Microsoft Leaps Ahead Of VMware In Hybrid Cloud Management

John Ross

I keep hearing from customers and partners that Microsoft has caught up with VMware in the virtualization space, so I went to the Microsoft Management Summit 2013, held last week in Las Vegas, to find out for myself.

What I learned is that Microsoft has made great strides in facilitating hybrid cloud management. As I wrote last month, the key to cloud management is the ability for channel partners to manage multiple clouds. This is an area where VMware still has a lot of work to do since its vCloud suite only supports the VMware platform.

In contrast, Microsoft has enabled an ecosystem of partners to develop plugins and extension to its Systems Center product, which enables visibility across any cloud platform. Once you can see, you can manage, and once you can manage, you can recommend and consume.

[Related: Channel Chiefs: 12 Tips For Taking On The Cloud ]

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The essential ingredient for consuming cloud services efficiently is a management platform that allows all performance managers to see across a service so they can make informed decisions based on user experience and consumption rather than individual devices. Many partners of Microsoft are adding tremendous value here and that is winning the minds of the channel partners while enabling them to offer value to their customers.

Microsoft is clearly serious about the virtualization space, and its support of cross-hypervisor solutions goes right to the heart of cloud management. In a recent blog post, Microsoft's Brad Anderson emphasizes the need for flexibility as the company builds a new cloud operating system for a new cloud-based era. "We deeply understand that customers do not want to feel locked into any specific cloud," he wrote.

Now, is your customer going to choose VMware or Microsoft? What is the best path for your business as a channel partner? It really depends on where you, as the channel partner, are coming from, i.e. did you come up selling servers and desktops? Do you have application development skills? Do you have recurring revenue models? Who are your customers? There are way too many questions to ask; however, Gartner's IT Infrastructure and Operations Maturity Model can provide some guidance.

NEXT: How To Determine Your Customers' Cloud Needs, Your Pricing Model

Look at the following levels and consider where your customers are in each of these levels. This is critical for you to make sure you are offering the correct services at the correct pricing. This model will become even more important in the cloud broker model as you will have customers across all levels and need to offer them only services that make sense for their needs.

Level 0, Survival: Little to no focus on IT infrastructure and operations

Level 1, Awareness: Realization that infrastructure and operations are critical to the business; beginning to take actions (in people/organization, process and technologies) to gain operational control and visibility

Level 2, Committed: Moving to a managed environment, for example, for day-to-day IT support processes and improved success in project management to become more customer-centric and increase customer satisfaction

Level 3, Proactive: Gaining efficiencies and service quality through standardization, policy development, governance structures and implementation of proactive, cross-departmental processes, such as change and release management

Level 4, Service-Aligned: Managing IT like a business; customer-focused; proven, competitive and trusted IT service provider

Level 5, Business Partnership: Trusted partner to the business for increasing the value and competitiveness of business processes, as well as the business as a whole

I recommended that channel partners of all sizes look to create, adopt, buy, build or partner with some organization to provide a platform that can manage multiple clouds and help customers reduce costs. This model will look like a managed service provider or, better yet, a cloud broker.

The term cloud broker is where the lines are being blurred and definitions are being worked out. But no matter how you slice it, it's about a platform that allows you, your business and your customers to add some form of value. The only way you can manage this platform is with a management system that enables customers to consume what they want, how they want it, when they want it, and at Internet speeds with some guard rails. Microsoft is providing the visibility that cloud broker platforms require, thus enabling developers to take leaps forward in capabilities.

Cloud broker platforms that tie into hybrid cloud management systems like those offered by Microsoft will become the cockpit for decisions based on services and quality of experience for customers rather than cores, licenses and operating systems. We will all end up consuming computing as a utility, but the opportunity is what we do with that power and availability. The key here is you must embrace change and allow for flexibility in your offerings to succeed in this radically changing cloud market.

John Ross is an IT consultant building new service offerings for channel-focused customers and partners. John holds positions with several leading manufacturer advisory councils and regularly works with IT analysts to help define major paradigm shifts in the technology industry. He previously was CTO of Kittery, Maine-based GreenPages Technology Solutions.