Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Does Windows Azure Matter?

Microsoft hosted their irregularly scheduled Professional Developers Conference (PDC) recently. (PDC events only occur when Microsoft are releasing new platform.) As the event grew closer we knew that Windows 7 would be a topic as well as their Live Services, but the “Cloud” OS was probably causing the most buzz around the tech industry. Thankfully we live in an era where we don’t have to sit through the long, dry Microsoft keynotes to get the lowdown on what Microsoft is up to. Microsoft announced their cloud platform called Windows Azure. Enterprise IT has been administering servers for years attempting to not only keep those end users happy, but also keep their servers in working order. Maintaining software and hardware on servers that are mission critical can be very costly and difficult. The arrival of virtualization for the Enterprise has dramatically increased the ability for IT staff to manage and maintain the server farms while decreasing costs including energy costs. The next step in the evolution of IT is hosted services. Microsoft and third parties have already been offering various hosted services for some time at varying levels of success. With Windows Azure Microsoft hopes to combine virtualization with hosted services by providing a cloud-based platform for developers, businesses, and the enterprise. In the future the everyday sysadmin will no longer responsible for server hardware and OS patches because Microsoft Exchange, SQL, Dynamics, Sharepoint, et. al. will be hosted by Microsoft on their Azure platform which is globally distributed. Of course not all current IT or business decision makers are going to want to start paying monthly fees for software they paid good money for. As the services Microsoft provides through Azure makes business sense they can migrate in a hybrid fashion to say hosting their Exchange "server" to the cloud while keeping their Sharepoint in house. The advantage comes to the small to medium sized businesses who may be thinking about upgrading their own servers and find that it would be more advantageous to pay for the software as a service instead of maintaining their own server(s) in house or paying a consultant.

So how does this affect the everyday sysadmin? How will the role and responsibilities of the IT staff change if we no longer have to maintain server software and hardware? Will we all become Helpdesk staff or will Microsoft take on that as well? I am assuming someone will still need to maintain accounts or maybe there will be a fancy web portal for the designated "technical" employee to add accounts and reset passwords. Downsizing may be in our future, or we will need to change along with everyone else in this fast-paced industry.

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