time and requires new competencies. They are rare on the market today and it's a good time to gain them. For example, the MCSE Private Cloud certification (http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/private-cloud-certification.aspx) is one of the assets to prove your ability to deploy and manage a Private Cloud. It could be one of your objectives for this new calendar year.

The IT Pros have to give the right framework to the business teams so that the latter can evolve at the right pace while following the company policies. This approach will help reducing the frictions that may exist between the operations teams and the development teams while giving the infrastructure teams a more strategic position. They will have a clearer view on the cost of each application. At the end of the day, what matters to the business is to be able to use a platform that has predictable costs, aligned with the business usage. The evolution to the clouds facilitate this alignment.

The Microsoft view

The hybrid model that leverage the benefits of the public cloud with the customizability of the private cloud bring the ability to better follow the business requirement.

Microsoft has a symmetry between its on-premises products and its public cloud services. This means that all our products leverage the knowledge and best practices gained from running and operating them in the public cloud. For example you can take a machine running from your private cloud and move it to Windows Azure and vice-versa. The availability set check box in a VMM Service Template bring the availability group concept from Azure to your datacenter.

Using the same building blocks on both sides makes the hybrid approach simple to implement and reduce the learning curve for any IT Pros that needs to extend the resources from its datacenter. Because of this symmetry, not only at any time you can use windows azure and step back in case the business requirements have evolved but you can also expect a short ROI (Return Over Investment).

The hybrid approach allows to seamlessly port existing application from you datacenter to Azure and back. The backup that is integrated with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center DPM 2012 R2 leverage Azure as a location to secure your data off-premises. SQL azure Data sync integrates the on-premises SQL databases with SQL Azure databases by using a granular mechanism that allows you to select with tables and with rows in each table to replicate and more …

Today you also have appliances like StorSimple that fully integrate the datacenter storage using the traditional interface with Azure and replicate some of the data to the Cloud. It's another approach of the hybrid scenario that can be implemented.

In 2013, Gartner predicted that nearly 50% of the enterprises will have a hybrid cloud implementation in 2017 as indicated by this article: http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240206459/Half-of-large-enterprises-will-have-hybrid-cloud-by-2017-says-Gartner.

If you look across the stack, Microsoft is today the only vendor that has this symmetry on so many levels.

Conclusion

2014 is going to be another very interesting year!

It is quite clear that hybrid cloud will be a recurring topics. The public cloud consumption is a fact for most organizations today, IT may not yet know about it but in case this is not in the plans yet, they should have a strategy to implement it this year with a framework for its adoption.

The private cloud, if not already in place should be considered with proper diligence to ensure the IT delivers the right services to the businesses with the right timing.

Hybrid will take a bigger place as the usage of the public cloud will grow. The needs for cross-cloud authentication and the requirement to access data across the boundaries of your datacenter will increase. This New Year will bring us a lot of news and several of them will be around the hybrid model.

Happy New Year 2014!