I was struck with something of a realisation this morning as I sat through MDC-B212, led by the amazingly talented Mark Russinovich. Whilst I might be overly excited by the direction Microsoft is taking, mostly because it vindicates my long held position that the future of the cloud is hybrid, the current reality is still very far away from what I believe is the ultimate end game. More importantly however I was approaching the idea with the naivety that all admins get when flashy technology comes their way, forgetting the legacy environments that are what keeping all us IT professionals employed. With that in mind I set about to find out what solutions are not only available today but also those that provide easy migration paths; solutions that actually have a chance of being implemented.
Azure provides a whole bunch of pre-configured templates for various services that you can deploy as part of its IaaS offering. Whilst the catalog is a little limited currently it is expanding, allowing admins to deploy these servers without having to do any scripting, automation or provisioning of their own. In the past most of these services really only made sense if they could be internet-facing as that was the only way you had to communicate with them. However now with features such as Azure Site to Site VPN you can now host services on the Azure platform and have them directly connected to your internal infrastructure. This opens up a massive opportunity for those looking to slim down their on-premise server count by utilising Azure's services, something which just wasn't particularly feasible in the past. Indeed with the changes to MSDN licensing which now allows for Azure deployment it seems like this should be the go-to solution for an enterprises dev/test environment as it would allow infrastructure teams to focus more on production issues rather than ongoing maintenance of three different environments.
It also doesn't have to be an all or nothing deployment either and dev teams can easily trial it themselves so long as the IT/network admins are amenable to allowing a VPN connection out to Azure. If control/transparency becomes an issue then there's easy solutions in the form of System Center suite of products, namely SCVMM and SCOM, that now cover both the on-premise deployments as well as those out in the cloud, Azure or otherwise.
If you're a dev or SQL admin there are also several avenues available to you that will allow you to get some of the cloud benefits without going fully PaaS. SQL Azure Data Sync allows you sync multiple databases together, enabling you to effectively back up your database to the cloud which allows you to take advantage of the incredible amount of redundancy in the Azure platform. For us developers there's an incredible amount of functionality that can be unlocked by using the Azure Service Bus which, thanks to the upcoming release of the Windows Azure Pack, will be available in both on-premise and through Azure. Of course there's much more functionality that can be used in a pseudo-hybrid fashion but until Microsoft announces that those options are coming to the native server OS they'll remain part of that cloud wall that irritates me so.
Talk of this nature often feeds into the idea of the regular IT admin disappearing as their job gets slowly eaten away by the features of the cloud. I don't believe that myself as any admin who's still employed is at least familiar with the principles behind virtualisation and, if by nothing else than osmosis, the idea of IaaS. Indeed once you dig beneath the maelstrom of buzzwords and terminology the cloud isn't something that needs to be feared as fundamentally it's not that much different to our current jobs. Sure there are new concepts and capabilities to be investigated, but being an IT admin requires you to be current with the latest technology even if you're not going to implement it immediately. In fact a lot of the tools that have just recently become public cloud ready started out as private cloud solutions, meaning a lot of the lessons learned from previous implementations are readily transferable.
That realisation I came to this morning has been an incredibly eye-opening experience as it showed just how much is possible today rather than what's just over the horizon. Whilst I still might be caught up in a developer dream world hoping for the ubiquitous cloud platform that really doesn't differentiate between public and private it's heartening to know there's so many ways to bridge the gap between them. Based on the sessions I've got lined up for tomorrow it looks like I might be diving back into said dream world but hopefully I'll remain grounded enough to get some insight on what can be achieved today.