Microsoft's pivot and the importance of Windows containers

We explore the implications for enterprise IT and business decision-makers, and recommend practical steps to position your organization for a cross-platform Microsoft strategy


Bernard Golden and JP Morgan have recently argued that enterprise IT faces accelerating change and disruption. The change is driven by a combinaton of continued AWS innovation with advanced services, and industry-wide adoption of containers based on Docker's open source project. I think they're right, and I would add the following:

  1. Amazon AWS has commoditized Infrastructure and raised the game with advanced services. It has also commoditized Operating Systems with a generic Linux that must be among the market share leaders in Linux.
  2. Docker’s open source project and API is the first shared API supported by Red Hat, AWS, and Microsoft, with demonstrated portability between on-premise and the cloud. A cross-platform, portable container package enables greater cloud adoption, with significantly fewer VMs used.
  3. Venture capital is focused on innovation on NoSQL, Big Data, and container orchestration, based on Linux. Some believe that Windows is becoming a legacy enterprise platform.

Microsoft has been criticized for being late to recognize the import of the internet, for missing the transition to mobile, and some will add for being late to embrace Linux. Microsoft is responding, with a strategic pivot to Linux and open source. Azure has emerged as an alternative to AWS, and Microsoft has partnered with Docker to deliver container support for Windows Server 2016. It has open sourced .Net and is porting SQL Server to Linux. Microsoft has also recently announced plans to open source PowerShell.

Notably missing among these steps, the SQL Server division appears to be bypassing container support on Windows Server 2016 in favor of a future Linux host. Sharepoint, another enterprise product also lacks plans for container support. It’s not publicly acknowledged, but it’s clear that Windows Server is no longer Priority 1 for everyone at Microsoft.

How should enterprises that rely on Windows respond as the industry focuses on Linux, and Microsoft pivots to Linux and open source?

  1. Follow Microsoft’s lead and supplant Windows Servers with Linux and Linux hosted solutions. Microsoft will continue to increase enterprise license costs on Windows Server, SQL Server, Sharepoint, and other enterprise offerings. Avoid being the last person standing in a loser’s game of enterprise licensing. Follow Microsoft’s lead to integrate Linux into your strategy.
  2. Follow enterprises that have transitioned from Windows to Linux and Docker. Goldman Sachs, Nordstrom, and Schwab are three who have publicly shared their approach. Applications can be ported and new ones written, but resources must be applied to best in class technology. Start small and grow the strategy into a meaningful capability.
  3. Schwab, Goldman Sachs, and others demonstrate that containers are strategic, and should be a top priority in 2016. Windows containers will enable a significant savings on Microsoft licenses, particularly for SQL Server, while building portability between on-premise, Azure and AWS. Containers also form a shared infrastructure for combined Windows and Linux operations.

Containers are assuming a strategic role that mirrors that of VMs in prior decades. Early adopters are developing advantage in time-to-market, with greater operational efficiency, and serious license savings. Containers are created in seconds, and are more efficient than VMs. It’s common to reduce VMs used by a factor of3:1, and up to 10:1 in some cases. Containers should deliver dramatic savings on the Microsoft license bill at year-end, in addition to operational costs.

Bernard Golden, JP Morgan, Schwab & Co, and others are right. It is imperative to re-evaluate enterprise technology strategy. The best path available to Windows based enterprises is one that adds Linux for NoSQL, Big Data, Agile Software delivery, and Cloud. And, include Windows containers for greater efficiency, license savings, cross-platform support, and platform migration.

Our industry is full of hyperbole, but the fact is that Microsoft and the technology industry is undergoing a sea change, and the time to react is now.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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