I recently attended the 2013 version of the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to check up on the progress Microsoft has made with System Center 2012, and how the community was reacting to it. As has been noted elsewhere, the keynote demonstrated one of the more fallible aspects of cloud computing. Mandalay Bay IT pros and their Macs :-)And this fail wasn’t Microsoft’s fault; the event started late due to internet connectivity problems throughout the whole Mandalay Bay complex. As corporate vice president Brad Anderson described the hotel’s IT pros working feverishly to get the connection back up, he couldn't have had a more sympathetic audience. Perhaps he would have been more critical if he’d seen what computers they were using.

The theme of the conference was broader than just System Center; Microsoft’s message has been all about the integration of Windows Server 2012, System Center, and Windows Azure into a (hopefully) seamless whole, their Cloud OS. As much sense as this holistic vision makes, I think the reality is that the road to it will be very long and winding for most companies.

The Cloud and the IO Model

Most companies have embraced virtualization to some extent, but there's a huge difference between a basic virtualized infrastructure and a private or hybrid cloud. You need to implement a lot - and I mean a lot - of automation. And before you can automate the processes that create and manage services, you must know what all those processes are. And before you can do that, you must move the IT culture towards embracing (rather than avoiding) the cloud computing model. This maturity process closely resembles Microsoft's infrastructure optimization (IO) model of recent years. In this model, IT organizations progress through four maturity phases – Basic, Standardized, Rationalized, and finally Dynamic – in different technology and business tracks. A private or hybrid cloud requires a Dynamic infrastructure, and most companies have just not gotten there yet. To help IT organizations assess where they stand on their capability to move to parts of their business to the cloud, Microsoft also provides a Cloud Security Readiness Tool. It's a vendor-agnostic tool that's well thought of; the Cloud Security Alliance endorses it (as I'll describe in more detail in my June Enterprise Identity column).

System Center provides tools to make these automation tasks far easier with a greatly expanded Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and Orchestrator. VMM is now well-known for its ability to (duh) manage virtual machines, but another critical new capability it handles (and IT infrastructures need) is Hyper-V network virtualization, also known as software defined networking (SDN). SDN allows you to separate VM’s IP address dependency on the physical network it's attached to. In Hyper-V network virtualization, VMs are addressed for a virtualized customer network you define; once this network is created and VMs have their IP addresses you shouldn't have to change them again. This virtual customer IP address space is then mapped to a physical provider address space. With this disconnect between real and virtual IP addresses, administrators can move VMs around physical networks - both on-premises and to / from the cloud – without needing to readdress them.

At the conference I noticed a much more visible VMware compete effort as well. This is a critical time for cloud service providers because most businesses have not yet chosen a strategic vendor for their private, and eventually, hybrid cloud services. The complexity of such environments means it doesn't make economic sense to choose more than one strategic provider. And, once chosen, it'll be cost prohibitive to change. So Microsoft and others are working hard now to ensure they're the cloud vendor of choice. Even if many IT pros aren't ready to start using it.

Sean writes about cloud identity, Microsoft hybrid identity, and whatever else he finds interesting at his blog on Enterprise Identity and on Twitter at @shorinsean.