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What lies beneath Microsoft's Cloud OS?

Trevor Pott compares and contrasts with VMware cloud view

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Prepare for the challenge

You can technically get all of this running on a single host if you want, but having a minimum of two nodes so that you can use high availability is typically the starting point for a production environment. In my experience, this is harder than we would all like it to be, but it is ultimately worth it.

It took me 12 tries to get the whole stack of software alive and kicking back when it was code-named Katal. I still have that setup running and it is robust, capable and resilient.

VMworld consumed my life for several months and Microsoft marched closer to release. I was asked to write a series of articles on Cloud OS, got cocky and figured I could crush the install in a week.

I was wrong.

To put all this in context for those who have experience of Microsoft technologies, to get this to run properly is a challenge in the order of your very first time setting up Office Communications Server 2007, Exchange 2007 or the complete and unabridged System Center 2012 using the unified installer before the patches, and having skimmed all the gotchas in the documentation.

Read the documentation several times, make sure your DNS is absolutely perfectly configured and that you are accounting for the fact that everything in Microsoft's universe now prefers IPv6 over IPv4. Build it in a testlab several times until you are sure you have it down, and only then deploy.

If you are lazy (or poor) like me, and you don't want to set aside a couple of hosts to try this on, you can just light it all up (including your Hyper-V hypervisors) on top of your VMware infrastructure. For your first go at it, I can't stress this enough: you will want to take a lot of snapshots until you have the install sequence down to a science.

Let there be light

Once you get this stuff going it is fantastic. The Windows Azure Services for Windows Server (WASWS) customer portal to your shiny new private cloud is one of the only things defaced by The Interface Design Principles Formerly Known As Metro that I actually like.

The integration of System Center into the operating system and the infrastructure-level applications is excellent and it fits my views on what a cloud should be far better than anything else I have had a chance to work with so far.

If it had complete Puppet integration and a single-pane-of-glass user interface that I could tolerate using for 10 hours a day I wouldn't even look at another provider's software.

Setting aside any value-add that might come from the service provider and public cloud sides of the Cloud OS exercise, Microsoft has a compelling private cloud solution here.

Taken as a whole, and set up properly, Microsoft's offering really does abstract away the infrastructure portion of the IT exercise so you don't have to worry about it (beyond swapping out dead bits, naturally).

There is monitoring of the infrastructure, the operating systems, applications and a whole slew of best-practice analysers, reporting and analytics. The orchestration is decent – not quite vCAC, but good enough – and the customer portal is way better than the competition.

I won't lie to you and say Microsoft is crushing everyone on all fronts. There are gaps, features where Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do and ease of use issues that make transitioning to Microsoft frustrating.

I would probably get a sadistic thrill out of a reality television show involving the people who wrote the installers being in a gulag until the end of time.

The flip side of that particular coin, however, is that on every single front associated with virtualisation and private-cloud computing Microsoft has advanced significantly in the past five years.

With Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and now WASWS, Microsoft has the chops to go toe to toe with the best VMware has to offer. It will win some categories and it will lose some, but they are on equal footing now.

With the Cloud OS concept, Microsoft's server folks finally have their heads screwed on straight and when it comes to standing up an on-premise private cloud, Microsoft mostly delivers.

The next two articles in the series will examine how well the service provider and the public-cloud versions hold up to the promise illustrated in the grand vision. ®

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