Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London Recap

One of the most valuable personal development activities in my early career was a trip to the Microsoft TechEd conference in Amsterdam. I learned a lot – not just technically but about making the most of events to gather information, make new industry contacts, and generally top up my knowledge. Indeed, even as a relatively junior consultant, I found that dipping into multiple topics for an hour or so gave me a really good grounding to discover more (or just enough to know something about the topic) – far more so than an instructor-led training course.

Over the years, I attended further “TechEd”s in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin. I fought off the “oh Mark’s on another jolly” comments by sharing information – incidentally, conference attendance is no “jolly” – there may be drinks and even parties but those are after long days of serious mental cramming, often on top of broken sleep in a cheap hotel miles from the conference centre.

Microsoft TechEd is no more. Over the years, as the budgets were cut, the standard of the conference dropped and in the UK we had a local event called Future Decoded. I attended several of these – and it was at Future Decoded that I discovered risual – where I’ve been working for almost four years now.

Now, Future Decoded has also fallen by the wayside and Microsoft has focused on taking it’s principal technical conference – Microsoft Ignite – on tour, delivering global content locally.

So, a few weeks ago, I found myself at the ExCeL conference centre in London’s Docklands, looking forward to a couple of days at “Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London”.

Conference format

Just like TechEd, and at Future Decoded (in the days before I had to use my time between keynotes on stand duty!), the event was broken up into tracks with sessions lasting around an hour. Because that was an hour of content (and Microsoft event talks are often scheduled as an hour, plus 15 minutes Q&A), it was pretty intense, and opportunities to ask questions were generally limited to trying to grab the speaker after their talk, or at the “Ask the Experts” stands in the main hall.

One difference to Microsoft conferences I’ve previously attended was the lack of “level 400” sessions: every session I saw was level 100-300 (mostly 200/300). That’s fine – that’s the level of content I would expect but there may be some who are looking for more detail. If it’s detail you’re after then Ignite doesn’t seem to be the place.

Also, I noticed that Day 2 had fewer delegates and lacked some of the “hype” from Day 1: whereas the Day 1 welcome talk was over-subscribed, the Day 2 equivalent was almost empty and light on content (not even giving airtime to the conference sponsors). Nevertheless, it was easy to get around the venue (apart from a couple of pinch points).

Personal highlights

I managed to cover 11 topics over two days (plus a fair amount of networking). The track format of the event was intended to let a delegate follow a complete learning path but, as someone who’s a generalist (that’s what Architects have to be), I spread myself around to cover:

  • Dealing with a massive onset of data ingestion (Jeramiah Dooley/@jdooley_clt).
  • Enterprise network connectivity in a cloud-first world (Paul Collinge/@pcollingemsft).
  • Building a world without passwords.
  • Discovering Azure Tooling and Utilities (Simona Cotin/@simona_cotin).
  • Selecting the right data storage strategy for your cloud application (Jeramiah Dooley/@jdooley_clt).
  • Governance in Azure (Sam Cogan/@samcogan).
  • Planning and implementing hybrid network connectivity (Thomas Maurer/@ThomasMaurer).
  • Transform device management with Windows Autopilot, Intune and OneDrive (Michael Niehaus/@mniehaus and Mizanur Rahman).
  • Maintaining your hybrid environment (Niel Peterson/@nepeters).
  • Windows Server 2019 Deep Dive (Jeff Woolsey/@wsv_guy).
  • Consolidating infrastructure with the Azure Kubernetes Service (Erik St Martin/@erikstmartin).

In the past, I’d have written a blog post for each topic. I was going to say that I simply don’t have the time to do that these days but by the time I’d finished writing this post, I thought maybe I could have split it up a bit more! Regardless, here are some snippets of information from my time at Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London. There’s more information in the slide decks – which are available for download, along with the content for the many sessions I didn’t attend.

Data ingestion

Ingesting data can be broken into:

  • Real-time ingestion.
  • Real-time analysis (see trends as they happen – and make changes to create a competitive differentiator).
  • Producing actions as patterns emerge.
  • Automating reactions in external services.
  • Making data consumable (in whatever form people need to use it).

Azure has many services to assist with this – take a look at IoT Hub, Azure Event Hubs, Azure Databricks and more.

Enterprise network connectivity for the cloud

Cloud traffic is increasing whilst traffic that remains internal to the corporate network is in decline. Traditional management approaches are no longer fit for purpose.

Office applications use multiple persistent connections – this causes challenges for proxy servers which generally degrade the Office 365 user experience. Remediation is possible, with:

  • Differentiated traffic – follow Microsoft advice to manage known endpoints, including the Office 365 IP address and URL web service.
  • Let Microsoft route traffic (data is in a region, not a place). Use DNS resolution to egress connections close to the user (a list of all Microsoft peering locations is available). Optimise the route length and avoid hairpins.
  • Assess network security using application-level security, reducing IP ranges and ports and evaluating the service to see if some activities can be performed in Office 365, rather than at the network edge (e.g. DLP, AV scanning).

For Azure:

  • Azure ExpressRoute is a connection to the edge of the Microsoft global backbone (not to a datacentre). It offers 2 lines for resilience and two peering types at the gateway – private and public (Microsoft) peering.
  • Azure Virtual WAN can be used to build a hub for a region and to connect sites.
  • Replace branch office routers with software-defined (SDWAN) devices and break out where appropriate.
Microsoft global network

Passwordless authentication

Basically, there are three options:

  • Windows Hello.
  • Microsoft Authenticator.
  • FIDO2 Keys.

Azure tooling and utilities

Useful resources include:

Selecting data storage for a cloud application

What to use? It depends! Classify data by:

  • Type of data:
    • Structured (fits into a table)
    • Semi-structured (may fit in a table but may also use outside metadata, external tables, etc.)
    • Unstructured (documents, images, videos, etc.)
  • Properties of the data:
    • Volume (how much)
    • Velocity (change rate)
    • Variety (sources, types, etc.)
Item TypeVolume Velocity Variety
Product catalogue Semi-structured High Low Low
Product photos Unstructured High Low Low
Sales data Semi-structured Medium High High

How to match data to storage:

  • Storage-driven: build apps on what you have.
  • Cloud-driven: deploy to the storage that makes sense.
  • Function-driven: build what you need; storage comes with it.

Governance in Azure

It’s important to understand what’s running in an Azure subscription – consider cost, security and compliance:

  • Review (and set a baseline):
    • Tools include: Resource Graph; Cost Management; Security Center; Secure Score.
  • Organise (housekeeping to create a subscription hierarchy, classify subscriptions and resources, and apply access rights consistently):
    • Tools include: Management Groups; Tags; RBAC;
  • Audit:
    • Make changes to implement governance without impacting people/work. Develop policies, apply budgets and audit the impact of the policies.
    • Tools include: Cost Management; Azure Policy.
  • Enforce
    • Change policies to enforcement, add resolution actions and enforce budgets.
    • Consider what will happen for non-compliance?
    • Tools include: Azure Policy; Cost Management; Azure Blueprints.
  • (Loop back to review)
    • Have we achieved what we wanted to?
    • Understand what is being spent and why.
    • Know that only approved resources are deployed.
    • Be sure of adhering to security practices.
    • Opportunities for further improvement.

Planning and implementing hybrid network connectivity

Moving to the cloud allows for fast deployment but planning is just as important as it ever was. Meanwhile, startups can be cloud-only but most established organisations have some legacy and need to keep some workloads on-premises, with secure and reliable hybrid communication.

Considerations include:

  • Extension of the internal protected network:
    • Should workloads in Azure only be accessible from the Internal network?
    • Are Azure-hosted workloads restricted from accessing the Internet?
    • Should Azure have a single entry and egress point?
    • Can the connection traverse the public Internet (compliance/regulation)?
  • IP addressing:
    • Existing addresses on-premises; public IP addresses.
    • Namespaces and name resolution.
  • Multiple regions:
    • Where are the users (multiple on-premises sites); where are the workloads (multiple Azure regions); how will connectivity work (should each site have its own connectivity)?
  • Azure virtual networks:
    • Form an isolated boundary with secure communications.
    • Azure-assigned IP addresses (no need for a DHCP server).
    • Segmented with subnets.
    • Network Security Groups (NSGs) create boundaries around subnets.
  • Connectivity:
    • Site to site (S2S) VPNs at up to 1Gbps
      • Encrypted traffic over the public Internet to the GatewaySubnet in Azure, which hosts VPN Gateway VMs.
      • 99.9% SLA on the Gateway in Azure (not the connection).
      • Don’t deploy production workloads on the GatewaySubnet; /26, /27 or /28 subnets recommended; don’t apply NSGs to the GatewaySubnet – i.e. let Azure manage it.
    • Dedicated connections (Azure ExpressRoute): private connection at up to 10Gbps to Azure with:
      • Private peering (to access Azure).
      • Microsoft peering (for Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure public IPs).
      • 99.9% SLA on the entire connection.
    • Other connectivity services:
      • Azure ExpressRoute Direct: a 100Gbps direct connection to Azure.
      • Azure ExpressRoute Global Reach: using the Microsoft network to connect multiple local on-premises locations.
      • Azure Virtual WAN: branch to branch and branch to Azure connectivity with software-defined networks.
  • Hybrid networking technologies:

Modern Device Management (Autopilot, Intune and OneDrive)

The old way of managing PC builds:

  1. Build an image with customisations and drivers
  2. Deploy to a new computer, overwriting what was on it
  3. Expensive – and the device has a perfectly good OS – time-consuming

Instead, how about:

  1. Unbox PC
  2. Transform with minimal user interaction
  3. Device is ready for productive use

The transformation is:

  • Take OEM-optimised Windows 10:
    • Windows 10 Pro and drivers.
    • Clean OS.
  • Plus software, settings, updates, features, user data (with OneDrive for Business).
  • Ready for productive use.

The goal is to reduce the overall cost of deploying devices. Ship to a user with half a page of instructions…

Windows Autopilot overview

Autopilot deployment is cloud driven and will eventually be centralised through Intune:

  1. Register device:
    • From OEM or Channel (manufacturer, model and serial number).
    • Automatically (existing Intune-managed devices).
    • Manually using a PowerShell script to generate a CSV file with serial number and hardware hash, which is then uploaded to the Intune portal.
  2. Assign Autopilot profile:
    • Use Azure AD Groups to assign/target.
    • The profile includes settings such as deployment mode, BitLocker encryption, device naming, out of box experience (OOBE).
    • An Azure AD device object is created for each imported Autopilot device.
  3. Deploy:
    • Needs Azure AD Premium P1/P2
    • Scenarios include:
      • User-driven with Azure AD:
        • Boot to OOBE, choose language, locale, keyboard and provide credentials.
        • The device is joined to Azure AD, enrolled to Intune and policies are applied.
        • User signs on and user-assigned items from Intune policy are applied.
        • Once the desktop loads, everything is present, including file links in OneDrive) – time depends on the software being pushed.
      • Self-deploying (e.g. kiosk, digital signage):
        • No credentials required; device authenticates with Azure AD using TPM 2.0.
      • User-driven with hybrid Azure AD join:
        • Requires Offline Domain Join Connector to create AD DS computer account.
        • Device connected to the corporate network (in order to access AD DS), registered with Autopilot, then as before.
        • Sign on to Azure AD and then to AD DS during deployment. If they use the same UPN then it makes things simple for users!
      • Autopilot for existing devices (Windows 7 to 10 upgrades):
        • Backup data in advance (e.g. with OneDrive)
        • Deploy generic Windows 10.
        • Run Autopilot user-driven mode (can’t harvest hardware hashes in Windows 7 so use a JSON config file in the image – the offline equivalent of a profile. Intune will ignore unknown device and Autopilot will use the file instead; after deployment of Windows 10, Intune will notice a PC in the group and apply the profile so it will work if the PC is reset in future).

Autopilot roadmap (1903) includes:

  • “White glove” pre-provisioning for end users: QR code to track, print welcome letter and shipping label!
  • Enrolment status page (ESP) improvements.
  • Cortana voiceover disabled on OOBE.
  • Self-updating Autopilot (update Autopilot without waiting to update Windows).

Maintaining your hybrid environment

Common requirements in an IaaS environment include wanting to use a policy-based configuration with a single management and monitoring solution and auto-remediation.

Azure Automation allows configuration and inventory; monitoring and insights; and response and automation. The Azure Portal provides a single pane of glass for hybrid management (Windows or Linux; any cloud or on-premises).

For configuration and state management, use Azure Automation State Configuration (built on PowerShell Desired State Configuration).

Inventory can be managed with Log Analytics extensions for Windows or Linux. An Azure Monitoring Agent is available for on-premises or other clouds. Inventory is not instant though – can take 3-10 minutes for Log Analytics to ingest the data. Changes can be visualised (for state tracking purposes) in the Azure Portal.

Azure Monitor and Log Analytics can be used for data-driven insights, unified monitoring and workflow integration.

Responding to alerts can be achieved with Azure Automation Runbooks, which store scripts in Azure and run them in Azure. Scripts can use PowerShell or Python so support both Windows and Linux). A webhook can be triggered with and HTTP POST request. A Hybrid runbook worker can be used to run on-premises or in another cloud.

It’s possible to use the Azure VM agent to run a command on a VM from Azure portal without logging in!

Windows Server 2019

Windows Server strategy starts with Azure. Windows Server 2019 is focused on:

  • Hybrid:
    • Backup/connect/replicate VMs.
    • Storage Migration Service to migrate unstructured data into Azure IaaS or another on-premises location (from 2003+ to 2016/19).
      1. Inventory (interrogate storage, network security, SMB shares and data).
      2. Transfer (pairings of source and destination), including ACLs, users and groups. Details are logged in a CSV file.
      3. Cutover (make the new server look like the old one – same name and IP address). Validate before cutover – ensure everything will be OK. Read-only process (except change of name and IP at the end for the old server).
    • Azure File Sync: centralise file storage in Azure and transform existing file servers into hot caches of data.
    • Azure Network Adapter to connect servers directly to Azure networks (see above).
  • Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI):
    • The server market is still growing and is increasingly SSD-based.
    • Traditional rack looked like SAN, storage fabric, hypervisors, appliances (e.g. load balancer) and top of rack Ethernet switches.
    • Now we use standard x86 servers with local drives and software-defined everything. Manage with Admin Center in Windows Server (see below).
    • Windows Server now has support for persistent memory: DIMM-based; still there after a power-cycle.
    • The Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) programme is the Microsoft approach to software-defined infrastructure.
  • Security: shielded VMs for Linux (VM as a black box, even for an administrator); integrated Windows Defender ATP; Exploit Guard; System Guard Runtime.
  • Application innovation: semi-annual updates are designed for containers. Windows Server 2019 is the latest LTSC channel so it has the 1709/1803 additions:
    • Enable developers and IT Pros to create cloud-native apps and modernise traditional apps using containers and micro services.
    • Linux containers on Windows host.
    • Service Fabric and Kubernetes for container orchestration.
    • Windows subsystem for Linux.
    • Optimised images for server core and nano server.

Windows Admin Center is core to the future of Windows Server management and, because it’s based on remote management, servers can be core or full installations – even containers (logs and console). Download from http://aka.ms/WACDownload

  • 50MB download, no need for a server. Runs in a browser and is included in Windows/Windows Server licence
  • Runs on a layer of PowerShell. Use the >_ icon to see the raw PowerShell used by Admin Center (copy and paste to use elsewhere).
  • Extensible platform.

What’s next?

  • More cloud integration
  • Update cadence is:
    • Insider builds every 2 weeks.
    • Semi-annual channel every 6 months (specifically for containers):
      • 1709/1803/1809/19xx.
    • Long-term servicing channel
      • Every 2-3 years.
      • 2016, 2019 (in September 2018), etc.

Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 reach the end of support in January 2020 but customers can move Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 servers to Azure and get 3 years of security updates for free (on-premises support is chargeable).

Further reading: What’s New in Windows Server 2019.

Containers/Azure Kubernetes Service

Containers:

  • Are fully-packaged applications that use a standard image format for better resource isolation and utilisation.
  • Are ready to deploy via an API call.
  • Are not Virtual machines (for Linux).
  • Do not use hardware virtualisation.
  • Offer no hard security boundary (for Linux).
  • Can be more cost effective/reliable.
  • Have no GUI.

Kubernetes is:

  • An open source system for auto-deployment, scaling and management of containerized apps.
  • Container Orchestrator to manage scheduling; affinity/anti-affinity; health monitoring; failover; scaling; networking; service discovery.
  • Modular and pluggable.
  • Self-healing.
  • Designed by Google based on a system they use to run billions of containers per week.
  • Described in “Phippy goes to the zoo”.

Azure container offers include:

  • Azure Container Instances (ACI): containers on demand (Linux or Windows) with no need to provision VMs or clusters; per-second billing; integration with other Azure services; a public IP; persistent storage.
  • Azure App Service for Linux: a fully-managed PaaS for containers including workflows and advanced features for web applications.
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS): a managed Kubernetes offering.

Wrap-up

So, there you have it. An extremely long blog post with some highlights from my attendance at Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London. It’s taken a while to write up so I hope the notes are useful to someone else!

Why Microsoft customers don’t need to worry about EU-US Safe Harbour/Harbor


When European Courts judged the 15-year-old EU-US Safe Harbour/Harbor treaty to be invalid last October, Internet news sites started to report how terrible this was for EU companies placing data into cloud services offered (mostly) by American companies. For some, that may be true, but that assumes Safe Harbour is the only protection in place.

This week, IT news sites are at it again. The Register (the tabloid newspaper of IT news sites) has an article titled Safe Harbor 2.0: US-Europe talks on privacy go down to the wire but the actual URI belies a much more dramatic title of “Safe Harbor countdown to Armageddon”. Sensationalist at best, some might even say irresponsible.

I’m no lawyer but, for my customers, who are implementing Microsoft cloud services, there seems to be nothing to worry about and I’ll explain why in this blog post. Of course, Microsoft is just one of many cloud services providers – and for others there may be valid concerns.

The United States Export.Gov website currently displays the following text regarding Safe Harbor:

“On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice issued a judgment declaring as ‘invalid’ the European Commission’s Decision 2000/520/EC of 26 July 2000 ‘on the adequacy of the protection provided by the safe harbour privacy principles and related frequently asked questions issued by the US Department of Commerce.’

In the current rapidly changing environment, the Department of Commerce will continue to administer the Safe Harbor program, including processing submissions for self-certification to the Safe Harbor Framework. If you have questions, please contact the European Commission, the appropriate European national data protection authority, or legal counsel.”

EU Model Clauses trump Safe Harbour

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, issued a statement on 6 October 2015. Quoting from that article:

“For Microsoft’s enterprise cloud customers, we believe the clear answer is that yes they can continue to transfer data by relying on additional steps and legal safeguards we have put in place. This includes additional and stringent privacy protections and Microsoft’s compliance with the EU Model Clauses, which enable customers to move data between the EU and other places – including the United States – even in the absence of the Safe Harbor. Both the ruling and comments by the European Commission recognized these types of steps earlier today.

Microsoft’s cloud services including Azure Core Services, Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online and Microsoft Intune all comply with the EU Model Clauses and hence are covered in this way.”

There’s also a follow-on post which talks in general terms about the wider issues and privacy beliefs but the key point is that Microsoft offers EU Model Clauses within its contracts, which go beyond Safe Harbour. Microsoft also has an FAQ on the EU Model Clauses that is worth a read.

Quoting again from the 6 October 2015 statement:

“We wanted to make sure all of our enterprise cloud customers receive this benefit so, beginning last year, we included compliance with the EU Model Clauses as a standard part of the contracts for our major enterprise cloud services with every customer. Microsoft cloud customers don’t need to do anything else to be covered in this way.”

That suggests to me that customers who have signed up to Azure Core Services, Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online or Intune since early 2014 already have greater privacy protection than was afforded by Safe Harbour – and that protection meets the EU’s current requirements. In short, Microsoft customers don’t need to worry about Safe Harbor (sic).

Microsoft #TechDays Online 2015


Last week, was Microsoft UK’s TechDays Online conference, held over three days with thousands of virtual attendees watching/listening to sessions on a variety of topics, starting off in the IT Pro arena with a keynote on Windows 10 from Journalist and Author Mary Jo Foley (@MaryJoFoley), Windows Server, on to Intune, Office 365, progressing to a variety of Azure topics, containerisation and DevOps with a keynote from Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover (@JSnover) and eventually into full developer mode with a keynote from Scott Hanselman (@SHanselman).

This is the fourth year that Microsoft has run these events and I was fortunate to be invited to watch the sessions being recorded.  I attended the first afternoon/evening and the second day – driving my Twitter followers mad with a Microsoft overload. For those who missed it, here’s a recap (unfortunately I couldn’t commit the time to cover the developer day):

(I later retweeted this:)

And we continue…

Actually, he didn’t – I later published this correction:

And back to my stream of Twitter consciousness:

Sadly, I missed Mary Jo Foley’s keynote (although I did manage to get over to Microsoft’s London offices on the second evening for a Live recording of the Windows Weekly podcast and caught up with Mary Jo after the event).

Sessions were recorded and I’ll update this post with video links when I have them.

Microsoft Management Summit 2010 highlights


This week sees the annual Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) taking place in Las Vegas, with over 3500 attendees from around the world, even though there are many people stranded by the current flight restrictions in Europe.  According to Microsoft, that’s 50% up on last year – and those delegates have access to 120 break out sessions to learn about Microsoft’s vision and technology for IT management – across client devices, the datacentre and the cloud.

The keynote presentations are being streamed live but, for those who missed yesterday’s keynote (as I did) and who are waiting to hear today’s news, here are the main highlights from the event, as described by Paul Ross, a Group Product Marketing Manager for System Center and virtualisation at Microsoft.

Cloud computing is a major trend in the IT industry and many customers are trying to balance new models for elastic computing with trying to get the best TCO and ROI from their existing investments.  There are those who suggest Microsoft doesn’t have a cloud strategy but it’s now 5 years since Ray Ozzie’s Internet Service Disruption memo in which he set out Microsoft’s software plus services approach and Steve Ballmer reinforced Microsoft’s Cloud Services vision earlier this year.

For many years, Microsoft has talked about the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), later known as Dynamic IT and the transition to cloud services is in line with this – model driven, service focused, unifying servers and management, thinking about services instead of servers, and automated management in place of manual approaches. Meanwhile, new deployment paradigms (e.g. virtualisation in the data centre) see customers shifting towards private and public cloud environments.  But customers are experiencing a gap in the consistency of security models and application development between on premise and cloud services – and Microsoft believes it is the key to allowing customers to bridge that gap and provide consistency of infrastructure across the various delivery models.

Some of the new products announced at this year’s MMS include the next version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), slated for release in the second half of next year, and which will take a service centric approach to management – including new approaches to deploying applications. Alongside SCVMM, System Center Operation Manager (SCOM) will also be updated in the second half of 2011 – itself making the transition to a service-centric model.

Before then, June 2010 will see the release to web of the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center which provides enterprise customers with the foundations for creating a private cloud with concepts such as on demand/self-service provisioning, etc.

Today’s keynote will focus on the shift from device-centric computing to a user-centric approach.  Many organisations today operate separate infrastructures for different client access models – and there is a need for unification to manage IT according to end user requirements.  Central to this vision is the need to unify the products used for security and management of the infrastructure, reducing costs and focusing on user-centric client delivery for the cloud.

Earlier this week, we heard about the beta for Windows Intune – offering security, management, Windows Update and MDOP benefits within a single subscription for small to medium sized businesses.  Today’s headlines are enterprise-focused and will include the announcement of the beta for System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R3 – focused on power management and unified licensing for mobile devices alongside traditional desktop clients.  SCCM vNext (again, scheduled for the second half of 2011) will be focused on user-centric management – offering a seamless work experience regardless of whether applications are delivered via App-V, VDI, or using a traditional application delivery approach.  In addition, SCCM vNext will incorporate mobile device management (currently in a separate product – System Center Mobile Device Manager), allowing a single infrastructure to be provided (so, to summarise: that’s licensing changes in SCCM R3, followed by the technology the next release).

In other news, we heard yesterday about the release of System Center Service Manager (SCSM) 2010 and System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM) 2010 – both generally available from June 2010.  SCSM is Microsoft’s long-awaited service desk product – with 57 customers in production already and around 3000 on the beta – which Microsoft hopes will disrupt service desk market that they describe as being “relatively stale”.  Built as a platform for extension by partners SCSM includes the concept of process packs (analogous to the management packs in SCOM) and Microsoft themselves are looking to release beta compliance and risk process packs from June, helping to grow out the product capabilities to cover a variety of ITIL disciplines.  As for SCDPM, the product gains new enterprise capabilities including client protection (the ability to back up and recover connected client systems) – and both SCSD and SCDPM are included within the Enterprise CAL and Server Management Suite Enterprise licensing arrangements.

For some years now, Microsoft has been showing a growing strength in its IT management portfolio – and now that they are starting to embrace heterogeneous environments (e.g. Unix and Linux support in SCOM, ESX management from SCVMM), I believe that they will start to chip away at some of the territory currently occupied by “real” enterprise management products.  As for that image of a company that’s purely focused on Windows and Office running on a thick client desktop, whilst that’s still where the majority of its revenue comes from, Microsoft knows it needs to embrace cloud computing – and it’s not as far behind the curve as some may believe.  The cloud isn’t right for everyone – and very few enterprises will embrace it for 100% of their IT service provision - but, for those looking at a mixture of on-premise and cloud infrastructure, or at a blend of private and public cloud, Microsoft is in a strong position with a foot in either camp.

Introducing Windows Intune


This is the week of the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas and, as well as the whole load of System Center-related announcements that we can expect this week, Microsoft has formally announced the beta of a new cloud-based PC management service called Windows Intune.

Designed for customers who have 25-500 PCs, Windows Intune is intended to provide a cloud-based desktop management service in the way that BPOS does for business productivity applications.  Aimed squarely at the mid-market, Windows Intune (formerly known as System Center Online Desktop Manager) allows smaller organisations to gain some insight over what’s happening in their PC estate, avoiding the high infrastructure costs associated with enterprise products (and even System Center Essentials needs a server on site).

All that’s required on the PC is an Internet connection (and an agent, which Microsoft described as “lightweight”) but also included in the service is a license for Windows 7 Enterprise Edition and the MDOP technologies – that’s a single license purchase for a lot of functionality!  Microsoft is making the beta available today but interested customers will have to move quickly – it’s limited to 1000 users in the US, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico only – Europe and Asia will follow within a year.

For those organisations that are not quite ready for Windows 7, the license with Intune can be downgraded to Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business.

Administrators simply need an Internet connection and a Silverlight-capable browser to access a console which provides a system overview showing a rolled-up status including malware protection, updates, agent health (offline clients) and reports on operating system alerts (e.g. disk fragmentation) along with a number of workspaces – currently:

  • Computers – which may be organised into groups and subgroups (e.g. to assign policies and reports). Any groups are completely inside Intune and are nothing to do with Active Directory (a computers can exist within multiple groups). It’s also possible to drill down and expose details for each computer (updates, alerts, malware status. etc.).
  • Updates – a roll-up of all updates together with the ability to drill down on update type (i.e. security, critical, definition, service packs, update rollups, mandatory updates) and to filters to see which updates are waiting to be approved.
  • Malware protection – showing which clients have been infected and any resulting action – including integration with the endpoint protection encyclopedia (with the Microsoft Malware Protection Center)
  • Alerts – for malware protection, monitoring, notices, policy, remote assistance, system or updates.
  • Software – an automatic inventory reports details about the machine itself and installed software, which may be printed or exported as a CSV file.
  • Licenses – the ability to to track licenses within Software Assurance (SA) agreements by entering the agreement numbers correlating installed software with purchased software (for Microsoft products only).  Microsoft were keen to highlight that privacy will be taken seriously with third party audit ensuring that the information is private to customers and not used by Microsoft to enforce its licensing.  In addition, the entering of SA agreement details is optional and the service will function without this information.
  • Policy – controlling how Intune and clients function including agent settings (template driven, but not using
  • Group Policy – indeed Group Policy will override in any conflict), tools settings, and firewall settings (Intune communicates over HTTP, and the agent installation will also open remote management functionality).
  • Reports – providing a snapshot of status.
  • Administration – each computer is identified by a download/installation and multiple administrators may be defined for the service, with notifications on particular alerts (i.e. by e-mail).

From a client experience perspective, the Windows Intune Tools can be used for an end user to request help from Easy Assist (by sending an urgent alert to the Intune service – this has to be user-initiated and the administrator cannot arbitrarily take control of a client) and the end user can also check the update status with regards to Windows Update and malware protection.

Those who have worked with Microsoft Security Essentials may be interested to note that:

  • Windows Intune will work on servers, but is not supported.
  • Malware protection is provided by the common malware protection engine (from Forefront) with the user interface from Microsoft Security Essentials (“at the moment”).  The use of the Forefront  scanning engine allows for reporting and policy control that is not present in Microsoft Security Essentials.

In summary, Windows Intune is intended as an easy-to-use cloud-based solution for small-medium businesses that requires little or no infrastructure and remains up-to-date.  It is not an enterprise solution (it’s certainly not a replacement for System Center Configuration Manager) but it is a useful way to license Windows 7 and prepare for Windows 8.

For more information as the beta progresses, check out the Windows Intune Team Blog.