Tag Archives: Microsoft

Rise of the Full Stack Vendors

In a recent Datanauts podcast Chris Wahl was discussing Azure and Azure Stack with fellow Rubrikan Mike Nelson and Microsoft’s Jeffrey Snover (If you haven’t already, you can check out the podcast for yourself- Datanauts #148). Jeffrey made some interesting observations about the changes in alignment of some of the major IT vendors over time (this discussion runs from 25min to 29min into the podcast).

He detailed how the big players (DEC, IBM etc) had started with a “vertical” alignment by building their own chips, boards, operating systems, and applications. This was followed by a dis-integration where the industry shifted to a “horizontal” alignment- chips from Intel/Motorola , Operating Systems from Microsoft/Sun, and applications and services coming from a wide range of vendors. He goes on to posit how cloud vendors are turning the industry back towards a vertical alignment, and gives the example of how Microsoft are designing their own chips (FPGAs, NICs, servers , the new “Brainwave” chip to accelerate AI etc)  right through to software; all to create the Azure Cloud.

This idea got me thinking about how this is happening elsewhere in the industry, and what the future might hold.

This realignment can be seen across the major IT manufacturers- in recent years Dell- traditionally just a client and server PC vendor- has formed Dell Technologies, picking up tech such as Force10’s network, EMC’s storage, and VMware’s hypervisor. This now puts them in that vertical alignment of controlling their own enterprise stack from the client device through the network to the server hardware and the hypervisor sat on it. In an on-premises setup Dell can provide the infrastructure from the end of the user’s fingers to the start of the Operating System or Container.

Amazon have started from the other direction- AWS as a cloud provider owning their own chipsets. servers, storage, and networking. They own the datacentre end of their customers today, but how long is it before we see the successors to the Kindle Fire devices and Alexa-connected displays being pushed as the end-user device of choice. Everything between the user and the application would then be in their single vertical.

We see similar activity from Google. Their cloud platform stretches down to their Android and ChromeOS operating systems, the Chrome browser, and even into hardware. Although (similarly to Amazon) the endpoint devices are today largely aimed at the consumer market, as the commoditisation of IT continues there’s nothing stopping this leaking into the enterprise.

However, these vertical orientations are not to the exclusion of horizontal partnerships and we’ve seen a lot more of that over recent years. For example VMware partnering with AWS, IBM, and Microsoft and Google for Cloud provision, or Dell-EMC powering the on-premises Microsoft Azure Stack, or IBM providing their software on Azure.

So will this continue, and what does the distant future hold? Looking far into the tech future is always guesswork, but if I had to bet I’d suggest that this alignment model will eventually swing back as these sort of things always seem to go in cycles. The verticalisation (new word?) will carry on for the next few years but over time the customers demand more choice and (in enterprise at least) less of the perceived risk of “vendor lock-in”. Eventually this leads to a tipping point, fragmentation of the stack and a turn back towards that horizontal alignment we are moving away from today.

Thanks Datanauts for the inspiration behind this, and #Blogtober2018 for convincing me to do more long-form opinion posts.

OneDrive, Placeholders, and shared PCs.

OneDrive now with Files On Demand

At their annual Build conference, Microsoft announced that OneDrive was getting a new feature called “Files On Demand”- basically a replacement for the placeholders feature that was present in Windows 8.1’s OneDrive client. The official Office blog goes into more detail about the new features, and there’s a detailed writeup by Paul Thurrott which also includes the history of OneDrive placeholders, but I’d like to discuss the advantages for the education vertical- in particular Student PC labs.

Microsoft kindly offer OneDrive to University students for basically nothing, so it sounds like an ideal replacement for traditional on-premises network file-shares. Rather than the IT department struggling to provide 50 or 100GB of space per student from their budget, they could just point students at the 1 TB of disk Microsoft is providing for free.

Sync Good

A sink. Not a sync

Not this kind of sync

With a single regular user and enough local hard disk space a sync client without placeholders is fine. All the users files are synced to the local disk and available instantly whenever they are required. The selective sync in the current Windows 10 client helps on devices with smaller disks, but is still only really beneficial on a PC with a single regular user.

Sync Bad

On the students personal devices this works great- we’re back at this 1 user:1 device ratio. However in a student PC lab environment there are potentially hundreds of desktops and each of tens of thousands of users could log into any one at any time. We have a x,000:1 user:device ratio. Students don’t want to login to a machine at the start of a class and then wait whilst half a terabyte of data they don’t need syncs before document they need appears. Additionally IT don’t want to have to tidy up all this synced data after every user logs off.

Student Computer Labs

It’s technically possible (although can be a little fiddly depending on your infrastructure) to map your OneDrive to a drive letter using WebDav and then access it as you would a traditional “Home” drive, but this is unsupported by Microsoft. There are third party solutions that will map the drive, basically providing a front end and a support contract around this, but they’re often costly and may require infrastructure changes.

Placeholders FTW

Placeholders (or “Files On Demand”) is the ideal solution here. The student now sits down at the shared lab machine and all their files are listed. They then open the file of their choice and there’s an invisible, seamless, download in the background. When they save the file it’s synced back to the cloud. The user is happy as they no longer has to wait for all their files to sync before they can work and can take advantage of the large capacity (and sharing facilities too). IT are happy because they don’t have to fund (and support, maintain) as much storage.

I know many IT Professionals working in Higher Education will be looking forward to this release in the autumn.

Microsoft Future Decoded Banner

Microsoft Future Decoded 2015

November 2015 saw the return of Microsoft’s Future Decoded event to the ExCel Center in London. I didn’t make it last year (it was a week after TechEd Europe and I was all Microsofted out!) so I’ve been looking forward to the Tech Day of this event since the registration notice back in May. This is my summary of the day. Continue reading

Hybrid Identity Management

Last Thursday I spent the day with Microsoft in London finding out about their latest developments in mobile working strategy, data protection, and BYOD integration at an Enterprise Mobility Workshop. I took pages of notes (OneNote was once again a winner) but the session I’m going to focus on in this post was around Hybrid Identity Management.

The Microsoft Hybrid Identity Management solution is (unsurprisingly) based around Active Directory and it’s cloud cousin Azure AD, and this is core to the entire Enterprise Mobility piece. The subject kept coming back in later sessions during the workshop- Azure AD was a real lynchpin of this whole day- and I got the impression that it’s vital that this is done right if any Mobility solution is going to work.

Continue reading

70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012R2

I sat, and passed, the Microsoft 70-410 exam in Windows Server 2012R2 last week. Whilst I’m not going to report everything on the test (both because I’m not allowed to, and because I can’t remember all the details) hopefully this post will provide a few pointers for others studying for the exam. Continue reading