Microsoft details workings of cloud strategy

Microsoft System Center will tie together private and public cloud workloads, with software components running within a Hyper-V-based virtual machine

Microsoft kicked off its annual TechEd conference Monday much the way it did last year's, heavily touting cloud computing as a more efficient way for businesses to run IT operations. This year, however, company executives provided more details about how organizations can actually use cloud computing day-to-day.

Using the cloud "is about having more people able to focus on higher level parts of the stack, managing the app [service level agreements], rolling out new applications, and not having to worry about the underlying infrastructure," said Microsoft corporate Vice President Robert Wahbe, during the opening keynote of the conference in Atlanta.

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The next release of Microsoft System Center will be key to a unified cloud strategy, which will allow line-of-business owners and administrators to control both their public and private cloud workloads from a single view, he said.

Microsoft System Center 2012, due to be released by the end of the year, will feature a single console that will allow virtualized workloads to be managed, whether they reside in-house or on the public cloud.

Microsoft technical evangelist Joey Snow demonstrated how the console would work. A user could put together the basic components, such as a database server and the application, from within System Center. The software checks to see what resources are available and if the person has the proper credentials to create such a workload. Once finished, the application could then be deployed to a local private cloud, or on a Microsoft Azure-based public cloud offering.

The console would also provide status updates of applications running in the cloud, and allow users to add in more copies of an application should the workload increase.

For this set up to work, all the software components should be run from within a Microsoft Hyper-V-based virtual machine, which could be moved around easily between internal and external clouds, Wahbe explained. Last year was the first in which the industry created more virtual servers than purchased actual physical servers, he said.

"This move to virtualization is setting us all up for a much bigger inflection point, the inflection point to the cloud," Wahbe said. Virtualization will allow organizations to take "all those virtualized resources, [pull] them together to dynamically provision and scale your application, and only pay for what you are using."

Wahbe promised that many of the sessions at this week's conference would further explain how Microsoft software could be configured for cloud interaction and that Microsoft will provide reference architectures for easing the setup of a cloud-based infrastructure.

Wahbe predicted that public cloud use will be most prevalent for a number of use cases. Organizations may use the cloud for extending existing applications, especially those used by their customers and partners. Business intelligence will be an early use, because the digestion and analysis of data can be intensive and vary over time. One-time uses such as for marketing and presenting events would be another natural candidate for cloud computing, because hardware and software won't have to be allocated for them.

In addition to cloud computing, Wahbe also offered a few other tidbits about other Microsoft products, aspects of which will also be addressed at the conference this week. One topic will be the upcoming release of Mango, the update for Windows Phone 7 mobile handset OS. This update to the OS, due at the end of the year, will feature integration with Microsoft's unified communications offering Lync Server. Mango users will be able to call up their Lync contacts directly from within the phone itself. The service will also allow users to send instant messages to members of their contact lists as well. Support for accessing SharePoint repositories will also be included in Mango.

On the VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) front, Wahbe announced that banking giant HSBC is in the process of rolling out 100,000 VDI desktops across its organizations, making it "one of the largest VDI deployments" existing, he said. System Center 2012 will manage a wide variety of non-Microsoft devices, such as iPhone, iPad and Android devices. "System center will be the end-to-end management console," he said.

Wahbe also took the opportunity to show how the Microsoft Kinect gesture-based motion controller could be used for non-gaming purposes. One medical facility, the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, uses it to allow surgeons in the operating room to move around CAT scan images using arm and hand motions rather than moving the images by hand, which would require washing up afterward. The technology also is being used as the interface for the Microsoft Worldwide Telescope project, so that users can quickly navigate around an immersive collection of images of the universe.

Although Wahbe did not specify any plans for non-gaming support of Kinect, he did say these uses were examples of "future possible device interactions."

"Kinect would have the possibility of changing the way we work," he said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's email address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com.

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