Microsoft Becoming a Cloud-First Company

Those in charge have told Microsoft that the corporation is now changing directions.  Much like what happened in the early mid-90’s with Internet technology, the company has been told to change or become less relevant in the future.  And this is why you will see more and more of “cloud” being pushed by Microsoft.

Staff are being brought into seminars to learn about what “cloud” means.  I wonder what definition they’ll use because there is not one accepted definition; every marketer has branded it the way that best represents the products that their company (or favourite company) sells.

Product is changing.  There is an Office online.  It’s even being integrated into Skydrive and Hotmail.  Azure and MS Online Services (BPOS) is being pushed in a big way – it’s the only thing the local office wants to talk about anymore.  System Center is moving towards cloud computing too – we’ll start to get a taste of that in v.Next in 2011 but I suspect 2013 will see direct integration, e.g. ConfigMgr child sites that live in MS Online Services.  And we already have heard that VMM v.Next probably will have the ability to move virtual machines from managed hosts and up into a new VM hosting service in Azure.  I’ve no idea whether Windows 8 will be going this way.  I suspect those going to TechEd in Berlin will be the first in the general public to hear about it.

Yes, I know, only the small organizations will put everything in the cloud and that not everything is appropriate.  However, one can argue that even the Fortune 100’s can put some stuff in the cloud or leverage from Software-as-a-Service products.  The big worry is reliability.  Will the product change and become not what you wanted?  You have no control over version upgrades of cloud services.  Will the service provider liquidate and take your data with them?  There is a certain amount of lock-in with SaaS and it’s very difficult to move between rival products.  Will they hike prices as soon as there is a dependency on them?  In Ireland and many other less developed countries, the network infrastructure often isn’t there to be able to be a cloud company. Outside of the major cities and towns, there is no broadband; only unreliable wireless/3G connectivity which is sometimes lucky to give you a 20KBPS transmission rate.

In reality, there will be a blend of on premises and cloud computing services in mid to large companies.

What I can confirm is: just like that first keynote at MMS (with 80+ mentions of the cloud in 82 minutes), all MS will want to talk to you about is cloud computing.

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Microsoft 25 Years in Ireland

Today is is the 25th anniversary of Microsoft in Ireland.  Their location has evolved a good bit over the years.  Originally it was a CD pressing location and where localization was done.  Now there are lots of developers working on coding the latest version of Windows and Azure services, European computing services are/were run from here, and Dublin is one of the 2 geo-located Azure data centres.

There is something going on but it appears to be reserved to the people MS are selling to – Azure and software developers were mentioned on the news.

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TechNet Wiki

There’s no doubt of a few things:

  • Some people have found Microsoft documentation to be a bit lacking, and sometimes a bit late.  For example, we only recently got clear guidance on networking configuration for Live Migration. I’ve had people contact me who were very confused on different subjects because they’ve only had closely related blog posts to work on, not specific ones.  And that’s just with one “small” subject.
  • The power of the community on the Internet is impressive.  Wikipedia has become a huge source of information, even if that information has to be verified against other sources.  The same goes for blogs.
  • Microsoft TechNet should be one of the first port of calls for IT pros when referencing technical articles on Microsoft infrastructure.  But lets face it, it isn’t.  That might be because of poor searchability, poor/confusing writing or incomplete/missing articles.

So Microsoft is going to try something.  It is a bit of a leap of faith.  Microsoft TechNet is going to launch a wiki.  I think there’s some excitement about this dabbling with the community in Redmond.  The idea is that you, me, or anyone else, can contribute or edit content on this wiki.  It should be documentation about products, solutions, fixes, architecture, etc.  It will be up to the community at large to maintain the content for the community.  I’m not saying MS might not edit it for legal reasons, etc, but in the end it will be down to ordinary people to manage.

Obviously some MVP’s and other assorted nutters will be big writers (not me … doing this blog, my day job and a few projects that are starting up will keep me busy).  But there’s nothing to stop you from adding content and editing.

As it is community content you cannot rely on it solely.  I would recommend trying to verify any statements made on it against other sources.  However, it should quickly become a huge repository of information, making it a great jumping off point on any search.

Microsoft’s Keith Combs talks about the new TechNet Wiki on his blog.  Keith says that it will launch later this year.  As he says at the end, the success or failure of this service will depend on the community, not Microsoft.  Will it succeed?  I don’t know, but I’m sure that people in Redmond are taking it seriously.  It’s a subject worth keeping an eye on.

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What Is A Microsoft MVP?

I thought I’d write this post to explain what a Microsoft Valuable Professional (MVP) is and how a person can become one.  The description from the Microsoft web site is:

“MVPs make exceptional contributions to technical communities, sharing their passion, knowledge, and know-how. Meanwhile, because MVPs hear the opinions and needs of many others in the technical community, they are well-placed to share highly focused feedback with Microsoft.

MVPs are independent experts who are offered a close connection with people at Microsoft. To acknowledge MVPs’ leadership and provide a platform to help support their efforts, Microsoft often gives MVPs early access to Microsoft products, as well as the opportunity to pass on their highly targeted feedback and recommendations about product design, development, and support”.

To put it simply, Microsoft awards MVP status to people who are experts and who share their expertise.  There are no exams.  You are evaluated by Microsoft staff.  An MVP will usually have some expertise on a specific product or set of products.  For example, I have been a Configuration Manager MVP and I am currently a Virtual Machine MVP.  The expertises span the breadth of Microsoft products, e.g. XBox to .NET to Active Directory.  The directory gives you a good idea of what expertises are covered.

MVP’s come from around the world.  There are around 4,000 of us globally, including 90 or so expertises and 40 languages.  There are around 11 or 12 of us in Ireland.

The word independent is important when it comes to describing an MVP.  We certainly are not shills.  One Microsoft executive once described an MVP as a person who makes a statement of opinion to Microsoft and sticks a question mark on the end.  Very often, we’re quite critical, trying to get the most out of the product.  Dealing with MS employees, I feel very safe in saying that they genuinely want the same thing.  I guess you could see us as being intermediaries; we often convey MS’s message to our audiences and we provide the feedback directly into the product groups in Microsoft.

It’s hard to describe how to become an MVP.  It’s not like deciding to become an MCSE.  You cannot sit down and say “I will be an MVP by June 2010”.  It helps if you are an expert on some particular subject related to Microsoft products.  You then have to share that expertise.  That can come in many forms:

  • Providing feedback during beta and release candidates
  • Helping people on Microsoft and 3rd party forums
  • Blogging
  • Writing documentation
  • Developing free solutions
  • Running a user group
  • Public speaking

Those last two really help.  I think they were the difference to me originally becoming an MVP.  I started the Windows User Group and I’ve done a good deal of speaking.  Obviously it helps to write, blog and speak about your expertise.  Paid work such as consulting doesn’t really count.  This is about community and sharing.

You then need to be nominated either by an MVP or a Microsoft employee.  Quite often your first awareness that you’ve been nominated is when a local MVP lead will then contact you to start the process.  This varies depending on the region.  It basically comes down to documenting your last year of activity that qualifies as participating in the community.  This documentation is used to evaluate you.  You either get the status or you don’t.

The awards are granted every 3 months, January 1st, April 1st, July 1st and October 1st.  Your MVP status normally lasts for 1 year.  Within your last 3 months you will be contacted again by the MVP lead and go through the documentation process again so Microsoft can re-evaluate you.  My experience was that I was more tense when I was re-evaluated than when I was originally evaluated.

Why would you want to become an MVP?  It doesn’t add points to your company’s partner status.  Most people have no idea what MVP means so it’s not much good on your CV or resume.  I sometimes wonder if people mistake it for a MCP!

When you become an MVP you are being recognised for your work.  That’s pretty cool.  But the real perks are things like:

  • You gain access to the product group for your expertise.  This means you have a way to ask questions, provide feedback, represent your neighbours, etc.
  • You get NDA access to some information when the product group is in a position to share it.  This is subject to a contract and is taken very seriously.
  • You get great networking opportunities.  Thanks to this program I’ve gotten to know MVP’s on failover clustering, Configuration Manager, etc, etc, as well as the cool folks in Virtual Machine.  The folks I’ve met at the likes of conferences or the UK/Ireland get together have been really cool.  It’s a great network and the answer to a question is often just an email away.  I love how everyone is willing to help out, something that is often too rare in our business where too many people are secretive.
  • You learn loads.  Sometimes the information cannot be shared (for a while) but you will get better at your chosen path.
  • Oh I nearly forgot: last year we also got a lead crystal trophy that you can defend your house with against intruders 🙂

The best of all the perks is the MVP Summit.  This is a conference where all of the MVP’s are invited to get together over in Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond.  After the obligatory firmware upgrade (kidding!), we get to interact with each other and members of the product groups in person.  It’s an interesting opportunity.  The product groups often brief the MVP’s on and demonstrate new technology that is still in the works.  MVP’s learn lots and are able to prepare for when they can talk in public about it.  Microsoft also gets feedback from independent people who are using these technologies, possibly in ways they didn’t anticipate.  This is my second year as an MVP and the trip this year will be my first one. 

Being an MVP has been fun.  I’ve met and interacted with lots of cool and very intelligent people.  I’ve gained personally by learning more and by getting exposure.  And it’s probably fair to say that my employers gained too because I come away from different events knowing more and feeling excited about the stuff I work with.  In fact, very often the sales people at work call me saying “I just met XYZ and they say they know you” but I don’t know them! 

If this is something you are interested in then do the work.  Learn something and share that knowledge.  It can take years.  It’ll boost your career and help others.  Eventually you will have the body of work and get recognised.  When that certificate comes in the post you’ll feel like I did … a million bucks!  You’ll be a part of a small, invite-only club, with elite people from around the world. 

Did I mention the secret handshake yet?

System Center Influencers Blog Feed

I’m lucky enough to be a part of Microsoft’s System Center Influencers group.  VMM is one of my core things.  I’m a user of OpsMgr and I’ll blog about what I learn and do with that too.  I used to be a ConfigMgr MVP but I’ve fallen out of step with it because of changes in work but I like to stay in touch.  We don’t use DPM as a core product but Hyper-V keeps it interesting for me.  And that’s just the start of System Center!

The folks behind System Center Influencers have a blog feed gathering content from the members.  You can see our blog posts in one central point.  Check it out.

Technet Magazine: September 2006

Are you using MOM 2005 or SMS 2003?  Do you want to learn more about how these products can be used to do more while you do less?  If so, I highly recommend that you read the free online edition of TechNet Magazine.  This month’s edition feature articles on SMS 2003 and MOM 2005.

Articles include:

  • Using WMI with MOM
  • Zero Touch Installations
  • Getting to know Windows PE
  • Using MOM for SOX compliant security auditing
  • System Center Operations Manager 2007 (aka MOM 2007)

When correctly deployed and used, MOM and SMS in conjunction with Windows 2003/2003 R2 can really make life simpler for the systems administrator.  I’m speaking from experience here.  In a past job, my team (3 of us) ran a global network of 170 servers.  Most of our time was spent on engineering for new projects/systems instead of firefighting or sneakernet deployments.  This would have been impossible without the solutions we had deployed.

Windows 2003 Service Pack 2 Beta Technical Refresh

Microsoft has released a Technical Refresh of the Service Pack 2 beta for Windows 2003/2003 R2.  The following was posted on Connect.

"Windows Serviceability is pleased to announce the release of Beta Refresh 1 (build 2786) of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition customers.

This build contains:

  • Roll up of hotfixes released to date
  • Roll up of security updates released to date
  • Fixes for bugs reported by Beta customers and other known issues on previous Service Pack 2 builds

This build should be used for full deployment purposes, including pre-production testing or general compatibility testing. We will review all reported issues in the Release Candidate build. In order to have a stable test environment we strongly recommend un-installation of any previous SP2 builds from your machines before installing build 2786. If you previously installed an integrated build of SP2, you cannot upgrade your system to build 2786 with this refresh; you will need to re-install a released version (RTM, SP1, or R2) of Windows Server 2003 before upgrading to build 2786. Go to https://connect.microsoft.com/content/content.aspx?SiteID=98&ContentID=1799 to find an evaluation copy of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

Release notes for this build can be found at https://connect.microsoft.com/content/content.aspx?ContentID=3342&SiteID=98.

Here is the list of releases; note that there are no integrated releases with this build:

32-bit x86 standalone update: English, German and Japanese
x64 standalone update: English and Japanese
Itanium standalone update: English, German and Japanese
Checked update for English only (debug version)
We encourage you to continue WS03 SP2 Beta testing with this build and provide feedback".

The feature in this Serivce Pack I’m most interested is Windows Deployment Services.  An image based system, WDS is a replacement for RIS and will be one of the deployment mechanisms for Windows Vista.  Any organisation facing a potential deployment of Vista should review this new solution.

Best of MMS TechNet Roadshow – Dublin

Microsoft TechNet Ireland has just started advertising a free day of briefings on some of the new System Center products including those available now and those that are coming next year.  It will basically consist of some of a main sessions from the MMS conference that was held earlier this year in the U.S.

This TechNet event will be a very technical covering the following topics:

  • Optimising your infrastructure with Microsoft System Centre
  • MOM 2005 and System Centre Operations Manager 2007 technical drilldown
  • SMS 2003 R2 and System Centre Configuration Manager 2007 technical drilldown
  • Operations Management with System Centre Products
  • Protecting your data with Systems Centre Data Protection Manager

Sessions will cover one or more of the following scopes on a specific topic:

  • Deep drill technical drilldown into current or future of the products and technologies
  • Best practices for common real-world scenarios covering the lifecycle of solutions
  • Comparisons between different solutions available – such as SMS and WSUS patch management
  • Real-world experience (‘Tips and Tricks’) from Microsoft and non-Microsoft consultants and customers