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moving IT to the cloud with service not servers

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

There's no such thing as hybrid cloud

One advantage in running a tech blog is that you can use it to sound off. It’s like therapy, only cheaper.

So let’s get one thing straight - whatever the marketing hype would like you to believe there is no such thing as hybrid cloud. As defined below, it's a meaningless concept.

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment which uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms.   

The thing is, to have a hybrid cloud you first have to have a public cloud and a private cloud and while everybody has the first bit, nobody has the second bit.

The public cloud is a very special thing.  The scale at which it operates and the way it’s designed and managed is light years away from the virtual machine based infrastructure that today passes for a local private cloud. They couldn’t be more different.

To pretend that an on-premise cluster running virtualized servers is a private cloud is a bit like comparing a nuclear power plant to a pack of AA batteries and believing they must be the same because they can both be used to light a room; they’re not. Unfortunately, because you need a private cloud before you can have a hybrid cloud, it follows that hybrid cloud doesn't exist.

At best what you have is Hybrid IT, an arrangement in which on-premises infrastructure makes use of the public cloud and may even exhibit a degree of integration but simply linking your VMWare cluster to AWS, GCP or the Microsoft Azure cloud doesn’t result in a hybrid cloud.

So if hybrid cloud is a myth why am I reading so much about it?

I think it’s attempt by some vendors to hitch their  wagons to public cloud before it rolls out of town. To appear current and relevant they have to have a story and hybrid cloud (plus a sprinkling of digital transformation) is that story.

The elevator pitch is that to stay competitive you should be using public cloud but to use it effectively you need to buy more proprietary hardware and install it in your datacenter. I’m not sure that's really true but it sounds plausible and it certainly sells kit, so good luck to them.

In the future will businesses be running processes in local datacenters and shifting workloads to the cloud? It’s possible but not without moving away from the Virtual Machine (VM)  being the unit of compute. They are too big and unwieldy, carry an unnecessary amount of overhead and new technologies are set to replace them.

So when that happy day arrives will we all be running a hybrid cloud?

Maybe but it’s more likely that somebody in marketing would have come up with a better buzzword and the world would have have moved on.

So there you go.  I may be wrong, I may be right - all I know for sure is that I feel better already.

Happy 2018!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Microsoft paints a cloudy picture for EDU.

At this years annual Ignite conference for developers and IT professionals, Microsoft outlined in some detail what a Windows based system will look like in the future.  There was no ambiguity, it was laid out very clearly with template designs, business scenarios and migration strategies and the story is this;

Microsoft want you to work from the cloud using Azure as a service infrastructure and Office365 as your productivity platform.

You can still have on-premises servers but it’s increasing likely that these will be used to support legacy requirements or as an aid to consume cloud resources more effectively.

Going forward, Azure Active directory will replace local Domain Controllers with  Modern Authentication with direct links to third party SaaS providers while device management moves away from Group Policy to a MDM model all controlled through InTune.

The new deployment strategy does not require imaging servers. A Windows10 device can now be placed under policy control and upgraded to Enterprise licensing without local  systems being involved.  Software upgrades and security updates will be pushed out from Redmond’s centralised patching system without any requirement for WSUS or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM),

The device in the users hands will become far less important. I’m not sure Microsoft really cares anymore whether you are using a Microsoft Surface or a iPad so long as you are consuming resources and licensing from Azure and Office365. The user will always have a more complete experience running MS Windows but if you want to run the Office365 Android apps on a Chromebook, that’s just fine so long as there’s an Office365 licence to back it up.

Data will be stored and accessed directly from cloud storage using protocols that are far better suited to a the mobile environment than a Windows server file share. New services such as Microsoft Teams for Education will be cloud only.

Are you seeing a picture emerge?

This is Microsoft’s vision for the modern workplace and it’s how many business already operate using competing platforms such a Google’s GSuite for Business.

It’s a “cloud first” approach.

You don’t even have to guess what the future is going to look like any more, it’s a published strategy with product roadmaps, timetables and working examples.

So why is education still investing heavily in complex local infrastructure with fixed point PC’s running expensive, locally installed, proprietary software ?

It’s not how a modern startup company would work today, let alone in ten years time when this years student intake walks out the gate. It’s an outdated, expensive approach that’s moving further and further away from what a student will experience in the workplace.

So let’s make a New Year resolution to start thinking seriously about designing educational IT like it’s 2018 and not 2008.

Cloud first is cheaper, better, more innovative … and to be honest you no longer have a choice.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Teams v Classroom - when worlds collide - Part 4

This is the final part of a multi-part post that examines the new Microsoft Teams for Education with reference to Google Classroom. This post focuses on mobile and provides an overall summary.

Part 4: Teams for Education on mobile devices.
Like Classroom, MS Teams has a set of mobile apps that provide a native experience on both Android and iOS.

Mobile is an important element of the overall strategy as Classroom is often used as a bridging technology across iOS and Windows devices. For those schools firmly embedded with Microsoft this  can act as an initial introduction to Google which this is a situation Microsoft is keen to avoid.
This highlights another key difference between the platforms.  Although Classroom is closely integrated with GMail - it’s also loosely coupled, which is a very clever trick.  This means that Classroom can be deployed using Office365/Exchange as the mail engine. The only core requirement is Google Drive and Classroom itself.
Teams for Education doesn’t have a specialist app, it just Teams along with Sharepoint, OneNote and OneDrive. On mobile it's a bit of a cooperative effort.

The Teams app only runs on  iOS10 which means there's no support for either the iPad2 or the iPad3.

This isn’t an problem in the corporate world but schools with class sets of the Gen3 models will need to plan for an upgrade.

Testing with the Android version lists the Teams and the corresponding channels in a functional, clean looking interface.

A Teacher gets the ability to create, delete and edit channels.  Students can be added and removed from the Team and muted from the chat.

From the students viewpoint they can list the Teams and contribute to the conversation thread in each channel. However there’s no visibility of the assignment calendar or any way to interact with the document store, in this respect the app acts mainly a messaging client.

Loading the SharePoint app displays the documents but there's still no Assignment calendar and as you might expect the Notebooks are only available using the OneNote app (below).

Falling back to the web interface is not option as both iOS and Android devices return an unsupported message when navigating to the Teams URL.

I suppose the conclusion is that it’s all there (except the calendar) but you just have to look for it.

Microsoft Teams: The End of Year Report Card.

Microsoft Teams for Education wouldn’t exist without the challenge of Classroom and it’s clear that first release is closely modeled on its main competitor.

This is both a good and a bad thing. Google has taken three years, a ton of feedback and dozens of minor iterations to slowly evolve Classroom into the platform we see today.  In contrast Microsoft has been forced to hit the ground running, trying to deliver a product which is  a marriage of a number of different technologies.

In this respect Classroom is similar. It’s build on top of Google Drive, Calendar, and Gmail but it doesn’t feel like that, it works and operates like a stand alone product. Teams on the other hand still looks and feels like a ‘mash-up’. The joins between OneDrive and Sharepoint are clearly visible and are glued together by elements such as the Calendar Assignments view which doesn't seem to live anywhere.

Teams also shows its business pedigree by including a number of features and configuration settings that are likely to ‘exploited’ by students.  I’m not sure what Meetings and Calls is supposed to add to a classroom environment ?

On the whole it just feels a bit disjointed, files are stored in multiple locations (Sharepoint sites and OneDrive), scheduling is  only visible in Teams, the workflow around assignments is a bit strange, the mobile strategy is still evolving and some key management functions are missing.

I can see Teams working with older year groups who have the patience to understand how all the elements fit together but for younger pupils, it’s just not that easy to use.  In the workplace you can get away with this level of complexity but in education simplicity wins every time.

In its defense you have to remember that is a early release and looking back to Classroom version one which was a bare bones product when it was first launched, it’s not a bad attempt.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft are playing catch-up but is also a game they have played many times before and emerged successful.

So how committed are Microsoft to producing an integrated platform to take on Classroom?  You'll know this time next year.

Update: 17th November 2017:

This time next year - or maybe earlier.

Microsoft has just announced a raft of updates and planned improvements to Teams for Education.

It looks like the Team mobile client will be getting an update to allow it to access assignments and the Assignments calendar is getting an agenda view with a search function, which is a big plus.

A future update will allow teacher to distribute assignments to multiple Classes as well as adding grading support for OneNote and a range of other features. 

Check out the Microsoft post for the full list.