Microsoft Deployment Toolkit…finally a good alternative to Automated Deployment Services?

A common question is  "What is the best way to automate deployment of Windows servers, especially in the Data Center/ Hosting Environment?" 
A common solution has been to use RIS (Remote Installation Services) and ADS (Automated Deployment Services) but both had limitations and are both now being deprecated as Deployment methods.
The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2008 is now the preferred alternative solution.
"Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2008 Update 1 unifies the tools and processes required for desktop and server deployment into a common deployment console and collection of guidance. The fourth generation deployment accelerator adds integration with recently released Microsoft deployment technologies to create a single path for image creation and automated installation. MDT’s tools and end-to-end guidance reduce deployment time, standardize desktop and server images, limit service disruptions, reduce post-deployment help desk costs, and improve security and ongoing configuration management.

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit technologies eliminate interaction time required to install desktop and server operating systems. Interaction at the targeted computer may take a few moments using the Lite Touch Installation (LTI) method or it can be completely automated using Zero Touch Installation (ZTI). Zero Touch Installation utilizes Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 or Systems Management Server 2003 with the Operating System Deployment Feature Pack. Lite Touch Installation can be used when software distribution tools are not in place.

Microsoft Deployment Tookit 2008 Update 1 also uses Configuration Manager 2007’s stand-alone media-initiated operating system deployment feature. This release offers project management guidance for all deployment roles and separates technical documentation for the products and technologies to facilitate automation tasks."



BizTalk Services aka .Net Services: An overview

BizTalk Services is now Renamed .Net Services under the Azure Services Platform.
" … You may not, at this stage, have any idea about what BizTalk Services are, so let me explain.   First, you should understand that the technology is only loosely associated with BizTalk Server. Microsoft’s Connected Services Division is increasingly using the term ‘BizTalk’ as a brand name for anything to do with message routing, EAI, BPM, etc.   BizTalk Services are not tied in any way to the current version of BizTalk Server.   They are not a replacement for BizTalk Server or an attempt to replicate existing BizTalk Server functionality in the cloud, although they may offer services which have some similarity with those offered by BizTalk Server
BizTalk Services are a first step to implementing what Microsoft calls an Internet Service Bus (ISB) in order to support SaaS (Software as a Service) and S+S (Software and Services) models.   The fabric of the ISB is built on Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).   WCF, itself, is a platform-level messaging framework, and part of the .NET Framework.   It is not a product, and is not really a service bus, but it is a (very rich and flexible) foundation on which service buses can be built.   ISB is a service bus built on that foundation.   Interestingly, the main functionality for the ISB provided by the BizTalk Services SDK is packaged in an assembly called System.ServiceBus.dll, which makes it sound like a future extension to the.NET framework libraries.
You may wonder if there is a distinction between SaaS and S+S.   Having listened to Microsoft presentations on this subject, my understanding is that they use these terms broadly as follows.   SaaS, of course, refers to a software delivery model centred on hosted services and the management of multi-tenancy.   Users access services over the Internet and pay for use of those services, rather than licensing software for installation on-premise.   S+S is a broader term.   It refers to the use of SaaS within the context of broader composite applications and ‘mash-ups’.    S+S, therefore, is about the exploitation of SaaS in conjunction with on-premise software.
SaaS is a fascinating subject which raises a number of challenging architectural issues.   For example, what are the best design patterns for handling multi-tenancy issues?   Each client must be able to use the service as if they were the only user, and their data and state must be sufficiently isolated.   There are various approaches to handling this, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.   Things get more complex when a single service must support per-user contract customisation, and where different clients have widely different service-level and non-functional requirements.   SaaS is a rapidly emerging field, and we will doubtless see a great deal of evolution of platforms and tools in future years to meet the challenges of implementing this model.
For BizTalk Server developers, the concept of composite applications is familiar territory, especially in regard to the composition of services.   One of the chief reasons for selecting BizTalk Server into an enterprise platform is to exploit its rich support for orchestration of multiple services in conjunction with its EAI features.   BizTalk Server 2006 has a strong concept of ‘applications’ at the administrative level, and a typical BizTalk application may involve many different interactions with a wide range of external systems and services.   We use BizTalk Server today to build sophisticated applications built around service composition.   In a similar way, Windows SharePoint Services, built on ASP.NET 2.0, provides Microsoft’s platform for bringing together disparate data from many different sources within a single presentation tier.   The capabilities of this platform are further extended through Ajax to provide a rich environment for creating mashups and fronting composite applications.   S+S, then, is not exactly a new paradigm.   The term represents the natural evolution of today’s tools and platforms to embrace, more fully, the emerging world of SaaS and the emphasis on composite applications.
BizTalk Services is an enabling technology that broadens the reach and appeal of Microsoft’s platform.   It is not an on-line replacement for BizTalk Server, but a natural companion that makes it easier to build composite applications that exploit widely distributed services across the Internet.   Because it is built on WCF, it should be easy to exploit the ISB using the new WCF adapter library in BizTalk Server 2006 R2. I haven’t yet proved this, but it should be possible, for example, to use the WCF-Custom adapter to handle authentication against Identity Services via an endpoint behaviour and to pass messages securely via the Connectivity (Relay) Service. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of CardSpace for authentication within BizTalk Services.   However, CardSpace and information cards are not obligatory when using Identity Services, and the SDK supports alternative approaches.   CardSpace, which requires interaction with a user, is clearly not a viable option in the world of BizTalk Server."

The Cloud Wars: Who Will Win?

Microsoft announced its Windows Azure cloud computing offering, further validating the market for cloud-based platforms. Given the multitude of major players in this market, including Amazon and Google, and the speed of innovation, we should see some major advances in cloud technologies which will greatly benefit customers. But who will be big winners (and losers) in this market?
First, it’s useful to define what cloud computing is. There are some excellent definitions of this (for example, see Wikipedia’s definition) which include the key characteristics of cloud computing and the various components in the cloud computing stack. An important takeaway from this is that there will be multiple winners that deliver different parts of the stack and that segmentation will occur based on customer needs. Obviously, different companies will make bets on different segmentation theories and how they can competitively differentiate themselves. Let’s look at one segmentation of the cloud computing market to discuss winners and losers:

  • Traditional Hosting: The traditional hosting market includes Web hosters, co-location, and managed providers. There will still be a segment of the market that still demands these services, but many customers will start to migrate to cloud offerings that offer lower cost of ownership and more flexibility. The winners in this market will diversify their portfolio of offerings and move up the cloud stack (for instance, SAVVIS and Rackspace) and the losers will likely fail to evolve fast enough to meet competition from the new cloud providers.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service: These providers deliver raw computer infrastructure on demand to companies. Amazon has defined this market with its EC2 offering and we’re now seeing significant innovation in how underlying infrastructure is offered. The key to winning in this market will be scale and operational efficiency, in addition to customer service for those customers willing to pay for it. The likely losers will be smaller cloud providers that can’t match the economies of scale of the major players or specialize to serve specific high-value market niches.
  • Platform-as-a-Service: The Platform-as-a-Service vendors provide new proprietary cloud platforms for developers and offer a range of services including run-time platforms, Web service integration, storage, scalability, state management and instrumentation. These new offerings will require applications to be rewritten for the cloud and create a risk of vendor lock-in for companies that use them. Google, Microsoft and are currently the major players in this space and will likely all be successful given their focus on open source, .NET and business application platforms respectively. The losers are likely to be the smaller vendors that can’t deliver the breadth of platform features and economies of scale required to be competitive.
  • ‘Open’ Cloud Solutions: A new breed of companies is emerging which solve specific business problems with cloud computing solutions, whether that is providing virtual IT labs, virtual desktops, or cloud management services. These providers provide a much more complete solution than raw infrastructure, including management, automation and orchestration capabilities, integration with existing business processes and systems, and an application layer to allow a broad range of users to interact with virtual machines. Supporting existing multi-tier applications and heterogeneous virtualization platforms will be an important factor to win in this market. The winners will provide first class integration to existing on-site environments and provide a robust management and automation layer and the losers will fail to innovate on technology that fundamentally improves the efficiencies across the IT lifecycle.

There are obviously lots of other solutions that will emerge to solve challenges around the cloud computing paradigm, including security and auditing, cloud management and standardized billing. However, it’s clear to us that given the enormous benefits that cloud computing offers, the pace of innovation and market traction will lead to new solutions that were unimaginable just a few years ago. With the current financial crisis and the cost savings achievable with ‘cloud economics’, companies that rapidly innovate and keep a clear focus on customer value will be the big winners in this new market.

The benefits of cloud computing

So, what are the benefits of cloud computing and why are organizations adopting these services? First and foremost for many is potential cost reduction and amortization. With a cloud computing solution, the customer does not have a big upfront capital expenditure for hardware, software licenses and implementation services. Nor do customers have the ongoing expense of administering the hardware and infrastructure software (e.g. patches). Instead, most cloud computing solutions offer a subscription or pay-as-you-go model, so customers pay a smaller recurring operating expense based only what they used which includes the hardware, software, and administration. This is particularly valuable in cases where an organization has unpredictable or fluctuating service demand. Instead of trying to perfectly predict demand and then potentially overprovision an in-house solution to meet the peak need ‘guestimate’, cloud computing customers simply increase or decrease their cloud computing service usage and payments to match exact point in time needs.

Another related benefit is overcoming an organizations data center capacity constraints and costs. Many Skytap customers tell us they are experiencing extreme data center capacity limitations. Their data centers are so full, that they need to remove a server for any server they add. Even many organizations working with hosting providers, tell us that their hosters have severe capacity constraints and can’t guarantee the space they need to grow.On top of this, power and cooling costs are skyrocketing and organizations need to be increasingly cognizant of how “green” they are and their carbon footprint. Customers working with a cloud computing solution avoid most of these issues and offload them to their cloud vendor. Moreover, cloud computing vendors, like Skytap, have a strong vested interest in building energy-efficient and eco-efficient data centers to reduce costs and attract customers.

Some of the biggest benefits for many customers are time to value and reduced risk compared to an in-house implementation. Most organizations want their solution up and running quickly so they can begin seeing the value. The time, expense and risk in developing and implementing an internal solution can be very extensive and adds no value until deployed. With cloud computing, customers typically see value almost immediately. Risk is significantly reduced since the vendor already has the solution running. And the vendor’s success is directly tied to customer success since customers can simply cancel their subscription if they are not happy or seeing value.

The benefits are pretty compelling, but customers do have some concerns about adopting cloud computing. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the key customer barriers to adoption

Let us know what you think. What are the biggest benefits you see or expect to see from cloud computing and SaaS?

Behind the buzz – what is cloud computing?


Why the buzz?
There is an incredible buzz around cloud computing recently, with major articles in Business Week, InfoWorld, and numerous other publications, blogs and analyst reports.  Nicholas Carr has written a bestselling book on the topic called “The Big Switch”. And some of the biggest players in the cloud computing segment have announced incredible adoption numbers:  Amazon announced more than 330,000 developers working on its Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform in January 2008 and Google signed up more than 150,000 developers for App Engine within one month of its April 2008 release.

With all this press and adoption, it is no surprise that many existing companies and new ventures are promoting their solutions as cloud computing.  As with other heavily hyped technologies (e.g. SOA, Web 2.0), this buzz can make it very challenging for IT organizations to understand the technology, how it can help their business and which vendors are best suited to meet their specific needs.

What is cloud computing?
Let’s start with a definition of cloud computing.  There seems to be emerging consensus on what cloud computing is, which I think the Wikipedia definition captures quite well.  In my words, cloud-computing allows organizations to securely use 3rd party computing infrastructure and applications over the internet when they need it paying only for what they use.  ‘Utility computing’ or ‘on-demand computing’ is often used synonymously with cloud computing. These terms, however, may also refer to in-house implementations where the infrastructure is owned or managed by the IT organization rather than a 3rd party provider.  Some have started to describe these as “private clouds” vs. “public clouds”.

Head in the cloud, Feet on the ground: an article about the cloud

Gianpaolo Carraro is Director of SaaS Architecture, in the Architecture Strategy team at Microsoft. In his role, Gianpaolo drives thought leadership and architectural best practices on Software as a Service.
Relevant Link:

Tech-Ed Highlights

Downloaded PowerPoints from some of the highlight sessions are available on my Skydrive viat:
I will add some more in time.
Unfortunately they are not creating a Tech-ED CD of post event resources, they have decided to go with an online-DVD, however this is only accessible by logging into the Tech-Ed site using a Registered Delegate Logon <Angry!!>
Why??? when the PDC 2008 resources have been made available and can be streamed ffrom Channel 9 MSDSN site  –
Maybe they will see sense and make these sessions available to view by all </RANT>

PDC 2008 Highlights

The full list of sessions from PDC 2008 can be viewed at:
Keynote – Ray Ozzie, Steven Sinofsky, Scott Guthrie and David Treadwell
Keynote – A Lap around the Azure Services Platform
Symposium Title: Head in the Cloud, Feet on the Ground – A Practical and enthusiastic yet pragmatic look at the cloud opportunities. 
Symposium: Session 1: Expanding Applications to the Cloud
Symposium: Session 2: Enterprise Grade Cloud Applications
Symposium: Session 3: Cloud or No Cloud, the Laws of Physics Still Apply
A Lap Around Windows Azure
Under the Hood: Inside the Windows Azure Hosting Environment
Windows Azure: Programming in the CloudWindows Azure: Programming in the Cloud
Windows Azure: Essential Cloud Storage Services
Windows Azure: Architecting & Managing Cloud Services
SQL Services: Futures
Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V)
Downloadable powerpoint presentations (where available) for all the above sessions at:
Azure in a Nutshell
Azure consists of both an operating system and a set of services. Windows Azure is an operating system in the cloud which enables the building of applications and services hosted in Microsoft data centres. In addition it provides management capabilities that allows monitoring, trace and most importantly scale applications seamlessly as demand grows.
Read more about Azure Services platform at:


AZURE… A Tale of Two Context

Extract taken from UK MSDN Flash Newsletter 12 November 2008: PDC08 Highlights.
"…Of all the technologies covered at PDC, I suspect the one you will be scratching your head about most is Azure. Not least because it has two contexts – the Azure Services Platform and Windows Azure. If you read just one document because of this Flash, then read this great overview by David Chappel…"