Virtual Cloud Strategy

Ready or Not, the VM Era Is Over

The era of the VM is over, and IT is woefully unprepared for what comes next.

At TechEd in June, the message we got from Microsoft on its cloud-centric vision for IT's future was clear: You'll embrace cloud -- private, public, hybrid or a combination -- whether you like it or not.

That's a future both exciting -- and terrifying -- for the fantastical evolutions it suggests to IT operations.

One such wholesale evolution isn't anything new. Service templates arrived as a quiet feature of System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) a year ago. A wholly ignorable facet of the VMM Hyper-V management exposure, service templates were easy to look at, shrug and move on.

It took the first service pack for us to dig deeper into Microsoft's expanding System Center 2012 vision. We used components in isolation for years. System Center 2012 SP1 saw us confidently connecting them in interesting ways: App Controller into VMM, VMM into Operations Manager, Operations Manager into Orchestrator, Orchestrator into Service Manager. The last of these shimmed the final connector into place, and opened our eyes to what Microsoft was attempting.

Complete automation -- words thrown around far too much, but this time they offer the greatest potential of being entirely realizable. With a fully connected System Center infrastructure, we're hard pressed to find anything you can't automate. CIOs will rejoice; IT pros still clicking buttons will fear.

A Cookbook for Provisioning
Our further realization is at the center of it all lies these new, powerful yet misunderstood VMM service templates. A service template is like a cookbook for provisioning Windows servers. Click the VMM Deploy Service button, and every configuration you've coded into the recipe gets baked into the VMs.

Developers need a new coding environment? Click, done. Testers need to reset everything for a code drop? Click, done. Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and XenApp servers need a rebuild? Click, done. The possibilities only increases the more you ponder the use cases.

At this point you might be saying, "These are environments of VMs. How can this portend the end of the VM era?" It's simple: Eras are bounded by something society deeply cares about.

The VM has long stood as the defining concept -- the "what we cared about" -- of the virtualization era. But smart IT pros these days care more about the automation wrapped around a VM's operation than any VM itself. Fully integrated System Center delivers on that automation, with service templates at the core.

Admittedly, VMM service templates are still a bit quirky. Deployments sometimes fail with cryptic results. Generic Command Executions (GCEs) that facilitate service template scripting are embarrassingly undocumented. Key capabilities are missing from VMM scale-out and scale-in that mandate goofy Orchestrator hacks. These critical omissions that will be easy additions in the future.

A Universal Constructor
Also missing today is a universal Windows construction language for baking the Windows OS in every possible flavor. Devoid of one, desktop admins honed their deployment hacking skills with the aid of Configuration Manager and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. Unfortunately, most server admins just kept on choosing "Clone from Template." That's about to change.

We saw the beginning of this omission's end at TechEd. There, Microsoft unveiled an early peek at its Windows PowerShell-facilitated Desired State Configuration (DSC), a capability that's too early to judge and still too geeky for most to appreciate. DSC is a ways off, but it offers to become a universal language for deployment. With it, VMs become little more than lines of Windows PowerShell code; with it, they cease to be something we care deeply about.

Which takes us back to this year's TechEd vibe, the scuttlebutt you'd overhear in those New Orleans hallways. An enlightened minority sees Microsoft's forest for its trees. A larger majority isn't quite ready to elevate their consciousness above the VM.

An era is ending. Are you ready?

About the Authors

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.

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