The ascent from virtualization to the cloud

The virtualization era featured VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix. In the cloud era, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google lead -- but Microsoft has the only real hybrid option

The ascent from virtualization to the cloud

Back in 1999, when VMware first released its type-2 hypervisor, VMware Workstation, a new world opened up: Suddenly, you could run multiple operating systems on the same PC. But the real tipping point for virtualization was 2001, with the release of VMware ESX Server, a type-1 hypervisor that installed on bare metal, vastly improving hardware utilization. That kicked off what I call the decade of virtualization.

VMware wasn't alone for long, although as first mover it always seemed to stay a step ahead. Citrix Xen and later Microsoft Hyper-V arrived, the latter gradually closing the gap on features and performance. VM management, migration/failover options, and so forth kept the war going. For those running Windows Server, there was an added attraction: Hyper-V was bundled at no extra cost.

Now we're in the decade of the cloud, when we're seeing a dimensional shift from a 2D on-prem world to a 3D cloud world. Servers going “up” to the public cloud transcend the virtualization decision. In the same way nobody cares about which servers are running in the cloud ("Are they Dell servers? Because I only use Dell," said nobody ever), no one cares about the hypervisor, either. What they care about are the features and pricing of the cloud vendor they are working with.

Of the three virtualization players, Microsoft is the only one to take a leadership position in the cloud. According to nearly everyone, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Cloud are the three top cloud providers, in that order. Of those, Microsoft has argued most strenuously that to ease the transition to the cloud, a hybrid architecture is necessary, with parallel on-prem and public cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft’s goal is to remove the cloud location as a consideration in what you develop and how you manage it, thanks to hybrid management and parallel development environments. And Microsoft is continuously releasing features that improve upon these pieces in a way that other vendors simply cannot because they don’t have the trifecta of solutions: server software, hybrid management tools, and a public cloud. Microsoft has the control over all three and is making sure they play well together.

Redmond initially released Windows Azure Pack -- which plugs into Azure, Windows Server, and System Center -- so that you can blend private and public cloud with third-party services to keep that consistent Azure experience. But Azure Pack was “Azure-like,” not “Azure-same.” The same APIs must persist for both the on-premises and Azure public cloud so that the applications developers create can be truly portable between on-prem and the Azure cloud.

Microsoft understood the need to make the hybrid connection more real -- and released Azure Stack. It raises the level of consistency to allow developers to work on solutions that won’t require code changes between on-prem and the cloud.

Another key component to Microsoft’s hybrid management hook is the recently updated Operations Management Suite, which offers control over any hybrid cloud, Azure or AWS, Windows Server or Linux, VMware or OpenStack, and so on.

The key takeaway is that Microsoft knows that most organizations aren’t yet going all-in with the cloud. Many are still looking at it for disaster recovery, dev/test servers, and such, rather than as the main platform of their infrastructure. By having more hybrid management tools for IT admins and giving developers the ability to code once and work on-prem or in Azure, Microsoft is offering a choice to its customers that none of its competitors can compete with.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.