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  • Those stupid "To the Cloud!" Commercials ("Cloudy April" - Part 5)

    Someone who is good at marketingDisclaimer: Although I work for Microsoft, I don’t have to always agree with what other parts of the company are doing. 

    Okay.. proper disclaimer out of the way. Now…

    “Uh oh.. you gonna get yourself fired, Kevin?”

    Well.. if a person can get fired from a company for what I’m about to say, then I didn’t want to work for that company anyway.

    Here’s the thing.  When I first saw Microsoft’s “To the cloud!” commercials, I liked them.  I thought they were cute.  And I always like seeing us spend more money on getting the word about about the amazing things we do and products we offer.  For too long we’ve kept too quiet on too many things, so I love it (both as an employee and as a stockholder) that we’re finally finding our voice.  But…

    “Here it comes.”To the cloud!

    …after talking to many people about them, I think that those commercials are just causing more confusion than anything else.  If people have to ask me, “Hey Kevin.. what are those commercials really about?”, then apparently we missed some mark somewhere.  And these people were other IT Pros!  My mother-in-law certainly doesn’t understand it.  (No offense, Mom.  But let’s be real… My Wife, let alone her Mother, doesn’t read this blog.)

    Now…  I still think that, knowing what I do about the products showcased (like the Windows LIve Photo Gallery example below), I do love that we’re promoting it.  But I just wish we had done it in a way that doesn’t confuse the ordinary person.

    “But.. isn’t it all about awareness?”

    Bingo.  It is.  As I understand it (and if you’re in Microsoft Marketing, please set me straight if I’m wrong), even if people never cared about what “the cloud” was before.. now they have it in their heads that it’s something important.  And they learn that Microsoft has free tools that use it.  And if they at least recognize that, then perhaps they’ll investigate further.  And if they investigate further, then maybe when they (or their kids) go to college they’ll consider going into Computer Science and know in the back of their brains that Microsoft = “the cloud”.   And eventually they can have a cool job like Kevin does.

    Okay… Maybe that’s just my theory, but I’m going with that.  Obviously there is a reason I’m not in Marketing.

    Just for extra-credit fun, check out what the web-tubes are saying about the commercials:

    http://www.bing.com/search?q=to+the+cloud+commercials&src=IE-SearchBox&FORM=IE8SRC

    Offended yet?  Then perhaps you’ll enjoy  part 6 tomorrow.  You won’t want to PAAS it up.  Get it?

    “Got it.”

    Good.

  • Getting SAASy ("Cloudy April" - Part 4)

    (Note to self: Don’t ever do an image search on the word “Sassy” ever again.  Ever.)It's software.  It's a service.  It's software as a service!

    In part 3 you’ll recall that we outlined three delivery methods for Cloud-based services: IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.  Today we’re going to go a little deeper into SaaS.

    “But Kevin.. I already know what it is.”

    Bear with me. Even though people are buying (or using for free) services from Microsoft and others, I just wanted to take a minute to list out some of my favorites.  It’s often surprising to see how many services Microsoft provides.. and how long some of them have been around!

    For “consumers” (a term that Microsoft uses to refer to us plain ordinary folks at home – pretty much anybody who is not in a “business”), I’m sure you recognize some of these:

    imageimageimageimage

    imageimageimageimage

    These are brands we know and (hopefully) love.  Some of them have been around for quite awhile.  So, does Microsoft know how to support, and have experience supporting massive scale online?

    “Perhaps”

    Not fully convinced?  Okay.. then lets take a look at how we support businesses with Software as a Service:

    Microsoft Office 365 - Online Services & Hosted Software in the Cloud

    Office365 is the next version of what is now our Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), improved to include the latest versions of Microsoft Exchange email, SharePoint Server 2010, Lync 2010 (for communications and presence).  And it now includes an option to license the full Office 2010 Professional Plus suite of applications for the desktop.  I’ll go into more specific detail about Office365 in another article in this series.

    How’s that?

    “Yeah.. that’s better.”

    One more thing… Microsoft continues to work under the mantra “Three-screens-and-a-cloud”, meaning we want your experience to be seamless, integrated, and enjoyable however you want it; whatever device you’re using.  On your phone.  On your PC.  On your TV.  All smartly integrated and accessible because we support connectivity anywhere, using “the cloud” to make it happen. 

    For example: I take a photo of you on my Windows Phone.  Because I’ve set my phone up with my LiveID account, it knows how to access and use my Windows Live SkyDrive account, and automagically uploads the photo there for me. 

    Another example: I use MediaCenter on Windows 7 to record my favorite TV shows during the week.  I use the Zune software to sync them to my ZuneHD, and watch them while I’m working out at the gym.  I can just as easily put them on my phone

    Yet another personal example: I have a ZunePass, so when I’m rehearsing with my band, and we start throwing out ideas of songs we might want to learn, I can easily search for and play the entire song right from my phone, right then and there. 

    Still yet another example: I love the free Windows Live Essentials applications; especially Live Photo Gallery.  As the unofficial family photographer and digital historian, I have thousands of family photos all tagged and organized using noting more than that awesome, FREE tool, which also syncs to SkyDrive or Facebook or Flickr accounts.

    “Isn’t that the one that Microsoft shows off in one of those strange ‘To the cloud!’ commercials?”

    Um.. yeah.  More about that tomorrow.  But do you want to know what the biggest, most important, and yet least-thought-about free software service is?

    “Sure.. what is it?”

    It’s Windows Update.  Think about it.  Millions of computers all getting updates (it could happen!) from Microsoft  on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.  Can you even fathom the amount of scale and reliability required to pull that off?  It’s mind-blowing.

    Kevin's Gamertag: KevinFullOfITHey.. just thought of another example: I play XBOX Live games on my phone now.  I get gamer achievements, too.

    “Okay already!  Enough examples!  I get it.  Microsoft has some great services.”

    You’re welcome.  What’s your favorite?  Tell us in the comments.

    Check back for Part 5 tomorrow.  I’m going to trash those stupid “to the cloud!” commercials. 

  • 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.

  • The Cloud Ate My Job! ("Cloudy April" - Part 2)

    The Blog!Is ‘the cloud” making you concerned for your job?  And by that, I mean, are you primarily working with a product or technology that may soon be cloudified? 

    “Cloudified?”

    Okay.. I’m making up words again.  But I think you know what I’m talking about.  Are you working with a technology that is seeing a big shift from running in-house to being purchased as a service from someone/somewhere else?  For example, if I were a Microsoft Exchange administrator, and that’s all that I did, I might start being a little concerned if my company was considering a purchase of BPOS or Office365.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s a real concern that many IT Pros have whenever the word “cloud” is used.  Is that server or that device or that product that I support  going to be supported faster/cheaper/better elsewhere?  Quite possibly.

    Power for your future!But is this really any different than any other new technology shift we’ve ever seen?  It’s one of the reasons why the world calls these kinds of shifts "disruptive”.  It messes with and shakes-up our comfort-zone.  But of all people, we IT Professionals should be better than anyone at adapting to change, because change is the nature of our business.  We make adjustments when better solutions are available to us.  We had to start fresh with new products or even new versions of products, because to improve means some amount of change.  Perhaps those changes weren’t as foundational to our way of looking at or working with computing infrastructure as what “the cloud” is bringing us, but they were adjustments nonetheless. 

    The idea of “the cloud”, of cloud computing, of purchasing (or delivering) IT-as-a-Service is not going to go away.  Small-to-midsize companies are saving big money by replacing servers with online services.  Software and web service companies are building their applications on server platforms housed in remote datacenters.  Your own datacenter has probably transitioned to using virtualization in some large and ever-increasing way, and the flexibility it gives us as a platform for dynamic IT is extending beyond the walls of our own server rooms.  It’s a very good thing for our businesses, but it’s a scary proposition for the guy or gal who maintains the server racks.

    “So what do you suggest, Kevin?”

    I do have a couple of recommendations, but let me add a disclaimer here first.  My suggestions aren’t going to fit every situation.  Yours might be a unique one.  I only hope to encourage you, but I won’t pretend to have everyone’s best answer.  Your mileage may vary. 

    That said, here is what I suggest:

    1. First of all, don’t panic!  As I said earlier, you are a rare breed who choose to work with computers.  Your curiosity for computing and how newer and better technology can improve how information moves or how business gets done is the same drive that can help you to master a new skillset. 
    2. Second: It’s very unlikely that your job will disappear immediately just because of a shift to purchasing an online service or shifting virtualized workloads to the cloud.  You still play a valuable role in maintaining the service, and facilitating how it is used in your organization.  And even if your current role is being phased out, you probably have time to add a new skill.  Be open to change, and be watching for new opportunities.
    3. Third: There are so many new and different opportunities for working in IT.  Professionals who also have some business background are becoming more and more desirable.  In fact, many schools have recently adjusted their Computer Science degree programs to include some exposure to business topics, because businesses are asking for it and requiring it.  Also, the number of jobs in the areas of data analysis and business intelligence are increasing.  A person who can manage the company knowledge and build or organize intelligent access to it is worth a lot to a business, no matter where the company’s data happens to live.  And if you have a good foundation in information security, you can expand upon that to become an expert in regulatory compliance.  A big part of compliance has to do with how information is secured, whether in transit or at rest, so you’ve already got a good head-start. 
    4. Jobs relating to “layer zero”, the physical infrastructure, will always be in high demand.  Distributed, cloud-based solutions still require fast and reliable connectivity.  You may not be installing as many server racks, but your network architecture was never more important than it is today.
    5. Another option is training and certifications.  From Microsoft of course the place to go is Microsoft Learning.  Way back in 1994 I started considering a move from Software Engineering to more of an IT focus, and it was my first Microsoft Certified Professional  certification on Windows 3.11 (I’m old!) that started me on the journey I’m still enjoying today.  (Currently MCITP: Server Administrator, MCITP: Enterprise Administrator, and soon-to-be MCITP: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator.  Yes, I’m bragging.  You should, too.)
    6. Be encouraged!  For most of you this shift is good for your business.  You’ll be able to shift your IT spending to smaller capital investments and more operational, predictable spending.  And soon you’ll be able to reduce your number of mundane maintenance tasks and spend your time on higher-value activities.

    I also have an important recommendation for you business leaders and IT Managers…

    Train your people!  Encourage and support them in professional growth.  Regularly review not just their performance in their current role, but review and then support their desire to learn new skills or work in other areas of your company.  It’s my opinion, but I know I’m not alone in believing that too many companies are too quick to look outside of their own walls for good people to fill new roles.  It is a good investment to provide as many opportunities for personal growth to your employees as possible.  It doesn’t train-them-out-the-door.  It grows loyalty.  (Though if it does cause them to leave.. well, then you probably didn’t want that ungrateful jerk around anyway.  Yeah, I said it.)  Your Exchange or SharePoint administrator can easily be the Office365 administrator.  The storage administrator can still manage storage in the cloud.  But don’t just throw them at this new wave of technology without giving them the tools they need to succeed; in the form of proper training.

    (PS – Did you know that we have resource for IT Managers on the TechNet site?)

    What do you think?  Are you worried about what “the cloud” is going to mean to your chosen profession?  Or do you see it as an exciting new opportunity?  Please share your comments.  And make sure to check out Part 3 tomorrow, where I’ll introduce you to the three cloud delivery methods.

  • “Cloudy April” Part 1: Full of I.T. with my head in the clouds

    Power! ...in the clouds!

    Greetings!  Welcome to my 31-part series of articles all about this thing called “the cloud”.

    “Seriously, Kevin?  Is this some warped April-Fools joke?  Haven’t we heard enough about ‘the cloud’?”

    I’m going to answer that question with another question: What have you heard? 

    “It means something I use is hosted somewhere else.  But honestly… every company out there has added the word ‘cloud’ to their products just to get people interested.”

    Yeah.. that’s what I thought.  Your answer is typical of what many IT Pros and IT and business managers believe.  They understand that it’s something important.  They know it has to do with services or platforms or infrastructures that are delivered in a different (external?  hosted?  measured?) way.  An overwhelming majority of companies are looking to use or expand their use of hosted services.  Many are considering how to deliver IT as services to their business units, rather than just adding servers.  Massive Virtualization alone is good, but not sufficient to gain and support the kinds of scale that a well-designed, self-healing, self-provisioning, measured service can provide. 

    “So we buy a new product that has the word ‘cloud’ slapped on the label?”

    I wish it were that simple.  (But in some cases, it just might be!)

    “And so you’re going to be blogging this month about all that ‘the cloud’ is?”

    You obviously read the subject line.  Smile  Yes, indeed!  What I am going to do is give you one-article-per-day for the month of April; each pertaining to some aspect of cloud computing; whether it’s pointers to great resources, commentary on cloud-as-it-relates-to-IT, how IT is being transformed (and probably your job as well), or just my own ramblings and $.02 opinions.  I promise you will be informed, entertained (hopefully), and encouraged to consider new ways to improve your skills, your IT infrastructure, and your businesses.

    April showers?  Perhaps.  My hope is that the clouds I bring you will not deliver rain, but will help the flowering of new IT insights and possibilities bloom and flourish.

    “Gee, Kevin…That was beautiful.  Poetic, even.”

    Sorry.  It won’t happen again.

    ---

    Check back tomorrow for part 2.  We’re going to address right off the bat the 100lb gorilla in the room: The Cloud Ate My Job!