Kevin Remde's IT Pro Weblog

  • SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.. Oh my! ("Cloudy April" - Part 3)

    SaaS and Iaas and PaaS!  Oh my!...These are probably not new acronyms to most of you.

    “Acronyms?  I thought you were just a really rotten spelller!”

    Yeah.. acronyms. 

    • SaaS = Software as a Service
    • PaaS = Platform as a Service
    • IaaS = Infrastructure as a Service.Oh my!

    These are the three delivery methods that we talk about when considering how to deliver, leverage, or purchase IT Services.  When you are considering a software or technology solution to address some business need, you have choices.  Do I buy it from some online service?  Do I build it myself?  Do I host the purchased software on my own servers and in my own datacenter, or do we rent space at another location?  Who owns the server?  Who owns the operating system?  Who is responsible for securing our information?   Who let the dogs out?

    “Now I’m confused.”

    For the few of you just starting out in your knowledge about all-things-cloud, here is a brief definition for you:

    Software as a Service is where you buy the service.  It offers little to no customization, but you don’t have to worry about configuration or maintenance or updates or hardware other than your connectivity to the online service you’re purchasing.  Examples are BPOS / Office365 and Salesforce.com for business, or awesome consumer services like Zune Marketplace or XBOX Live

    Infrastructure as a Service is the case when you’re buying the space to manage your own infrastructure.  You don’t have to worry about building servers or managing the virtualization layers, but you provide or define the OS, the applications, data, and so on.  Examples of IaaS are hosters that give you the ability to upload or create your own virtualized servers running on their hardware.  Another increasingly popular example is a “private cloud”, where a large enterprise supplies computing resources company business units in a hosted, self-service, measured, elastic way.  (More about Private Clouds in a later post in the series).

    Platform as a Service is a solution for simply providing the application or data, and the rest of the platform is automatically maintained for you.  So now I don’t even have to worry about the operating system or platform my application is running on.  I build the application, define and create the storage structures, and upload it onto the platform.  I don’t have to worry about configuring load balancing or DNS.  The platform has clearly defined security practices already in place.  Upgrades to the platform are handled automatically.  I pay only for what I use, and I can spin-up or spin-down instances of computing power as needed, without interrupting the availability of my potentially globally accessible application.  The best example of PaaS I can think of is Windows Azure.  I’ll be covering Windows Azure in a later post in this series.

    “That helps a bit.  It sounds like the choice is really about answering the question: ‘Who is responsible for what?’”

    Exactly.  To help make it really clear, the chart below breaks down the responsibilities, from the traditional-and-totally-on-premises solution on to the complete purchased software as a service idea, and pointing out which portions of the stack are your responsibility vs. those provided by the service provider.

     

    Separation of Responsibilities

    “Great, Kevin.  So which one do you suggest I choose?”

    The point here is not to tell you which method is the right way to go in every case.  And there is plenty of room for grey areas in-between.  Sometimes the best solution is a combination (or even hybrid) of delivery methods.  The decisions you make will be based on the applications or services or infrastructures you need to build and/or support, and what makes the most sense for your business; either financially, by compliance needs, performance, manageability, and so on. 

    Hopefully this quick primer at least gets you considering the many options out there, so that you’ll be better able to make and support a good decision the next time the choice is presented to you. 

    Make sure you check out part 4 tomorrow, where we go into greater detail about Software as a Service.

  • Manage Your Windows Azure Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 25)

    CloudsLet me ask you something… Are you like many IT Pros I talk to Windows Azure about, who think, “Oh.. that’s cool.  But it’s for developers.  How am I going to manage it?”

    “Yeah.. that’s what I’m thinking!  It’s like you can read my mind!”

    Exactly.  And I’ve heard it a lot from the IT Pros I’ve talked to, and quite honestly I thought it myself when Windows Azure was first introduced.  And also, for a while there I was frustrated that Microsoft didn’t have a better answer when it came to automating or otherwise controlling and monitoring your Windows Azure workloads; though I knew that more and better solutions than just watching some stream of logging information were “in the works”.  Fortunately, now we’ve got some good solutions for you; and even more on the way.  So I thought I’d take a minute to list some of the tools and options that are available, and some that are still-to-come, regarding the management of Windows Azure and SQL Azure.

    The first thing you’ll want to do is walk through some of the free training guides.

    “But Kevin.. that’s for developers.”

    No.. not entirely.  Yes, sure you will want to install the platform and the training kit samples, but you won’t have to do any coding.  The training kit comes with the fully-completed example applications that you can quickly compile and package up for putting up into your trail or Windows Azure Pass (Promo code: TNAZURE) account.  And once you have that, the training walks you through the important steps of configuring storage, loading your application using the Windows Azure Management Portal, and working with the web-based management.  Once you’ve got that down, further exercises show you how to use Windows Windows PowerShell to securely manage and control you Windows Azure applications. 

    Manage this!

    Also on the subject of PowerShell for Windows Azure, you really should watch Max Adams’ “How Do I” video on TechNet: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/ee957677.aspx

    Second, you might take a look at the MMC.

    “Really?  There’s a snap-in for the MMC?”

    Yes – The Windows Azure Management Tool.  It’s a non-MS-Supported tool, but it does a lot for you, such as managing your hosted services, monitoring diagnostics on performance and events, managing certificates, configuring storage, etc.  It is even extensible, and drives PowerShell to do its work. 

    Ryan Dunn has also put together a nice 15-minute introductory video on the tool.

    And finally, we have a release candidate of a Windows Azure Application Monitoring Management Pack that you can use with System Center Operations Manager.  Here is the description from the download page:

    Overview
    The Windows Azure Monitoring Management Pack enables you to monitor the availability and performance of applications that are running on Windows Azure.
    Feature Summary
    After configuration, the Windows Azure Monitoring Management Pack offers the following functionality:
    • Discovers Windows Azure applications.
    • Provides status of each role instance.
    • Collects and monitors performance information.
    • Collects and monitors Windows events.
    • Collects and monitors the .NET Framework trace messages from each role instance.
    • Grooms performance, event, and the .NET Framework trace data from Windows Azure storage account.
    • Changes the number of role instances via a task.

    To summarize: Here are the tools mentioned above, plus a few extras, that will help you get started in learning how to manage and monitor Windows Azure and Windows Azure applications:

    UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Microsoft recently announced the beta (CTP) availability of something called the Windows Azure Traffic Manager:

    "The Windows Azure Traffic Manager CTP is a new feature that allows you to load balance traffic to multiple hosted services. You can choose from three load balancing methods: Performance, Failover, or Round Robin. Traffic Manager will monitor your hosted service on any http or https port you choose. If it detects your service is offline it will send traffic to the next best available service."

    So that's a great way to automate some additional management functionality based on monitored aspects of traffic and performance.  Very nice!

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    What are you using or hoping to use to manage your Windows Azure platform and your applications or storage?  Are you using any other methods you’d like to share with us?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

    In part 26 of the series I’m going to introduce to you and discuss a Windows Azure-based IaaS that is not really IaaS.  (Huh?)

  • What’s new in SCVMM 2012 - (“Cloudy April” - Part 27)

    SCVMM 2012System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 R2 is a powerful virtualization management tool.  It does a great job of organizing and managing your virtualization hosts, clusters, virtual machines, and libraries of resources (virtual hard disks, saved machines, machine templates, profiles for hardware and operating systems, etc.)  And it does this for the management of virtualization from either Microsoft or VMware.  But there are some really important aspects of virtualization – particularly when we start considering the delivery of IT-as-a-Service, that SCVMM 2008 R2 doesn’t manage.

    Here are just a few examples of what I’m really looking forward to in SCVMM 2012, and what I think you’ll be excited about, too.

    First – I think you’re going to appreciate being able to manage many more resources as important aspects of your virtualization platform.  Defining and then using things such as load balancers and storage devices in how you model virtualized services (not just servers) is a great benefit.  Defining logical networks, IP pools, MAC address pools, VIP pools for load balancers; these all become easy then to add to virtual machines and machine templates that are used when building your “service templates”

    Which brings me to another new feature that I am very excited about: Service Templates.  You will now not only be defining templates for machines and the operating systems that run on them, but you’ll have the ability to create the definition of a service that is potentially made up of multiple machines, network objects (logical networks, load balancers, storage devices), and the relationships that they have.  For example – say you are defining a 3-tiered application, with a web front-end, middle application/logic tier, and a database cluster on the back end.  And perhaps you need to support high availability and performance that scales through load balancing your machines at the front end or middle tier.  And you may even want to define a range of machine instances for those tiers; maybe saying that I need to start with 2 web frontend servers, but I may be scaling up to as many as ten at some later time.  You can define all of this as a Service Template.  And once you’re ready then to deploy, SCVMM does intelligent placement of the new VMs based on their needs for resources (as defined in their templates) as well as the needs of the service as a whole.  Pretty amazing.. and that’s just scratching the surface.  You’ll also be able to update the machines in a service by updating the template and then replacing the old with the new template, and finally updating the machines in an automated way.

    SCVMM is your private cloud fog machineAnd finally (though not really finally, because there are so many more new and exciting features that I don’t have time to describe them all here) is the Fabric Management.  The “fabric” (a term used to define the parts that make up a “cloud”, which is also a level of abstraction supported in SCVMM 2012) can be defined and configured.  Even beyond my first point of managing resources such as storage and networks, SCVMM 2012 extends capabilities for automating the creation of new virtualization hosts – even from bare metal.  It talks to the hardware controller on the motherboard and is able to boot and then deploy Hyper-V Server to new physical servers; ultimately adding them into your infrastructure as new virtualization hosts.  You can also perform automated updates of your virtualization hosts using WSUS

    “What do you mean, ‘automated’?”

    Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a cluster of virtualization hosts running several highly available (HA) virtual machines; meaning that they have the ability to migrate between hosts using Live Migration (or even vMotion.. we don’t play favorites here).  But now it’s time to install updates to your hosts.  SCVMM automates the process for you by performing the updates in a way that moves around your VMs for you.. installing updates, restarting hosts, and eventually re-balancing (yes.. VMware DRS-style load re-balancing) your VM workloads between and among the hosts.  And doing this all with absolutely zero-downtime of your virtual machines and the services they are providing.

    If you were at MMS this year, you probably saw this slide several times.  It’s one that we’re using in our talks on SCVMM 2012 to introduce the main improvements in SCVMM 2012.

    image

    And from the Beta download page, here is the overview and quick list of new features:

    Overview

    System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 delivers industry leading fabric managment, virtual machine management and services deployment in private cloud environments. Virtual Machine Manager 2012 offers key new features that include hypervisor creation and management, network management, storage management, private cloud creation, self-service usage and service creation. It features deep investments in server application virtualization, service design and service modeling all of which can be used to efficiently offer an on-premises private cloud.

    Feature Summary

    • Fabric Management
      • Hyper-V and Cluster Lifecycle Management – Deploy Hyper-V to bare metal server, create Hyper-V clusters, orchestrate patching of a Hyper-V Cluster
      • Third Party Virtualization Platforms - Add and Manage Citrix XenServer and VMware ESX Hosts and Clusters
      • Network Management – Manage IP Address Pools, MAC Address Pools and Load Balancers
      • Storage Management – Classify storage, Manage Storage Pools and LUNs
    • Resource Optimization
      • Dynamic Optimization – proactively balance the load of VMs across a cluster
      • Power Optimization – schedule power savings to use the right number of hosts to run your workloads – power the rest off until they are needed
      • PRO – integrate with System Center Operations Manager to respond to application-level performance monitors
    • Cloud Management
      • Abstract server, network and storage resources into private clouds
      • Delegate access to private clouds with control of capacity, capabilities and user quotas
      • Enable self-service usage for application administrator to author, deploy, manage and decommission applications in the private cloud
    • Service Lifecycle Management
      • Define service templates to create sets of connected virtual machines, OS images and application packages
      • Compose operating system images and applications during service deployment
      • Scale out the number of virtual machines in a service
      • Service performance and health monitoring integrated with System Center Operations Manager
      • Decouple OS image and application updates through image-based servicing
      • Leverage powerful application virtualization technologies such as Server App-V

    So as you can see, there is a lot to be excited about coming in SCVMM 2012.  Helping you deliver IT-as-a-Service is really what it’s all about.  Your “private cloud” just got a whole lot more cloudy.  And that’s a good thing.

    Here are some more resources for you:

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    Are you as excited about SCVMM 2012 as I am?  Have you tried the beta yet?  What do you think?  Add your comments and lets discuss it!

    In Part 28 (tomorrow) I’m going to introduce you to the current state of self-service for your private clouds.

  • Serve Yourself (“Cloudy April” - Part 28)

    Do-it-yourself Clouds

    As you may recall from part 16 (Hyper-V Cloud), one key aspect of what we define as “a cloud” has to do with it providing some level of “self-service”.  You provide a portal or some other method of requesting and then being granted IT resources. 

    “Yeah, I’d love to let my users do that, Kevin.”

    Of course you would.  Rather than getting a request for a new server or servers for a business unit or group that needs to do development/test/or production hosting of some application or service, and then expecting you to get it all set up for them, wouldn’t it be easier if they could do it themselves?  How long does it take you to set up new physical servers? 

    “Order, receive, install, configure… it takes weeks… sometimes months!”

    That’s right.  And even if you’re highly virtualized, you still have a lot of work to do to set up and configure the virtual servers each time a request comes in.  But if you could have A) a pre-defined set of machine templates, B) a well-established and easily manageable, delegated hierarchy of administrative rights, and C) a portal that allows for that delegation, plus the ability to request and be granted virtual machines and services on-demand.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

    “Yes!”

    You configure the datacenter.  You set up the virtualization platform, including the compute, networking, and storage available.  You define the machines and the administration.  And then you introduce your business to “the portal”, where they can define their own infrastructures, their own administrators and users, and finally request services which ultimately end up being virtual machines for their use.

    “Sounds awesome, Kevin.  What is it?”

    It’s the Self Service Portal (SSP).

    “Oh.. isn’t that included in SCVMM 2008 R2?”

    Well.. yes, there is a very easy-to-configure SSP in SCVMM 2008 R2.  And that’s very useful if all you want to do is grant self-service rights to users or groups so that they can directly create, use, and destroy virtual machines.  (Go here for a feature comparison of VMM SSP and VMM SSP 2.0. And check out this great two-part article on how to configure the SSP in SCVMM.)  But in many cases businesses have a more complex environment that requires more well-defined control and workflow.  For the ability to:

    • Configure the datacenter and all of its components (compute, storage, and networking),
    • Allow business unit IT admins to “onboard” their business (with an approval process),
    • Allow business unit IT admins to define their Infrastructure, and then services (and one-or-more “service roles”) that they require, along with the administrators and users who will utilize them,
    • and finally allow their users to create and use  virtual machines – without concern for where that machine is coming from or how the under-the-hood infrastructure is actually implemented,

    you need the Self Service Portal 2.0.  SSP 2.0.  SSP 2.0 is a free solution accelerator from Microsoft that installs onto its own server(s) and interacts with (and drives) SCVMM 2008 R2.  It includes the web portal, the application itself, and the database (it requires SQL Server). 

    Example of the architecture of what is requested: Infrastructure, services, and service roles.

    “If I’m using the SSP that’s included with SCVMM, can I just upgrade it?”

    No.  It’s an entirely new and separate tool.  It replaces the original SSP.

    So… to summarize the benefits one more time:  Your users and business units get to define and use resources in a matter of minutes rather than days or weeks.  And you (the datacenter administrator) get to sit back and monitor the process.  And all the while a record is kept of who-used-how-much compute or storage power, so that they can be charged-back accordingly.   That’s “private cloud” at its best.

    Here are some related resources for you:

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    Are you considering building and providing a private cloud for your users and/or businesses?  Have you used the SSP or the new SSP 2.0?  Have you considered some other “private cloud” solution?  Give us a comment!

    Tomorrow, Part 29 (we’re almost done!) will be about a new cloud-based server monitoring service. 

  • The Springboard Series Tour Is Back, and Partly Cloudy! (“Cloudy April” - Part 14)

    The SpringBoard Series Tour

    Meet the tour guidesThey’re back!  Once again the road to TechEd is paved with Springboard Series goodness.  The new tour starts May 2, 2011 in Toronto, and wings its around the country for several stops, delivering lots of great sessions and useful information, all on their way to TechEd in Atlanta.

    “But is it information about the cloud?  Why are you talking about it in your cloudy series?”

    Yes it is, as a matter of fact.  Among other things, the guys will be giving the lucky attendees some good information about Office 365 and Windows InTune

    Here is the text from the series tour web site:

    The Tour is back.

    The road is a cloudy placeJoin us for a full day as we take you through a deep dive into the tools, solutions and options to help you do more with less. We will cover managing the flexible workspace, a first look at Windows Intune and Office 365. We’ll also show you some of the new Windows Slates and give you details around Microsoft’s strategy for Slate devices. We will preview the new tools in the MDOP 2011 suite, a deep dive into managing and deploying Office 2010 and great tips and tricks to help you deploy Windows 7 and move your users from Windows XP with speed and ease.

    Register now and save your seat for this free day of technical demos, Q&A sessions, and real-world guidance from Microsoft experts!

    Tour stops are:

    And finally arriving May 16 at TechEd in Atlanta.  The event is free, but slots are limited, so register early!

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    Will you meet up with the tour?  Will I see you at TechEd this year?  Let me know in the comments.

    And check back tomorrow for Part 15, in which I’ll introduce you to a new cloud-based desktop PC management tool.

  • Cloud-in-a-Box (“Cloudy April” - Part 23)

    In part 6 of my “Cloudy April” series  we talked about the PaaS solution from Microsoft, Windows Azure.  And more and more companies are realizing the benefits of building applications that can run on stateless, easily scalable machine instances that are quickly deployed or decommissioned as the demand on their applications changes.  Also, the benefit of high-availability that just simply works.. and the automation of load balancing and storage and… you get the idea. 

    And even though one of the great benefits of Windows Azure is the ability to run even portions of your application in “the cloud” and leave others in your own datacenter (using technologies like Windows Azure Connect), some companies still want (or are required) to run their applications entirely in their own datacenter.  In a large company it’s not uncommon to have dozens or even hundreds of purely internal applications, and the groups developing and supporting those applications could easily benefit from a PaaS solution for their own businesses.

    Cloudy Datacenter“So.. couldn’t a company just build or buy something like Windows Azure to run in their own datacenters?”

    Yes.  Well… almost.  Right now you really only have one option.. but there is another currently in the works, and I’ll get to that shortly.  Right now your option is to build and support your own IaaS “cloud”, using the Self Service Portal 2.0 on top of SCVMM.  It’s not Windows Azure.. and it’s not PaaS, so there is still some upkeep of the virtualized OS that you’ll have to support (a situation that will improve greatly with SCVMM 2012 – currently in beta).  But the Hyper-V Cloud does allow the datacenter to provide IT-as-a-Service nicely.

    This page features paintings from Dana Ellyn's "31 Days in July" project.

     

    “But I want to run Windows Azure!  I want it in my own datacenter!  I want it now!”

    Sorry, Veruca, you can’t have it now.  At least not if you’re not already running it as one of our first testers. 

    The solution that is forthcoming, and that a few customers are testing for us right now, is something called the Windows Azure Appliance:

    “Windows Azure platform appliance consists of Windows Azure, SQL Azure and a Microsoft-specified configuration of network, storage and server hardware. It is a turnkey cloud platform you can deploy in your datacenter. Service providers, governments and large enterprises who would, for example, invest in a 1000 servers at a time, will be able to deploy the Windows Azure platform on their own hardware in their datacenter. Microsoft Windows Azure platform appliance is optimized for scale out applications – such as eBay– and datacenter efficiency across hundreds to thousands to tens-of-thousands servers.”

    (Quote from the Windows Azure Appliance FAQ.)

    “So is it really an appliance?  Is it a big box?”

    No, not really.  The final form-factor hasn’t been announced, but it’s being called an appliance because it’s an all-or-nothing purchase of specific server hardware (or a choice from a very small set of vendors) that meets the strict requirements of running Windows Azure and SQL Azure in your own datacenter.  It’s a “turn-key cloud solution on highly standardized, preconfigured hardware”.  The server, storage and networking hardware is all going to be pre-configured and installed as a group.

    Find out more on the Windows Azure Appliance page here: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/appliance/

    ---

    Is your company interested in running Windows Azure on-premises?  Could you see other benefits (or drawbacks) to running your own Platform-as-a-Service in-house?  Leave us a comment here and let’s discuss it.

    Tomorrow in Part 24 (wow.. only a few days left!) we’ll be talking about tools for developing your cloudy applications.

  • But what about security? (“Cloudy April”–Part 9)

    Cloudy Security+Lock=?

     

    Whenever I do a talk on “the cloud” or any of the products from Microsoft that involve (or revolve around) it, I always ask the folks in attendance, “What is your biggest concern about ‘the cloud’?”  And without a single exception in the dozens of times I’ve done it, the first word I hear is “Security”.  So today in part 9 of my “Cloudy April” series I thought I’d point out a few good resources from Microsoft and others around the aspects and aspirations of security in this new world of cloud computing.

    “Can’t I just go to http://www.microsoft.com/security?”

    Sure.. that’s obvious.  But that site really is more geared the end-user (or “consumer” in Microsoft-speak). 

    “What about http://www.technet.com/security?”

    Yeah… that’s better.  The Security TechCenter on Microsoft TechNet is a great starting point for IT Professional and business information infrastructure topics relating to security.  In fact, on any given day you’ll find more and more new resources and videos and screencasts, among which will undoubtedly be an increasing number of cloud-related topics. 

    Among those, I highly recommend the Security Talk Series.  Graham Calladine has a multi-part Windows Azure Platform Security Essentials video series that looks really good.

    Another good resource are the whitepapers that come out now and then regarding various aspects of security in the cloud as provided by Microsoft.  A really good in-depth look at the security mechanisms built-in to Windows Azure is the Windows Azure Security Overview.  And more recently, the Information  Security Management System for Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure document discusses cloud security from the perspective of security certifications and compliance

    Here are more resources (also found at the end of the previous document):

     

    Mark RussinovichSteve Riley

    And like many of you I’m a big fan of the RunAs Radio podcast.  Not too long ago two episodes had some great information about Windows Azure and about Cloud Security in general. 

    On Windows Azure, non-other than Mark Russinovich discussed Windows Azure internals in RunAs show number 201

    And in RunAs show number 202, Steve Riley (former ‘softie, talented speaker, and overall network security guru currently with Riverbed Technology) discussed security topics, and had one particularly interesting take on how we should start thinking about Security in this new world of the cloud:

    “…it's all about changing the definition of control.  If you use to define your control based on possession and location, you're going to have to change that now and instead you define your control by relying on encryption, digital signatures, Service Level Agreements, and security standards.  The world has already done this for pipes, right?  Nobody owns the internet.  Very few people deploy their own WAN links.  We just buy connectivity from the Telcos and we use SSL on top of it.  You can apply the same thinking to compute and storage as well.  I believe you don't have to own the infrastructure, you can let somebody else manage it but you can still own and control the data.”

    I like that.  It’s not about walls and locks on your datacenter.  It’s more about encryption, SLAs, and security standards.

    ---

    What do you think?  Can we trust “the cloud” with our business data?

    Tune-in tomorrow for Part 10, when we talk about IE 9.

  • Let’s Chat Business (“Cloudy April”–Part 11)

    imageI know I’ve talked here about it before, but I do want as many IT Pros and IT Managers as possible to know about the series of webcasts I’m doing entitled “IT Manager Chats with Kevin Remde”.  These are so much fun to do, because I get to talk to some people in the business and important folks at Microsoft who really know their stuff, and are willing to answer our questions.

    I say “our” questions, because the idea was not to organize yet another series of death-by-PowerPoint webcasts, but rather make these an opportunity for people attending the live webcast to ask questions of our guests.  I come prepared with a list,  but I really want the conversation to include you. 

    Cloudy Business“Are you doing any of these in the near future?”

    Well..  you can watch the series landing page (and even subscribe to it via RSS to watch for updates).  If you were to look there now you would see that our next one is scheduled for May 2nd.  I talked about it briefly yesterday in Part 9 of this series.)  The previously recorded sessions are available there as well. 

    Plus.. here are the feeds for subscribing to all of our IT Manager Chats, just in case you want to use your Zune or iTunes software:

    WMA | MP3

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    What topics would you IT Managers like to see in this series?  Please let me know in the comments below.

    And check back tomorrow for Part 12 of the series, if you’re interested at all at being professionally “cloud certified”.

  • Cloudy Server Configuration Advice (“Cloudy April” - Part 29)

    Microsoft System Center Advisor

     

    System Center Advisor is:

     

    Good stuff

    “That’s very pretty, Kevin.  But what does it all mean?”

    Here’s the idea.  You have servers, infrastructure roles (like Active Directory) and server applications that are configured and running.  But are they configured and running properly? 

    “Yes, I think so.”

    But do you KNOW?

    “No.”

    Serving-up server monitoring services.Exactly.  And of course Microsoft has tools such as various Best Practice Analyzers can scan your installations and tell you if everything is okay.  And we also sell System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) for rich, ongoing monitoring of servers and services.  System Center Advisor is a cloud-based application (meaning you can access it from anywhere) that, along with agents installed on your servers, and a secured, authenticated gateway for access to your servers, you can have an ongoing monitor and health status maintained of all of your important servers and server applications. 

    System Center Advisor Customer Benefits

    Historical data is also maintained.  One of the big ideas here is that you can use this to track when a change may have caused an issue.  You can proactively resolve issues that would otherwise have caused problems down the line.  And Microsoft Product Support can use that data to help you troubleshoot further, in case you need their help.

    It also allows Microsoft another way to track any trending issues among many customers, and proactively address problems that appear to be occuring more frequently.  Say for example a new driver or patch comes out for some device and it’s causing widespread problems.  Microsoft can see that through the data collected and work quickly with that device driver or patch vendor to resolve the issue.

    Note: No personal information is recorded saved.  And this tool is NOT going to ever collect and use software license information.  (A skeptic might think that Microsoft could use this to enforce software license compliance.  The ULA makes it clear that we will never do that.)

    Note that the Release Candidate only monitors Windows Server 2008 or later and SQL Server 2008 or later. Here are the details from the web site:

    Advisor analyzes the following workloads:

    • Windows Server 2008 and later:
      • Active Directory
      • Hyper-V Host
      • General operating system
    • SQL Server 2008 and later
      • SQL Engine

    For SQL Server, the following 32-bit and 64-bit editions are supported for analysis:

    • SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 Enterprise
    • SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 Standard
    • SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 Workgroup
    • SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 Web
    • SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 Express

    In addition, the 32-bit edition of SQL Server is supported when running in the WOW64 implementation.

    The product is currently a “Release Candidate”, and is scheduled to be released before the end of 2011.

    “What does it cost?”

    The release candidate is a free trial. 

    “No.. I mean, what WILL it cost when it’s released?”

    It will be yet another added benefit to purchasing your Microsoft products with Software Assurance.   So.. if your Windows Server 2008 R2 was purchased with SA, you can monitor it.  If you purchased Exchange or SQL Server with SA, you can monitor those.  And so on. 

    Visit https://www.systemcenteradvisor.com/ for more details, and to sign up and try it out.

    ---

    Are you using or considering using cloud-based monitoring or maintenance services like System Center Advisor or Windows InTune?  Got any ideas for other cloud-based solutions?  Let’s discuss it in the comments!

    In part 30 (last one!) tomorrow, I’m going to summarize my cloudy thoughts, and provide a list of links to all of the Cloudy April series articles.

  • More Hyper-V Goodness (“Cloudy April” - Part 17)

    Hyper-V

    Today I thought I’d throw some good resources around Microsoft’s platform for virtualization: Hyper-V

    “Hey Kevin.. how do I buy Hyper-V?”

    You don’t.  Hyper-V is free… well, more appropriately, it is just a role that you add to Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2.

    ---

    Have you started using it yet?  Getting good results?  Give us your thoughts/comments/rants/raves in the comments here.

    And in part 18, we’re going to show you how you can get a good idea on what moving a service to Windows Azure might cost you, compared to hosting it in your own datacenter.

  • I want my.. I want my.. I want my Hyper-V Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 16)

    Be the cloud

    “Kevin.. Was that title a reference to a certain 80’s song and award-winning video?"

    It was.  But I had to add the word “Cloud” to the phrase, because that’s what we’re talking about today: The Hyper-V Cloud.  The idea here is that by using Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V, SCVMM 2008 R2, and the SCVMM Self-Service Portal (SSP) 2.0, you can build or utilize your own private cloud.

    “Wait a second, Kevin.  I thought ‘the cloud’ was always something outside of my datacenter.  Now I’m confused.”

    Well.. actually, you can consider a cloud as something that you’re providing to your users or the business units you support.  They go to your “cloud” to request and acquire services, which could be platforms on which to develop, test, support, or run applications in production.  You, as the boss of the datacenter, provide “IT as a Service” to your business.. who in turn use “the cloud” you’ve set up for them.

    The notion of a ‘private cloud’ really revolves around five basic cloud characteristics.  You can find those documented in this NIST document here:  http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/cloud-computing/cloud-def-v15.doc

    From that document, here are the 5 required characteristics of a cloud:

    Hyper-V supports YOUR cloudOn-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service’s provider.

    Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, laptops, and PDAs).

    Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, network bandwidth, and virtual machines.

    Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be rapidly and elastically provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.

    Measured Service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

    So by that simple definition - If you’re providing a self-service portal that allows your users to request and acquire services that they are then charged for based on usage, and that they can scale-up or scale-down as needed… well, what you’ve got there is a private cloud, my friend.  It’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) at its very best.

    Clouds

    “So.. how do I buy Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud?”

    You don’t.  Because you can’t; at least not by name.  Microsoft doesn’t have a “Hyper-V Cloud” listed as a product you can buy.  But you do have three options for implementing your own private cloud:

    During our U.S. Central Region TechNet Events we do a demonstration of the SCVMM Self-Service Portal 2.0, and what the current state-of-the-art of IaaS from Microsoft looks like.  And even beyond that, Microsoft recently announced the details of a project codename “Concero”.  It’s a future product that will expand even further on providing and managing a private cloud.

    ---

    What do you think?  Are you ready to “be the cloud”?  Are you already implementing IT as a Service in this way for your business?  Drop us a note in the comments.

    In part 17 tomorrow I’ll give you some more resources around and about Microsoft’s solid, enterprise-ready, ubiquitous virtualization platform: Hyper-V.

  • Are you subscribed? (the “15%-off” deal) (“Cloudy April” - Part 21)

    ** UPDATE: The 15%-off deal has expired.  Watch the blog for updated offers at a later date.  -KR **

    “Hey Kevn.. what does the TechNet Subscription have to do with the Cloud?”

    Where do you think it comes from?  In all seriousness, though… the TechNet Subscription is an excellent way to get started with Microsoft solutions that are the foundation for your private cloud.  Keep reading for all the details…

    TechNet from the cloud

    image

    Whenever I present a live TechNet Event, I ask my audience to raise their hands if they are a TechNet subscriber. Usually about 1/2 to 2/3 of the audience raises their hand. Considering that this is typically a Microsoft-friendly audience, I'm a little shocked that there aren't more hands going up. The TechNet Subscription is such a great resource for IT Pros, for these reasons:

    • Downloadable (or delivered, if you subscribe to the disks-delivered-to-you-monthly subscription), full-version software licensed for evaluation purposes; which includes Microsoft operating systems, servers, and Office System software; all the software that IT Pros care about.  Yes, these are for evaluation, testing, and training only; but they don't time-out.  You can install these into a training lab, test lab, or use Windows Virtual PC or  Hyper-V, or even your own downloaded evaluation copy of the latest beta or CTP or Release Candidate software!   Use it to build a virtually networked playground, and play with (er.. “evaluate”, if your boss is watching) all the latest and greatest tools and technologies.
    • You get early access to beta versions and release candidates of new Microsoft products.
    • A Technical Information Library containing the articles, security updates, service packs, utilities and more - all in one convenient location.
    • Access to Online Concierge Chat service for live help from a Microsoft Online Assistant - to help you get the most out of your subscription.
    • Two (2) technical support incidents and a 20% discount on additional phone support incidents you purchase.  (HINT: the savings here alone pays for the subscription cost!)
    • Free eLearning courses to keep your skills up to date. Just for TechNet Subscribers. (Good idea to watch the TechNet Plus Blog for details)
    • Unlimited Managed Newsgroup Support. Post your technical questions in over 100 public newsgroups and receive a response from an expert by next business day. It's like another free avenue into direct technical support from Microsoft!

    For all of those reasons (Heck, for any ONE of those reasons), a TechNet Plus subscription is worth the yearly investment.

    "Cool, Kevin. Do you have any promotions to help me save some $$?"

    Yes indeed.  For new “TechNet Subscription Professional” subscriptions, from now through May 13, 2011, you save 15% off the price of the subscription.  What was regularly $349.00 is now $296.65

    Save over $52!"That's over $52 saved!”

    Bingo!

    "Is this worldwide, or U.S. only, or what?"

    This is for U.S. residents only.

    “Why new subscriptions only?  Why not a discount renewals?”

    Renewals are already automatically discounted, even more than you get with this code. Besides.. we’re honestly trying to promote TechNet Subscriptions to those who haven’t yet benefited from it.  We’re pretty confident that if you try it, you’ll see enough value in it to renew your subscription.

    15% off deal for TechNet Sub ProfessionalWrite down or copy this promotion code to your clipboard: TN3MNA04 (That's four-zero-four. Not the letter O.)

    Then GOTO the TechNet Subscription Center (CLICK HERE), and use the code to get your savings.

    “If you weren’t a Microsoft employee, Kevin, would you buy this for yourself?”

    Without hesitation, YES. I use the software I download so much; for personal education as well as testing, $296.65 is a small price to pay for the value I receive. Absolutely.

    A great summary of the subscription benefits: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/bb892759.aspx

    ---

     

  • The Cloudy Summary (“Cloudy April” - Part 30)

    I'm so glad we had this time together...If you’re living under a rock (or have better things to do) you may have missed the fact that all this month (April 2011) I’ve been creating one post each day having something to do with “the cloud”.

    “Yeah.  I saw that.”

    And today, as a grand finale, I thought I’d list out titles and link to each and every one of them, so that you can save this link and have fast access to all the goodness that was my “Cloudy April” series.  So without further adieu…

    “’without further adieu’?  What does that mean, really?  Who says that?  You never do...”

    Yeah.. I don’t know.  Sorry. Take two:

    So here they are – My “Cloudy April” series blog posts:

    1. “Cloudy April” Part 1- Full of I.T. with my head in the clouds
    2. The Cloud Ate My Job! ( Cloudy April - Part 2)
    3. SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.. Oh my! ( Cloudy April - Part 3)
    4. Getting SAASy ( Cloudy April - Part 4)
    5. Those stupid To the Cloud! Commercials ( Cloudy April - Part 5)
    6. No thanks. I'll PaaS. ( Cloudy April - Part 6)
    7. Windows Azure - the SQL! ( Cloudy April - Part 7)
    8. Was it cloudy at MMS 2011- (“Cloudy April”–Part 8)
    9. But what about security- (“Cloudy April”–Part 9)
    10. Your Cloud Browser (“Cloudy April”–Part 10)
    11. Let’s Chat Business (“Cloudy April”–Part 11)
    12. Are You Cloud-Certified- (“Cloudy April” - Part 12)
    13. Cloudy TechNet Events (“Cloudy April” - Part 13)
    14. The Springboard Series Tour Is Back, and Partly Cloudy! (“Cloudy April” - Part 14)
    15. InTune with the Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 15)
    16. I want my.. I want my.. I want my Hyper-V Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 16)
    17. More Hyper-V Goodness (“Cloudy April” - Part 17)
    18. Show me the money! (“Cloudy April” - Part 18)
    19. TechEd North America Cloudiness (“Cloudy April” - Part 19)
    20. Cloud Power-to-the-People! (“Cloudy April”–Part 20)
    21. Are you subscribed- (the “15%-off” deal) (“Cloudy April” - Part 21)
    22. Your Office in the Clouds. 24x7. “365” (“Cloudy April” - Part 22)
    23. Cloud-in-a-Box (“Cloudy April” - Part 23)
    24. Building Cloudy Apps (“Cloudy April” - Part 24)
    25. Manage Your Windows Azure Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 25)
    26. The Role of the VM Role Role (“Cloudy April” - Part 26)
    27. What’s new in SCVMM 2012 - (“Cloudy April” - Part 27)
    28. Serve Yourself (“Cloudy April” - Part 28)
    29. Cloudy Server Configuration Advice (“Cloudy April” - Part 29)
    30. The Cloudy Summary (“Cloudy April” – Part 30)

    CAUTION: Clicking that last link will cause your browser to enter an infinite loop.  Fortunately, Windows Azure can complete that loop in 0.04 seconds.

    ---

    Have you found the series useful?  I sincerely hope so.  I’d love to discuss any of these topics further with you in the comments. 

    Thanks for reading, participating, and hopefully enjoying these articles.  If you’ve enjoyed reading them just half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them, then I’ve enjoyed them twice as much as you. 

  • Was it cloudy at MMS 2011? (“Cloudy April”–Part 8)

    MMS 2011Just last week (March 29) I had the pleasure of speaking to Chris Van Wesep.  Chris is a Group Product Manager in the Management & Security Product Group, and as such he is a key person at Microsoft responsible for many of the System Center management tools and vision.  As you may be aware, much of the news coming out of Microsoft at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) 2011  was cloud-related.

    “Really?  No.. I hadn’t noticed.”

    (Seriously?  My other voice can actually get sarcastic?  I need help.) 

    Cloudy, but never raining.Anyway, I really enjoyed my chat with Chris and a couple of additional Program Managers.  They filled me in on the details around SCVMM 2012, and the other new and exciting additions to the System Center suite.

    Check out this recorded session here.

    And if you’re interested in the other recordings or scheduled events in the series, here is the series page.  Plus.. here are the feeds for subscribing to all of our IT Manager Chats, just in case you want to use your Zune or iTunes software:

    WMA | MP3

  • No thanks. I'll PaaS. ("Cloudy April" - Part 6)

    imageHave you looked at Windows Azure lately?  It was announced a couple of years ago, released just over a year ago, and already it’s the most solid platform-as-a-service out there.

    You remember PaaS, right?  I introduced it back in Part 3 of this series.

    “Yes, I remember.”

    Good. 

    I won’t waste your time going into the details of the platform here in this blog post.  It is well documented at the Windows Azure site.  And it’s also very easy to get started with, too.  Even I, an IT Professional, was able to build and deploy an application into Windows Azure.

    “But weren’t you at one time a Software Engineer, Kevin?”

    Yeah, I used to be a pretty solid C++ developer.  But.. that was too many years ago to remember.  Honestly, though, the Platform Installer makes it so easy to download and configure everything you need to start building Windows Azure applications.  And the Training Kit contains demo-after-glorious-demo application and lab assignments that walk you through building and publishing applications into Windows Azure.

    Fair to partly cloudyBut I digress.  Let me just summarize in my own words** what the Windows Azure Platform is:

    • It’s a place to run your applications for global, highly available access.  You just load your application, your web site, your database… and we take care of the platform for you.
    • You take advantage of Microsoft’s secured datacenters throughout the world.
    • Need more instances of your web site or application for the need of massive performance or high demand?  Easy.  Just tell it you want more instances.  Done with those?  Turn ‘em off (essentially giving them back).  You only pay for what you use.
    • You let Microsoft handle the connectivity and high-availability of your application.  Load-balancing?  Yeah, we do that for you.  DNS?  It’s all managed for you.  You let Microsoft handle scaling your application up and down based on what you desire, and it happens automatically with no application downtime.
    • You can run part or all of your application “in the cloud”, and securely connect the other parts from your own datacenter.
    • You have products such as SQL Azure to host your relational databases in the cloud.  You have tools such as the AppFabric and the Windows Azure Connect for making secured connections between your applications, between the cloud and your datacenter (cloud to ground?), and identity management so that you can grant access and authorization to your applications using either your own Active Directory or some other directory service.

    This is just the tip-o-the cloud, to be sure. 

    “I should try this out.  Can I?”

    Yes you can.  There is a free trial available.  The trial does require you to enter a credit card and essentially sign up for the service.

    “Bummer.  What if I just want a free, like, say, 30 days to try it out.. and I don’t care about what happens to my application after the 30 days are up?”

    I was just getting to that.  Smile  Yeah.. the good news is that for a limited time we have something called the Windows Azure Pass.  It requires a special promo code, but I’m not allowed to give it to you here.  (HINT: To get it from me, you have to attend one of our live-in-person Central Region TechNet Events.)
    UPDATE: Okay.. You twisted my arm.  Here is the promotion code: TNAZURE

    UPDATE to the UPDATE: The Windows Azure Pass offer is over.  Keep watching my blog for future, similar offers, like the FREE 90-DAY AZURE TRIAL.

    Here are some additional Windows Azure resources, to help you get started.

    ---

    And hey!  Did you know that the latest version of the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit actually has a feature that scans for and makes recommendations on Applications that might be good candidates for running in Windows Azure

    “I did not know that, Kevin.”

    You can find out more about using the MAP tool to plan for Windows Azure, here: Microsoft Assessment and Planning Tool for Windows Azure

    ---

    Check back tomorrow for Part 7, where we’ll cover SQL Azure in greater detail.

    ** This means I’m just writing off the top of my head, and these statements do NOT have the blessing of Microsoft or the talented members of our Business Marketing Organization.

  • Are You Cloud-Certified? (“Cloudy April” - Part 12)

    image

    How certified are you? 

    “Same as you.”

    Of course you are.  I’m an MCITP: Server Administrator and MCITP: Enterprise Administrator.  I was also an MCSE on Server 2003, 2000, 2000: Security, and MCSE on NT 4.  I was even an MCP on Windows 3.11.

    “Wow.. you’re old.”

    Shut up.  I was 13 at the time.**

    I tell you this because I want you to understand that I take my technology certifications very seriously.  Time-and-time again it has helped me in my career; sometimes in concrete ways, but more often just in the proof that I “have what it takes” to learn and excel and grow into new technology areas.  I’m currently working on my MCITP: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator certification.  (1 test down; 2 to go)

    With all of the focus on “the cloud” in business (and for “the consumer”), you’d think that Microsoft Learning would be considering a certification track that will address the various aspects of the cloud, so that a professional can prove they “have what it takes” in that area, too.

    “Well do they?”

    Yes.  Well.. they’re working on it, at least.   Microsoft doesn’t yet have an official “Cloud Certification”.  But the Microsoft Learning site does have a “Cloud Services Portal" specifically for cloud-related skills, study materials, and certifications.  Much of the foundation for doing work in “the cloud” has been around for awhile in the form of server, virtualization, and management tools (the foundations of the cloud; whether private or public).  Here’s how they describe the resources on the Cloud Services Portal:

    The Power of CertificationMicrosoft cloud services: Training and certification

    Cloud technology creates new opportunities and job roles, but it also impacts current ones. Over the next year, we will introduce new certifications on Microsoft cloud services and will update many of our current certifications to include cloud-related skills. We’ll provide training for these cloud computing offerings through Official Microsoft Learning Products, including Microsoft Press books, Microsoft Official Courses, and Official Microsoft E-Learning.

    We recommend that you start by building skills that apply to both on-premise computing and cloud computing. If you already have on-premise skills, you can enhance your skill set to include cloud computing.

    As I understand it, they’re doing with the certification tracks what you’re doing with your skillset: Laying the foundation.  I don’t know if we’ll see a “MCITP: Private Cloud Administrator” or “MCITP: Windows Azure Administrator” certification specifically.  Or perhaps the next versions of existing MCITP tracks will be expanded to include cloud-related areas.  But in either case, it’s not too late, and it’s not too early to start working towards a new certification.

    That said here are some resources for you:

    • You can subscribe to updates (RSS), to keep up-to-date on cloud-related training opportunities.
    • And Microsoft recently announced the new Microsoft Virtual Academy, which contains free self-paced training for IT Pros.  The initial set of content is all cloud-related (Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Azure Security Overview, and Building a Private Cloud).
    • And finally, if you’re interested in working your way towards the cloud by focusing on Virtualization, you should check out the Microsoft Virtualization Training Portal.  Come and be MCITP:Virtualization Administration certified with me.

    ---

    Are you certifiable?  Do you have a lower MCP number than I do?  Are you interested in being certified for the cloud?  Do you even care about professional certifications?  Add a comment and share with us what’s on your mind.

    Tomorrow in lucky part 13 I’m going to point you to a huge list of cloudy resources.

     

    **That’s a lie. The year was 1994, and I was actually 31. So yeah.. I guess I am old. But I have a low-5-digit MCP number and tons of real-world experience that I’m very proud of.  Do you really want to challenge me to a “geek-off”, sonny-boy?

  • TechEd North America Cloudiness (“Cloudy April” - Part 19)

    TechEd North America 2011

    Is there any bigger fan of TechEd than me?

    “Nope.”

    You got that right.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know what a huge fan of TechEd I am.  I’ve been attending TechEd in the US since 1994; and only missed ‘96 and ‘97.  (No great loss.  I heard they weren’t that good anyway.)  I’ve even dedicated time and risked severe embarrassment in sharing several TechEd Video Diaries with all of you.  (I’ll leave it to you to search for them as an exercise.)

    Cloudy TechEdThis year I’ll be in Atlanta with the rest of my geeky friends again.  I’ll be attending sessions and also helping out by recording some TechNet Edge interviews and helping proxy a Windows Azure session or two. 

    “So why are you talking about TechEd in the midst of your cloudy series, Kevin?”

    Naturally, there will be huge emphasis on “the cloud” at TechEd this year.  With all of the great announcements that came out of MMS this year regarding the System Center 2012 products that are in beta, and the new additions to that suite that are coming, you can bet that the cloud will be front-and-center; because some of the biggest and most amazing additions to our management tools revolve around the easy extension and management of your datacenter resources into the cloud.  And that’s whether your cloud is private, public, or somewhere in-between (hybrid).

    I just went through the Schedule Builder and selected the sessions I’m interested in, so I thought I’d take a moment and share them here with you:

    Monday, May 16

    1:15 PM-2:30 PM

    3:00 PM-4:15 PM

    4:45 PM-6:00 PM

    Tuesday, May 17

    8:30 AM-9:45 AM

    10:15 AM-11:30 AM

    1:30 PM-2:45 PM

    5:00 PM-6:15 PM

    Wednesday, May 18

    8:30 AM-9:45 AM

    10:15 AM-11:30 AM

    1:30 PM-2:45 PM

    3:15 PM-4:30 PM

    5:00 PM-6:15 PM

    Thursday, May 19

    8:30 AM-9:45 AM

    10:15 AM-11:30 AM

    1:00 PM-2:15 PM

    2:45 PM-4:00 PM

    4:30 PM-5:45 PM

    “Hey Kevin.. How are you going to be in two or three places at once?”

    Yeah.. that’s always the dilemma when attending TechEd.  There are usually more than one session that I want to attend at any given time.  I’ll have to make the call later on which ones I finally go to. 

    ---

    Are you registered for TechEd yet?  Will you be attending the Virtualization and/or Cloud Computing sessions with me?  Which of the above sessions should I specifically attend?  Let me know in the comments.

    Tomorrow in part 20 I’m going to show you how you can use Microsoft Office products for free. 

  • Your Cloud Browser (“Cloudy April”–Part 10)

    IE.  You know.  Internet Explorer.Often when people think of “the cloud”, they think of web-based applications that are accessed via a browser. 

    “But it’s not just that, is it?”

    No, it’s not.  Services hosted “elsewhere” don’t necessarily need to be fronted by a browser.  HTTP is just another protocol.  Applications running in native or local code can also take advantage of services delivered over a network.  But still, for most of us, the cloud-experience directly in front of us is through a browser. 

    And not too long ago, IE 9 was released.  (hooray!)Browse the cloud

    The Beauty of the Web

    I’ll leave it to the IE sites to give you all the details of what is improved, and why you’ll want to use it.  Personally, I love it.

    “But what specifically do you like about it?”

    Okay.. here are my three personal main reasons for using IE 9:

    1. I really see the speed improvements.  It’s just “snappy”.
    2. I love the tear-off tabs.  Simply dragging the tab of my most commonly visited sites down into my Windows 7 taskbar and being able to launch them directly from there is a huge convenience. 
    3. I work for Microsoft. Yes, I am an un-ashamed fan of the company that signs my paycheck. Is that wrong?

    Here are some additional links specifically for IT Pros.

    And as a bonus, I’m doing my next IT Manager Chat on May 2, 2011 with Chris Jackson.  If you’re an IT Manager, or simply want to know more about the implications of moving to IE 9 as it relates to deployment and application compatibility, you don’t want to miss it.  (HINT: Attend live and you can get your questions answered directly!)

    Here’s the registration page:

    IT Manager Webcast: IT Manager Chats with Kevin Remde: What every IT Manager should know about IE 9

    ---

    Are you a fan of IE 9?  Are you concerned that you still can’t get off of IE 6?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

    And we’ll see you tomorrow for Part 11, where I’ll talk in more detail about the IT Manager Chat series.

  • Your Office in the Clouds. 24x7. “365” (“Cloudy April” - Part 22)

    Do you manage an Exchange organization?  What about a company SharePoint? 

    “Yeah.. but we’re a couple versions back.” 

    You’re in good company.  I hear that a lot.  There are some amazing capabilities in the latest versions - Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010, but as usual, moving to the next version is not something we always have the time/resources/money to do as soon as we’d like.  But still there is this amazingly rich set of productivity experiences that we could get if we have those, along with Lync 2010 (new version of what was Office Communications Server (OCS)).

     Paramount Productivity

    We want Unified Communications, Business Intelligence, powerful content management, collaboration, search… and we want it on our PCs, Macs, pads, and smart phones.

    “Yeah, Kevin.  I want all of that.  But can I have all of that without having to build it all in-house?”

    Yes, you can.  Or at least you will be able to have that all very soon.  Office 365 is coming soon.  Currently in beta, Office 365 is the suite of Microsoft Products, hosted in the cloud, that give you all of that rich productivity that you want.  For a monthly subscription cost per-user, you and your companies will potentially have all of those tools at your disposal.  And you don’t have to install servers or upgrade applications to make that happen.

    “Do I have to throw out what I have?  I don’t want to have a whole new set of credentials that my users have to use to log-in to some online portal.  I like my Active Directory.”

    You have a lot of options.  You can keep your directory, and Office 365 lets you (and helps you) federate the authentication – So your users will have a single sign-on experience.. being authenticated to the online services essentially via your existing directory. 

    Office 365 is cloudy!“What about Exchange?  Do I have to migrate all of my mailboxes to the cloud?”

    Again, you’ll  have a lot of flexibility there.  You can essentially extend your Exchange organization (if you’re on Exchange 2010) into the cloud!  Some mailboxes in-house, and others in the cloud; and your users won’t know or care where their mailbox actually resides.  In fact, you might say “I want mailboxes in my datacenter, but I’d like to use Exchange 2010’s new archiving functionality.  So I’ll leave the mailboxes here, but their archive mailbox will be in the cloud.” 

    These are only a couple of examples.  Rich, persistent presence information… multi-person audio/video/web conferencing… web applications (Office WebApps) for working with documents from a browser… these are all benefits of the newest versions of our Office products, and you can have it all as a Software-as-a-Service purchase.

    Oh.. and before I forget… your users can even have the full Office 2010 Professional Plus suite on their PCs as part of the subscription, too.  You’ll give them a link to your new company portal, and we walk them through a simple download, install, and configuration that sets them up completely to work with your new cloud-based productivity applications.

    How cool is that?

    Here are some relevant links for you if you’d like to learn more:

    Office 365 – http://office365.microsoft.com

    Sign-up for the beta - http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/which-beta.aspx

    ---

    Are you considering Office 365?  Are you already a BPOS customer and looking to move to Office 365 when it’s available?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

    Tomorrow in part 23 I’m going to introduce you to some future possibilities… like maybe buying your own PaaS cloud-in-a-box.

  • Windows Azure - the SQL! ("Cloudy April" - Part 7)

    SQL Azure

    What if you could run SQL Server, and get all the power of the best data management platform, but hosted for you in “the cloud”?

    “You mean like at a hosting provider?”

    Something like that.  Well… something and NOTHING like that.  Something like that because yes, you don’t have to buy/house/power/secure/make-highly available the servers that it runs on.  But NOTHING like that because you don’t even have to manage the operating system that it runs on.  Nor do you have to worry about keeping the servers up-to-date with updates or upgrades.  All you have to know is that you’ve got a SQL Server that is running, highly available, and can scale to be able to handle whatever throughput you can imagine you would ever need.

    “Sounds great.  What is it?”

    SQL Azure.  SQL Azure is Microsoft’s cloud based database solution built on SQL Server technologies, and a part of the Windows Azure Platform.

    And it’s not just the database alone.  We have something called SQL Azure Data Sync, and SQL Azure Reporting; both of which are in CTPs as of this writing.

    Here are the first-paragraph descriptions from their respective home pages:

    Cloudy SQLMicrosoft® SQL Azure™ Database is a relational cloud database service (RDBMS) built on SQL Server® technologies. It is a highly available, scalable, multi-tenant database service hosted by Microsoft in the cloud. SQL Azure Database helps to ease provisioning and deployment of multiple databases. Developers do not have to install, setup, patch or manage any software, as all that is taken care of by Microsoft with this platform as a service (PAAS). High availability and fault tolerance is built-in and no physical administration is required.

    Microsoft® SQL Azure Data Sync, currently in CTP (Community Technology Preview) is a cloud-based data synchronization service built on Microsoft Sync Framework technologies. It provides bi-directional data synchronization and data management capabilities allowing data to be easily shared between multiple SQL Azure databases and between on-premises and SQL Azure databases.

    Microsoft SQL Azure Reporting lets you use the familiar on-premises tools you’re comfortable with to develop and deploy operational reports to the cloud. There’s no need to manage or maintain a separate reporting infrastructure, which leads to the added benefit of lower costs (and less complexity). Your customers can easily access the reports from the Windows SQL Azure portal, through a web browser, or directly from your applications.

    “Can my databases can be as big as I want?”

    No.  There are sizes that you can purchase, and you can move between purchased size limits if needed, but you do have a limit on the size of a single database based on what you’ve purchased.  Currently the largest a single database can be is is 50GB.  If you need more space, you’ll use multiple databases.

    “What about backups.  Do I still need to do backups?”

    Well.. in a word, yes.  But it all depends on what you need those backups for.  If you were doing mirroring for high availability – don’t worry about that.  SQL Azure data is already redundantly stored for you.  But if you need to keep an archive to be able to recover to a previous point in time; in case something changes that shouldn’t have- or in case perhaps you need to search old data for some kind of legal or compliance discovery process, then absolutely you need to do some kind of backup.  To my knowledge SQL Azure doesn’t have a native tool for doing that kind of rich archival for you; however, there are tools out there that will help.  And you do have the ability to easily make copies of your SQL Azure databases in the cloud. 

    Back on March 16 I had the pleasure of chatting with Tharun Tharian on an IT Manager Talk webcast.  Tharun is a  Sr. Product Manager for SQL Azure and Middleware.  I recommend you give it a listen if you’d like a good overview of how the cloud and SQL Azure as a cloud-based solution might make sense for your business.

    And here are some more good sources of information about SQL Azure:

    ---

    At MMS this year Microsoft made some big announcements that relate to how you will better be able to manage your cloud.  Check back tomorrow for details in Part 8.

  • InTune with the Cloud (“Cloudy April” - Part 15)

    InTune

    In my opinion, one of the most ingenious ways “the cloud” is being used is in providing services that link tightly or directly with resources that are in-house.

    “What does that mean?”

    Tune in!Well… I’m talking about services are cloud-based, but which monitor or somehow allow interaction with devices you manage.  A great example of this is Windows InTune.   InTune is a cloud-based PC Management service.  As an IT administrator, you can use it to keep tabs on the desktops you’re responsible for.  You have a browser-based interface, which is your window into the health status of all of the PCs you manage. 

    From the InTune home page:

    “With the easy-to-use web-based console, you get immediate insight into your PC environment and can view update and malware status, alerts, security policies, and more. You just need an Internet connection and the Windows Intune client installed on each PC you wish to manage.”

    Windows Intune

    Check it out here.  And click on the featureless-faced boy below to get the free 30-day trial.

    Get free 30-day trial

    “Hey Kevin… Does Microsoft have any other products like that?… that work from the cloud but help to maintain local resources?”

    As a matter of fact, we do.  One was just announced a few weeks ago at MMS 2011; a new member of the System Center family  called System Center Advisor.  That product is currently a Release-Candidate.  I’ll blog about this more in the near future, but in-a-nutshell SCA is a cloud-based sort of System Center Operations Manager, where monitoring agents on your local resources are sending their data up to the cloud service.  Pretty cool?

    “Very cool!”

    I knew you’d like that.

    ---

    Have you tried Windows InTune?  Have you tried one if its competitors?  Do you see a future in this kind of cloud-to-ground interaction?  Share your comments.

    And tomorrow in Part 16, I’m going to introduce you to something we call the “Hyper-V Cloud”.

  • Building Cloudy Apps (“Cloudy April” - Part 24)

    image

     

    Are you a developer?

    “No.”

    Well, perhaps you’re not.. but someone reading this blog is.  And they may have seen my articles about Windows Azure or the Windows Azure Appliance and may be wondering how exactly they’re going to get started building applications for it. 

    “Okay.. for the sake of argument, let’s say I am a developer.  How do I get started in learning about and developing for Windows Azure?  (..you’re going to tell me anyway…)"

    I’m glad you asked.  The easiest way is:

    What’s really nice about the tools is that, to get started, you don’t need to buy anything.  The Web Platform Installer installs everything you’ll need for developing, testing (locally) and then packaging your Windows Azure applications: Internet Information Services (IIS), SQL Server Express, .NET Framework and even the Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Edition

    Will you run your apps in the cloud?Once you’ve got the tools installed, you’ll want some samples and some labs and free training resources.  Fortunately for you, there are these great options:

    And finally, to get plugged-in to the experts and be involved with the community, you should check out these community resources:

    ---

    Are you developing for Windows Azure?  Have you tried the tools?  What did you think about the training kit?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

    Tomorrow in Part 25 I’m going to give you some ideas on how to manage Windows Azure.

    ---

    ** Just a little developer humor.  Okay… it also proves that I was a developer a LONG TIME AGO.

  • Show me the money! (“Cloudy April” - Part 18)

    Cha-CHING!

    Do I have your attention?

    "Yes."

    Need I say more?

    “Yes.”

    Oh.. okay.  One of the big concerns that people have when considering Windows Azure as a PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) is…

    Cloudy TCO“Security”

    Okay.. yeah.. that’s their first concern.  But after that, it’s..

    “How much will it cost?”

    Exactly.  Fortunately there is a site and a tool that can help you out if you’re planning a big migration or new project and whether or not hosting it on the Windows Azure platform will make $en$e. 

    The TCO and ROI Calculator – found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/economics – is the tool I’m talking about.  Basically, the tool lets you define your application.. and various parameters such as how many people do you have working on the project, and how much they cost-per-hour.. and what kind of an application it is.. and what sort of server resources do you think you’ll need.  And the tool spits out estimates of how much it will cost you over various periods of time if you were to do it yourself and host it in your own datacenter.

    “But how does this tool know how much I’m going to spend on hardware?”

    That’s one of the benefits of this tool.  You can tweak the assumptions on what things cost, so that it can be as accurate as possible to your real-world situation.

    And once you’re done with that part, the fun starts.  That’s when the tool shows you just what it would cost you to do the same project using Windows Azure.  Again, there are assumptions about the kinds of services you’ll need, and you can tune them to be more appropriate to your needs; but once you’re done, you’ll have a pretty clear picture of the costs.

    “And I suppose doing it with Windows Azure is always going to be cheaper.”

    I honestly don’t know.  I suppose if you have some really inexpensive hardware, or a situation that doesn’t require much additional up-front hardware or datacenter costs, that you might make out better doing it yourself (assuming money is already spent).  But even if it’s close, you still have to figure the benefits of using a truly dynamic and scalable platform have to count for something; as opposed to a finite set of hardware in your own datacenter that is either sitting idle, or is over-burdened to the detriment of performance. 

    tco

    Try it out.

    And if you’re really interested in a good read around “the economics of the cloud”, you’ll definitely want to check out my blog post about an excellent write-up on the subject.

    ---

    Have you used the Windows Azure TCO Calculator?  Are you working right now to consider whether a move to a PaaS solution is the best for your next big application?  Let us know in the comments. 

    And tomorrow’s part 19 will be all about my favorite conference of the year.

  • Cloudy TechNet Events (“Cloudy April” - Part 13)

    Come out of the fog and into the cloud!TechNet EventsJust a short post today to remind you of two previous posts that I made recently regarding our TechNet Events happening in the Central Region of the US and all around the United States.

    Here my post on our schedule of events for the Central Region.  I realize that many of these have already occurred, but I thought if you missed it the first time around, and if you’re in one of the cities that we have yet to cover, you’d want another opportunity to register and attend. I’m specifically talking to you, Des Moines (April 22) and Cedar Rapids (May 12)!  I’ll see you there!

    Here is my Event Resource Page for these events.

    And finally, here is the TechNet Events page, where you can view the current schedule of events happening all around the United States.  Right now our focus is cloudy.  ..that is to say, we’re talking primarily about what “the cloud” means to IT Professionals, and how it truly represents a “Transformation of IT”.

  • Cloud Power-to-the-People! (“Cloudy April”–Part 20)

    Windows Live SkyDriveI am finding, as I travel and talk to IT Pros around my territory, that there are still a lot of things Microsoft does that people just don’t know about yet. 

    “Like what?”

    Well.. did you know that you have 25GB of space that you can use for free? 

    “Do tell!”

    Microsoft Windows Live SkyDrive  is a free cloud (remember SaaS?) service that gives you 25GB of space for your photos and your documents.  Which leads me to the next “secret” that people don’t know about…

    “What’s that?”

    Did you know that you not only can store and share your documents.. you can EDIT them there.  Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents can be edited using free WebApps.

    Cloud Power to the People!“WebApps?  Like the ones that can run in SharePoint 2010?”

    Exactly like that.  Except that this is FREE.  For NO $$$ you can create and edit documents.. or store and later update (or allow your friends to edit) documents from your own SkyDrive.  All you need is a current browser..

    “I don’t need Internet Explorer?”

    Nope.. Newest versions of IE, Safari, FireFox, and Chrome work equally well.. and with your browser you can work with and edit your documents.  It’s really slick.  It’s easy.  It’s very useful.  And did I say “FREE”?

    “Yes, you did.”

    Ah.  Well.. if you are also considering using this kind of web-based document editing in your own SharePoint installation as the Office WebApps, this is a really good way to try it out.  Here are some more resources for you:

    ---

    Have you tried either the Office WebApps or the capabilities of Windows Live SkyDrive?  What do you like about them?  What do you hate about them?  What are you ambivalent about?  Add a comment here.

    And tomorrow I’m going to share with you a great deal on a subscription that will let you download everything you need to evaluate all of the latest tools and software from Microsoft.