Windows Server 2012 R2: a godsend for grumpware
The classic problem for all these developers, though, is the shifting of fashions in the software-development racket. Roughly every two or three years a hot new idea grips the IT business, and provokes a herd of people to rush and try out the new concept. Agents who specialise in software developers start hinting to their livestock that it might be a good idea to retrain, or show the relevant new skills on their CV, and pretty soon the operating system world starts to reflect this hot new idea too. This all happens on a far shorter cycle than the normal pace of change in other business sectors.
However, even when many changes to an industry’s working methods do arise and demand new features, the outcome is always that these industry-specific developers are bound (often legally) to accommodate the changes in the business sector first, and those in the software toolkit a distant second, which results in a steep lag. Many of these vertical-market software products lag far behind the leading edge, while horror stories about the latest hot development method come and go.
Don’t be fooled by that apparently out-of-date year label
To take a painful case in point, it’s far more important for an accounting product to issue patches promptly whenever the rate of VAT changes than it is for it to support every browser offered in Microsoft’s EU “Browser Choice” patch for Windows 7.
Every so often, though, on a much longer timescale, a game-changing innovation crops up that’s so useful that the development industry can’t help but stop and think, then start shifting in that direction. The release of SQL Server Express, with its broad usability across desktop and server operating systems, was arguably the most recent example of this phenomenon – and that was a very long time ago. I believe, based on what I saw recently during a week visiting Microsoft in Redmond, that Windows Server 2012 R2 is going to be the next innovation of this magnitude.
Don’t be fooled by that apparently out-of-date year label. This will be a major update to the currently shipping version of Server 2012, and if everything we saw in three tightly packed days makes it into the release build, there’s an enormous amount of motivation for software developers in particular to jump directly over to using this whole environment.
The Redmond presenters kept going back to a picture of a cloud, but then referring to the “three-legged stool” – very unwise in front of a roomful of hacks, as it produced some truly awful puns about private versus public stools. However, the basic reasoning behind this stool metaphor is that Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) will be running the boxed-product Server 2012 R2 as its hypervisor.
Let me make sure this point is absolutely clear. I don’t mean that you can have virtual machines inside your Azure server; what I mean is that the same server you might use to run a £250 i3 machine is being used to run hundreds of thousands of physical servers (with who-knows-how-many VMs running on them) by Microsoft itself to make Azure IaaS work. While Microsoft has reason to be proud of that achievement, here’s the killer punch – given sufficient time and bandwidth, this will enable you to move VMs in and out of Azure at will. You can even move them in and out to another physical server, so long as its BIOS and install supports booting from a VHD.
Think about this. The worst part of dealing with grumpy developers who have a controlling interest in keeping their market closed is that they insist on sticking to pre-virtualisation standards and technologies. In some cases this is merely bad-tempered laziness, while at other times it’s a genuine problem with the toolkit they were once obliged to use (quite possibly decades ago). We’re used to thinking about the PC business as all innovation and thrusting young whizz-kids, but one of my Business Clinic visits recently introduced me to an unchanged, 27-year-old DOS application. That’s some lifecycle.
Developers with this kind of ultra-long-term residency in specialised markets, for which they’re the only source of customised code, don’t have the kind of relationship with their customers we’re used to seeing in PC Pro’s world of competitive reviews. Having issued innumerable communiqués trashing successive waves of hot technology and efficiency-improving ideas, many of these guys are now trapped in the web of their own accumulated inertia. In sectors that suffer this problem, the challenge isn’t just how to ease their customer base out of one mindset into another, but also to avoid any sign of fallibility – to do so would invite uncomfortable user group meetings, or even the prospect of legal action.
So even just this one new trick, of being able to perform virtual-to-physical (V2P) migration, will bring them the benefits of cloud-based virtual machine build-and-provision processes, and hence the ability to keep their tetchy, captive, hard-to-please customer bases believing that it’s still the same old product.