Microsoft in the enterprise: 7 predictions for 2018

The last year was a busy one for Redmond. It’s looking like this year will be even busier

Microsoft in the enterprise: 7 predictions for 2018
George Hodan (CC0)

Microsoft may be building a new campus in Redmond, but it’s also building a lot of software and a lot of tools—especially around its cloud and enterprise businesses. Windows will still dominate Microsoft’s balance sheet in 2018, but Azure and other cloud platforms will become increasingly important, thanks to initiatives like Microsoft 365 and the integration of Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365, and LinkedIn.

What will 2018 hold for us? To answer that question, I’ve been going over last year’s Enterprise Microsoft columns and pulling out some of the recurring enterprise themes, thinking about where they might lead over the next 12 months. Here are my seven predictions.

Prediction 1: Two new Windows Server releases

2018 will be the first year with two releases of Windows Server, as its new release cadence picks up speed. An initial build of the likely 1803 release is already available to Insiders, as part of Microsoft’s changing approach to beta-testing its operating systems. The new release looks likely to focus on Windows Server’s storage features, bringing back Storage Spaces Direct and adding additional features like data deduplication.

Putting Windows Server on a faster cadence makes sense when you consider its alignment with Azure, and especially when you add in its role as both the base OS and the client VM images in the on-premises Azure Stack. Similarly, as Microsoft continues to shrink down the size of Server Core and Nano Server images, Windows Containers will be smaller, faster, and easier to deploy.

Prediction 2: Changing how we manage Windows

One of the more interesting developments of 2017 was the beta release of Project Honolulu, an agent-less web-based management platform for Windows Servers. With Microsoft focusing on UI-less servers in its accelerated release schedule, you needed to use tools like RSAT to manage servers from your desktop. Now, with Project Honolulu, once you’ve installed the gateway software all you need is a web browser. Using PowerShell remoting and WMI, everything you need to control one or more servers is in one clear, easy to use UI. Instead of switching between management tools, one tool handles servers, virtual machines, and clusters.

Project Honolulu is very much in beta at the moment, but expect to see multiple releases in 2018, including a production version that’s ready for modern datacenter use.

Prediction 3: Virtualization and containers get closer

Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization platform remains a key piece of its OS strategy, supporting Azure’s infrastructure as a service and simplifying lift-and-shift migrations to the cloud. While on-premises virtualization is now a mature technology, it’s still got an important part to play in Microsoft’s container platform. You should expect to see more of an emphasis on Hyper-V containers as a way of ensuring container isolation, using virtualization to keep containers isolated on multitenant cloud systems.

Prediction 4: More graph, more insights

Microsoft Graph is one of the most important features of Office 365, providing new ways of exploring documents and staff across an organization. While the Delve app is being discontinued, you can expect to see more of Microsoft Graph’s results appearing in Office apps, with improved API access for your code. In parallel you’ll start to see more cross-platform and cross-graph operations, with new services and additional API access to LinkedIn, Dynamics 365, and Microsoft’s security graph.

Although Microsoft currently focuses on RESTful access to the Office and LinkedIn graphs, it’s chosen to use the open source Gremlin graph query language with Cosmos DB. Hopefully, 2018 will see some way to bring those two approaches together for more complex cross-graph access, either with a Gremlin layer for Microsoft Graph or with an Azure service that helps manage and use graph queries and graph APIs in your applications.

Prediction 5: UWP keeps on getting more features

While there’s still a lot of Win32 code out there, it’s very much a legacy propped up by a Windows Store bridge to get access to some Windows 10 features. Microsoft’s regular Windows cadence will deliver two major releases of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) SDK every year, and with those releases comes support for new technologies and new hardware. Already we’re seeing SDK support in beta releases for technologies like eSIM, an essential technology for 2018’s launch of ARM-based “always connected” PCs.

Support for cross-platform development and .Net Standard 2.0 will make your code more portable, and give you opportunities for delivering apps across Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, and more.

Prediction 6: Azure’s serverless future

One of the biggest changes to Azure has been the launch of Azure Functions, its serverless compute option. Microsoft has spent 2017 adding new features to support new use cases, and adding new frameworks around the platform. The vision for Azure has always been one of a stateless platform as a service public cloud, and Azure Functions plus tools like Event Grid finally delivers on the promise. With executable containers hosting the Azure Functions runtime, it’s not limited to Azure, running on-premises and even on competing platforms like Amazon Web Services.

If you’re building message-driven microservices, Azure Functions is the tool for you. It’s the ideal place to build the initial layer of an application, before taking advantage of Azure’s Kubernetes tools for the rest of your business logic. Features like durable functions handle more complex workflows, and we can expect to see the Azure Functions team add support for more languages and more use cases over the next year.

Prediction 7: Kubernetes everywhere

The importance of containers as part of a modern application deployment can’t be underestimated. Having a build chain deliver code in easy-to-install and immutable containers makes it easy to upgrade applications. If you’d tried building service-oriented architectures in the early 2000s, you’ll appreciate using containers to encapsulate services, keeping all your data—including state information—outside the container, making updates self-configuring and ready to run.

However easy deploying containers is, managing them at scale remains an issue. That’s where the open source Kubernetes comes in, managing how containers are deployed on hosts and how they scale. Azure has made a significant investment in Kubernetes, and it’s now its preferred container management tool. AKS, the Azure Container Service, and ACI, Azure Container Instances, will remain the focus of Microsoft’s Kubernetes strategy, though there’s going to be a lot of interest in programmatic management of Kubernetes via open source tools like Helm, Brigade, Steward, and Draft.

Microsoft’s hiring of many Kubernetes specialists, like the DEIS team, in 2017 should pay off in 2018 as it ramps up its open source tooling and builds on its membership in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Higher level tools, including those from third-party partners like Pivotal, should also provide more developer-friendly abstractions from the low-level container management of Kubernetes, making it possible to build code and deploy it without having to consider what’s happening behind the curtains.