How Microsoft's cloud aims to cover the world

A three-pronged strategy

Security for virtualized datacentres

Microsoft has a vision for the cloud. Anyone who has watched this session by the legendary Rick Claus from last year’s AUTechEd already has a basic idea of what this entails.

Microsoft’s plan, dubbed the Cloud OS platform, rests on three pillars. These create a unified strategy that is changing the game and positioning the platform as the most complete cloud service available.

Define your terms

Let’s establish right now exactly what I mean when I say cloud. I am the son of a meteorologist so when someone says cloud, the first word that comes to my mind is "agglomeration". The definition of an agglomeration is “a heap or cluster of usually disparate elements”.

In mathematics, a cloud is “a large number of points in a coordinate system”. So if we combine the meteorological definition with the mathematical definition we get this: “Cloud computing is a computing architecture made up of many individual yet fully coordinated elements, which appear to the casual observer to be a single object.”

Got it? Fantastic. Let’s get back to what you came here to see.

Private cloud

When most people hear private cloud, they think “Oh well, that’s just a funky new name for what we are doing on premises already.” If you are one of those people you would be partly right but mostly wrong.

In its strictest terms, you have a private cloud only if none of the data goes outside your corporate firewall. A private cloud is often created using existing hardware through a combination of a cloud-aware operating system and a cloud-aware management tool.

In the case of Microsoft this refers to servers running Server 2012 or 2012r2 and being managed by System Center 2012 or 2012r2. It is not enough, though, simply to run an operating system.

If you are in a single-server environment running Server 2012r2, you don’t have a cloud. Conversely, you might be managing a fleet of physical servers (each running a single operating-system install, with no virtualisation at all) and you still don’t have a private cloud.

So what makes a private cloud different from virtualisation? If I had to sum it up in one word it would be orchestration.

Orchestration is the combination of a management console, a managed or self-service portal and virtual machine templates. When combined, these three elements allow your clients (whether employees, contractors or external clients) to create, or “spin up”, their own virtual machines.

Depending on the hardware you are running and the requirements for the virtual machine, a template-created virtual machine could be online in as little as three minutes.

At the basic level, what private clouds offer above all is control. If what you want is complete control over all of your infrastructure, you have that because you own it. If you need complete control over your software, well you have that too because you install and configure and manage it.

You could, if you wanted to, walk up and hug your servers. We don’t recommend this, but you could.

Public cloud

Public cloud, as it refers to Microsoft, is a combination of Office 365 and Azure.

When we think Office 365 what most of us think about is the end of Office as a standalone product, but it is far more than simply a new way to pay for a productivity suite.

Office 365 is at its core all about speed. Think how long it used to take to roll out a brand new Exchange Server.

With Office 365 I can do that in about half an hour. Thirty minutes and I don’t have to worry about the back-end infrastructure, managing database availability groups or what happens if someone disables IPv6 on my Exchange server.

Where do I sign? In the bad old days to add capacity or roll out a test environment for a new version of Exchange Server might have meant taking staff away from business-critical work for days, if not weeks. Not any more.

Azure was born out of that same need for speed. I work in a vertical with especially stringent federal statutes. We have 40 clients who run the gamut from small two-workstation one-server installations all the way up to 80 seats and multiple servers.

To have a test lab running at all times that caters to every single site would require a large number of servers, and rolling out a test environment could take hours. With Azure I can spin up an environment in minutes, do the testing work that I need to do and then destroy that environment.

Azure even makes it easy for me to run virtual machines and the virtual workloads they entail inside that testing environment.

With Server 2012/2012r2, the Azure integration goes even deeper. If I have configured it correctly, I can use Azure to cover those times when a non-cloud integrated infrastructure would be brought to its knees.

By bursting out to the cloud I can use Azure as my cold-storage failover site for disaster recovery. I could use it to handle expected (or even unexpected) periods of intense bandwidth.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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