Behold Microsoft, Harbinger of the Future

Yeah, that’s right. You heard me.

There are a ton of people who are very, very mad at Microsoft because of their recent TechEd announcement. Basically, Microsoft is concentrating, in a large way, in being a managed service provider. They’re still selling software, but they’re concentrating on honing their hosted service offerings, and in the mean time, a lot of system administrators have expressed concern that Microsoft is saying “Screw You” to sysadmins, because they feel like Microsoft is intentionally making it unnecessary to have sysadmins doing the same thing they have been for 20 years.

I hate to say it, but “suck it up”, because this is totally what’s happening, and it’s going to be better for (almost) everyone this way.

Look, I wrote over a year ago that the profession of system administration is fracturing. There are going to be the architectual people who do big-picture things, and there will be the physical infrastructure admins who deal with the lower layer issues. You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything in that article about mid-level Exchange admins, and that’s because, in the future, roles like that won’t exist like they do now. I’m not picking on Exchange. I could just as easily have said “MySQL admins”.

It’s certainly not that people will stop using the services, it’s just that the administration of them will be largely abstracted away, and any other administration of the services will be done in bulk by the Exchange Admin at the MSP, not by someone at your company. Sure, someone at your company might be responsible for writing the software that ties your local infrastructure into the MSP’s infrastructure, but it won’t be a “sysadmin” as you currently recognize them. It’ll be a programmer who knows operations, directed to do that by the infrastructure architect.

At best, infrastructures of a large enough scale will run their own internal abstractions (“clouds”), and administrators will use APIs to deploy instances, diving into the actual administration of services only when necessary, and only for extremely deep-knowledge related issues. If you don’t think so, take some time and research OpenStack or even Microsoft’s recent Azure Pack. The idea is that it becomes seamless for you to have infrastructure on your equipment, then migrate it to an external provider.

This model won’t ever contain 100% of the infrastructures out there. For a lot of people, it still makes sense to run their own physical infrastructures in-house and to have the “normal” IT staff supporting them, and it’ll continue to be that way for a long time. But as new companies come online, this new way of operating IT will become more and more common.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t make sense to build out a new generic physical infrastructure anymore, beyond whatever is necessary to support your users’ desktop machines. Using a hosted cloud provider for your business is better in almost every way, so if you want to future-proof yourself, learn AWS, learn Azure, learn Rackspace. Learn to code. Learn configuration management. Learn to let go of the way that things have always been, because they won’t always be like that in the future.

  • Jason Ruiz

    I don’t see the fuss, of course I work for a cloud service provider so I don’t deal with the enterprise stuff any more. They’ve done some great things with their Windows Azure Services for Web Hosters which can be in turn brought back into the enterprise for self service provisioning and chargeback for various types of resources. Would be nice to have a discussion on this stuff sometime.

  • IT admin / dev has been ripe for a shake out in jobs for quite a while. Whether the shake out destroys jobs in aggregate or just changes the skill sets required I don’t know. What are your thoughts? There are an awful lot of people doing exactly the same thing at each and every company above a certain size in the western world. Capitalism has a habit of getting rid of that kind of duplication.

  • Chris St. Pierre

    At the USENIX Configuration Management Summit at the end of this month, Microsoft will be talking more about the configuration management aspects of their new strategy:

    This is pretty exciting, for a few reasons:

    1) There’s clearly an effort to reach across the aisle, so to speak, and learn from each other — I mean, read the first line of the abstract that was written by a Microsoft employee: “Historically, Windows has been difficult to automate and configure.”

    2) UCMS is going to be the first conference besides TechEd where this stuff is discussed in any detail.

    Even as the UCMS chair, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to be announced, so I’m awfully glad it’s as big as it is. :)

  • Jason Ruiz

    Pretty sure Vijay Tewari had a session at TechEd overviewing Desired State Configuration, since he mentioned it in the keynote. So I can give a little detail since it’s now “officially” announced. This is a feature built upon Powershell, and acts much like Puppet where you can use a syntax to ensure that certain features/configurations are made to a system and validated.

  • Amen Matt. This is what we’ve been talking about for several years, I think most people won’t see it coming until it’s too late.

  • Chase Hoffman

    There are PLENTY of compelling reasons to have your infrastructure locally. HIPAA requirements and auditing are far easier if you own your stack. Defense contractors (especially smaller ones) are generally not willing to let the data be even partially out of their control.

    For most industries, yes, utilizing large cloud providers will be a better option, but the traditional sysadmin is not going away for large swaths of the world.

  • I’m not convinced this is really as good as it sounds. Oh certainly, for smaller companies that can barely afford their existing infrastructure… But there are a few dependencies that I don’t addressed yet, such as location of data, control over data, recovery of data (especially if one desires to terminate a cloud-vendor relationship), data-retention rules (such as regulated industry where certain data must be kept inviolate essentially forever) and most importantly — if your business is located in an area with poor network coverage, the “cloud” is useless.

    I definitely agree that it’s worth knowing about this new infrastructure and in learning how to manage it – but I’m not ready to give it my blessing as the end-all be-all for anything more than unstructured and non-regulated data.