Devs vs. IT pros: Who runs all these Azure apps?

Last night’s PDC10 keynote sparked a few ideas overnight. One of them is a concern regarding the IT professionals’ role in running Windows Azure based software.

This idea was born of the fact that PDC, traditionally and so statedly a Developer conference, announced technology that was reasonably deep in the IT Professional space. I mean, seriously: Server application virtualization. I have a hard time finding developers who have even heard of client side App-V! Going on, we had private networking and whatnot.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree developers need to know about this technology. What concerns me is the role of IT professionals, the people who traditionally have taken a software package and deployed it. Everybody’s running around with all kinds of Azure features launched, but who’s here to educate the IT professionals on them?

The role of an admin

With Azure, the developer role is pushed quite far into the operations direction. In recent PDCs and TechEds, developers are educated on how to configure the scale, security, logging and diagnostics of Azure applications. When these applications go live, does IT magically take the responsibility of managing the deployed solution for the rest of its life cycle?

For small applications, devs have always maintained the software they built. But for those more enterprisey scenarios, developers usually ship semi-packaged software that gets installed by somebody else. With Azure, developers could quite well just publish the .cspkg files and have somebody else deploy and manage them. So the technical separation is there, but can we do this in practice?

Look at TechEd Europe 2010 session list (pick Cloud from the track filter). While some of the sessions are suitable for all audiences, most have “for developers” in their title, and exactly one, COS210, is titled “An IT Pro view of Windows Azure”. The same pattern repeats itself in most of Azure content available.

So what?

Personally, I think cloud has a lot of potential exactly for IT professionals – and yes, many of them are very interested and involved in things such as Office 365, Windows Intune and whatnot. But those are the SaaS offerings – the infrastructure and platform layers are left with much less attention. For custom software, the knowledge of these layers make or break the deal.

I fear that lack of Azure skills among IT pros can reduce the enthusiasm for cloud adoption in enterprise organizations. This may lead to software getting developed for on-premise deployment where cloud would actually make more sense, or alternatively, apps being developed for the cloud but then left without proper care. Neither of these scenarios is particularly beneficial for the future.

Things will change for the better as time passes. Until then, this is an excellent opportunity for cloud-aware developers to build relations with their favorite IT pros, facilitating discussion about the future in preparation of the moment when the world fully realizes that despite all the great abstraction and serviceness, Azure is not just a developer thing.

October 29, 2010 · Jouni Heikniemi · 2 Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Cloud, Windows IT

2 Responses

  1. Michael Wasser - October 30, 2010

    An interesting point. My first reaction is that this actually goes beyond just education. (just fyi, i actually have little experience with large ops orgs and I'm making assumptions here)

    The azure built-in tooling really doesn't make it easy for non-devs to tune apps. Today it's really left in the hands of the developers to provide all the features at IT pro needs to monitor and tune their roles. For example, with a traditional app hosted on your own servers, an IT pro can tune dependencies (sql server, hardware, etc) to their liking — they also have a large matured toolbox at their disposal for help manage many apps even if not written specifically for that app.

    I do think it looked pretty promising to see Azure opening up RDP (though this may be better for devs debugging than ops?) and allowing bootstrapping apps to run/configure a system but there still seems to be a void of tooling to help monitor/ configure these platforms in standard ways post-deploy.

  2. Jouni Heikniemi - October 31, 2010

    Michael,

    Well written, and I agree. The Azure tooling is definitely geared for developers, although much of it is very well understandable and usable without actual programming knowledge. You need to understand the software architecture and some of Azure's limitations pretty intimately though.

    Certain recent releases such as the Windows Azure Connect (private networking between the cloud and on-premises) and Reporting Services on the cloud will highlight policy matters and operating measures even further: As business critical data starts to get exposed to the cloud, the developers might get left hopelessly alone in larger organizations.

    However, there's a broader view to this: Demand for generic cloud ops tools will come out of IT pros /understanding/ the surrounding environment and their technology needs. From this perspective, I think it is education that actually drives the IT pro understanding of the cloud, and thus the operations-driven desire to actually get custom apps off-premises.

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