Channel Watch

Are Microsoft Partners Ready for a Windows Server/Azure Future?

For years, Microsoft has been steadily bridging the gap between Azure and Windows Server. With the two products more tightly integrated than ever, partners with hybrid and private cloud expertise are poised to reap the benefits.

Major changes to the Windows Server platform in the new 2016 release are creating a substantial opportunity for enterprise partners with strong expertise in the on-premises server world and a thorough understanding of the Azure cloud.

Talk about Microsoft, the channel and the cloud tends to center on Office 365, Azure resales and, now, Dynamics 365. Yet Microsoft has also been trying to develop hybrid cloud or private cloud capacity among partners since launching Azure in 2010.

After edging Windows Server and the Azure cloud closer together over several release cycles, Windows Server 2016 and Azure are the most tightly integrated yet.

"We think of Windows Server 2016 in many ways as the edge of our Azure cloud, and one of the things that we recommend you think of is Azure as the edge of all your on-premises servers," Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, said this fall at Microsoft Ignite.

The Windows Server 2016 release brings interesting new capabilities that system integration partners can use to create private/hybrid cloud solutions:

  • The long-awaited Windows Container technology allows for lightweight packaging of applications that can be quickly moved and run on either Windows Server or in Azure. Additionally, Microsoft is bundling the Docker Engine for free in Windows Server 2016, with tier 1 and tier 2 support included from Microsoft. The Docker Engine allows the familiar container tooling of Docker to be used with Windows Containers.

  • Azure-based Remote Server Management Tools (RSMT) give administrators a common interface and capability for managing Windows Server 2016 on-premises along with virtual machines in Azure. RSMT is also expected to play a useful role in managing the headless Nano Server configurations in Windows Server 2016.

A next step, expected sometime next year, is the Azure Stack, which is essentially a version of the Azure public cloud service that can be run locally in a datacenter. Microsoft is working with Dell, HPE and Lenovo on approved hardware configurations to support Azure Stack.

Even after Azure Stack ships, most customers will still be running Windows Server 2012 and even Windows Server 2008 in their existing datacenters for the next few years, as server OSes tend to have a delayed rollout schedule. So, although the new Windows Server 2016/Azure combination is on the market, partners have some time to build necessary expertise ahead of this opportunity. Thinking about it?

More Columns by Scott Bekker:

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.