Garth Fort Talks Cloud, Virtualization

The Microsoft marketing meister describes a team effort in Redmond.

Garth Fort is general manager of the System Center and Virtualization Marketing team at Microsoft, where he's responsible for both the System Center Suite and Forefront Client Security products. During a recent interview with Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard, Fort spoke about the Microsoft migration to the cloud, the evolution of Windows Server as a vehicle for virtualization, and competition with VMware Inc., among other topics.

VR: How does Microsoft distinguish between virtualization and cloud computing?
Fort: We think of virtualization as a first step toward cloud computing. I think the easiest way to think about it is by visualizing a virtualized infrastructure as the first step toward realizing the vision of cloud computing. Cloud computing is in some ways very closely related to a vision that we laid out around dynamic IT, where pools of resources, compute network and storage can be very dynamically allocated to applications depending on workload and need. That's the private cloud -- that's the foundation for cloud computing. Over time, more folks like Amazon -- and Microsoft in the form of Windows Azure -- have started bringing out a lot of these resources with new programming and management models, so there's a public domain with public cloud computing, and that accelerates a lot of the conversations that our customers are having with us around the private cloud. So I'd say virtualization is a first step toward realizing the vision of cloud computing.

VR: Where do we go from the virtualized datacenter?
Fort: We go from there to application development on our way to the cloud. Let me frame two opposite ends of the spectrum. I think in some ways virtualization got started by taking a bunch of existing applications that were running on traditional infrastructures and wrapping them up in a virtual machine that allowed you to do a lot of very interesting things in terms of backup patching, fault tolerance, disaster recovery, etc. -- but didn't require that you actually change the underlying architecture of the application. So if you were virtualizing SAP, Oracle or a workload like Exchange, there were a lot of benefits. It allowed you to consolidate to get better utilization out of your hardware, but it didn't change the way that applications were fundamentally written.

Garth Fort, General Manager, System Center and Virtualization Marketing Team, Microsoft

When we look at how people are building what I'll call "cloud-scale applications" on a platform like Windows Azure, for example, it actually presumes a change in the way you build an architecture application so it's not tightly bound to the underlying hardware. As a result, the way you build a Windows Azure application, which is very cloud from the core, requires changes in the ways you think about accessing network computing and storage resources. It takes a lot of the middleware layer, which we call the app fabric. The system itself actually takes on a lot of responsibility for allocating those resources and the application developer can write the business logic in an abstract way that doesn't have to be cognizant of the underlying physical resources required.

VR: Microsoft is expanding System Center so that from a single screen right from System Center Operations Manager, you can manage your apps in an on-premises virtualized environment and a hosted virtualized environment in Windows Azure. What are the implications of that?
Fort: For that matter, it could be Windows Azure or another third party that's running that application. We have a lot of partnerships with big guys that do that. My crystal ball's not perfect, but when we look out five years to see what's happening with hardware, we think of the growth of the public cloud -- so services providers that are building these public cloud infrastructures and putting a lot of hardware capacity into operation there will grow faster than the overall market. This will become a bigger part of the overall server landscape, but still be less than 20 percent of the total hardware run rate. From a customer perspective, we did a survey where we talked to several thousand customers and asked them how they think about adopting the cloud. Specifically, we asked: "In the next three to five years, do you think you're going to be entirely on-premises, entirely in the cloud or somewhere in between?" Of our customers, 85 percent came back and said they'd likely be in this hybrid mode where they're going to continue to have a lot of their on-premises infrastructure, but be opportunistically taking advantage of the public cloud to move some of their workloads over there.

That influenced the way we thought from a System Center point of view. What you'll see, for example, is we have a management pack for Windows Azure that's coming out in the next quarter or so. We demonstrated that onstage in Las Vegas back in April. What we're hearing from customers is that they want to have that single pane of glass that allows them to manage both their on-premises and their public cloud infrastructures. Today we're going to start with the ability to do things like monitor your applications, but over time we'll be building capabilities into System Center that will allow you to actually provision or even move applications from on-premises to the public cloud and then back again.

VR: How is System Center, as part of Windows Server, competitively superior to VMware?
Fort: It's different than VMware. We've taken a couple of different points of view on this. One, we started from a very rich heritage in terms of understanding both the physical and the virtual, where I think VMware viewed everything from a purely virtualized standpoint. Getting a little more tactical, we've taken a view that says, for a lot of our customers running Windows Server in their datacenters, they're running a multi-hypervisor environment. System Center Virtual Machine Manager, for example, is cross-hypervisor. We can understand and manage guests running in ESX, as well as in Hyper-V and third parties like Xen, so we've taken an explicitly multi-hypervisor approach to the management tools that we're building, which is of course very different from the way VMware has approached it.

VR: How does System Center make Hyper-V a better product?
Fort: The easiest way to think about it is, we work together with customers to understand where we need to be to make platform enhancements to the underlying hypervisor and how we can expose those to the user. The team that built System Center also built a lot of the core management infrastructure that ships as part of Windows, including things like Windows Management Instrumentation and PowerShell. So, as we think about the next generation of Windows and the work that Mike Neil's team is doing -- Mike is general manager of Windows Server and Server Virtualization -- we're providing a lot of stuff we call inbox manageability. [Inbox manageability means] that, as you buy a straight copy of Windows Server with Hyper-V and you want to stand that up without buying System Center, there's going to be a lot of functionality in terms of how you manage and exercise the virtualization capabilities that will just ship as part of Windows. That's going to be delivered by the same team that eventually builds a higher-end tool for Virtual Machine Manager and then System Center on top of that, so it's a very close engineering relationship.

VR: How does Microsoft make it easy for both its large business partners and small ecosystem partners alike to move into virtualization?
Fort: From a management perspective, we released in April a new product called System Center Essentials, which is specifically designed for companies that have up to about 50 servers and about 500 desktops. This is a product that's really had a strong uptake in the market. It's priced in an incredibly affordable way, and it appeals to many of these guys who have felt like virtualization was outside of their reach. So if you're upgrading your infrastructure to Windows Server 2008 R2 and so on, we're giving you a set of tools that allows you to manage the physical and the virtual. It allows you to manage your desktop and your datacenter, and do it all from one pane of glass in a way that's very approachable for your average IT shop.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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