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Managed private cloud gives IT a cost-effective option

Cost is a big factor when IT admins explore different options for cloud. In certain cases, a managed private cloud may be more cost-effective than public cloud.

Canonical, a distributor and contributor to Linux Ubuntu, helps organizations manage their cloud setups and uses a variety of proprietary technology to streamline management. Based on the company’s BootStack offering, Canonical’s managed cloud supports a variety of applications and use cases. A managed private cloud can help organizations operate in the “Goldilocks zone,” where they have the right amount of cloud resources for their needs, said Stephan Fabel, director of product at Canonical, based in London. 

Currently, 35% of enterprises are moving data to a private cloud, but hurdles such as hardware costs and initial provisioning can cause organizations to delay deployment, according to a June 2018 report by 451 Research. Here, Fabel talks about what makes a managed private cloud a more effective strategy for the long term.

What is different about BootStack? 

Stephan Fabel: BootStack is applicable to the entire reference architecture to our OpenStack offering. The use case will often dictate a loose handling of the details in terms of the reference architecture. So, you can say, for example, deploy a telco-grade cluster or a cluster for enterprise or a cluster for application development, and those are very different characteristics from another company.

Stephan Fabel, CanonicalStephan Fabel

We support Swift [an API for data storage and scalability] and Chef [framework codes for deployments]. With some of the more locked-down distributions of OpenStack, we support multiple Cinder-volume stores. … We have the ability to do a Contrail application programming interface and even an open Contrail.

The reason why we can do a managed private cloud at the economics we portray them is that we have the operational efficiencies baked into our tooling. Metal as a service and Juju [an open source application modeling tool] provide that base layer on which OpenStack can run and manage.

One thing that is not entirely unique — but it is rare — is that BootStack actually stands for ‘build, operate and optionally transfer.’ Managed service providers generally want users to get on their platform and never leave. We basically say, ‘You know you want to get started with OpenStack, but you’re not sure you’re operationally ready. That’s fine; jump on BootStack for a year, and then build up your confidence or skill set. When you’re ready to take it on, go for it.’

We’ll transfer back the stack in your control and convert it from a managed service to a generic support contract.

What features contribute to a managed private cloud being more cost-effective than public cloud? 

Fabel: The value of public cloud is that you can get started with a snap of your finger, use your credit card and off you go. … However, down the road, you can end up in a situation where due to smart lock-in schemes, nonopen APIs’ interfaces and unique business features, you’re locked into this public cloud and paying a lot of money out of your Opex.

The challenge is it takes a lot more investment upfront to actually get started with a managed private cloud. Somebody still has to order hardware, it still constitutes a commitment, and someone still needs to install the hardware and run it for you. … But, for what it’s worth, we’ll send two engineers, and it’ll take two weeks and you’ll have a private cloud.

Is it common to be able to deploy a private cloud with just two engineers, or is that specific to Canonical?

I think we’ll see more adoption of managed services from the more advanced user base.
Stephan Fabeldirector of product at Canonical

Fabel: You’ll certainly find in this space a lot of players who will emphasize their expertise and the ability to do almost anything you want with OpenStack, in a similar amount of time. The question is, what kind of cloud is within that offering? If you go to a professional service-oriented company, they’ll try and sell you bodies to continually engage with as their way of staying with the contract, which racks up those tremendous costs.

The differentiating fact with Juju is, as opposed to other configuration tooling such as Puppet or Chef, it actually takes things further by not just installing packages and making sure the configuration is set; it is actually orchestrating the OpenStack installation.

So, for example, a classic problem with OpenStack is upgrading it. If you go to some of our competitors, their upgrades are going to be an extremely expensive professional services quote, because it’s so manual. What we did is basically encoded the smart in with what we call Charms that work in conjunction with Juju to manage that automatically.

How does automation help reduce the cost of managed private cloud? 

Fabel: We launched [Juju] five years ago, and it went through a lot of growing pains. Back then, everybody was set on configuration management, and they were appropriating configuration management technology to also do orchestration. … That’s great if you’re only deploying one thing. But, as OpenStack exhibits, it’s not quite that easy when you try and deploy something a little bit more complex.

[Now,] Juju basically says, ‘I will write out the configuration because I’m an agent and I understand the context.’ If you can automate tasks such as server installation and management, and you can code that logic, then you have to think less.

It does require more discipline on the Charms side and more knowledge on the operator in case something does go wrong. … For you to be able to debug this, you actually have to understand how to use it. And that’s a hurdle that people in the beginning sort of dismissed.

Will there always be a mix of public and private managed cloud?

Fabel: We’re seeing interest in power users of OpenStack who want to move onto new frontiers, such as Kubernetes, which seems to be it right now, and we’re ready to take [management] off their hands.

I think we’ll see more adoption of managed services from the more advanced user base and in the more off-the-shelf kind of market that want a 15-node or 20-node cloud. It’s not about the 2,000-node cloud as much anymore. I think there’s a whole market that’s just saying, ‘I have a 10-node cloud, and I can pay VMware or someone to run it for me, and I choose so because it’s economically more attractive.’ 

Emerging technologies to fuel collaboration industry growth

The future of any industry is not always certain, and it can be difficult to predict. However, some trends in the unified communications and collaboration industry indicate 2018 will be a strong year of growth.

Over the next two years, 80% of companies intend to adopt UCC tools, according to a survey published by market research firm Ovum. More importantly, 78% of the 1,300 global companies surveyed have already set aside budgets to adopt UCC tools — that’s a promising sign.

But what exactly will that growth in the unified communications and collaboration industry look like? What existing trends will continue? And what new trends will emerge?

The continued rise of APIs in the collaboration industry

As more companies emphasize streamlining their workflows, more IT departments will embed communication APIs into their existing applications. Integrating communication APIs is faster, easier and cheaper than a full internal development, which can take months. Additionally, deploying commercial software, which requires companies to run their own global infrastructure, can be burdensome.

In 2017, 25% of companies used APIs to embed UC features, according to a report from Vidyo, a video conferencing provider based in Hackensack, N.J. This trend is expected to continue, as half of companies plan to deploy APIs this year, and another 78% plan to integrate APIs for embedded video in the future.

Embedded communication APIs also provide contextual information for workflows. Information out of context does not exactly help organizations, and it provides users with a fragmented experience — even with a project management interface to organize workflows.

In 2018, look for new features to put more contextualized information at workers’ fingertips. For example, a sidebar during a video conference could offer users information, such as certain content to address during the meeting or tasks associated with the active speaker.

The AI party arrives in the collaboration industry

As we push into 2018, keep an eye on the emergence of AI in the unified communications and collaboration industry. Virtual assistants and bots, for example, use AI to enrich the meeting experience.

Imagine sitting through a long conference call when the discussion moves to a topic that interests you. You call out, “Start recording conversation,” and a virtual assistant immediately begins recording. Then, you say, “Send me a transcript of this conversation.” And at the end of the call, the virtual assistant sends you a transcript with an analysis of the conversation that you can replay with action items.

Emerging technology in the contact center

Unified communications apps are revolutionizing business in general. But I predict 2018 will be a banner year for the customer-support industry in particular. Some companies have already integrated click-to-call features into their chatbots, but the quality of those features to date has been subpar.

Companies will move from telephony to instant video calls when connecting customers with agents. Thanks to instant translation and transcription services, the video widget will include real-time subtitles translated into French, English, Spanish or whatever language the customer needs to understand the service agent.

The agent experience will also improve. We’ll start to see AI bots on the back end that transcribe conversations and index all the words, so agents can be prompted with special content as the conversation unfolds. Agents could then send information to customers on the spot with a voice command.

Customers and agents will also be able to illustrate what they’re talking about with augmented reality (AR). Imagine you’re on the phone with a Comcast agent, and you can show the agent your router with your iPhone. The agent could send you diagrams of what to do — superimposed onto your router in AR. This process is now possible, thanks to Google and Apple embracing AR toolkits.

These emerging technologies indicate a bright future for the unified communications and collaboration industry. Whatever the next year holds, good luck in your journey.

Stephane Giraudie is CEO and founder of Voxeet, a provider of voice over IP web conferencing software based in San Francisco. 

Server Core management remains a challenge for some

Server Core introduced a number of benefits to IT, but certain hurdles have stymied its progress in the enterprise.

Microsoft unveiled Server Core with Windows Server 2008. It wasn’t a new operating system, but a slimmed-down version of the full server OS. Server Core removed the GUI, but kept its infrastructure functionality. This reduced the codebase and brought several advantages: a smaller attack surface, fewer patches, quicker installs and more reliability.

But the lack of a GUI also made Server Core management a challenge. The absence of a traditional Windows interface took away the comfort level for the admin when it came to deployments and overall use of the operating system.

Administrators missed the interface because, while using the command line might not have been a complete mystery, using it to manage every aspect of the OS was new. A strong focus on PowerShell to control this OS caused further discomfort for many in IT. This new language came in at a time with Server Core to make the admin feel very unwelcome in this new world.

Server Core management with PowerShell and the command prompt are two very different things.

Server Core management with PowerShell and the command prompt are two very different things. Besides the language, scripting is linear, and PowerShell is an object-oriented language. The MS-DOS command prompt has been around a lot longer, but has not kept up with the features and functionality in the newer Windows operating systems. Microsoft expanded on scripting after MS-DOS with Visual Basic Script (VBS) but that introduced security issues from VBS-based viruses. Microsoft developed PowerShell to provide extensive functionality with fewer security liabilities. PowerShell has cmdlets tightly integrated with Microsoft’s newest operating systems for both basic and advanced functionality — which MS-DOS and VBS lacked.

Microsoft aids learning efforts

PowerShell is the predominant command-line language for Windows. MS-DOS exists but has had few updates to its core. Microsoft helped establish this course in the later versions of Windows Server. Many of the traditional server configuration wizards can produce the PowerShell code for the actions the administrator executes from the GUI. This capability changed the game for many administrators with limited programming experience or time to learn PowerShell scripting. Rather than write scripts from scratch, IT pros could take the automatically generated code and manipulate it to work on other servers. This feature was a step up from taking code examples from the Internet that only worked with very specific conditions or environments.

Microsoft helped spur Server Core adoption with improved remote management with later server OS versions with its Server Manager console. While Microsoft always had some level of remote management with Windows Server 2012 and beyond, a much stronger focus on this meant the admin could use a single GUI-based server to handle Server Core management for dozens — or even hundreds — of installations of this minimal operating system over the network. This kept the GUI aspect the admins were familiar with but allowed the enterprise to take advantage of more Server Core deployments. While they did not get the full benefits of what PowerShell and other automation tools do, this move helped admins get started with Server Core.

 When administrators start with Server Core, it’s helpful to look at the long-term view. How far do you want to go with it? Some companies that want to implement Server Core will be content to use remote management, but PowerShell will unlock the full potential of this server OS deployment.

Admins new to PowerShell will have a bit of a learning curve to overcome, but a few things can help. There are utilities, such as Notepad++, that make editing PowerShell code easier with its contextual highlighting feature. Another scripting tool is Microsoft’s PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment, which can test code blocks and commands that help debug issues in a context-sensitive environment.

Server Core should only grow in popularity. Microsoft runs workloads on its new Azure Stack on Server Core. Administrators should consider its use just for the reduced patching workload.

In Windows Server 2016, the default installation is Server Core, and administrators need to manually select a different option to get the full server GUI setup. Also removed from Windows Server 2016 is the ability to install a desktop onto Server Core after deployment.

With the enhancements to remote management, the future is clear for the Microsoft server OS — and it’s without a GUI.

 

Server Core installation offers perks, challenges for IT

Windows Server is a crucial part of the software stack, but the full OS can be overkill for certain enterprise workloads.

Microsoft removed the GUI in the Nano Server and Server Core installation options of Windows Server 2016 to cut the number of running services and processes. Because the smaller OS requires fewer resources, this frees more of the server’s RAM and compute power to operate more demanding workloads or additional VMs.

Microsoft estimates the virtual hard disk size for a full Windows Server 2016 installation at just over 10 GB, while a Server Core installation takes up slightly more than 6 GB of disk space. The minimal deployment footprint reduces the attack surface, which cuts down the time IT departments spend installing security updates.

Microsoft intends to remove the infrastructure role capabilities from Nano Server in the September 2017 semiannual channel update to further optimize that OS for container use. This leaves Server Core as administrators’ sole minimal-footprint option for general-purpose server deployments. Here are the system requirements, roles and challenges associated with a Server Core installation.

Typical Server Core uses

Microsoft recommends the following roles for a Server Core installation:

  • Active Directory (AD) Certificate Services;
  • AD Domain Services;
  • AD Lightweight Directory Services;
  • AD Rights Management Services;
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol Server;
  • Domain Name System Server;
  • File Services;
  • Hyper-V;
  • Licensing Server;
  • Print and Document Services;
  • Remote Desktop Services Connection Broker;
  • Routing and Remote Access Server;
  • Streaming Media Services;
  • Web Server (including a subset of ASP.NET);
  • Windows Server Update Server; and
  • Volume Activation Services.

For workloads that do not require a GUI, use a lab to test the installation and functionality of Server Core, the workload and the associated management tools before a move to the live environment.

System requirements for a Server Core installation

While administrators can follow Microsoft’s minimum requirements for a Windows Server 2016 installation, that leaves few host resources available to properly run a workload — or multiple workloads in VMs.

Microsoft refrains from system requirement recommendations because not all server roles need the same amount of resources. Administrators should run a test deployment to measure if the workload runs properly under a certain configuration and adjust if necessary.

Microsoft intends to remove the infrastructure role capabilities from Nano Server to further optimize the OS for container deployments. This leaves Server Core as administrators’ sole minimal-footprint option for general-purpose server deployments.

The minimum system requirements listed below are the same to install Server Core, Server with Desktop Experience — the full GUI version — and Nano Server for both Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2016.

CPU: Windows Server 2016 needs a 1.4 GHz 64-bit processor with an x64 instruction set. The processor must support additional feature sets, including:

  • No-eXecute on Advanced Micro Devices processors and eXecute Disable on Intel CPUs, which stop code execution in certain memory areas;
  • data execution prevention, which runs additional memory checks to prevent malicious code; and
  • second-level address translation support, which virtualizes memory space to reduce hypervisor overhead.

In addition, the processor must support:

  • the CMPXCHG16B instruction for high-performance data operations;
  • Load AH from Flags and Store AH to Flags commands, which load and store instructions for virtualization and floating-point conditions; and
  • the PrefetchW instruction, which carries data closer to the CPU before a write.

Those are just the single-core clock and compatibility requirements. The number of processor cores — and the cache size in each core — affects overall performance. A processor with several cores and a larger cache supports more VMs.

Memory: Windows Server 2016 requires a minimum of 512 MB with error-correcting code or a similar technology. To create a VM, designate at least 800 MB or the setup will fail; after it’s installed, lower the RAM allocation as needed.

Network adapter: Network adapters must support a minimum of 1 Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth and the preboot execution environment feature. The network adapter has to conform to the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) Express design. Organizations that will run multiple VMs on a server can install more than one network adapter on the host to avoid a single point of failure.

Storage and storage controllers: Windows Server 2016 requires at least 32 GB of disk storage but will need more space if the installation occurs over a network.

Plot out additional storage for dump files, paging and hibernation. However, snapshot and replication features need more disk space when a VM uses Windows Server 2016 as the guest OS.

The server storage adapter must use the PCI Express architecture. Windows Server 2016 does not support the following storage interfaces for its data, boot or page drives: Advanced Technology Attachment, Parallel ATA, Integrated Drive Electronics and Enhanced IDE.

Trusted Platform: A Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip is not necessary to install the OS, but security features, such as BitLocker Drive Encryption, require TPM version 2.0 or later. Systems that meet TPM 2.0 need SHA-256 platform configuration register banks.

Deploy and manage Server Core

The setup wizard performs a clean installation of the Windows Server 2016 OS. A dialog box offers the choice to use the full version of Windows Server with the GUI or Server Core.

Because Server Core lacks a GUI, administrators cannot monitor or manage those deployments with the graphical management tools, such as Server Manager, familiar to most Windows shops. Instead, they control Server Core through a command prompt with PowerShell or with Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT).

PowerShell cmdlets let administrators install, uninstall and configure Server Core. Automate complex Server Core configuration tasks with PowerShell scripts, rather than clicking through a GUI to accomplish the task.

RSAT includes a mix of tools, such as Microsoft Management Console snap-ins, Windows PowerShell cmdlet modules and command-line utilities, to oversee Server Core roles and features. RSAT does not run on Windows Server; it only operates on supported client systems.

Potential trouble spots with Server Core

While Server Core is a fully functioning version of Windows Server 2016, there are several differences that could pose management difficulties for admins unfamiliar with the compact OS.

Users cannot convert a Server Core installation to a Server with Desktop Experience version. That conversion was possible with some earlier versions of Windows Server, but organizations that build a Server Core workload and then decide to switch to the full Windows Server 2016 option need to perform a clean installation. This reinstallation and reconfiguration process can cause downtime.

There are also risks and potential troubleshooting issues with Server Core management via the command line. Even the most skilled IT professionals type in the wrong PowerShell command and cause errors from time to time. Despite Server Core’s advantages, many organizations prefer the familiar GUI administrative tools in the full Windows Server installation.

Authorities can’t force smartphone access in iOS 11

A legal quirk can allow law enforcement to force smartphone access under certain conditions, but Apple may be providing a workaround to forced smartphone access in iOS 11.

The latest version of iOS 11 beta includes a trigger — pressing the power button quickly five times — to bring up a special screen allowing a user to either power down the device or call emergency services. However, a byproduct of this quick action is disabling Touch ID unlock of the device and requiring the entry of a passcode instead. Previously, users would have had to reboot a device in order to temporarily disable fingerprint unlock.

It is unclear if using such a feature to avoid allowing authorities to force smartphone access could be considered obstruction of justice, but some have speculated that it would not — as long as it was triggered before police ordered the user to unlock the device.

As the law stands now, law enforcement are allowed to force smartphone access by compelling a user to unlock via biometrics, like Touch ID or facial recognition, but cannot force a user to unlock a device by passcode entry.

The legal precedent was set by Virginia Beach Circuit Court Judge Steven Frucci who ruled that biometric data was akin to being compelled to provide a physical key and therefore it was acceptable for police to force smartphone access by fingerprint unlock. However, because a passcode is not a physical object it would fall under the Fifth Amendment right to protection against self-incrimination.

Privacy advocates have suggested that users concerned about privacy should turn off mobile devices when passing through security checkpoints in order to avoid giving authorities the ability to force smartphone access, but this new feature in iOS 11 could be a more convenient option. 

Azure Resource Manager templates ease private cloud struggles

Private cloud improves certain management capabilities, but it’s difficult to control cloud applications, which…

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often consist of multiple cloud services and resource instances. Azure is no different, though Microsoft hopes to change that with its management portal.

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) is a management portal that lets admins roll a cloud application’s components — virtual machines, storage instances, virtual networks, databases and third-party services — into a group for easier management. Introduced in 2014, ARM lets administrators deploy, change and delete cloud app components as a single template-driven task.

ARM also works with Azure Stack, which enables administrators to build Azure Resource Manager templates for Azure PowerShell, Azure command line interface (CLI), the Azure portal, REST API, and various development tools. The portal lets administrators and developers create Azure Resource Manager templates that deploy and manage cloud apps on premises or in Azure. By comparison, traditional tools, such as Microsoft System Center, do not have native integration nor do they support Azure Stack. However, Microsoft Operations Management Suite reportedly can work with Azure Stack when OMS agents are installed.

ARM lets administrators deploy, change and delete cloud app components as a single template-driven task.

Azure and Azure Stack include networking resources — virtual networks and load balancers – as well as other resources, such as compute and storage instances with attributes unique to the particular resource. ARM gathers resources into resource groups; organizations use these templates to build the environment. Orchestration features in Azure Resource Manager templates enable users to call any combination of Azure resources as a single task and produce a desired operating state.

ARM requires an Azure subscription, which provides access to role-based access control (RBAC) and provides a level of granular access to Azure resources. RBAC establishes roles and correlates those roles to scopes of action, resource groups or individual resources. For example, admins create an application — or a resource that an application uses — that only certain administrators can modify or delete to secure cloud deployments. They also can customize policies to tailor deployment behaviors, such as enforcing region limitations or naming conventions.

With ARM, admins assign advanced tracking tags to resources and resource groups. These tags organize resources and shows business leaders how much a group of Azure or Azure Stack resources costs, which is helpful for budgeting. Audit features track resource activity so admins can monitor resource use and speed troubleshooting.

ARM is an integral part of Azure and Azure Stack — not a separate management tool such as System Center. Its APIs connect the varied interfaces, namely the Azure portal or Azure CLI, to Azure and Azure Stack. Those tools then connect to the underlying compute, storage, network and other resources and services.

Next Steps

How to effectively use Azure Resource Manager

Navigate through the Microsoft Azure portal

Build and manage Windows containers in Azure

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