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My take on Microsoft’s vision of cloud computing

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

                Recently I went to the Microsoft TechNet Event in Minneapolis, MN. It has been a while since I’ve attended one of these sessions, however I found this one interesting because it focused upon cloud computing. More specifically it focuses upon how Microsoft envisions cloud computing.

                Could computing is a fairly new term for me. I’ve heard the term thrown around in the last year used in various ways. Until attending this session I had no idea what it entailed. Since the Microsoft session I have read white papers from other vendors regarding cloud computing. The one unifying factor from all vendors’ vision of cloud computing has one thing in common: they all think it will be the future, yet none know what it is. Since realizing this I don’t feel so bad about any previous ignorance about the term cloud computing. I will speak on other vendors’ ideas of cloud computing another day. Today I will focus upon my impression of Microsoft’s vision.

                The presenter billed cloud computing as a way for Microsoft to provide small and medium businesses with enterprise offerings. Data centers require cooling, power, security, fire suppression, cabling, etc… In addition physical servers must be purchased and deployed. An OS must be installed upon those servers. Software must then be installed, configured, tested, deployed upon those servers. This is an over-simplification of the process. Even with the over-simplification the point was made that it takes a lot of resources (money) for companies to deploy a data center.

                Instead of doing this a company can come to Microsoft with an application or service that needs a home. Microsoft is building their cloud computing environment upon a platform called Azure (blue). I won’t pretend to understand the inner-workings of Azure, and the technical side is beyond the scope of this post. Instead I found Microsoft’s point of view was they would provide the underlying services which customers require. There is a database environment. The surprising thing here is the database environment is hierarchal, instead of relational. There will be environments for the other standard business needs such as email, content management, .NET applications, etc… Everything a customer may need hosted can be put upon the Microsoft cloud. Once in the Microsoft cloud customers can access their data from anywhere over a secure connection.

                As the speaker presented all of this I could not help but think “This sounds like a rebranding of Application Service Providers (ASP’s)”.  I was not the only one who had these thoughts. Someone from the audience asked what makes cloud computing different from ASP’s. The answer was that these services are available on-demand. Machines can spin or down upon demand. Within minutes of receiving the order Microsoft will have a working environment for the customer. Billing can be done for time used, as opposed to a set monthly rate. There were a couple more minor differences mentioned, but none that actually seemed to matter. I am still convinced that Microsoft’s current vision of cloud computing is a direct descendent of ASP’s. The only difference is that Microsoft is the ASP being pushed.

                 I’m not saying this vision of cloud computing is wrong. The more I research cloud computing, the more I find that nobody understands where it will go. I do however think Microsoft’s vision of cloud computing seems too centered around them providing services for everyone. In my mind cloud computing should be vendor agnostic. In contrast Microsoft is touting Azure as the future of cloud computing. I’m still in the air as to whether Microsoft will be successful with this path. However no matter what happens I understand that it is important for IT professionals to understand what cloud computing means for any current or future vendors they deal with.

Categories: Cloud Computing, Microsoft

Why I chose Juniper over Cisco for a recent network expansion

March 25, 2009 Leave a comment

For over 15 years I have been a loyal Cisco customer. Like many other networking technicians I have worked for my Cisco certifications and preached the good word about Cisco. I still believe Cisco makes some great networking gear; but I no longer preach Cisco exclusively. Cisco has made what I feel are large mistakes, which Juniper has capitalized upon to gain loyalty from customers such as myself.

The first direction change I do not like from Cisco is their getting away from a centralized OS. Like many networking professionals I was happy with the moves Cisco had made to remove CatOS and bring the dozens of IOS trains into a simple tree. I was at a seminar about 5 years ago where the Cisco engineer stated this will be the future of all Cisco products. Recently it has become clear this vision was unrealistic. Cisco simply buys out too many competitors for entrance into new markets. The pure logistics of adapting IOS to each new technology makes this vision of one OS for all very unlikely. Throw in devices such as ASA and it really becomes clear how unrealistic this claim had been.

Conversely Juniper Networks is investing their resources to unify their products on JUNOS.  My enterprise network now has a core Juniper MX router and Juniper EX switches in the wire closets. Each of these devices runs the same JUNOS version (there are configuration differences however). The same JUNOS which runs my network also runs upon the Juniper Firewall I am in the process of implementing. Juniper still has a long way to go before their entire product lines run on JUNOS. However I have confidence development will continue down this direction. Juniper seems more focused upon adding functionality to their existing product line; as opposed to Cisco buying new functionality from acquisitions.

Security is another area I believe Cisco has not excelled in compared to Juniper. I have used Juniper security devices for almost as long as I have Cisco’s networking devices. Juniper has always excelled at superior security devices. Currently I use Junipers Secure Access SSL-VPN appliances for remote access and their SSG firewalls for perimeter security. Both product lines have been far superior to Cisco solutions I have worked with, namely the PIX and ASA product lines. When I utilize Juniper security devices I feel confident in their ability to protect my network. With the Cisco security devices I never felt that confidence. The ASA product line in particular always seemed as though it was various pieces of code thrown together, as opposed to a well-designed and implemented security solution.

One last major problem with Cisco is their management solutions. Cisco has yet to impress me with a network and security management solution that I feel scales with growing companies. There have been great strides made in CiscoWorks. However I believe CiscoWorks has fallen short for too many years for me to really consider it as a contender anymore. When looking for a network management solution I want one interface that can handle all of my devices. Junipers Network and Security Manager (NSM, formerly known as Netscreen Security Manger) has promise to be that solution. With NSM I can centrally configure my switches, routers and security devices. I have still not completely accepted NSM as the future of network management, but believe it is a step beyond Cisco solutions I have worked with. Deploying my new access switches with NSM was very efficient compared to my deployment of Cisco switches in the past.

The unifying of the OS, security and network management were the main reasons I chose Juniper over Cisco for a recently enterprise expansion. Even though I believe Juniper is superior in these areas, it does not mean I am anti-Cisco now. Just the opposite is true. My current environment still has a substantial amount of Cisco gear; and will continue to have Cisco gear for the foreseeable future. The main difference is that I no longer preach Cisco; instead I now preach finding the best network and security solution for each situation.

Categories: Juniper, Networking Tags: ,