Tag Archives: teched

Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, SQL Server 14: what’s new, and what is the Cloud OS?

Earlier this month I attended a three-day press briefing on what is coming in the R2 wave of Microsoft’s server products: Windows Server, System Center and SQL Server.

There is a ton of new stuff, too much for a blog post, but here are the things that made the biggest impression.

First, I am beginning to get what Microsoft means by “Cloud OS”. I am not sure that this a useful term, as it is fairly confusing, but it is worth teasing out as it gives a sense of Microsoft’s strategy. Here’s what lead architect Jeffrey Snover told me:

I think of it as a central organising thought. That’s our design centre, that’s our north star. It’s not necessarily a product, it goes across some things … for example, I would absolutely include SQL [Server] in all of its manifestations in our vision of a cloud OS. Cloud OS has two missions. Abstracting resources for consumption by multiple consumers, and then providing services to applications. Modern applications are all consuming SQL … we’re evolving SQL to the more scale-out, elastic, on-demand attributes that we think of as cloud OS attributes.

If you want to know what Cloud OS looks like, it is something like this:


Yes, it’s the Azure portal, and one of today’s big announcements is that this is the future of System Center, Microsoft’s on-premise cloud management system, as well as Azure, the public cloud. Azure technology is coming to System Center 2012 R2 via an add-on called the Azure Pack. Self-service VMs, web sites, SQL databases, service bus messaging, virtual networks, online storage and more.

Snover also talked about another aspect to Cloud OS, which is also significant. He says that Microsoft sees cloud as an “operating system problem.” This is the key to how Microsoft thinks it can survive and prosper versus VMWare, Amazon and so on. It has a hold of the whole stack, from the tiniest detail of the operating system (memory management, file system, low-level networking and so on) to the highest level, big Azure datacenters.

The company is also unusual in its commitment to private, public and hybrid cloud. The three cloud story which Microsoft re-iterated obsessively during the briefing is public cloud (Azure), private cloud (System Center) and hosted cloud (service providers). Ideally all three will look the same and work the same – differences of scale aside – though the Azure Pack is only the first stage towards convergence. Hyper-V is the common building block, and we were assured that Hyper-V in Azure is exactly the same as Hyper-V in Windows Server, from 2012 onwards.

I had not realised until this month that Snover is now lead architect for System Center as well as Windows Server. Without both roles, of course, he could scarcely architect “Cloud OS”.

Here are a few other things to note.

Hyper-V 2012 R2 has some great improvements:

  • Generation 2 VMs (64-bit Server 2012 and Windows 8 and higher only) strip out legacy emulation, UEIF boot from SCSI
  • Replica supports a range of intervals from 30 seconds to 15 minutes
  • Data compression can double the speed of live migration
  • Live VM cloning lets you copy a running VM for troubleshooting offline
  • Online VHDX resize – grow or shrink
  • Linux now supports Live Migration, Live Backup, Dynamic memory, online VHDX resize

SQL Server 14 includes in-memory optimization, code-name Hekaton, that can deliver stunning speed improvements. There is also compilation of stored procedures to native code, subject to some limitations. The snag with Hekaton? Your data has to fit in RAM.

Like Generation 2 VMs, Hekaton is the result of re-thinking a product in the light of technical advances. Old warhorses like SQL Server were designed when RAM was tiny, and everything had to be fetched from disk, modified, written back. Bringing that into RAM as-is is a waste. Hekaton removes the overhead of the the disk/RAM model almost completely, though it does have to write data back to disk when transactions complete. The data structures are entirely different.

PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC) is a declarative syntax for defining the state of a server, combined with a provider that knows how to read or apply it. It is work in progress, with limited providers currently, but immensely interesting, if Microsoft can both make it work and stay the course. The reason is that using PowerShell DSC you can automate everything about an application, including how it is deployed.

Remember White Horse? This was a brave but abandoned attempt to model deployment in Visual Studio as part of application development. What if you could not only model it, but deploy it, using the cloud automation and self-service model to create the VMs and configure them as needed? As a side benefit, you could version control your deployment. Linux is way ahead of Windows here, with tools like Puppet and Chef, but the potential is now here. Note that Microsoft told me it has no plans to do this yet but “we like the idea” so watch this space.

Storage improvements. Both data deduplication and Storage Spaces are getting smarter. Deduplication can be used for running VHDs in a VDI deployment, with huge storage saving. Storage Spaces support hybrid pools with SSDs alongside hard drives, hot data automatically moved, and the ability to pin files to the SSD tier.

Server Essentials for small businesses is now a role in Windows Server as well as a separate edition. If you use the role, rather than the edition, you can use the Essentials tools for up to 100 or so users. Unfortunately that will also mean Windows Server CALs; but it is a step forward from the dead-end 25-user limit in the current product. Small Business Server with bundled Exchange is still missed though, and not coming back. More on this separately.

What do I think overall? Snover is a smart guy and if you buy into the three-cloud idea (and most businesses, for better or worse, are not ready for public cloud) then Microsoft’s strategy does make sense.

The downside is that there remains a lot of stuff to deal with if you want to implement Microsoft’s private cloud, and I am not sure whether System Center admins will all welcome the direction towards using Azure tools on-premise, having learned to deal with the existing model.

The server folk at Microsoft have something to brag about though: 9 consecutive quarters of double digit growth. It is quite a contrast with the declining PC market and the angst over Windows 8, leading to another question: long-term, can Microsoft succeed in server but fail in client? Or will (for better or worse) those two curves start moving in the same direction? Informed opinions, as ever, are welcome.

Infragistics: upbeat on Windows Phone but also building for Apple iOS, Google Android

I spoke to Dean Guida, CEO and co-founder of Infragistics, at TechEd in Atlanta earlier this week. Infragistics makes components, mainly for Windows but now beginning to support non-Windows clients. There is a set of jQuery controls in preparation, and “Our roadmaps are also going to deliver native on Android and iPhone,” Guida told me. “We have a lot of software companies that use our tools in their commercial apps, and a lot of enterprises, and we feel that we need to do it,” though he adds, “we feel that the best and the smartest business solution is to go mobile web.”


Infragistics has a focus on data visualization, and Guida showed me some great-looking components that show animated charts, with a huge range of customisation options, and including geo-spatial and timeline controls.

I was intrigued to find Guida more upbeat about Windows Phone than most commentators, though I make allowance for the fact that his company has a component suite for the platform. “More than half of our customers told us that they’re either building or they will build for Windows Phone in the next 12 months,” he told me.

His view, which I share, is that they key advantage of Windows Phone is to Microsoft-platform enterprises rather than to consumers. “It’s so easy to extend their knowledge of Silverlight and extend apps, that they’ll be able to extend the data and the access to information this way. I think that’s going to be a beachhead for Microsoft.”

Of course Microsoft has marketed Windows Phone to consumers so far, and has told businesses they should continue to use Windows Mobile 6.5, clearly a dead-end. It may be easier when the company is able to move on from this mixed messaging and get behind Windows Phone as a business mobile platform.

Continuing a contrarian theme, Guida is also positive about Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). “It’s huge, especially in the financial markets. They’ve made big bets on it. They’ve built a lot of their trading apps and a lot of their internal apps on it. We’ve been telling Microsoft this for years,” he says.

The problem I guess is that while WPF/Silverlight makes sense for data visualisation for internal apps where you control the platform, for broad reach apps that are visible to the rest of us, Adobe Flash or some other approach is a better fit.

It is understandable that companies like Infragistics are keen to talk up the Microsoft platform. Their business depends on it. It is true that Infragistics is now experimenting with other platforms like Apple iOS and Google Android, but historically developers on non-Microsoft platforms have not formed a strong component market.

“They don’t get it as much as Microsoft developers,” says Guida. “We used to have a ton of Java components. I was at the second JavaOne conference. We built some of the first AWT components, JavaBeans, Swing components. There’s a lot more pain developing for these platforms than on the Microsoft platform, Microsoft has done a great job with the tooling. Why have that pain? I think there is a distinction between the Microsoft and the non-Microsoft developer, that they have a higher tolerance for, pain’s probably not the right word, but a higher tolerance for taking longer to get stuff done. I can only believe that over time maturity will happen. It’s really about satisfying a business need or a consumer need. These platforms are different, but if we go in and give them the tools, why not? We’re really just this year starting to get there.”

It is a brave hope; but looking at the Infragistics site, there are currently no Java controls on offer, and even the 2008 NetAdvantage for JavaServer Faces (JSF) seems to have disappeared. If the Microsoft client platform does decline, the future will be challenging.

Microsoft TechEd 2010 wrap-up: cloud benefits, cloud sceptics

Microsoft TechEd in New Orleans continues today, but I’m back in the UK; unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole event.

So aside from discovering that walking the streets of New Orleans in June is like taking a Turkish bath, what did I learn? The biggest takeaway for me is that Microsoft is now serious about cloud computing, at least on the server and tools side represented here. As I put it in my report for The Register, the body language has changed: instead of “we do cloud if you must”, Microsoft is now pushing hard to promote Windows Azure and BPOS – hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Live Meeting – while still emphasising that Windows continues to give you a choice of on-premise servers.

That does not mean Microsoft is winning in the cloud, of course. There is a question in my mind about whether Microsoft is merely exporting the complexity of on-premise to serve it over the Internet, rather than developing low-touch cloud systems. I think there is a bit of both. Windows InTune is an interesting case. This is a sort of cloud version of system center, for managing laptops and desktop PCs.On the one hand, I was impressed with its ease of use in the demos we saw. On the other hand, what does managing the intricacies of desktop PCs have to do with cloud computing? Not much, perhaps, except that it is a task that still needs to be done, and if the cloud can make it easier then I’m all in favour.

Although Microsoft was talking up the cloud at TechEd, many of the attendees I spoke to were less enthusiastic. One telling point: I spoke to a training company in the vast exhibition and asked what were the most popular courses. Among other things, he said he was doing a lot of Silverlight, a little WPF, and that there was little interest in Windows Azure.

I also attended an “expert panel” on cloud security, which proved an entertaining affair. The lively Laura Chappell said the whole thing was a nightmare, and none of the other experts dared to disagree. I chatted to her afterwards about some of the issues. Here is a sample:

One of the things is ediscovery. You have something on your computer that indicates someone is planning something against the president of the united states. With the Patriot Act, they can immediately go to that service provider, and they don’t care if it’s virtualised across 10 different systems, they are going to shut them down, and they do not care who else’s stuff is on there, the Patriot Act gives them the power to do that. You went out of business, so did 7 other companies, and they don’t have a timeline, with the patriot act, for them to bring their servers back up.

If anyone sceptical of the benefits of cloud went along, they would not have come away reassured.

Finally, there was a ton of good stuff announced at TechEd. I attended a press briefing the day before, with sessions on Server 2008 RS SP1, InTune, and other topics. The most interesting part of the day was a session which I am not allowed to talk about; but I will say mysteriously that Microsoft’s strategy for the product was not too far removed from one that I proposed on this blog, though I am sure there is no connection.

The other announcements were public. If you have not checked out the new Azure Tools, don’t hesitate; they are much improved. Unfortunately I hardly dare to use Azure, because although I have some free hours from MSDN I’m worried about leaving some app running by mistake and ending up with a big credit card bill. Microsoft needs to make Azure more friendly for developers experimenting.

Windows AppFabric is now released and pretty interesting, though it was not prominent at TechEd. Given that many business processes are essentially workflows, and that this in combination with Visual Studio 2010 makes building and deploying a workflow app much easier, I am surprised it does not get more attention.